Kate Bush – Remastered Part 2 Box-set Review

30 11 2018

KB remastered 2Kate Bush has released the second set of remastered versions of her albums – as a box-set and as individual albums, on CD and vinyl. You can read my review of the first box-set here.

Remastered Part 2 contains remastered versions of Aerial, Director’s Cut and the winter-themed 50 Words for Snow, plus the original (not remastered) version of the live Before The Dawn album and 4 disc collection of 12″ mixes b-sides and covers.

2005’s Aerial is still a highlight of Kate’s back catalogue. The 2018 remaster, if anything, is a little quieter than the original release. This is noticeable on opening track King Of The Mountain. Kate’s vocals sit better in the mix now, and it is really clear on How To Be Invisible, where the soundscape of the song feels wider and slightly less compressed. Aerial is definitely an album to play loud on CD or vinyl, even more so with this new mastering.

The most obvious changes can be heard on the second Aerial disc – A Sky of Honey. Much has been made of the removal of Rolf Harris from An Architects Dream and The Painter’s Link. The latter track is taken from the Before The Dawn live album (according to the sleeve notes). The remaining tracks on side two work so well as one movement, and the joyful end to Sunset and the whole of Nocturn (and the title track) sound amazing with the volume pushed up on CD. The rhodes piano on Nocturn sounds delicious.

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Director’s Cut is not a major improvement, the biggest change I noticed was the clarity of This Woman’s Work and the slightly more background drums on Top Of The City.

50 Words For Snow is a much more sympathetic remaster. The bass sits naturally in the mix on Snowflake, and the piano on the intro to Lake Tahoe is softer, as is Kate’s vocal. This is normally the time of year that this album gets played heavily by me, so the box-set is well-timed. The remasters of the later album’s are less obvious than on the earlier ones that feature in box-set 1, but it is still the best these tracks have sounded.

The final four albums don’t appear to have been remastered, but offer a nice selection of 12″ remixes (including my favourite KB 12″ – Experiment IV), ‘b’ sides, soundtrack cuts and more. I can’t comment on the Other’s Words (the covers disc) as the box-set I bought does not have this disc, and has two versions of disc 3 instead! Luckily Amazon are sending a replacement, but I won’t get to hear this until next week.

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Sadly The Other Sides does not catch all of the non-album tracks – The Empty Bullring, Ken and the Live On Stage EP in particular are noticeable by their absence, but we do get one previously unreleased track, Humming.

Humming was recorded in 1975 and was produced by Andrew Powell, who also worked on The Kick Inside & Lionheart. It sounds very much of its time, with a mid-70s country lilt to the guitar work, but the song is missing the playful and adventurous arrangements of the songs that followed three years later. Recorded when Kate was 17, its a strong vocal performance and whilst it is good to hear music from Kate’s formative years, I feel that Humming would have sounded out of place on The Kick Inside.

A highlight of The Other Sides is Lyra, Kate’s contribution to The Golden Compass soundtrack. This is the first time the song has been released on a Kate Bush compilation. Its an understated but emotional track, and Lyra reminds me a little of the early recordings from the sadly now inactive Clannad.

Similar to the first collection of remasters, this Part II collection is a must-have if you don’t already own the albums. If you already own them, you will appreciate hearing the albums in these best sounding versions. The album’s are also available as individual releases, apart from The Other Sides, which remain exclusive to the CD and vinyl box-sets.

Kate Bush – Remastered Part II Box-set

KB remastered 2

Aerial (2018 remaster) – CD or vinyl

aerial

Director’s Cut (2018 remaster) – CD or vinyl

directors cut

50 Words for Snow
(2018 remaster) – CD or vinyl

50 words for snow.jpg

Before the Dawn
(NOT remastered) – vinyl
before the dawn

Vinyl box-sets

Remastered in vinyl III (Aerial / Director’s Cut / 50 Words For Snow) 

Remastered in vinyl IV (12″ mixes / The Other Side 1 / 2 / In Other’s Words)

IV

The albums below are only available as part of the CD box-set or in Remastered in Vinyl IV, they are not available as separate releases.

