I know what you are thinking: it is not the end of the month! You are quite correct. But May is Nick’s birthday month and he has been bestowed the honour of having Album of the Month in May, as he has done for the last two years. But, that said, I could not refrain from sharing this monumental masterwork with you. It is up there with the best Kate Bush albums (The Kick Inside and Hounds of Love being cornerstones of pop). I shall review each track individualy because they deserve to be heard. Walk Straight Down the Middle is a bonus track available on the CD release. It includes some sterling bass work from Japan bassist Mick Karn and bush making peacock sounds, which I was not aware would cheer me up as much as they did.
It might seem like an uncanny echo of her debut single—another literary character overcome by desire, fantasizing about rolling around in fields—but Bush wasn’t the same singer who’d loaded the gothic romance of “Wuthering Heights” with the life-and-death fervor of teenage lust. “Someone said in your teens, you get the physical puberty, and between 28 and 32, mental puberty,” she said in 1989. “It does make you feel differently.” Pitchfork
The album opens with the title track and some excellent church bells. These are followed by some, shall we say sensual vocals, and some jig reminiscent of the Jig of Life on her previous album.
Love and Anger follows in the theme of the album, this character overwhelmed by complex feelings and a slight deference to her male counterpart, perhaps. But musically Kate is completely in control – the energy of this track is hard to match, it is novel, striking and relentless. Her vocals remain terrifyingly agile and deeply moving. The addition of a wailing guitar on an already busy track only amplifies the greatness of the track.
Take away the love and the anger
And a little piece of hope holding us together
Looking for a moment that’ll never happen
Living in the gap between past and future
Take away the stone and the timber
And a little piece of rope won’t hold it together
The Fog is our executive relief, with vocals similar to that on her previous album. Listen to the guitar which comes in at 0.35 seconds. This ethereal blanket of music carries you through the track in the most… sensual way. The lyrics also have some echo to side 2 of Hounds of Love:
This love was big enough for the both of us
This love of yours
Was big enough to be frightened of
It’s deep and dark like the water was
The day I learned to swim
Reaching Out For the Hand tells of the joy of motherhood and a newborn baby’s tentative reaching our for its mothers hand. This track is home to some of the most exciting and uplifting passages in the whole album. Kate’s rhythmic howling leads to a staggering “reaching out for the hand…” and the violins! One is loathe not to melt from the love and energy in this track at this point alone.
Heads We’re Dancing continues on the energetic march to perdition. Would you believe it tells the story of a night out with Hitler. Bush told Q magazine in November 1989: “Years ago this friend of mine went to a dinner and spent the whole evening chatting to this fascinating guy, incredibly charming, witty, well-read, but never found out his name. The next day he asked someone else who’d been there who it was. ‘Oh, didn’t you know? That’s Oppenheimer, the man who invented the atomic bomb.’ My friend was horrified because he thought he should have given the guy hell, attacked him, he didn’t know what…” Bush then ran with the idea of the worst night out possible with a horrible man that one does not recognise. Listen out for the bass work from Mick Karn (from UK band Japan – a stern favourite of mine)
Deeper Understanding tells the story of Bush falling in love with her computer as alternative lovers turn cold around around her. The Fairlight CMI here is utilised to maximum potential to great an enormous sound, with suitable amounts of Bushean walling in the background. This is perhaps where The War on Drugs obtained their album title A Deeper Understanding from, but that is up for debate. The production is absolutely devastating throughout, with Karn’s bass puncturing the track throughout.
But she’d never sounded more grounded than she did on these 10 songs, most of which are about regular people in regular messes, not disturbed governesses, paranoid Russian wives or terrified fetuses. It was, she said, her most honest, personal album, and its stories play out like intimate vignettes rather than fantastical fairy tales. Unlike the otherworldly synth-pop-prog she pioneered on 1985’s Hounds of Love, she used her beloved Fairlight CMI to produce lusher, mellow textures, complemented by the warm, earthy thrum of Irish folk instruments and the pretty violins and violas of England’s classical bad boy, Nigel Kennedy. Pitchfork
Between a Man and a Woman sees the unexpected addition of flutes. Once again it follows the pattern of the album, creating vignettes of people / fictional character’s lives and displaying who they are, who they want to be and who they end up being. In this sense it is less of a thematic and conceptual juggernaut like its predecessor. The concept of this track is perfectly executed in the track, following the tumult of relationships which are under strain. The music follows the cycle of trauma and even tells the fictional interloper who enters and tries to give advice to the warring couple to back off.
Never Be Mine features vocals from the Trio Bulgarka which Bush fell in love with after hearing a tape of theirs. See them together below.
Okay, let’s talk about Rocket’s Tail. The high point of this album speaks about Kate’s dreams of being in the sky with the stars and fashioning herself a rocket to be able to do so. The rocket takes off and is accompanied by a moment of such musical force that my soul left my body the first time I heard it. The Trio Bulkara can be heard in the background supporting the rocket on its way up and back down some minutes later. Indeed a part of it still does on each subsequent listen. This is Kate at her musical apex, an astonishing work of pure unbridled genius which cannot be lauded enough.
This Woman’s work tells of the imbalance of womanhood in child rearing and the additional effort which women put in to motherhood. In a way it is a beautiful love letter to motherhood and the regrets which parents have. This sensational longing remonstrance is unsurprisingly among Bush’s most listened to tracks. If we listen to the lyrics it is really a very moving ode to women which rather deeply affected this reviewer. It is fitting of course that the original album tracks on this phenomenon should end here. What an excellent and devastating way to finish off an emotional rollercoaster. Kate is still embattled by the warring sentiments of love, lust, loneliness, passion, pain, and pleasure but moulds this anguish into a devastating work of superlative and enduring flawless beauty.
[A Woman’s Work] captures a moment of crisis: a man about to be walloped with the sledgehammer of parental responsibilities, frozen by terror as he waits for his pregnant wife outside the delivery room, his brain a messy spiral of regrets and guilty thoughts. Yet Bush softens the song’s building panic attack with soft musical touches so it rushes and swirls like a dream, even as reality becomes a waking nightmare. Pitchfork
Let me start by stating that I am obsessed with this album and this band. I have referred to this band as Japan’s answer to Kraftwerk on early listens but really the two were contemporaneous. Why was Kraftwerk so successful when YMO are comparatively unheard of? Perhaps because the former embraced a style and theme and the latter leaned into a fun, futuristic funk and an ‘inherent sexiness’. They combined their clear Eastern style and influence with more Western style song structures which is perhaps why it appealed to me so much. The combination of this with the fun almost high fashion visuals did stagger me.
If you’re a more seasoned gamer you may have come across a sterling example in ‘Rydeen’. Yellow Magic Orchestra’s soaring electro-pop epic, taken from their 1979 album Solid State Survivor, was not only a major influence on the development of early video game music (or “chip tune”) but also appeared directly in titles such as Trooper Truck (1983) and Super Locomotive (1982). More so, the song’s incredible marriage of propulsive rhythm and sugar rush melody laid out the blueprint for what was to become an era defining sound not only in Japan but in western countries such as the UK – where cheap Japanese electronics were being retuned to the post-punk atmosphere. Classic Album Sundays
After the drums of the first track, Technopolis, one immediately feels as though they are in for a thrilling ride. This is the apex of Japanese synth pop. Catchy ‘melody’, rapid fire changes and an overall sense of urgency tying the track together. YMO manage to produce an almost otherworldly sound here.
Absolute Ego Dance follows, and provides a quieter but still very punchy track. Listen to the bass line throughout, which I feel underpins the bizarre frond-like dispersal of sound throughout the film. The high pitched synth takes over about one third through. Try to listen and separate what you are hearing. This is multi-layered and complex, while maintaining high energy and infectious rhythm.
Front and back cover
Rydeen, as you will have red above, was featured in several video games, including Sega’s Super Locomotive. The beginning of the track on the album does sound like a train. This is my favourite track on the album. In fact I would go as far as to say this is one of the best, most infectious and appealing synth pop tunes of all time. It was indeed the band’s most successful single. The bridge about halfway through the track lends itself to a terrifically energetic and highly complex final section of the song. So many layers!
Castalia is comparatively mysterious and dark, but still showcases a mastery of synth. The track provides us with a good bridge between the height of energy in the opening tracks and those in closing. When trying to focus on work and needing drive, I tend to skip this track, however I have deigned to listen to it while composing this review.
Behind the Mask is another highlight of the album, the soaring bassline which emerges one minute in and the trippy ethereal backing transport one to another plane, almost. For all its esoteric feel, the track is still incredibly strong and multi-layered.
The band’s decision to deliver their lyrics in English (with help from translator Chris Mosdell) spoke to their ambition to be known as a globalised band, accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. Having grown up in a post-war Japan that was both coming to terms with its isolated past and anticipating its precarious future, its not hard to understand how American imports of jazz, rock, funk, and folk records might have represented a break from the troubles of their parents’ generation. Ibidum
Day Tripper is an audacious cover of a Beatles track which is sure to at once delight and horrify the band’s western audience. High energy, colourful, creative and ultimately alive. This song is emblematic of the ambitions of the album.
Insomnia is the third of three especial highlights on the album for me. The cascading echoing synth is a testament to the capacity of this genre of music. The imaginative strength it must have taken to compose something of this scale baffles me. We know Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of the founding members of YMO, has gone on to compose a variety of soundtracks, notably for the Oscar winning film the Revenant.
In summary, Solid State Survivor is a remarkable, alive, durable album. It brims with adventure and is striking in its agelessness. A true technicolour thrill. YMO had a brief but shining span and have had an enormous impact on this reviewer.
Perhaps the title of this album should be altered to Changed Forever, as this is how I feel listening to Love. Possibly one of the most diverse rock band of its time, Love enjoyed limited commercial success but their third album, Forever Changes, is now recognised as one of the finest rock records of the 1960s. Forever Changes, written in the Summer of Love (and released in the Autumn of the Clinic?) was about anything but love. The album captured something of the opposite sentiment to that espoused by the pastiche hindsight heavy retrospectives about the era. And it was recorded in only 64 hours!
The best record to come out of such turmoil—Love’s 1967 record Forever Changes—is ambitious and prescient, reflecting the cultural shift of the dying ’60s, while tapping into the paranoia that would soon permeate much of American culture in the next decade. Both lyrically and musically, Forever Changes is a snapshot of a turbulent America. AV Club
The opening track, Alone Again Or features the heart rendering line:
You know that I could be in love with almost everyone,
I think that people are the greatest fun,
and I will be alone again tonight, my dear
This sets the album up as being one concerned with isolation in an otherwise plenteous time of choice. “and I will be alone agains tonight my dear” recurs throughout the track, reinforcing the point. The trumpets are gorgeously combined with strings to make for a sumptuous, longing bridge. The guitar work, while repetitive, is precise and pleasantly tuneful.
Arranged By – Arthur Lee (tracks: A2 to A4, A6 to B5), Bryan Maclean (tracks: A1, A4), David Angel (tracks: A1, A4)
Artwork [Front Cover] – Bob Pepper
Bass – Ken Forssi
Cover, Design – William S. Harvey
Guitar – John Echols
Guitar, Vocals – Arthur Lee, Bryan Maclean
Orchestrated By – David Angel (tracks: A2 to A4, A6 to B5)
Percussion – Michael Stuart*
Photography By [Back Cover Photo] – Ronnie Haran
Producer – Arthur Lee, Bruce Botnick
Supervised By [Production Supervisor] – Jac Holzman
A House Is Not a Hotel features some stellar acoustic and bass guitar and vocals from Arthur Lee. The lyrics are a stellar rebuke of the turmoil of war, likely aimed at the discontent fomented by the US war on Vietnam. The guitar solos are just extraordinary throughout. They clash and are disjointed but work beautifully.
Andmoreagain, which I initially thought was a place in Wales, is a more thoughtful, introspective track than the more rock orientated previous track.
The Red Telephone is reminiscent of Syd Barret’s Pink Floyd but is rather more devastating in its subject matter, tackling race, imprisonment and death. The crooning lyrics are somewhat at odds with the dark subject matter, much like the first track on the album. The softness of the guitar is such to highlight the devastating lyrics. In terms of production value, this is off the scale. Violins sit perfectly at ease with the acoustic and bass guitar, managing to sound sumptuous without attacking your ears.
Sitting on a hillside
Watching all the people die
They’re locking them up today
They’re throwing away the key
I wonder who it will be tomorrow
You or me?
The next song provides some comparative light relief but still captures what Pitchfork refers to as “purgatory characterized by paranoia and grievance”, reflecting the mood of the nation at the end of the 1960s. Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale bids farewell to audiences. The AV Club referred to this track as characterising the futility of the sentiments espoused by the typical view of the Summer of Love. It is worth noting that Arthur Lee was convinced of his imminent death hence wrote this album as a final farewell, haunted by the inevitable spectre. This comes through in this track, especially notable when listening to him singing along to the trumpets, very much driven by the beauty of the music.
Eventually, he became convinced that his death was looming and that Forever Changes would be his final statement to the world. So he became a rank perfectionist, expressing all his unhappiness, fear, blame, and hope not only in his dark, discomfiting lyrics, but in the music itself, which draws from rock, pyschedelia, folk, pop, classical, and even mariachi. Ultimately, the album belongs to none of those genres.
This is the truer sound of late-1960s Los Angeles, which was neither a trippy paradise nor a Lizard Kingdom, but a purgatory characterized by paranoia and grievance. Pitchfork
Live and Let Live features a number of 12 string guitars layered together in a way that is meant to disorientate the listener. Somehow Lee has managed to turn the subject matter into the internal monologue of a man planning to shoot a bluebird with a pistol as it was trespassing on his land, a clear and vocal criticism of the US encroaching in Vietnam, perhaps.
You Set the Scene closes the album in a typical upbeat arrangement, masking a greater profound message. That message being that life is short and should be lived with love (sentiment, not the band), depth and purpose. The triumphant horns at the end of this track close the album exactly as it should be closed and leave one almost gasping at the magnitude of what has just been heard.
This is the only thing that I am sure of And that’s all that lives is gonna die And there’ll always be some people here to wonder why And for every happy hello, there will be goodbye There’ll be time for you to put yourself on
Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging And for anyone who thinks it’s strange Then you should be the first to want to make this change And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game Do you like the part you’re playing
This is an album which seeks to expose the lie of the Summer of Love. Love use ingeniously cheery arrangements and devastating lyrics to highlight the disparity between what was heard during this tumultuous summer and what was actually happening. It is a work of profound genius, which has rather changed my life. Forever Changes absolutely lives up to its title and has changed me forever. I hope it will have a similar effect on you, dear reader.
Nick, neé Saint, tasked me with presenting five of my favourite album covers. Now I listen to a lot of music and see a lot of album covers hence this was a uniquely difficult challenge but I have narrowed it down to 5 favourites (of many). This is a sample range and not necessarily indicative. I have many more to share, which I may do in further posts, but my client instructed me to provide you with 5 and you shall be provided 5. In no particular order then:
The Stranglers – Rattus Norvegicus
I saw a rat on my way home this evening after considering the task Nick had set me and decided it was a sign. Why do I like this? It encapsulates the Stranglers for me. They are in a gloomy country house which is badly lit. Dave Greenfield and Jean Jaques Burnell are at the forefront with Jet Black and lead singer Hugh Cornwell in the background almost. There are four horrifying stuffed animals around the archway which give an added eery feel to the cover. This was what the Stranglers were about, shocking excellence. A much needed and powerful serum at a time when Abba’s Greatest Hits were at the top of the charts.
Peter Gabriel – Plays Live
I bought the vinyl of this album when I was in Newcastle in the Before Time. I bought it on a whim and at my father’s direction. I showed him the cover and said ‘this is pretty cool’, to which he responded ‘this is one of the best live albums ever’. He was correct of course. In and above being a spectacular, colourful, angular and precise cover, with the perfect font, the album is staggering. San Jacinto in particular sticks to mind. What stellar makeup!
ELO – Out of the Blue
Birmingham’s best band, of three, ELO set the bar high for album covers. Frequently space themed and invariably explosions of colour, they rank highly in the spectrum of cover art. I chose Out of the Blue partly because it is my favourite ELO album, with Live at Wembley a close second, but also because this is the first I heard on vinyl. I still have my tattered copy here and listen to it frequently. This is a dazzling, finely conceived, beautiful piece of art, in and above everything else.
Kraftwerk – Tour De France
This was and continues to be one of my favourite albums for revision or knuckling down and getting some work done. Recently I have using Electric Cafe/ Techno Pop as my album of focus but this remains the best album cover of this monumental band for me. The colourful, precise nature of this cover makes it so striking. The brilliant decision of using the colours of the French flag, supporting the Tour de France concept, with the four members of Kraftwerk cycling through the white band blows my mind. Much like the track in the album, the cover is aerodynamic.
Grace Jones – Island Life
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention Jean Paul Goude’s photographic masterpiece cover of Grace Jones’ Island Life. This was the last record of hers released on the Island label and is a compilation of her tracks from her albums Portfolio, Muse, Fame, Warm Leatherette, Living My Life, Nightclubbing and Slave to the Rhythm. This cover is iconic for many reasons, the simplicity of the background, the tiny mike, the shocking red garment and of course the striking impossible pose. Having invested in a number of Goude’s books, I happen to know how Goude made this photograph possible but won’t spoil it for you. I will say that that is not Grace’s bottom… Overall, a stunning gob smacking iconic and unforgettable cover.
Flying Dutchman records was my musical find of the month. I have a huge amount of gratitude for Bob Thiele, the head of the label, who is responsible for the release of albums such as T Bone Walker’s Every Day I Have the Blues, Otis Spann’s Sweet Giant of the Blues, Gil Scott-Heron’s iconic Pieces of Man (originally released on RCA then later by Flying Dutchman) and, of course, this month’s plat du jour, Super Black Blues. Super Black Blues features stellar performances by Blues pionners T-Bone Walker, Joe Turner and Otis Spann, each of whom I love independently. You can imagine what a joy it was for me to discover they had released an album together. Though only four tracks long, this album packs a punch and left a permanent mark.
Paris Blues 14:00
Here Am I Broken Hearted 3:45
Jot’s Blues 8:11
Blues Jam 10:56
The album opens with a 14 minute blues feast about the city near where I grew up, Paris. T-Bone opens with some solid sober vocals, backed by the fabulous piano playing of Otis Spann (listen to Sellin’ My Thing for him at his best). There is a notable confidence with the instrumentality throughout this album but especially clear here. There is an exceptional pace throughout which makes this long track seem shorter. Listen for example between the 5.40 mark to the 6.00 minute mark. The guitar and drums here are just breathtaking. This is evidently perfection in the arrangement of the track as a whole. Listen also at the 10.30 mark, where George Smith’s harmonica skills intertwined with the piano are just so beautiful to hear.
T-Bone Walker − vocals, guitar
Joe Turner − vocals
Otis Spann − vocals, piano
Ernie Watts − tenor saxophone
George “Harmonica” Smith − harmonica
Arthur Wright − guitar
Ron Brown − bass
Paul Humphrey – drums
Here Am I Broken Hearted is a relief in that it is under four minutes. This is a more traditional blues piece with subject matter fitting of the genre. The introduction of Ernie Watts on the saxophone at the beginning of this track is not inconsequential. The slower pace of this song does not make it any less impressive. Here you have a group of extremely talented musicians celebrating their craft and doing so remarkably. Listen to Ron Brown on bass here, his playing is superlative.
Jot’s Blues opens with some playful, lulling guitar work which pulls the listener straight into the trap of excellent bass and piano. Otis’ vocals are buttery smooth and piercing here. He is almost wailing throughout, stretching out the notes to intone his grief at his estranged spouse. The music picks up beautifully at 2.50, just listen to that piano and how the bass and drums are giving it space to flourish. There is an unspoken symbiosis of excellence here which I have seldom heard in blues albums. Near the 5.00 minute mark, Joe Turner comes in and sings beautifully in a manner reminiscent of Fats Waller’s That Ain’t Right. The recurring motif established by the drums and saxophone provide a beautiful support for the closing section of the track. This closing section has alternating vocals and is supported by a superb recurring motif on piano, with flourishes towards the end which prove exceedingly effective.
