Saturday, October 11, 2008

November 2008

The November issue of the Nevstar Music Guide is dedicated to our late friend Angela Wolley who was tragically killed in a car accident recently. Without her constant and enthusiastic encouragement, the Nevstar Music Guide would never have existed.

Album of the Month

Glasvegas : Glasvegas

Lester Bangs wrote in 1970: "Personally, I believe that real Rock n Roll may be on the way out.....what we will have instead is a small island of new free music surrounded by some good reworkings of past idioms and a vast sargasso sea of absolute garbage." Bangs wrote some great stuff, but THAT is brilliant. Regrettably, he was exactly right.

There is nothing new in rock and roll. It has all been done before. An art form that has now been around for over 50 years, is incapable of surprising. Any and all bands are instantly compared to a laundry list of 'influences'. Arguably grunge was the last innovation in rock and that is marginal (ask Neil Young). So until someone more talented than Jimi Hendrix comes along (long odds indeed), then people will continue to play guitars in the same way they always have. The only truly original music in the last 30 years is probably rap music. Rock and roll is an industry of nostalgia. The biggest grossing group last year was The Rolling Stones (debut album 1962).

So there is no 'future' of rock and roll. Only the past. But with such a glorious past, there is heaps of material to reinterpret, rework and weld to some relevant and topical lyrical poetry. The artists worthy of our attention today are those with confidence about their sound and whose lyrics accurately capture the age we live in for better or worse. Glasvegas are such a band.

They hail from Scotland and came to the attention of Alan McGee, the head of Creation records. In a story made for reviews like this, he spotted Glasvegas in the same club which he first saw Oasis and declared them to be "f**king brilliant". Their live act is strikingly confident and unadorned with baseless attention seeking (see example here). They feature massive drums, thrilling guitars and pounding rhythms. Somehow they have got this down on record and their debut album is similarly outstanding. It is gigantic yet tender. Magnificent yet intimate, loud yet quiet. On the requisite laundry list of influences, you can say they capture some of the best moments of space rock bands such as Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips, the moods, rhythm and timing of Joy Division and the psychedelic visions of Dandy Warhols.

Glasvegas seem to acknowledge that they must reinterpret the past. Yet they go further back than most. One of the album's most haunting yet inspired moments is Stabbed. The intimately simple and haunting backdrop is none other than the delightful Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven; yet it is accompanied by lyrics outlining the protagonists response to a situation where he is faced by the propsect of being stabbed by an unruly Glaswegian mob. It contrasts starkly with the stunning opener, Flowers and Football Tops which derives its story from the premediated killing of 15 year old Kris Donald who was dragged from his home and murdered by five men.

The topics imply that this is a dark album, but its not. Its hopeful and inspiring. You have to lie on your back in order to see the stars. As such, it seems appropriate that the last track truly sounds like the soundtrack to the colonisation of those very stars.

Listen or purchase here.

Best Track : Daddy's Gone

Try this if you like :

Joy Division
Jesus & The Mary Chain
The Clash

If you like this try :

Interpol................................Turn On The Bright Lights
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.........BRMC

Essential Classic Album

The Beatles : Rubber Soul

The British Invasion was arguably the most important period in the history of recorded rock and roll. In a classic case of selling coals to Newcastle, a bunch of young bands from Britain repackaged American music and took it back to a downcast America struggling to cope with the death of their young president.

There were two strains which influenced the great British invasion and each was represented respectively by the two most successful bands. The Beatles modelled their sound (and looks) on the traditional rock and roll emerging out of the late 50s. Elvis Presley posturing, Buddy Holly structures, Chuck Berry rhythms, and girl group harmonies can be found in their early albums. A markedly different strain can be heard in the Rolling Stones who took their sound from the harder rhythm and blues scene featuring Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson.

Thus early Beatles albums featured a mixture of covers and original compositions all closely following the standard rock and roll template albeit with a verve and enthusiasm unparalled at the time. But on Rubber Soul, the band reached a crossroads and started the trend which would see their recorded output get progressively more sophisticated over time. Indeed they were one of the few bands who continued to broaden their musical horizons while maintaining their popularity.

Firstly, on Rubber Soul, The Beatles noticeably expanded their sound from traditional drums, bass and guitar using more complicated folk-rock arrangements. The album was released around the time they made the decision to stop touring which freed them from the constraining task of having to reproduce the songs on stage. Thus we hear The Beatles incorporating elements of other innovators of the time such as The Byrds, Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys. We have George Harrison playing a sitar on Norwegian Wood and the absolutely gorgeous piano instrumental break in In My Life. Furthermore, it was the first album featuring only original compositions from the band themselves, 12 from Lennon/McCartney and 2 from George Harrison If I Needed Someone and Think For Yourself.

The legend has it that it was Dylan who implored them to take their fresh sound and complement it with more intelligent lyrics. Allegedly drug use became a lot more prevalent amongst the band as well perhaps 'assisting' the creative output. What is certain is that the band has moved well beyond She Loves You. Rubber Soul is the first album to contain some songs which are NOT romantically themed (Nowhere Man, Drive My Car). Plus those with romantic themes are much more satisfying (Norwegian Wood, I'm Looking Through You, Girl). And we have the band recording an entire verse in French (Michelle); un accomplissement magnifique!

In keeping with their transition to an albums based band, Rubber Soul is also the first that should be listened to as an album rather than a collection of singles. No singles were released from the album which is unheard of both then and now. But the album is still unmistakably the Beatles, replete with lovely harmonies, toe-tapping rhythms and infectious enthusiasm.

The best song in this reviewers opinion is Norwegian Wood. Penned by Lennon, it apparently hints at an affair which is not successfully consummated. Its full of ambiguity and intrigue. Who was the girl? Why tell someone to sit when there is no chair? Why did he sleep in the bath? Complemented by the first use of a sitar on a rock record, its an incredible two minutes of your life.

The Beatles would go on to record two of the greatest albums of all time in Revolver and Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. But Rubber Soul is arguably a more important album as it marks the moment in time where they stopped making music and started producing art.

Best Track : Norwegian Wood.

Purchase here

If You Like This Try :

The Byrds.......................Mr Tambourine Man
Bob Dylan.......................Blonde on Blonde
Buffalo Springfield............Buffalo Springfield

Top Ten List

Writing about Rubber Soul made me review all over again why The Beatles were so brilliant. They had it all. Perfect chemistry, sublime writing, lovely harmonies, and some of the best songs ever recorded. I then had a dangerous thought; what were their 'BEST' songs? At once you recoil from the task. Its like asking a ten year old which was their favourite Christmas. But, as we have said, the Nevstar Music Guide is about answering the difficult questions. So, your intrepid correspondent will try and objectively determine :

The Top Ten Beatles Songs of All Time

10. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - off the album The Beatles (aka The White Album)
One notable point to make about The Beatles is that they featured not two but three great writers. George Harrison penned a couple of songs every album and his output stands up very well against probably the greatest song writing duo of all time. This is one of his best, a terrific song which was covered extremely well by The Jeff Healey Band.

See here for version of the song accompanied by montage of Beatles photos.

9. She Loves You - Past Masters Vol 1
Their fourth single and one of their most memorable. A nearly perfect rock and roll record. Catchy, fast and furious. Not released on their original albums but on virtually every Greatest Hits collection since.

See here for live performance accompanied by several thousand screaming girls.

NB The two Past Masters albums capture all the songs the Beatles released as singles but were not included on their 13 albums. If you own these two AND all the albums, you have every song the Beatles ever recorded and released.

8. Something - Abbey Road
An absolutely spell-binding release showcasing the otherworldliness of their songwriting towards the end of their career.

See video here.

