Cobalt Chapel – Variants

16 01 2019

Variants is the companion piece to the debut album from Cobalt Chapel (released in 2017). Cobalt Chapel is the psychedelic folk-rock pairing of Cecilia Fage (Matt Berry & The Maypoles) and Jarrod Gosling (I Monster, Regal Worm).

Variants takes the songs from the bands debut and re-imagines them using a vast array of effects, cassette loops, found sounds and field recordings, spitting the tracks out in a very different format to the originals. What this does is give the release a real consistency, and a more stripped back, sparse feel to the album, which is quite gothic at times.

My original review described Cobalt Chapel’s debut as being “perfectly suited to the Autumn and Winter seasons” and this is even more so for Variants, which works well as an album in its own right, whether you are aware of the original album or not. As the temperature drops, and as the snow starts to fall, Variants could well be the perfect soundtrack to your winter.

The album opener, We Come Willingly (Variant), turns the original song on its head – gone are the loud drums and the fairground waltz, and in comes a disquieting, dream-like arrangement. Cecilia Fage’s vocals appear through the fog as Jarrod Gosling manipulates and twists the drone-like synths and dark electronica.

Fruit Falls from the Apple Tree (Variant) is delivered over slow building accordion lines, retaining the main melodies from the original, but with an added darkness in its variant form. The song switches gear around the half way mark, with delay-laden percussion splashed on to the canvas.

Two of the highlights from the band’s debut album are up next, both in very different guises. Who Are the Strange (Variant) is a spine-chilling hymn to the absurd whilst The Lamb (Variant) moves on from the vocal-only original, with deep, distorted organs under-pinning the track.

The Lamb (Variant) sounds as if it was recorded in a deserted, haunted church on the Yorkshire moors. Maybe it was? Anyway, I prefer this new variants version of the song, even though it makes me feel a little uneasy.

Singing Camberwell Beauty (Variant) has the feel of a more pastoral Portishead, and would be perfect for use in a Channel 4 Christmas Ghost story. Producers take note.

Horratia (Variant) is a disturbing soundtrack to accompany “the story of an aging B-movie actress revisiting her life and career.. all but forgotten, except in the minds of obsessed horror/sci-fi convention-goers.” One of my favourite performances on the album, I love the way the keyboards gently drift into the mix before the heavily-processed drums make their presence felt.

The album ends with it’s longest track. The 11 minute plus Positive Negative (Variant) feels like the soundtrack to a late 60s psychedelic film, with off-kilter drums and sharp ride cymbals on top of mournful keyboards and the cleanest vocals on the album. The clarity of the vocals makes the clever production effects, added at the end of some lines, all the more powerful. This song has to be experienced with headphones, there is so much happening, with little nuanced touches revealing themselves on subsequent plays.

Positive Negative (Variant) is a powerful end to this well sequenced album, and offers a good taste of what might be in the pipeline for Cobalt Chapel for their next album.

Buy Variants by Cobalt Chapel on Amazon

We Come Willingly (Variant)
Fruit Falls from the Apple Tree (Variant)
Who Are the Strange (Variant)
The Lamb (Variant)
Black Eyes (Variant)
Singing Camberwell Beauty (Variant)
Two (Variant)
Horratia (Variant)
Positive Negative (Variant)





2018 end of year favourites (music)

20 12 2018

Here are my favourite music releases from 2018 AKA good ideas to use up your Christmas Amazon gift vouchers. You can thank me later.

Top 5 new albums (in no particular order)

Blancmange – Wanderlust

wanderlust

Blancmange released their tenth studio album, Wanderlust, in October. Wanderlust is a much more stark electronic offering than the early Blancmange albums, but it contains three of my favourite songs of the year with Distant Storm, the insanely addictive In Your Room and Not a Priority (featuring Hannah Peel). The album is a real late-career highlight.

Read my full review of Wanderlust

Buy the album at Amazon

The Midnight – Kids

the-midnight-kids

The Midnight were a new band to me in 2018. I stumbled across them via an online recommendation from Jacob Holm-Lupo from White Willow / The Opium Cartel, and 6 months later they are my 3rd most played artist of 2018 (thanks to Last.FM). If you are interested – my top 5 most played artists (via scrobbles) last year were

1. David Bowie
2. The Stranglers
3. The Midnight
4. Roxy Music
5. Sweet Billy Pilgrim

Anyway, back to The Midnight. They are an electronic act from the USA, described as being part of the synthwave collection of artists, and are heavily influenced by 80s music / pop culture. Their artwork matches the music perfectly, and putting it simply, they write well-crafted electronic pop songs.

Kids is The Midnight’s most recent album, and features the pure-pop of America 2 and is bursting at the seams with analogue synths and drums that sound like Simmons sds9.

Vocalist Tyler Lyle and fellow band member Tim McEwan perfectly capture that feeling of nostalgia and hope (tinged with melancholy) that ran through the music, film and TV of the 80s. I dare you to listen to their music and see if you can resist digging out your copy of The Stand, Back To The Future or any of your favourite series or films from that decade.

Buy Kids by The Midnight on Amazon (MP3)

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Wapentak

sweet billy pilgrim

The newly streamlined (now just Tim Elsenburg and Jana Carpenter) Sweet Billy Pilgrim released the wonderful Wapentak in mid-2018. Available in digital form from Amazon, or in physical form direct from the band, this is my favourite Sweet Billy Pilgrim album to date.

I love the way the album slowly builds as each song progresses. The first few songs are stripped back and highlight Tim and Jana’s perfect vocal interplay. By the time we get to Junkyard Dogs, the beauty of this album fully reveals itself. The trio of Why the Long Face, The Briar Bell and A Shelter of Reeds hits the absolute sweet-spot for me.

Why the Long Face feels like Steely Dan with a sprinkling of Field Music, and boy oh boy, what a perfect chorus. The Briar Bell highlights the vulnerability in Jana’s vocals that sit so well with Tim’s aching harmonies.

A Shelter of Reeds is simply stunning. At times the arrangement (especially the Danny Thompson influenced bass parts) remind me of Never For Ever period Kate Bush, and the two vocalists hit a real peak on this song.

Have a listen to A Shelter of Reeds and then buy the album (CD or mp3), it deserves to be added to your collection.

Tracey Thorn – Record

record

Record is an album full of one word titles and shifting moods, from the electronica of early single Queen, the love song to pop music that is Guitar and one of my favourite songs of the year Face.

Face is up there with personal favourites By Picadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept and A-Z as one of the most moving songs in Tracey’s solo catalogue. The whole album is musically and lyrically so strong and uplifting, and feels like an antidote to the often bitter and cruel world we currently live in.

Buy Record on Amazon

Lunatic Soul – Under the Fragmented Sky

fragmented sky

Under the Fragmented Sky is a companion piece to 2017’s Fractured album, and finds Mariusz Duda continuing to explore textures and moods with this largely electronic project. Album opener He Av En uses voice as an instrument, and adds Cure like guitar lines to the mix.

The fractured, jittery synths of The Art of Repairing sit in stark contrast to the more traditional arrangement of the title track. I love how the music of Lunatic Soul continues to evolve with each album, and Under the Fragmented Sky continues the journey.

Buy Under the Fragmented Sky on Amazon

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2018

David Bowie – Welcome To The Blackout

BLACKOUT

My favourite Bowie live album (it’s Stage on steroids, or maybe it’s the side-effects of the cocaine?) and worth buying for the version of Stay alone!

Buy Welcome To The Blackout at Amazon

The Midnight – Days of Thunder / Nocturnal

nocturnal

These are not 2018 releases but I am breaking the rules and including them here, as I first heard the albums this year. Sadly not available on CD at the moment, the albums are available on vinyl and download only.

If you want your pop-fix, you will fall in love with the feeling of Light Years (feat. Nikki Flores), but the title track, with its deep bass and neon-lit synths hits all the right buttons for me.

Buy Days of Thunder (mp3)

Buy Nocturnal (mp3)

Favourite re-issues of 2018

Kate Bush remasters

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

The Kate Bush remasters finally arrived this year, and whilst the only new material was one previously unreleased track, Humming, the album’s have never sounded so good. If you don’t have much Kate Bush in your collection, the box-sets are a great way of collecting the vast majority of Kate’s music. 

The highlights for me are improved versions of The Dreaming and Aerial.

Read my full reviews of Part I and Part II

Buy Kate Bush – Remastered Part I  

Buy Kate Bush – Remastered Part II

John Foxx – Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

meta500

This year saw the release of the definitive version of this electronic classic from 1980, which contains 49 tracks across 3 CDs. 

Read my full review.

Buy Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

This Mortal Coil – It’ll End In Tears / Filigree and Shadow / Blood

Blood

The three albums from This Mortal Coil were made available in remastered form for the first time this year (the remasters were previously part of a now out-of-print box-set).

I think most people would be interested in the first album, It’ll End In Tears from 1984, due to the inclusion of Tim Buckley’s timeless Song to the Siren, featuring Elizabeth Fraser & Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) but all three albums are worth investigating.

Filigree & Shadow (1986) is my favourite and is a perfect winter album. Live piano and strings cosy up with discordant electronics to create a gothic masterpiece. The Jeweller (Dominic Appleton, Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski with Simon Raymonde) segues perfectly with a Simon Raymonde composition, Ivy and Neet.

Talking Heads Drugs (from 1979’s Fear of Music) is given a radical refresh by Alison Limerick with members of The Wolfgang Press and Colourbox.

The third and final release Blood, like Filigree & Shadow, was a double album on its initial vinyl and cassette release. Each album is a single CD disc for these reissues. Randy California’s Nature’s Way is a highlight, with powerful vocal performances from Alison Limerick and Deirdre Rutkowski.

Buy It’ll End In Tears 

Buy Filigree and Shadow 

Buy Blood 

Here’s to a great year of music in 2019.





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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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





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.

monster300

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








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