12″ Mixes
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
The Big Sky (Meteorological Mix)
Cloudbusting (The Orgonon Mix)
Hounds Of Love (Alternative Mix)
Experiment IV (Extended Mix)

The Other Side 1
Walk Straight Down The Middle
You Want Alchemy
Be Kind To My Mistakes
Lyra
Under The Ivy
Experiment IV
Ne T’Enfuis Pas
Un Baiser D’Enfant
Burning Bridge
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) 2012 Remix

The Other Side 2
Home For Christmas
One Last Look Around The House Before We Go
I’m Still Waiting
Warm And Soothing
Show A Little Devotion
Passing Through Air
Humming (previously unreleased)
Ran Tan Waltz
December Will Be Magic Again
Wuthering Heights (Remix / New Vocal from The Whole Story)

In Others’ Words
Rocket Man
Sexual Healing
Mná na hÉireann
My Lagan Love
The Man I Love
Brazil (Sam Lowry’s First Dream)
The Handsome Cabin Boy
Lord Of The Reedy River
Candle In The Wind

Kate Bush – Remastered Part I Box-set Review





Kate Bush – Remastered Part I Box-set Review

17 11 2018

KB remastered 1Kate Bush has released remastered versions of her first seven studio albums – as a box-set and as individual albums, on CD and vinyl. A second box-set is released at the end of November 2018.

Kate’s early albums sounded amazing anyway, and the 2018 remasters thankfully are not just pushing the volume up or brickwalling. The differences are subtle but compliment and at times, enhance the music.

So on Kate’s debut album, The Kick Inside from 1978, there is a touch more bass response, and the new remaster adds greater depth to the vocals – such as on the “You crush the lily in my soul” section on the album opener, Moving.

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The Man With The Child In His Eyes sounds amazing, especially when the strings soar in the chorus, and the lead vocal on L’Amour Looks Something Like You sits so much better in the mix on this new remaster. Wuthering Heights reveals little flourishes that were previously less prominent in the mix, and the vocal sits so well.

LHLionheart, compared to the original CD issue (listening, not comparing waveforms!) is a more sympathetic remaster. The original sounds slightly muddy in comparison, whilst the new master feels cleaner and lets you push the volume up. This is especially noticeable on Symphony In Blue (the drums sound much better) and on Wow (the strings sound gorgeous).

Wow is a marked improvement, the mix is perfect and its like hearing the song for the first time. Yep, its the remasters first Wow moment. Sorry.

In The Warm Room (one of the most sensual songs I have ever heard) sounds delicious at volume. Hammer Horror now sounds like it was recorded in technicolor – the orchestral opening and the reverb on Kate’s vocals lifts the song to a new level.

NFEThe piano and keyboards on the intro to Babooshka from Never For Ever (1980) sound much less harsh than the original master, they sparkle more. One of my favourite songs on the album, Delius also benefits and feels more natural.

Breathing has always been one of my favourite songs. Has there ever been a more powerful anti-war /non-nuclear song than this? As through all the albums, the difference is subtle but noticeable, particularly on the instrumental section of Breathing. The song is not mastered as loud, so individual moments (such as single piano notes and deep bass) cuts cleanly through the mix, and makes you sit up and listen.

TDThe Dreaming is my favourite overall Kate Bush album, and I love the way the vocals sound on this remaster. At normal volume, the changes are noticeable, but when played at volume, the strengths of The Dreaming really hit home. Those drums on Sat In Your Lap!

Album closer Get Out Of My House is a delight – the guitar (from the late Alan Murphy) add to the paranoia and desperation seeping through the song.

The remaster adds warmth and power to the Fairlight lines and drums on Running Up That Hill from Hounds Of Love (1985) , and the bassline is more prominent than before. This song is one of my favourite memories from the Before The Dawn shows from a few years ago.

HOL

The title track has more punch to the inventive percussion and The Big Sky is a different version to the previous album release (it sounds like the single mix) and is a much livelier arrangement.

Side 2 aka The Ninth Wave is a lot of fans favourite pieces in Kate’s catalogue, and the 2018 remaster does not disappoint. The whole piece sounds clearer and more powerful.

The peaks and troughs of Jig Of Life are a joy to listen to at volume. The choral vocals are so much warmer on Hello Earth, one of the most moving parts of The Ninth Wave.

TSWThe Sensual World (1989) has more punch, especially in the chorus of the title track and on the percussion on Reaching Out, one of my favourites from the album.

Deeper Understanding is one of the major improvements on The Sensual World, with individual instruments and voices cutting through the mix with so much clarity.

The album ends with one of Kate’s most popular songs, This Woman’s Work. The treatment of the lead vocals and the use of reverb is a production masterclass, and this is the best the song has ever sounded.

TRSThe Red Shoes (1993) has some key improvements in sound quality – such as on the chorus of Rubberband Girl, with a stronger bass and guitar sound. The deep strings in Moments Of Pleasure are more vibrant and richer and Top Of The City sounds more widescreen and cinematic.

The heartbreaking You’re The One is beautiful, the original now sounds a little muddy in comparison.

The only negative point I have about these re-issues is the lack of fresh content with the packaging. Whilst the reproductions of the original artwork with the CD cases and the booklets is high quality and faithful to the initial releases, I am a little disappointed that the booklets just contain lyrics and recording details. There is nothing new in the booklets –  no previously unseen pictures, no essays or background to the albums or songs – either from Kate herself, or from any of the musicians or countless wonderful Kate Bush websites and blogs scattered across the internet. Also, a pet hate here (and not a fault of the compilers) – recent box sets (including the Bowie series) have a paper detachable back panel, listing the box-sets content that is not fixed to the box and does not fit inside, so easily gets damaged or lost.

Anyway, very minor grumble aside, this is an excellent release and all seven albums have been lovingly remastered and are definitely worth the outlay, even if you already own the original albums.

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If you don’t have any Kate Bush albums in your collection, this box-set is a must purchase. Which reminds me,  I need to start saving for the second CD box-set. Or maybe add it to my Christmas list. Hint hint Santa.

Read my review of the second CD box-set.

Buy the albums on Amazon

Kate Bush – Remastered Part I Box-set

KB remastered 1

Kate Bush – Remastered Part II Box-set

KB remastered 2

The individual albums

The Kick Inside (2018 Remaster)

KI

Lionheart (2018 Remaster)

LH

Never For Ever (2018 Remaster)

NFE

The Dreaming (2018 Remaster)

TD

Hounds Of Love (2018 Remaster)

HOL

The Sensual World (2018 Remaster)

TSW

The Red Shoes (2018 Remaster)

TRS

 





North Atlantic Oscillation – Grind Show

7 11 2018

Grind Show 1Grind Show is the 4th album from Edinburgh band North Atlantic Oscillation and the first new release from Sam Healy since the 2nd Sand album A Sleeper, Just Awake from 2016.

Grind Show builds on the mood of the Sand album, whilst retaining the dark, post-progressive urgency of previous North Atlantic Oscillation releases.

Low Earth Orbit is a well-chosen opener, with its shifting soundscape – from tightly sequenced synths to more guitar heavy breaks. It sets the scene for an album that evolves throughout its journey.

Weedkiller is an early highlight. A mournful piano line sits atop a beautifully textured electronic backing before the trademark NAO drums and post-punk guitar riffs kick in. Being NAO, the songs dramatically shift and the music instantly drops off to take you in a different direction as the song plays out.

Needles has a fairytale, almost twisted Disney quality to the arrangement. I love the use of effects, almost played as an instrument on this track, twisting and blending the electronica. Needles is topped off by a fine, raspy vocal from Healy and I am sure it will become a fan favourite when the album is released in mid-November.

Around the album mid-point, Sirens is NAO at their most direct. Buzz-saw guitars to the fore, with harmony vocals sitting uncomfortably in the mix, before giving way to an electronic middle section. In complete contrast is another of the album’s key tracks, the mammoth Hymn. With its psychedelic fairground from hell waltz backing, I could imagine Hymn being used in a film soundtrack, and its one of those rare songs that reveals different elements after repeated listens.

“Someone calls and I answer”

Downriver is currently my favourite track on Grind Show. The stripped back arrangement, with heavily reverb drenched piano, really allow the song to breathe and find its own shape and convey the melancholy. The song also contains some of Healy’s most emotional vocals. I love the way the melody mutates over the held chord strings.  I don’t think I will ever tire of hearing this beautiful track. Fill your boots with this one, sigur ros fans.

NAO

The album heads to its conclusion with its final songs. Sequoia is a brass driven piece and unlike anything else in the NAO catalogue. Fernweh (apparently meaning longing for far-off places) is appropriately the albums longest track, clocking in at just under 8 minutes. The song is a definite slow-burner, with looped trumpet and discordant, abrasive landscapes underpinning the emotive vocals. Fernweh shifts gears half way through, and at this point I am reminded a little of some of the early 1980’s sonically adventurous releases of Peter Gabriel (Games Without Frontiers / The Rhythm of the Heat in particular). The percussion work in the second movement of Fernweh is top drawer.

I have been living with Grind Show for around three weeks now, and I find that it really does work as a whole-album experience. Whilst songs such as Fernweh, Downriver and Needles work well as stand-alone songs, the album has been sequenced so well that it deserves your full attention.

Buy Grind Show on Amazon (download)

Buy the Grind Show CD / download directly from the band

Other North Atlantic Oscillation releases

Grappling Hooks

Fog Electric

The Third Day

Lightning Strikes the Library (2016, compilation)





David Bowie – Loving The Alien

14 10 2018

Loving The Alien [1983 – 1988] is the 4th David Bowie box-set to be released, and the one covering his most commercially successful period.

Loving The Alien cover

The box-set comprises three remastered original studio albums (Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down), a newly re-imagined Never Let Me Down (2018) with Bowie’s original vocals and new musical performances from long time collaborators, two live albums (Serious Moonlight [Live ’83] and Glass Spider [Montreal ’87] plus two new compilations – Dance (original extended mixes) and Re:Call 4, a double album of single mixes, b-sides and soundtrack songs. As with the previous box-sets, Loving The Alien includes an excellent companion book with rare and unseen photos and essays from Nile Rodgers, Hugh Padgham and more.

Let's Dance (2108 remaster)

Let’s Dance was David Bowie’s 15th studio album and was originally released in April of 1983. Produced by Bowie and Nile Rodgers, the UK / US Platinum selling no 1 album crossed over into the mainstream more than ever before with three massive hit singles, Modern Love, China Girl and the title track.

The sound on the 2018 remaster from Ray Staff and Nile Rodgers is not a massive difference, as the album always sounded amazing anyway. The drums sound slightly fuller and there is more punch to the bass. China Girl and Let’s Dance suffer from less treble than the previous masters, so this version is definitely more sympathetic.

1984’s Tonight album is mastered slightly quieter than the previous version. The Ray Staff / Hugh Padgham 2018 remaster has a much softer snare sound. Tonight was not popular with critics, but sold well, though not on the Let’s Dance scale. Whilst by no means a classic album, it contains one of my favourite Bowie songs, the achingly beautiful Loving The Alien. A song so good they named the box-set after it!

Blue Jean sounds so much better on this remaster, as does one of my favourite Tonight tracks, the mighty Neighborhood Threat and the 80s pop-reggae of Don’t Look Down.

The final original studio album included on the Loving The Alien box-set is Never Let Me Down from 1987. Though Never Let Me Down was a commercial success, it was not well received by a lot of fans. Bowie also apparently disliked the arrangements and production, and it is probably no co-incidence that this was the last (solo) studio album release until Black Tie White Noise in 1993.

I must admit that Never Let Me Down is by far my least played Bowie album. The only two tracks I still play to this day are Day-In Day-Out and Time Will Crawl, so listening to the album in it’s entirety 31 years after release was interesting. The 2018 remaster is the best this album has sounded. Remastered slightly louder, and with more bottom end, Time Will Crawl and Beat Of Your Drum sound better than previous releases. The snare on Never Let Me Down sounds so much fuller and I will play this song more often, but the rest of the album still leaves me pretty cold I’m afraid.

I am happy to report that Never Let Me Down 2018 is a much more enjoyable listen. Mario J. McNulty, who was responsible for the popular Time Will Crawl (MM remix) from the popular Bowie compiled iSelect album, gathered together musicians including Reeves Gabrels, David Torn, Sterling Campbell, Tim Lefebvre, Nico Muhly and Laurie Anderson to re-assemble the album at New York’s Electric Lady Studios in early 2018. Never Let Me Down 2018 is exclusive to this box-set, and is a must-have for Bowie fans.

Never Let Me Down (2018)

The difference is startling. Day-In Day-Out has a much better drum sound, and discordant Berlin-era buzzsaw guitars mixed with Adrian Belew like held notes, with Bowies vocals much higher up in the mix. The at times sparse mix really does justice to the underlying song.

Time Will Crawl builds on the previous MM mix, with a much less compressed master. Beat Of Your Drum feels more like a mid-70s Bowie song in this incarnation. The plucked strings work really well, and its a fine Bowie vocal performance.

Shorn of the 80s production, the title track is the highlight of Never Let Me Down 2018. Zeroes also works much better as a Hunky Dory meets Reality type track.

The newly re-imagined Glass Spider is longer than the original 1987 version, and this seemingly Nine Inch Nails influenced, dirtier electronic re-recording would have not sounded out-of-place on one of Bowies 90s albums. Shining Star (Makin’ My Love) is also more enjoyable. The short appearance from Laurie Anderson fits well into this 2018 recording, with its discomforting background electronics as a counterpart to the smooth Fame like backing.

LTA vinyl

New York’s In Love is a vast improvement, and feels a little like the sound of the second Tin Machine album mixed with The Next Day production. ’87 And Cry is grungier than the original, and has shades of the sound of Lodger at times.

The album closes with a string-heavy Bang Bang. The more restrained, much less frantic arrangement gives the lead vocals (and 70s sounding) backing vocals the room to breathe. I’m so glad this 2018 album exists, and I’m sure it will receive many more plays from me than the original album.

Serious Moonlight (Live '83)The two live albums are not of the quality of the recent Welcome To The Blackout (my favourite Bowie live album), but they are worth having, if just to replace the poor quality bootlegs that have been in circulation for years. The crowd for the Serious Moonlight (Live ’83) album sounds absolutely massive. This is the first full audio release for this concert, that was previously released as a VHS video album, and a shortened digital EP.

Highlights include the segue from Fashion into Let’s Dance, and I love the horns on the 1983 live arrangement of Breaking Glass.

Glass Spider (Live Montreal ’87) draws heavily from Never Let Me Down, so is a less interesting live album for me. The theatrical nature along with the interludes has really dated this live show, and it doesn’t work as well without the visuals. Highlights from this album include Loving The Alien and Sons Of The Silent Age, but overall, this is not an album I will return to often.

The extended version’s disc titled Dance is literally dripping in the sounds and feel of the 80s, so loving that decade will surely influence whether this compilation hits the right notes for you. Make sure you slip into your 80s pastel clothing, and throw on your head-band before listening to Dance for the ultimate experience. Finally having the cream of the 83 onward extended remixes together on one album is a good thing. Shake It (Re-mix aka Long Version), Loving the Alien (Extended Dub Mix) and Time Will Crawl (Dance Crew Mix) are particular highlights.

Re_Call 4Re:Call 4 ties together the majority of the odds and ends from this era, including the 7″ edits of the Let’s Dance singles, and the Absolute Beginners and much-loved Labyrinth Bowie soundtrack pieces.

Less vital are the Never Let Me Down album vinyl edits and some of the poorer b-sides such as Julie, Girls – Extended Edit and the two tracks recorded with Tina Turner (Tonight and the Let’s Dance medley).

The personal highlights of Re:Call 4 are two of my favourite Bowie songs – This Is Not America and Absolute Beginners. Although sound-wise not an improvement on previously released versions, they stand head and shoulders above most tracks on this compilation, which is the most diverse but ultimately the poorest of the four box-sets Re:Call’s released so far.

Loving The Alien is much more of a mixed-bag than the previous David Bowie box-sets, but it has a potentially much larger audience due to the massive commercial success of Let’s Dance. The rehabilitation of Never Let Me Down with the 2018 re-recording makes this collection a must-buy for Bowie fans. I hope my David Bowie Loving The Alien review will help you decide if you want to add this release to your collection.

Loving The Alien cover

Buy Loving The Alien on CD from Amazon

Loving The Alien cover

Buy Loving The Alien on vinyl from Amazon





Kate Bush – Remastered

4 10 2018

Kate Bush will release remastered versions of her entire studio album catalogue on CD and vinyl in November 2018.

I was only thinking the other day that I would love to hear a remastered version of The Dreaming, and here we are. The power of positive thinking. Back to reality – tweets from the Kate Bush twitter account are as rare as hen’s teeth. So when one arrives in your timeline (a tweet, not a hen’s tooth), its normally significant, like announcing the 2014 Before The Dawn tour and now this extensive re-issue campaign. I feel they may have missed a trick with not using #NovemberWillBeMagicAgain, but KB-HQ twitter team, you can have that one for free if you want.

For the casual fan, the CD box-sets are a great way to add some classic albums to your collection. As an avid fan since 1978, I’m looking forward to hearing the new remasters of some of my favourite albums and hearing with new clarity so many songs that are etched into my soul.

The vinyl box-sets are, by their very nature, quite pricey, but being split into four different sets will help you build your collection over time, if vinyl is your format of choice.

From the initial artwork shown on Kate’s website, the CD and vinyl packaging looks beautiful, so I would suggest going for the physical releases, rather than digital, if you possibly can. Hopefully the details below will make it clear what is available, so you can start saving for your purchases!

The albums have been remastered by Kate and James Guthrie (apart from the live Before The Dawn album which retains its recent, original mastering).

Read my review of the first CD boxset here.

My review of the second box-set is now live.

So here is the detail, with the Amazon pre-order links.

THE CD BOX-SETS

Kate Bush Remastered Part I

KB remastered 1

  • The Kick Inside
  • Lionheart
  • Never For Ever
  • The Dreaming
  • Hounds of Love
  • The Sensual World
  • The Red Shoes

Amazon pre-order

KB-CD-Packshot-1-Square-3000_01


Kate Bush Remastered Part II

KB remastered 2

  • Aerial
  • Director’s Cut
  • 50 Words for Snow
  • Before the Dawn (Original Mastering)
  • 12″ Mixes
  • The Other Side 1
  • The Other Side 2
  • In Others’ Words

Amazon pre-order

KB-CD-Packshot-2-Square-3000 2


THE VINYL BOX-SETS

Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl I

  • The Kick Inside
  • Lionheart
  • Never For Ever
  • The Dreaming

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-1-(Flat)_0 1


Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl II

  • Hounds of Love
  • The Sensual World
  • The Red Shoes

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-2-(Flat) 2


Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl III

  • Aerial
  • Director’s Cut
  • 50 Words for Snow

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-3-(Flat) 3


Kate Bush Remastered In Vinyl IV

  • 12″ Mixes
  • The Other Side 1
  • The Other Side 2
  • In Others’ Words

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-4-(Flat) 4


The track-listing for the Kate Bush Remastered In Vinyl IV box-set and the last 4 CDs of the second CD box-set consists of:

12” Mixes

Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
The Big Sky (Meteorological Mix)
Cloudbusting (The Orgonon Mix)
Hounds Of Love (Alternative Mix)
Experiment IV (Extended Mix)

The Other Side 1

Walk Straight Down The Middle
You Want Alchemy
Be Kind To My Mistakes
Lyra
Under The Ivy
Experiment IV
Ne T’Enfuis Pas
Un Baiser D’Enfant
Burning Bridge
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) 2012 Remix

The Other Side 2

Home For Christmas
One Last Look Around The House Before We Go
I’m Still Waiting
Warm And Soothing
Show A Little Devotion
Passing Through Air
Humming
Ran Tan Waltz
December Will Be Magic Again
Wuthering Heights (Remix / New Vocal from The Whole Story)

In Others’ Words

Rocket Man
Sexual Healing
Mná na hÉireann
My Lagan Love
The Man I Love
Brazil (Sam Lowry’s First Dream)
The Handsome Cabin Boy
Lord Of The Reedy River
Candle In The Wind





Hugh Cornwell – Monster

28 09 2018

monster300Monster is an album telling the tales of heroes (including Hugh’s mother and from the music world, Lou Reed & Jimmy Webb) as well as villains (Robert Mugabe and Mussolini) of the 20th Century.

Monster differs from previous releases in that this album is the nearest thing to a pure Hugh Cornwell solo studio album. Hugh produces the album as well as providing all the guitars, bass and vocals, with the only other musicians being Katie Elliot adding recorder to Duce Coochie Man and album engineer Phil Andrews assisting Hugh with the drum programming.

Monster opens with Pure Evel. Summoning the sound of early Dr Feelgood, and drenched in gasoline and leather, this is the story of motorcycle stuntman and 70s superstar from the USA, Evel Knievel.

“I’m the last gladiator in the new Rome”

Tight, dirty and with raw lead vocals, this is a great start to the album and really captures the feel of its subject, an often (literally) broken star.

La Grande Dame is the first of two Velvet Undergound influenced tracks. An affectionate song about Winifred Cornwell, who lived to the age of 98 and swam every day, no matter the weather. Uncharacteristically bluesey guitar lines adorn this homage to Hugh’s mother.

Hedy Lamarr is celebrated for both her beauty and her brains in The Most Beautiful Girl in Hollywood. It’s a little known fact that Lamarr helped develop a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes at the beginning of World War II, and that the principles of this work are incorporated into modern Bluetooth technology. A delicious rumbling bass-line underpins the sparkling verse and clever wordplay.

A typically infectious double Cornwell chorus will ensure The Most Beautiful Girl in Hollywood sticks in your head long after the song finishes.

The heroes continue with Hugh’s tip of the hat to one of his longest serving musical idols, the American jazz and blues pianist, singer, and songwriter Mose Allison. Allison influenced musicians beyond the jazz genre – The Clash covered Look Here on Sandinista! in 1980 and The Pixies celebrated his work on the Bossanova album. Hugh’s tribute Mosin’ has a hot and sticky New Orleans rhythm and blues vibe running through its veins.

Mr. Leather is the story of an aborted meeting (due to illness) between Lou Reed and Hugh in NYC shortly before Reed’s death. The song doubles up as a love letter to New York as much as to the music of Reed and The Velvet Underground.

The King of Chutzpa Phil Silvers and his comic character Bilko is the next hero. Bilko features playful lyrics and wonderful, unexpected changes of pace, in one of the album’s highlights.

Our first villain appears in the form of Robert (Mugabe). Written and recorded before Mugabe was ousted from power in a coup in late 2017, the song references the land seizures and the decline and fall of a despot.

The album’s title track pays tribute to the work of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion model animation, who was known for his work on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C. and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. George Lucas said “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars”.

Monster has a warm 1960’s feel, and reminds me of another Ray, Ray Davies of The Kinks. The title track, and indeed half of the songs on the album, come in at just over the three minute mark – the perfect pop song length, always leaving you wanting more.

My favourite two songs on the album are the final two tracks. Attack of the Major Sevens opens with a gorgeous sounding acoustic (I’m not sure if this is a Martin acoustic guitar) riff and musically references Arthur Lee (Love), Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds and the song-writing titan Jimmy Webb.

Attack of the Major Sevens is a heavily nostalgic perfect pop song. Oh, and why limit yourself to one chorus, when you can have two? The backing vocals and textures lift this song to another level, as the Californian psychedelia and stream of consciousness lyrics tumble out at pace.

The album ends with Duce Coochie Man. When I first heard this song, the darkest track on the album, I wrote in my notes “Nosferatu meets The Pretty Things via Cream”. And I stand by that. It reminds me of some of the great classic rock songs from the early 70s (one of my favourite eras).

Duce Coochie Man features my favourite vocal performance on the album and is a track where the subject is not immediately obvious, but when you realise the identity of the villain, someone who was left “Hanging Around” in the end – sorry for the poor taste pun, it is even sweeter. The arrangement, especially the drum pattern and the wild outro, complete with twisted recorder linesq, is a joy to listen to.

HC

Monster is a lyrically strong and musically adventurous yet cohesive album – and it sounds amazing on vinyl, with the volume cranked up.

The second disc is a collection of re-recorded acoustic versions of Stranglers songs, titled Restoration. The strengths of the songs, in these sparse, stripped back to the core takes, shines through. Some of the arrangements you will be familiar with from Hugh’s solo acoustic shows over recent years. Subtle overdubs, mainly percussion and backing vocals, have been added.

Black and White‘s Outside Tokyo remains chilling in this incarnation, even stripped of the keyboards, drums and bass. Aural Sculpture‘s Let Me Down Easy is another highlight, and is one of the fuller arrangements, with slow-building layer upon layer of vocals and piano as the song heads to its conclusion.

A moving reinterpretation of Souls features Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson on flute. One of the biggest surprises is Don’t Bring Harry, which originally appeared on 1979’s The Raven, and was sung by JJ Burnel.

“Harry likes to play all night, I’ll do what Harry says”

This fresh arrangement will probably result in you falling in love with this song all over again.

Goodbye Toulouse has an added layer of heartbreak, shorn of the new wave aggression found in the original 1977 version.

Ships That Pass In The Night, originally from Feline (1983) is the second song to feature Ian Anderson, and remains faithful to the original arrangement, as does it’s (blue) sister song Never Say Goodbye.

No More Heroes features raw and distorted guitar, but will always work best for me with a full electric version. Big in America lends itself to this Americana (americanUUUR) arrangement, as does the album closer, Always The Sun.

It’s refreshing to hear these fresh interpretations of some classic Stranglers songs, and Restoration is a good value addition to the double Monster package.

Monster is released on October 5th through Sony Music.

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Buy Monster on CD from Amazon

Buy Monster on vinyl from Amazon 

Buy Monster MP3 album from Amazon

Tracklisting:

Monster

Pure Evel
La Grande Dame
The Most Beautiful Girl in Hollywood
Mosin’
Mr. Leather
Bilko
Robert
Monster
Attack of the Major Sevens
Duce Coochie Man

Restoration

Outside Tokyo
Let Me Down Easy
Souls
Don’t Bring Harry
Goodbye Toulouse
Ships That Pass In The Night
Never Say Goodbye
No More Heroes
Big in America
Always The Sun





Blancmange – Wanderlust

19 09 2018

Blancmange release their tenth studio album, Wanderlust, on October 19, 2018. Wanderlust features ten songs composed by Neil Arthur, and arranged, co-produced and mixed with Benge (Wrangler/Creep Show). This is the pair’s third album together following their Fader First Light album in June 2017 and last year’s Blancmange album Unfurnished Rooms.

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As with last years Unfurnished Rooms, Wanderlust is a more stark electronic offering than the early Blancmange albums. The major difference with this album is the inclusion of three songs (Distant Storm,In Your Room and Not a Priority) that could easily fit onto a “best of” album, and if released in the mid-80s, would have probably been top 20 singles.

Opening with lead single Distant Storm, the duo lay out their intentions straight away. Pulsing bass synths and expanding percussion layers drive a wistful, vocoder treated vocal from Neil Arthur. A Giorgio Moroder meets Madonna’s Lucky Star keyboard arrangement lifts this song to another level and adds real colour and warmth to the song.

In Your Room dials down the warmth a couple of notches, and is a much darker track. Musically this has a feel of the edgier early Soft Cell tracks, and features a simple yet naggingly addictive chorus. You will not be able to stop yourself singing along.

“In your room, In Your Room, IN YOUR ROOM”

I Smashed Your Phone opens with what sounds like the drum machine intro pattern to Wham’s Everything She Wants and has some interesting percussion programming highlighting key points in the song. The lyric references our often fractious relationship with modern technology, and this theme continues throughout the album.

Gravel Drive Syndrome is another album highlight. The tightly, unnaturally sequenced bleeps underpin a growing feeling of unease mirrored by this tale of social climbing at any cost. Talking to Machines is a John Foxx influenced synthesised slow-burner, warning us that our interactions are often with machines that are “Always on, on always”. Switch off and step away people!

Not a Priority is my favourite track on the album. Easily the most commercial song since the early Blancmange albums, Not a Priority features a sugar-coated joint chorus with one of my favourite current electronic artists, Hannah Peel. The synths bubble away, and along with the ever-present Moroder, I get hints of Kraftwerk and Propaganda on this album highlight.

“Please be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.”

TV Debate is the first track to add guitars to the mix. A Berlin era Bowie / glam-rock backing drives a tale of channel-surfing and wall-to-wall talking heads displayed on the screen. David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush) adds an engaging guitar wall of sound to another of the albums key tracks, Leaves.  The arrangement rises and falls, mimicking the seasons, as nature meets mankind.

White Circle, Black Hole is a rare chink of light in the lyrical darkness, and has one of Arthur’s best vocal performances on the album, along with a twin guitar propelled chorus.

“Start again, such a good place.”

The album ends on the title track. Disembodied sampled voices, and a heart-beat kick drum introduces a song about living in this moment, in the here and now. Analogue synth lines take the lead instead of a traditional vocal chorus, as Wanderlust draws to a close on an optimistic note.

Blancmange 2018

I loved last years Unfurnished Rooms but Wanderlust sees Blancmange at their very best, bringing their pop sensibility back to the surface, whilst exploring the dark side of electronica. One of the strengths of this album is that the music channels the adventurous spirit of the 1980s, yet the lyrics explore a dystopian, close enough to touch, near future. This mix of darkness and light makes Wanderlust a unique album in the Blancmange catalogue, and one of the most interesting albums I have heard this year.

Distant Storm
In Your Room
I Smashed Your Phone
Gravel Drive Syndrome
Talking to Machines
Not a Priority
TV Debate
Leaves
White Circle, Black Hole
Wanderlust

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Buy Blancmange Wanderlust on CD from Amazon

wanderlust

Buy Blancmange Wanderlust on vinyl from Amazon

near_future_-_ideal_home

Buy Near Future – Ideal Home on Amazon








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