7. I Should've Known Better - A Hard Days Night
Ive always had a soft spot for this song; its eminently catchy (hardly unique amongst their output), but there is that sensational mouth organ that opens the song that hooks you straight away. Superb stuff.

See clip from A Hard Days Night here.

6. Yesterday - Help!
Hardly very original including this amongst a Top Ten list as its widely regarded as one of their best moments. According to Guinness Book of Records it is the most covered song of all time so its just not just me that likes it. Paul awoke one night with the melody in his head and scrambled to get it on tape. Legend has it that the first two lines originally started as "Scrambled eggs, Oh, baby how I love your legs." One wonders whether it would have been as memorable had that survived.

See solo performance by Paul here (with only intermittent screams).

5. Across The Universe - Let It Be
Not as widely known, as some others, but Across The Universe is definitely in the Top 5. A haunting, beautiful, tear-inducing song, it showcases the considerable Indian influence on the Beatles later in their careers. A cover version by Fiona Apple is used to absolute perfection at the end of the very clever film "Pleasantville". "Nothings going to change my world."

Watch video set to song here.

4. Eleanor Rigby - Revolver
Historians debate the influence of drug taking on the Beatles recorded output. There is no doubt they were taking a lot of drugs, and certainly one wonders how you could produce this sort of material WITHOUT taking a lot of LSD. No matter, we are blessed with its presence for all eternity (and it will take as long to get sick of it). The delightful and appropriate use of strings is a highlight of their catalog.

Creative unoffical video here (after a 30 sec intro).

3. Twist and Shout - Please Please Me
Not an original composition, but the last song of their first album is definitely one of THE Beatles tracks. You could make a convincing case that this is the only song in the world that is guaranteed to get everyone to dance at a wedding. Interestingly, George Martin left the song to the end of the long 12 hour recording session to get the hoarseness he wanted in the vocals. Best use in a movie has to be the St Patricks Day Parade in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. A great movie moment.

Just as a treat; here is that Ferris Bueller segment here!

2. Norwegian Wood - Rubber Soul

As discussed above, Norwegian Wood is a brilliant track and the first sign that they were leaving their contemporaries far behind.

Some interesting Beatles images accompanying track here.

1. A Day In The Life - Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Few songs can be said to be entirely unlike any other. Bohemian Rhapsody is perhaps one, and A Day In The Life is certainly another. The product of two distinct half songs with the first and last verse penned by John and the middle eight bars by Paul. It easily highlights the distinct differences between the two; John is quiet, moody and deeper in thought, Paul bouncy, melodic and gregarious. The magic of the Beatles is the combination of the two as their post-Beatles work attests. Lennon's solo work is depressing often scary; McCartney's too insubstantial and fluffy, even bordering on inane at times. However together, tempering each others excesses, we have the thoughtfulness and intelligence of Lennon combined with the energy, melody and enthusiasm of McCartney. The distinct parts of A Day In The Life are joined by a 24 bar bridge written by George Martin featuring a rising crescendo from a full orchesta. A second such crescendo brings the song to a climax pausing for a moment before the final, striking, crashing E Minor chord which continues to resonate for over a minute. Its arguably the finest note in recorded music history.

An interesting video here

"What?" I hear folks exclaim. No room for Revolution, Eight Days A Week, A Hard Days Night, Let It Be, Love Me Do, Help!, Get Back, Long and Winding Road, Paperback Writer, Strawberry Field, Penny Lane, It Wont Be Long, Till There Was You, or Hey Jude! I know !!
You can tell a bands quality by what is left out of a list of its Greatest Songs.

Agree or disagree vehemently? What are your favourite Beatles songs of all time ? Leave a comment or email me here

Until next month. Remember to hug your loved ones often and not go long without listening to your favourite music. You never know the last time you will get to do either.


1 comment:

Razor said...

I would have to say Glasvegas are in a tight battle for the second best new release I have heard this year, along with MGMT.

Nothing else gets near the top of the list- Dig Lazarus Dig by the rejuvinated Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds