News: David Bowie – Conversation Piece 5 cd box-set & Space Oddity 2019 mix CD / vinyl

5 09 2019

The David Bowie website released details today of a new 5 CD box-set – David Bowie Conversation Piece, which collects together home demos, BBC radio sessions and studio recordings from 1968 and 1969, and also includes a new 2019 Tony Visconti mix of the David Bowie (aka Space Oddity) album, which is also available to buy separately from the box-set, on CD & vinyl.

Visconti had this to say about the 2019 Space Oddity album mix “It was so much fun to find hidden gems of musicianship with more time to mix the second time around, a guitar twiddle here, a trombone blast there, Marc Bolan’s voice in a group choir and more detail in general that we overlooked all those years ago when the label gave us a week at the most to mix this album. And in the details you will find 22 year old David Bowie, who would soon take the world by storm.”

The Space Oddity album (2019 mixes)

  • Space Oddity (5.20)
  • Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (6.18)
  • Letter To Hermione (2.32)
  • Cygnet Committee (9.28)
  • Janine (3.21)
  • An Occasional Dream (2.57)
  • Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (4.50)
  • Conversation Piece (3.11)
  • God Knows I’m Good (3.16)
  • Memory Of A Free Festival (7.14)

Released on November 15, 2019.

Pre-order Space Oddity (2019 Mix) vinyl from Amazon
Pre-order Space Oddity (2019 Mix) CD from Amazon





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.





David Bowie – Loving The Alien boxset album review

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 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





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).

IMG_0116

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








%d bloggers like this: