Thursday, January 17, 2008

October 2007

Welcome to my first monthly newsletter aiming to introduce you to some great music. The discovery of a great album is one of lifes joys. But with a bewildering array of recorded music released each and every week, how do you find those special albums?

My idea is to help filter out some of the unworthy by introducing you to some albums that I have particularly enjoyed. Every month I will highlight a new release and a classic album which may enhance your collection. The final item will be a Top Ten list on a different theme each month. You wont like everything I recommend but hopefully you will like enough to keep reading.

In attempting to write about music, I am however, consistently humbled by two great quotes.

"Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read" - Frank Zappa

“Writing about music is as pointless as dancing about architecture” - Unknown

So with these warnings fairly heeded, here is the Nevstar Music Guide Issue No. 1.

Album of the Month

Rilo Kiley Under The Blacklight

Rilo Kiley are a four piece indie band hailing from California who have operated under the radar before this their fourth release. Amidst misplaced calls from some hardcore fans of ‘selling out’, they have released Under The Blacklight which is an excellent slice of indie pop with intelligent lyrics and darker thematic undertones. The songs bear a familiarity borne of the replication of several musical influences including 80’s pop, some 60’s soul and the reflective, considered moods of other indie pop.

The force behind the band is Jenny Lewis who writes most of the songs and provides lead vocals for all but one. She is blessed with a perfectly clear and lucid voice which amplifies this superb set of songs. Her voice, which sounds a bit like Alanis Morrisette (in a good way!), has an hypnotic impact which diverts your attention from the strength of the songs. Yet it is the lyrics which ensure the albums has legs. Exploring themes of sex and love, drinking and dying; the album has sinister undertones to accompany the pristine vocals. Thus I found plenty to like about this release where the eleven songs never outstay their welcome.

The best track is Close Call which opens with a jaunty guitar line and a lovely melody but a tormented set of lyrics which include the album’s best line “funny thing about money for sex, you might get rich but you can die from it”. Thus it continues combining effortlessly the ability to make you tap your feet, while investigating the darker side of life.

Listen to tracks or buy here :

Best Track : Close Call

Listen To If You Like :

  • Fleetwood Mac : Rumours
  • REM : Automatic For The People

If You Like This Try :

  • Death Cab For Cutie : Transatlanticism
  • The Shins : Wincing The Night Away

Essential Classic Album

Marianne Faithfull Broken English (1979)

Marianne Faithfull is a poster child of 60’s. She vaulted into the public consciousness as a stunningly beautiful young women singing a heartfelt solo version of the Jagger-Richards composition “As Tears Go By” which was a hit for her a full year before the Stones released it themselves. She was a long time girlfriend of Mick Jagger but descended into a personal hell with addictions to both heroin, alcohol and cocaine at different times. There are rumours that several Stones songs were inspired by Marianne. One urban legend surrounds her emergence from a drug-induced coma. In response to a question about whether she should quit, she said that “Wild Horses couldn’t drag me away” giving the Stones the title line to another hit song.

By the end of the 60’s, Marianne Faithfull was burnt out and disappeared from public view. So it came as a great surprise that she reappeared in 1979 with one of the great comeback albums of all time. Broken English is an absolute dark masterpiece. It is the sound of someone who is tired of life with a voice seeped in the misery of drug and alcohol addictions. Gone was her beautiful clear tones to be replaced by vocal chords assaulted by whiskey, cigarettes and drugs. The songs match the despair; tales of woe and misery, disillusionment and loss. It is not an album to cheer you up. It is one to play late at night, with a whiskey bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other while you reflect on shattered dreams, broken promises or unrequited love.

The title track may be known to most as she pours her heart out. The long drawn out sneer as she sings Broken English is an early highlight. The other well known track is the Ballad of Lucy Jordan which narrates the tale of a suburban housewife reflecting on what may have been. However my pick for the best track is the sensational cover of Working Class Hero. The John Lennon penned track is given the full treatment as Faithfull sings it with equal doses of sneer and depair. It puts to shame the recent attempt by Manic Street Preachers (a hidden track on their last album Send Away The Tigers) who sing it with far too much brightness and levity.

She has done some other albums and some acting from time to time, but nothing matches her effort on Broken English. There is some irony in the fact that a poster child for 60’s excess produced one of the greatest albums of the 70’s.

Listen to samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : Working Class Hero

If You Like This Try :

  • Frank Sinatra : Sings Only For The Lonely
  • Joni Mitchell : Blue
  • Pulp : This Is Hardcore

Top Ten Covers of All Time

Covers are normally an anaethma. Why reproduce the song if you have nothing further to add to the original. Several horrific efforts will annoy me for a long time. Think of Rolf Harris destroying Stairway to Heaven or Madonna assassinating American Pie. But occasionally, an artist does justice to an original version and occasionally improves it. So here are my Top Ten Covers of All Time.

1. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley : Top by a long way. The definitive version of this Leonard Cohen classic. Listen out for the sigh before the music starts.

2. Working Class Hero – Marianne Faithfull : See above

3. You Really Got Me Now – Van Halen : The Kinks just didn’t quite rock hard enough. Eddie put that right.

4. One - Johnny Cash : Maybe not better than the original but this haunting version by The Man In Black brings a whole new level of pathos to the song.

5. Helter Skelter - U2 : “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” Mission accomplised Paul.

6. Mr Tambourine Man – The Byrds : Jim McGuinn’s eclectic 12 string guitar takes this Dylan composition into psychedelia.

7. My Way – Sid Vicious : The perfect song to encapsulate Sid’s attitude to life (short though it was).

8. Wild Thing – Jimi Hendrix : Hendrix did more than one great cover in his time, but this is my favourite. A stonking version of the Troggs one hit wonder.

9. Comfortably Numb – Scissor Sisters : Who would’ve thought this Pink Floyd track would suit a gay, electro-dance version.

10. Pinball Wizard – Elton John : Not really a cover as he sang on the Tommy movie soundtrack but Elton does a superb version of this Who track. His version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds is a close second.

What are your favourite cover versions ? Email me your suggestions and will include the best in a future edition. Any other feedback also greatly appreciated.

That’s it for this month. Please forward this to all music fans who might like to be introduced to a couple of interesting albums every month. To be added to the distribution list, please email me here


Rob said...

Nothing can stop the Nevstar now!

thommo said...

Good blog Nev. You found a use for your 4000 CDs...