Blues Jam is, as it states on the proverbial tin, a lengthy jam session. The musicians here really come into their own and leave us with a splendid parting shot. The track opens with some stellar guitar, piano and bass. I mentioned the harmonica playing of Mr Smith earlier, it comes back with a vengeance here.
I woke up in the morning with the blues all around my bed
I didn’t have nobody to hold my aching head
The pacing and saxophone/ piano combination from 4.20 to 5.05 is a real toe tapping experience. This is blues jamming at its finest. Watch the picking up from 6.30. One can’t help but get up and dance. The quality of this music is unquestionable. I hark on about symbiosis and musicianship but it is truly stellar here. Jut listen to how it ends from 9.45 to 10.57. The floury and energy of it!
Overall, this album took me completely by surprise. Nick (neé Saint) had sent it to me some months prior but I did not remember or realise the significance of this album. It is only now that I have discovered it again by myself (with suitable scolding from Nick) that I realised how good this was. The breathtaking talent of Walker, Turner and Spann is visible and on spectacular form. The backing musicians and singularly talented and selected for their exceptional skill. This album is a sensational and strongly worded love letter to Black musicianship. It is overflowing with extraordinary talent which oozes out of every note.
Living and dying In Chinatown Yes they’re living and dying down in old Chinatown In Chinatown, you better look around Man, you don’t stand a chance if you go down in Chinatown
Chinatown is Thin Lizzie’s 1980 triumphant offering to the altar of music. While not as strong as their opus Jailbreak, it is uniquely thin Lizzie and stands out among their albums as one of the most colourful musically and visually. I was first introduced to Thin Lizzie by my father, of course, who pointed out Phil Lynot, their lead singer, played the part of the Parson in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, which I had the distinct pleasure of seeing live at the Resorts World Arena in 2018 for Pater’s birthday.
Phil Lynott – bass guitar, lead vocals, guitar
Scott Gorham – guitar, backing vocals
Snowy White – guitar, backing vocals
Brian Downey – drums, percussion
Darren Wharton – keyboards, backing vocals
I shall focus on a few highlights within this album. The most notable track is probably the title track. Chinatown itself is a remarkable work. From the opening chords to the drumming and Lynott’s unmistakable voice. This is a rip roaring rock tune for the ages. The beautiful guitar in the opening and the bridge are indicative of the skill and musicianship of Gorham and White. Note the precise and delightful supporting drum from Wharton throughout. This is just fab!
Other new songs on Chinatown ranged from the rousing, mid-paced determination of opener “We Will Be Strong,” the more carefree, acoustic-backed rocker “Having a Good Time” (another descendant of “The Boys are Back in Town”), the conversely dramatic “Genocide (The Killing of the Buffalo)” (featuring a particularly impassioned Lynott vocal), the heartbreakingly tender and regretful “Didn’t I” and, finally, the rather iffy, half-reggae, half-forgettable amalgam of “Hey You.”
But the album’s piece de resistance was its menacing and sinister single, “Killer on the Loose,” which caused quite a bit of controversy when certain media associated it to the ongoing furor across the British Isles over a serial killer known as the “Yorkshire Ripper,” but nevertheless reached No. 10 in Britain and No. 5 in Ireland. Chinatown, meanwhile, performed well enough in the U.K. but not as well as recent efforts; it barely registered in the U.S. and didn’t show much life even when the band descended there for a short tour, after wildly acclaimed passages through Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Ultimate Classic Rock
Sweetheart is a great passionate track with some top shelf vocals. I think however that I agree with UCR in saying that the moribund hit of the album has to be Killer On the Loose. In spite of its morbid subject matter it is the one I find myself muttering many weeks after listening to the album. The baseline, the recurring motifs, the fantastic breathless vocals just add up to make a superb hit. Try and get the chorus out of your head!
My final highlight has to be Genocide (Killing of a Buffalo) which features some impassioned vocals and a sort of vegetarian utopian vision where buffala mozzarella is a thing of the past. Some stunning guitar work throughout and once again the drumming is so impressive.
Overall, this 1980 offering is an absolute gem and worth a place in anyone’s vinyl collection. It is constant high powered fun with some top notch musicianship thrown in for good measure. Enjoy it, perhaps after watching the film Chinatown!