David Bowie – Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78)

30 06 2018

Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) is a live album by David Bowie, recorded on the Isolar 2 Tour at London’s Earls Court on 30 June and 1 July 1978 by Tony Visconti, and later mixed by Bowie and David Richards in January 1979.

BLACKOUT

This is my favourite Bowie live album. Although having a similar track-listing to the 2017 Stage re-issue, I prefer the sound and performances on Welcome to the Blackout. The performances feel more organic and more loose, with more Bowie chat than normal (probably due to the end of tour high).

The Welcome to the Blackout version of “Heroes” is utterly heartbreaking, and breathes new life into probably the most well-known song Bowie song. There is such clarity and clear separation in the mix. This version works so well, compared to some other live takes, because Bowie’s vocal is more restrained early on and slowly builds to the songs emotional climax.

The bluesey Jean Genie loses the glam-rock swagger, so is not my favourite version of the song. The Heroes and Low tracks are the standouts on Welcome to the Blackout. Bowies intro to Blackout gives this album it’s title, and the live premiere of Sound And Vision sounds so damn funky and fresh. I never tire of hearing Breaking Glass, and this version is delicious.

The highlight of the album is the 11 minute plus version of Station To Station. An extended synth intro cut through by Adrian Belew’s amazing guitar squeals blows the Stage version out of the water. The subtle synth and rhythm guitar lines are so prominent on this recording.

“It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine, I’m thinking that it must be love”

Five Years is extended due the the end of tour thank-you’s, and a tongue-in-cheek Bowie band introduction.

The bass playing from George Murray towards the end of Suffragette City is amazing, and Art Decade features some great synth work, and achingly distorted lines from Adrian Belew, who was at the top of his game during this part of Bowie’s career.

A technicolour, uplifting take on TVC 15 leads into a mind-blowing Stay. The inventive Dennis Davis percussion and blistering Carlos Alomar guitar on the extended intro make this one of the finest live documents of this song.

A version of Rebel Rebel that feels like it has been injected with the spirit of Stephen Sondheim rather than it’s glam-rock roots ends this essential Bowie live album.

Have a listen to Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) on your streaming site of choice by all means, but nothing beats owning the physical product, which includes a replica of parts of the Isolar 2 tour programme.

CD 1:
1.Warszawa
2.”Heroes”
3.What In The World
4.Be My Wife
5.The Jean Genie
6.Blackout
7.Sense Of Doubt
8.Speed Of Life
9.Sound And Vision
10.Breaking Glass
11.Fame
12.Beauty And The Beast

CD 2:
1.Five Years
2.Soul Love
3.Star
4.Hang On To Yourself
5.Ziggy Stardust
6.Suffragette City
7.Art Decade
8.Alabama Song
9.Station To Station
10.TVC 15
11.Stay
12.Rebel Rebel

Buy Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) on CD from Amazon

BLACKOUT

Buy Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) triple vinyl from Amazon

BLACKOUT

Buy Life on Tour with David Bowie: We Can Be Heroes by Sean Mayes (the keyboard player on the Isolar II tour)





2017 end of year favourites

23 12 2017

I haven’t done this for a few years, but here are my favourite music, tv and film releases from 2017.

Top 5 new albums

In no particular order:

Paul Draper — Spooky Action

Spooky Action from former Mansun mainman Paul Draper is a strong debut album. The songs are ambitious, a mix of new wave and alternative with a slight hint of prog. Whilst the album has hints of Drapers old band, it does not trade off nostalgia.

Tracks such as Don’t Poke The Bear and Friends Make The Worst Enemies are angry and highlight Paul Drapers powerful vocals. Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion breaks new sonic ground for Draper, and is an album highlight.

The contribution of Catherine AD aka The Anchoress  to Spooky Action is noticeable and welcome.

Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

2017 saw the release of the Tim’s 4th solo album, and my favourite to date. You can read my full review here.

The most progressive sounding release so far from the no-man vocalist, the album has a concept built around the onstage and backstage reflections of a fictional ‘classic’ Rock musician in the twilight of his career.

My favourite track on the album is one of my most played songs of the year, the haunting Nowhere Good To Go.

CousteauX – by CousteauX

The comeback of the year for me. Rising from the ashes of the late 90s band Cousteau, CousteauX take the Bowie-esque vocals of Liam McKahey and the razor sharp song-writing of Davey Ray Moor to new levels. Whilst retaining the charm of the original band, CousteauX have added a much more powerful and darker hue to their new songs.

Read my full review here.

Fader — First Light

A real surprise this one. The album crept up on me after two or three listens and it has remained a favourite throughout the year. Fader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin).

First Light is a very low-fi electronic album containing one of my favourite songs of the year in Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks”, this brooding, pulsating piece of electronica is timeless.

Read my full review here.

Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia

A mostly instrumental album, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia has picked up new fans as the year has progressed. One for fans of Mike Oldfield, John Foxx and Jean Michel Jarre, its a very moving album. The mixture of synths and a (real) brass band works surprisingly well, and Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is one of those albums that you should listen to in one sitting, in the correctly sequenced order. Turn off your shuffle!

Read my full review here.

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2017

My favourite progressive album of the year was White Willow – Future Hopes. Dropping the metal leanings of earlier albums, and adding a wonderfully colourful warm palette, Future Hopes is a synth lovers dream. My favourite track on the album is the gentle Silver And Gold. Read my full review here.

Destroyer – ken was released quite late in 2017, and is still seeping into my heart. Destroyer are definitely a marmite band – but I’m a huge fan. ken feels like a love song to the electronica of bands such as New Order. Just listen to the way the synths sweep in on opening track Sky’s Grey. An album for fans who enjoy uneasy listening!

Atone by White Moth Black Butterfly is a very commercial progressive / pop album from members of the bands TesseracT and Skyharbor. Delicate vocals (reminding me of the late George Michael at times) sit atop sweeping orchestral decorated songs.

There are some really strong performances and clever production touches to this fine album. At times I am also reminded of This Mortal Coil in some of the arrangements and reverb-heavy keyboard treatments.

Atone is on its way to becoming one of my favourite albums of the year.

The first album from Cigarettes After Sex might only have one gear – a slow gear – but I have grown to really love this album. I adore the guitar sound – sort of like The Cure mixed with I’m In Love With A German Film Star. The lyrics are intriguing, if slightly pervy and the Twin Peaks vibe makes for a rewarding listen.

Favourite re-issues

David Bowie’s A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) covers my favourite Bowie era (the “Berlin” trilogy). Apart from the dreadful error with the Heroes album (I’m still waiting for my replacement disc, record company grrrr) I’m happy with this box-set. Its great having the Moroder version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire) and the full Baal EP on CD, plus the Tony Visconti re-mix of Lodger is fascinating and very different from the original.

The 30th anniversary re-issue of Scalywag Jaz by Thomas Lang brings all the associated tracks from the period, plus live recordings and a couple of new songs, into one package. Its a great value, definitive release for one of the finest albums of the 80s.

Read my full review here.

I also think the remaster of Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac deserves a mention at this point. The deluxe version includes some fascinating (high quality) demos, 12″ mixes plus the main album has never sounded so good. Big Love from me for this 2017 reissue. I’m so sorry.

TV and Film

My favourite film in 2017 (although the film was released in 2016 I caught it on bluray this year) was Nocturnal Animals.  Produced and directed by Tom Ford, and starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon, this psychological thriller kept me in a state of unease until the very end of the film.

The TV event of the year for me was by far Twin Peaks: The Return or as it is billed on the bluray, Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. I was a fan of the original series when it aired on TV in 1990, then fell in love with it again watching the series on its DVD re-issue many years later. I had high hopes for the new series, but after the initial nostalgia fuelled first few minutes, it was clear that Twin Peaks: The Return was going to surpass the original.

It wasn’t perfect, but then neither is life. There were entire sections and episodes that frustrated and baffled, but they were out-weighed by the visceral brutality of some of the characters (new and old) and their actions. This new series took me to places both wonderful and strange, and if this is the end of the Twin Peaks story, I’m so happy that we got to witness the return.

Episode 8 – watched in the early hours (the time it was broadcast in the UK), was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I have ever had. I simply could not believe what I was watching, and I went to work shortly afterwards with a mixture of euphoria and confusion.

As well as the bluray of The Return, there are also two fascinating books from Mark Frost (The Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier) to help fill in the blanks and the missing years. What a fine way to spend your Christmas vouchers!

My other favourite TV series of 2017 was HBO’s Big Little Lies. The series starred Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern, and kept the dark, brutal secret that rumbled through the entire series out of sight to the very end.

Finally, my favourite TV re-issue from 2017 was the blu-ray of Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series.  The high definition remaster of the ITV series from 1980 features 13 spine-tingling stories starring Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliott and Brian Cox.

Here’s to a great year of music, film and TV in 2018.





David Bowie – Lodger (Tony Visconti 2017 Mix)

30 09 2017

The 2017 Tony Visconti mix of Lodger comes as part of the A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) box set released today (29 September 2017).

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Lodger was Bowie’s 13th studio album, originally released in May 1979. The last of the Berlin Trilogy, the album was recorded in Switzerland and New York with Brian Eno, and was produced by Bowie’s longest collaborator, Tony Visconti, who also oversaw this 2017 mix.

First of all I must confess that Station to Station and Lodger are my favourite Bowie albums, so this review is not a critique, but a review of how the album sounds in its 2017 mix.

The short version of the review is this: Lodger has never sounded so good. Ok, now for the longer review! It does not sound as if there has been much tinkering with the instrumentation or vocals on the album, just a reworking using modern technology and the original master tapes – so it’s a remix, not a remaster.

From the drum roll that ushers in Fantastic Voyage, it’s clear that this is a high-fidelity version of the album. The strings and backing vocals are much clearer in the mix and there is added reverb on the tail-end of the “cos we’ll never say anything nice again, will we” vocal line. Apparently the lyrics are about the possibility of nuclear war, so this song is more relevant now than ever.

There is some great piano work from the late Sean Mayes on this song. I can recommend Sean’s Life on Tour with David Bowie book, which gives an interesting account of life on the road with Bowie and the band on the 1978 Isolar II tour.

African Night Flight is also greatly enhanced by the 2017 remix – there is greater separation between all instruments, and the guitar and chanted vocals sit much more comfortably in the mix. The excellent Dennis Davis drum parts on Move On sound so clear, and as with most tracks on this new version of the album, reverb and delay treatments are added to Bowie’s vocals. The ending of the song reveals layers that I have not noticed previously, that were hidden in the original mix.

Yassassin sounds a million dollars. The guitar and drums (especially the kick drum) are pushed to the forefront, giving the track so much more punch and drive. It’s like discovering a whole new song. The same applies to the frantic Red Sails – the guitar and sax interplay is so much clearer. Some of my favourite guitar lines on the album can be found in this track.

I was particularly looking forward to hearing my two favourite Lodger tracks, DJ and Boys Keep Swinging, and the new mixes Sound very fresh. DJ sounds so much richer – the drums and keyboards, including the wonderful ARP Solina, plus the amazing Adrian Belew guitar solos towards the end of the song, sound better than ever.

The kick drum and bass guitar are so much punchier in Boys Keep Swinging. Renowned for some of the band members switching instruments, this track, released as a single, is in my top 10 Bowie songs. Around the 2.30 mark, there seems to be a high-pitched guitar line removed in this mix, which is a little disconcerting and one of only a couple of negative points in the 2017 version of Lodger.

Repetition has the most disturbing lyrics on Lodger, and the song is greatly improved by this remix. I love the odd bassline on this track, and the guitars sound so vibrant. Once again, there are elements that I have not previously noticed that are more visible in this new mix.

The album closes with Red Money, the album’s update of the Bowie / Alomar song that appears as Sister Midnight on Iggy Pop’s The Idiot album. The bass is deliciously bubbly in this mix, and the instruments, especially the drums and percussion, sound so good. The Comsat Angels sounding guitar riff at around 1.30 and 2.20 – one of the strongest parts of the song for me, disappointingly sits much further back in the new mix.

So whilst this 2017 Tony Visconti mix overall is a vast improvement on the original 1979 version of the album, I will still return to the original of some songs, such as Boys Keep Swinging and Red Money.

Other highlights (on top of some of Bowie’s finest albums) on the box-set include the extended version of Beauty and the Beast (I had not heard this version before) and my favourite version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire), the stunning Giorgio Moroder soundtrack version, which has one of the most emotional Bowie vocal performances.

“Its been so long, so long, so long”

The A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) box set is my favourite of the three released to date.  The whole package includes the following discs (all remastered, apart from Scary Monsters) plus a hardback 128 page book with photos plus notes from Tony Visconti:

Low / “Heroes” / “Heroes” EP / Stage (original and 2017 versions of the live album) / Lodger / Lodger (2017 Tony Visconti Mix) / Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and the compilation Re:Call 3.

Buy “A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982)” CD boxset – on Amazon

Buy “A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982)” vinyl boxset on Amazon

Buy “Life On Tour With Bowie” by Sean Mayes on Amazon





Steven Wilson – To The Bone

22 08 2017

Cover by Lasse HoileTo The Bone is Steven Wilson’s fifth solo album, and was released on 19th August 2017.

Over the past few months Steven has released a handful of To The Bone‘s tracks as the modern equivalent of singles, to stream on your platform of choice. A lot of the interviews and PR have talked up the ‘pop’ aspect of the album, whilst the SW / prog forums have seen many a fan having a hissy fit about the direction the music has taken – especially with the ELO / ABBA leanings of Permanating.

As with all good albums, hearing tracks in isolation away from the whole album listening experience does not always tell the whole story (please excuse the Kate Bush pun).

To The Bone is essentially a rock / pop album,  inspired by the music of Tears For Fears, Talk Talk, Peter Gabriel, Songs of Faith and Devotion era Depeche Mode and Kate Bush. So not pop in the modern day sense, but one of pops golden eras, when songs were often experimental, bold and bright.

Another key influence to me is the variety of the music that filled the charts in the late 70s and early 80s. The charts would be populated by artists as diverse as the prog-punk of The Stranglers, next to the electronic pop of The Buggles, alongside the metal of Rainbow’s Since You’ve Been Gone or the AOR of Sailing from Christopher Cross. This mixture of very accessible music drawing from varied genres seems to have seeped into this album. The music still contains the Wilson DNA that has run through his work from no-man through to Lightbulb Sun and up to Hand. Cannot. Erase, so it’s not a total reinvention, more a re-focussing using a slightly more colourful musical palette.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the album to me is that SW performs so much more of the music (especially guitar) than on recent albums. The other big plus is the bluray 5.1 mix, which has to be heard to be believed. The bluray comes with the (now soldout) deluxe edition, and can also be bought as a standalone disc.

Photo by Lasse Hoile

The title track opens the album, and contains the first performance from one of the albums key contributors, Mark Feltham. I presume SW knows Mark’s playing from The The and Talk Talk whereas I have been a fan of his work from the late 70s / early 80s new wave / r & b of Nine Below Zero, who I saw live in hot, sweaty London venues as a teenager countless times. Mark delivers some emotive performances on several songs on To The Bone. Former Mansun leader, and now solo artist, Paul Draper adds some Oberheim sequences to this fine opening track.

Nowhere Now also introduces another aspect of this album – referencing other songs on the record. For example, a little bit of Permanating seeps into the bridge of Nowhere Now. The end section is pure Pete Townshend (All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes especially) and The Who, and its clear early on that the rock elements on To The Bone are more classic than progressive.

Pariah is my favourite Wilson / Ninet Tayeb collaboration to date. By the way, if you get the chance, listen to Ninet’s Paper Parachute album, especially the wonderful Child. Pariah is one of those timeless songs that could have been released at any point in the past 40 years, and would still sound fresh.

I’m a big fan of the guitar sound on To The Bone. The Same Asylum As Before has some huge guitar lines that simply burst out of the speakers, topped by the wonderful harmonies that were deployed so effectively on Lightbulb Sun. This song sounds a million dollars in 5.1.

Refuge is fast becoming my favourite song on the album. Mark Feltham delivers a heart-breaking harmonica performance, and Adam Holzman, my favourite Wilson keyboard player, adds exquisite solina strings and Hammond work. I can’t wait to hear this song live at The Royal Albert Hall in the spring. There is a real Ashes to Ashes referencing synth line at the end that cuts right through the mix. It’s a wonderful example of the light and shade, the power and restraint that breathes life into these songs.

Permanating is the one song on the album that has really generated the most discussion amongst fans. I will just sum it up by saying that it’s the sort of song that I can remember blasting out of my FM radio in 1979. No static at all.

Its certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, and is my least favourite track on the album, but it does make me smile (especially the video), and that cannot be a bad thing in these troubled times. Permanating works well at this point in the album, the unbridled joy of the song sits in stark contrast to what follows.

Blank Tapes is a stripped back arrangement with just SW, Ninet Tayeb and Adam Holzman.

“Nothing is left but the blank tapes in your car”

It is short and simple and leaves you wanting more, as the dark tale of terror living next door that is People Who Eat Darkness kicks in. I love Craig Blundell’s performance on this track, and the almost Dr Feelgood / Wilko Johnson clipped guitar playing from SW is awe-inspiring.

Song of I features Sophie Hunger on co-vocals. The most outright piece of electronica on the album, its a song of addiction and possession. I know I keep harping on about this, but PLAY THIS SONG LOUD IN 5.1. The hidden in the stereo mix vocal elements and sequencers counter playing with the live strings are a joy to hear in the 5.1 mix.

“I give it up, I give it all up”

The subject matter of Detonation is pretty much self-explanatory. Another piece of mainly dark electronica that soon mutates into a full band performance. An album highlight, with my favourite instrumental passage being the breakdown as the signature 80s conga percussion, Roland Orzabel-alike rhythm guitar and bass line that I was sure was Nick Beggs but isn’t sees out the track.

Album closer Song of Unborn features the recent SW band minus Mr Beggs and has the album’s strongest, and most direct, lyrics. The arrangement is given a deeper emotional edge by the use of a choral section provided by Synergy Vocals.

“Now the time that is gone doesn’t matter to anyone”

It’s the nearest to the sound of recent albums, and a reminder that SW does album closing songs so well.

So there is much to enjoy on To The Bone, but I really would recommend the 5.1 mix, which is available on blu-ray. The deluxe edition, which is now sadly unavailable, also contains some very good unreleased songs (particularly A Door Marked Summer and Ask Me Nicely) and alternative mixes as well as a hardback book with some great pictures and detailed background to the creation of To The Bone. So if you can track down a copy, it will be a worthwhile purchase.

I hope you enjoy the album.

Buy To The Bone on CD from Amazon

Buy To The Bone vinyl on Amazon

Buy To The Bone [Blu-ray] on Amazon





Tim Bowness – Songs From The Ghost Light

14 08 2017

Songs-from-the-Ghost-Light

Songs From The Ghost Light is a companion release to Tim Bowness’s Inside Out label albums, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (2014), Stupid Things That Mean The World (2015) and this years wonderful Lost In The Ghost Light.

The 34 minute mini-album is available in limited quantities on CD & vinyl from Burning Shed, and as a download from Tim’s Bandcamp page.

Stupid Things That Mean The World (chamber version) is a stark re-imagining of the 2015 track. Stripped of the albums guitar and drums, piano and strings underpin the vocals, which have a dollop of extra reverb added, making this version a very different beast. A disturbing alternative synth line adds tension to the middle section of the song.

The live version of The Warm-Up Man Forever (the studio version appears on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams) features a stunning drum performance from Andrew Booker and a wonderful Experiment IV-like guitar line from Michael Bearpark. As an advert for the Tim Bowness live shows, the non-studio cuts on Songs From The Ghost Light do their job.

No Longer The One is a reworked, much less proggy version of the Henry Fool rarity Pills in the Afternoon. A more expansive guitar line and a richer arrangement and production take one of Tim’s finest hidden pieces to new heights. Its my favourite track on this mini-album.

Some T-bo trivia – No Longer The One was lyrically altered to work with the Moonshot / Jeff Harrison story. Expect an angry tweet from the ageing old Putin worhsipping Moonshotter soon!

Once A Record is a mutated piece of mellotron madness built from The Great Electric Teenage Dream. Whispers, off-kilter and digitally twisted vocals and dark electronics bubble under the surface of a track that would not have sounded out-of-place on David Bowie’s 1. Outside.

Next up is a live version of The Great Electric Teenage Dream. The version on Songs From The Ghost Light is faithful to the times I have heard the song live at recent Bowness shows. Its a powerful performance, with brutal guitar lines.

The polar opposite is The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version). I prefer this take to the version previously released in 2014. Strings and mid-70s sounding lead synth lines push the songs melody to the fore.

The final live song is Abandoned Dancehall Dreams Dancing For You. One of Tim’s saddest songs of nostalgia and regret, Dancing For You is presented here in a moving live performance. A fine synth solo from Stephen Bennett drives the song to its conclusion.

Giancarlo Erra (Nosound/Memories Of Machines) contributes piano to the album’s closing track Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo), as well as mixing and mastering the album. Kit Watkins adds flute and ‘Heartbeat’ percussion to the discordant re-birth of what was already the most menacing piece on this years wonderful Lost In The Ghost Light album.

“Is there more?”

No Longer The One, The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version) and Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo) actually surpass their original incarnations as far as I am concerned. Songs From The Ghost Light works well as a companion to Tim’s successful Inside Out era albums, making you return to the originals whilst working well as an album in its own right.

Stupid Things That Mean The World (chamber version)
The Warm-Up Man Forever (live)
No Longer The One
Once A Record
The Great Electric Teenage Dream (live)
The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version)
Dancing For You (live)
Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo)

Buy the CD and vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy the Download from Tim’s Bandcamp page





CousteauX – by CousteauX

22 07 2017

CousteauxCousteau were a London-based band who released three albums between 1999 and 2005. Their most well-known song was The Last Good Day of the Year from their debut album. After success in the UK, Italy and the US, the band went their separate ways in 2006. Singer Liam McKahey reunited with song-writer Davey Ray Moor in 2015 as CousteauX, and they release their first album in over 10 years in September 2017.

CousteauX opens with Memory is a Weapon, and instantly the years roll away. This is the music of the debut album with added pathos and a much richer, fuller production. I loved Liam’s two solo album’s, but team him up with Davey Ray Moor and something magical happens. The yearning backing vocals and simple piano motif over the insistent bass-line delivers a powerful and direct opening.

This Might Be Love rides on a bluesey acoustic guitar riff and a meandering synth line. One of the darker songs on the album, it has a real Americana feel to it, and breaks new ground for the band.

Track 3 is my favourite song on the album. Burma features an emotional acoustic bass and piano line, and for the first time I can really see the Bowie comparison with Liam’s vocals. Think Wild is The Wind and Bowie’s rich baritone from the Station To Station era. Burma is a song with wonderfully evocative lyrics, and one of Liam’s finest vocals.

“Go my love steady, just be upstairs ready, my angel”

I’m sure this will soon become a fan favourite. The arrangement evolves in an unforced and natural way as the song progresses.

After the beauty of Burma comes the darkness of The Innermost Light. A sleazy, razor-sharp performance that features Carl Barat (The Libertines / Dirty Pretty
Things), The Innermost Light is a future spaghetti western theme tune in the waiting. It makes you want to kick open the bar door and spit in the sawdust. Or maybe that’s just me.

Maybe You is a less tense affair. Arriving at the mid-point of the album, Maybe You is the sort of stripped back ballad that the band deliver so well. The upright bass is phenomenal, and reminds me of the playing of Danny Thompson and his work with John Martyn.

Portobello Serenade has the feel of a 1950s / 60s Soho, with its hazy jazz percussion and trumpet. Thin Red Lines switches the tempo up a gear and shifts forward a few decades, with an almost glam-rock / T-Rex feel to the jagged guitars and soulful backing vocals.

“Only the mystery remains”

Shelter is an oddity on the album but oh what a lovely oddity! It’s almost the bands take on modern r ‘n’ b production. A minimal programmed drum pattern on top of Art of Noise (Moments In Love) like backing vocals and a lovely Rhodes piano melody explores new territory for the band. I look forward to more experimentation like this on future CousteauX albums.

cousteaux band

The penultimate track, Seasons Of You is the nearest we get to the classic Cousteau sound of old. Its a joyful, breezy track that lifts the mood before the album’s closing song, the mean and goddamn moody as hell F***ing In Joy and Sorrow.

“I’m in love but I’m grieving”

The hi-hat and toms percussion that underpin a stark organ / guitar backdrop propels the brutally honest and direct lyric of lust, hurt and regret.

This is music made for the night. Switch off the lights, pour yourself some whisky on the rocks and let the music take over.

As a long-time fan of the band, who I have only seen live once (a memorable, packed and sweaty early 90s gig in Blackheath) – I was intrigued as to what a modern day Cousteau would bring us. I’m overjoyed to report that the core of what made this band so special is still intact. *That* voice and the quality song-writing and performances, combined with a brave stretching of the bands template, mean that the 2017 version known as CousteauX has delivered an emotionally satisfying and stylistically varied album that stands up to repeated listening. At times, its far from easy listening, but stick with it and you will find so much to savour in these deep, rich and often dark songs.

Welcome back Cousteaux. You have been missed, stay around a little longer this time….

Cousteaux is released on 1 September 2017.

Order the Cousteaux CD from Amazon

Order the Cousteaux vinyl LP from Amazon





Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley

8 07 2017

Every ValleyEvery Valley is the third album from Public Service Broadcasting, and the follow up to 2015’s acclaimed The Race for Space.

The first thing that strikes you about the album is the musical palette – for the most-part, the heavy electronics are less obvious, so the result is a much more guitar-driven album than its predecessor.

Recorded in southern Wales (Ebbw Vale), Every Valley is centered around the Welsh mining industry, particularly coal mining. The album subtly touches on the obvious politics (on the track All Out) – so it does not detract from the story of massive economic and social change. Yes, I know these changes were mainly a result of politics, but honing in on the miners strike and the huge upheaval instigated by the Conservative Government in the mid-80s would have made this a less personal album, and taken away from the very real emotion in the words and music.

The buzzing of strings usher in the opening title track, and what a beautiful way to start the album. A sampled reading from the deep, warm tones of Richard Burton sit atop a wonderful drum pattern, softly evolving guitar lines and delicious strings. The production on this album is a massive step up from The Race for Space.

The Pit has Fleetwood Mac Tusk meets Running Up That Hill inspired dry drums. A bubbling synth runs alongside blasts of solo orchestral instrumentation and beautifully chorused guitar. Its a richly rewarding piece of music.

An old 70s coal-board advert prefaces People Will Always Need Coal, the most electronic track on the album. I love the 1980 Talking Heads-like groove on this song.

“There’s more to mining than dust and dirt”

Progress features Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura on lead vocals, and whilst it is a rare positive lyric, it also acts as a way of making the forthcoming songs of decay and destruction feel even more sombre.

All Out is the section of the album that directly deals with the miners strike. Angry crowds underpin the brutal guitars, as the samples tell the story of men and women who just wanted to go to work, to do their jobs, to support their families. Its at this point that you realise that this album is more than a document about a time, and a place, and an industry that is long since destroyed. Its an album about the disconnect and the simmering discontent of the world we live in now. History is repeating itself.

James Dean Bradfield from Manic Street Preachers lends his vocals to Turn No More. Its a strong performance, and I like the fact that the music is quite restrained at times, which makes the message so much more powerful.

Every Valley is a chronicle of the men and women of the mining community. They Gave Me A Lamp is a beautiful piece, from the perspective of the women in the communities, and features members of the Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut.

You + Me is a departure on the album. A jazzy, live sounding performance that features a Welsh / English duet between Lisa Jen Brown and PSB’s J Willgoose Esq. The aching strings of the end section are one of the album’s highlights.

The drum pattern is almost an exact copy of David Bowie’s Five Years, so I hope I am forgiven for being confused when Soul Love is not the next song on the album.

Mother Of The Village brings the story towards its bitter conclusion, and reminds me a little of the wonderful Mogwai soundtrack to Les Revenants (The Returned).

“And you begin to realise what you mean by the death of a village”

As the album drawws to an end, the desperate state of the communities is now apparent, with empty pubs and disappearing shops. The Beaufort Male Choir close the album, with the moving Take Me Home.

“Take me home.. let me sing again..”

Every Valley is shaping up to be a much more satisfying album than The Race for Space, which I loved at the time, but don’t find myself returning to as much. This album has a deep emotional core that will keep drawing you back to the stories and the songs that live in Every Valley.

Every Valley (CD)

Every Valley (vinyl)








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