Monday, July 25, 2011

August 2011

In the July issue, in order to make up for the sporadic updates of late, the Nevstar profiled six new albums which had impressed me recently. As I settled in to draft the latest update, I soon realised that I had already covered all albums which had recently impressed me. In the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson; Doh! My first attempt to rectify this led to the rapid acquisition of some new albums. But offerings from bands such as The Cults, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and The Horrors haven't really impressed me sufficiently to justify anointing them as the Album of the Month. Fortunately an album I purchased way back in April is definitely worthy and still getting spins on my CD. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the new(ish) album from The Vaccines!

Album of the Month

The Vaccines : What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

Rock may not be dead, but it is certainly in a coma. Rock music, once cast as the end of civilisation, barely registers on music charts anymore. Rolling Stone magazine reported in its 2010 review that of the 30 top selling albums in 2010, only one could truly be considered a "rock" album (the rather tepid and uninspiring Kings of Leon effort Come Around Sundown). Instead the charts are replete with soporific pop princesses, tuneless former teen idols and the occasional intellectually interesting indie effort.

So, as an unashamed rock music fan, it was fantastic to come across The Vaccines and their debut album What Did You Expect From The Vaccines. The Vaccines are not the saviours of rock and roll, but they quickly remind us what we love about it. They have a simple, unadorned attitude to music, choosing to entertain all-comers with short sharp songs, ridiculously catchy guitar riffs, and bountiful energy and enthusiasm. Playing the album the first time, my head was soon nodding along vigorously to the toe-tapping beat. And then, after 11 tracks totalling just over 36 min, I was pressing play to start it all again.

The album kicks off with the terrific opener Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra) with the title an accurate depiction of what follows. It's a shamelessly shambolic statement of intent which sets the scene in a rapid 1 min 24 seconds. Say something well once and move on seems to be the mantra. It's also the band's first single so they like to start with their best foot forward. Next comes If You Wanna which has the best rock song hook this side of the Kaiser Chiefs. Then mid-album tracks form a sample of the delights that the whole album provides. Norgaard rips into it with some jangly Strokes'ish guitars and a relentless beat before the cheeky Post Break-Up Sex cheerfully confirms that rock and roll never veers far from the subject of horizontal tummy trampolining.

As such, its not the most intelligent album in the world and, truth be known, the lyrics are pretty weak in some respects. But who cares? Keith Richards famously said that rock and roll is music for head downwards. You don't always want to think about "what it all means?". Sometimes you just want to kick off you shoes, dance with your friends and scream "Yeah Yeah Yeah." That's the essence of rock music and if more bands remembered this, they might have a lot more success.

Listen to or purchase here.

Listen to this if you like:

The Strokes : Is This It?
Kaiser Chiefs : Employment

While I was compiling this month's Nevstar Music Guide, word came over the wires that the prodigiously talented Amy Winehouse had died of unknown causes at the tender age of 27. It's an inauspicious age as Amy joined musical legends Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain in perishing before their 28th birthday. There is however, one other important and notable musician who died aged 27 but is never mentioned in press dispatches at such times. And it just so happens that 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. As such I thought it would a great opportunity to highlight the immense musical contribution of a certain Mr Robert Leroy Johnson. Don't know him? Read on, dear reader.

Classic Album of the Month

The Complete Recordings : Robert Johnson

Rock and roll was the primary and dominant musical genre of the 20th century. But as Muddy Waters once sang, the Blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll. If you want to understand rock music, it is nigh on essential that you have a passing understanding of the structure and history of blues. Rock and roll is really nothing but speeded up blues.

Perhaps the foremost artisan who established the template that many would follow was an itinerant musician by the name of Robert Johnson. He died at the age of 27 after being poisoned reportedly for chasing the wrong woman. But fortunately, he was able to get on record 29 songs which we are absolutely blessed to be able to access to this day.

Johnson was the foremost practitioner of a style which became known as Delta Blues. Originating out of the Mississippi delta, this new style of music prominently showcases rhythmical tunes accompanied by instrumentation. Or what became rock and roll plus guitar solos. You can essentially trace a straight line from Mississippi Delta Blues to the electric Chicago Blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf) to the early bands of the British Invasion (Beatles, Stones and Animals) to the rock innovators in the late 60s (Stones again, Yardbirds, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin). As such, it is pretty damn important in the whole scheme of things!

You may not have heard of Robert Johnson but I guarantee that you've come across his songs. In keeping with his immense influence, his limited repertoire has been covered by some of the greatest acts in rock history. Love in Vain (Rolling Stones), Cross Road Blues (Cream), Travelling Riverside Blues (Led Zeppelin) and the hugely enjoyable Sweet Home Chicago (a number of bands most notably the Blues Brothers) are all Robert Johnson songs.

The essence of blues is one man and his guitar facing the world and the miseries it heaps upon him. On the double album we have Robert Johnson playing 29 songs totalling 41 tracks (a number have alternate takes including a couple where you would swear it was a different song). The first thing we notice from the recordings is his incredible voice; a wailing, plaintive voice with poverty and deprivation anchored into every tortured note. As such, the music itself is not an easy listen but it shouldn't be. Blues is a collective suffering; an anguish bared from the depths of your soul retold only in song because words wouldn't do it justice.

The next revelation is the guitar playing which is absolutely astonishing. The story, perhaps apocryphal, is that Robert Johnson was an average guitar player but then sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads late one night. He returned as an outstanding guitar player to the bewilderment of those who knew him. True or not, there is certainly abundant evidence of his prodigious talent. The guitar playing in the songs is wondrous. Just like Jimi Hendrix who followed 30 years later, Robert played both lead and rhythm on the one guitar. Listening to the album today, you would swear that their are two guitars being played.

Robert Johnson lived the rock and roll lifestyle before there was a name for such a thing. He was a noted womaniser and spent most of his life on the road playing in juke joints for beer money and the chance to impress the local ladies. His death is somewhat mysterious but the most likely explanation is that he died after drinking some poisoned whiskey most likely by the hand of a cuckolded husband. So at 27, we lost one of the world's great guitarists. Fortunately his legacy survives on record to this day. If you are even the remotest fan of blues or simply want to understand the entire history of rock and roll, you must own this record.

Listen to tracks here.

Try this if you like: Any rock music recorded in the second half of 20th century!

No top ten list this month sorry. I'm working on an idea which needs bit more work to flesh out properly so will hopefully get it out at the start of September. Does anyone have any ideas for a Top Ten list that they would like to see the Nevstar write about?

See you next month.



Gary Bury (Mediaburst) said...

I think we need to have some fun, how about top ten TV theme tunes, or top 10 film soundtracks, or film theme tunes.

Glenn said...

Top ten albums to test the abilities of your stereo to reproduce quality sound.....sometimes the sound production inspires even if the music is a little tepid. An example is The Blue Nile - it sounds great even if a little left of centre. Whereas some big name bands leave me questioning the sound engineering....

Anonymous said...

Great blog as usual Nevstar, and I never knew Robert Johnson died of poisoning!

Will give the great man and the Vacinnes a listen for sure. How about a top 10 of upcoming artists who might, just maybe, wake rock & roll from its coma?


paulM said...

Great blog again - love you looking back as much as forward. Top about some geography - Top 10 'scenes' that rocked the world (eg Madchester, NY punk,Seattle grunge, Dunedin!!, Detroit techno, Boston/80s, Krautrock, Bristol trip-hop)?? Love your work bro