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





The Stranglers – In The Shadows (deeper cuts)

10 07 2018

Here’s my latest playlist for you to listen to, hopefully enjoy and share. My previous playlists have been themed – Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern) and Date Stamp – the 80s (part1)  This is the first playlist dedicated to one band.

That band is one of the most successful UK new wave bands, The Stranglers. I have avoided most of the band’s most well-known songs, though I let a few slip through into the playlist. The list could have been a lot longer, it took remarkable self-restraint to leave songs out, so forgive me if your favourites are not included.

USA EP

The playlist gets underway with Goodbye Toulouse and Hanging Around, from the band’s debut album Rattus Norvegicus. Neither tracks were singles, but they highlight the raw psychedelic sound of the bands first few albums, and were staples of the live set for years to come.

English Towns is the representative from the No More Heroes album. although I have also included 5 Minutes (one of their most powerful singles) and it’s B side, the ballardian Rok It To The Moon, that both feature on the No More Heroes CD re-issue from 2018.

Outside Tokyo is a beautiful, bittersweet spiky waltz from Black And White, the final Stranglers studio album produced by legendary producer Martin Rushent. Curfew is a paranoid, dystopian tale driven by Burnel’s barracuda bass perfectly coupled with Jet Blacks jazz tinged drums, and a classic Burnel / Cornwell jointly sung chorus.

Walk on By is the definitive version of this song for me. I have probably heard it hundreds of times – blaring out of my transistor radio on its release in 1978, on 7″ vinyl, cassette, CD and live, yet I never tire of the song. Its so easy to get lost in the middle section with the wild solos from Dave Greenfield and Hugh Cornwell.

wob

The title track to 1979’s The Raven is another song that never grows old. I could not leave out Baroque Bordello, the song with one of the best intros in the bands large catalogue. Listen to this, and tell me that the band were not influenced by prog rock!

G.m.b.H is a hybrid of the 12″ and 7″ versions of Bear Cage, from the US import album IV, that lots of fans bought on mail-order from ads in the back of NME or Melody Maker (this was pre-internet) to get the previously unreleased, Doors influenced track Vietnamerica. It took me years to track down the rare USA CD issue of IV – and its not for sale, so don’t ask!

“You can keep your Brussels and Amsterdam 
Give me back my summer in Dresden, man” 

Second Coming (which sounded amazing live at the time) and the single Just Like Nothing On Earth feature from The Gospel According To The MenInBlack, which found The Stranglers at their most experimental. Weird and totally wired.

“A woman in Wellington wet her whistle with a wild man,
From way back when.”

Who Wants The World (yes, it did cost 79p) scraped into the lower reaches of the UK singles chart in 1980, but is still a great single, and continues the UFO theme of The Gospel According To The MenInBlack.

wwtw

Ain’t Nothin’ to It is an often overlooked track from La Folie, the album that included the bands biggest hit, Golden Brown.

My playlist ends in 1983, with the 7″ mix of Midnight Summer Dream, and the haunting Never Say Goodbye from the acoustic diversion of the Feline album.

I hope you enjoy this playlist – please follow me on Twitter @mrkinski to find out about future playlists that I put together.





Hugh Cornwell – The Fall and Rise Of Hugh Cornwell

11 10 2015

The Fall and Rise Of Hugh Cornwell is a compilation of material from Hugh’s first six solo albums. If all you know of Hugh’s work is from his time as a member of The Stranglers, The Fall and Rise… will serve as a great introduction.

The Fall and Rise of Hugh Cornwell

Opening with Hi Fi‘s powerful Leave Me Alone, it’s clear that the re-mastering by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios has really added something to the audio quality. This is more noticeable on the older material, such as Hot Cat on A Tin Roof from 1993’s Wired, where the track sounds brighter, with better separation.

Break of Dawn from Wolf is one of the albums highlights, a forgotten gem from the late 80s.

Under Her Spell has always been one of my favourite songs from the Tony Visconti produced Beyond Elysian Fields from 2004. The Who like final section on this song gets me everytime. You could say I’m under the songs spell!

First Bus To Babylon, with its mix of layered percussion and wonderful slide guitar, is a classic Hugh solo track.

“When we’ve sung the final song, get the first bus to Babylon”

Two of the more recent tracks, Hooverdam‘s Please Dont Put Me On A Slow Boat To Trowbridge and Beat Of My Heart have been cranked up a little in this remaster. Lay Back On Me Pal sounds wonderful just past the half way point on this compilation. The lovely psychedelic layers, strings and warm Laurie Latham production make this almost Beatles-like piece a definite highlight of the album.

One Burning Desire (originally from Guilty) is one of Hugh’s finest pop songs (and one of his great vocal performances). Another Laurie Latham production, One Burning Desire is almost a homage to the 60s with Hugh’s Byrds like guitar walls of sound.

From one of Hugh’s most “produced” songs to one of his most stripped back in his paean to his beloved Cadiz in Spain. The Abbey Road remaster brings out the layers in the chorus and the verse backing vocals and there is a noticeable brightness to the version on this compilation.

Long Dead Train was a favourite of a lot of fans when Guilty was released back in 1997, and it was always a great live track. I hope it’s inclusion on this compilation leads to it finding its way back into Hugh’s next full-band shows. I’ve always loved the Elvis “uh-huhs” in the chorus.

I wasn’t sure what Wolf‘s Getting Involved would sound like on this compilation, as its one of the most 80s sounding tracks in Hugh’s back catalogue but the remaster has beefed the track up a little. Yes it still sounds like the 80s – but it was from the 80s, theres no getting away with it!

The final track is a 2015 recording of the live favourite Live It And Breathe It. Guitars and drums to the fore, we are treated to a great guitar solo and more Elvisism’s thrown in from Mr C, so what’s not to like?

So if you are not familiar with Hugh’s work, The Fall and Rise Of Hugh Cornwell should be the perfect introduction. And if you like what you hear, maybe buy his most recent studio album, Totem and Taboo. You can listen to a couple of the tracks on Hugh’s website.

Buy The Fall and Rise of Hugh Cornwell on Amazon

Buy Totem and Taboo on Amazon





Hugh Cornwell – Totem & Taboo

18 08 2012

The follow-up to 2008’s Hooverdam is a continuation of Cornwell’s recent back-to-basics approach.  Where the production on Hooverdam (by Liam Watson) harked back to the 60s, I felt that the production on the vocals let the songs down.  Hugh recorded his latest album in Chicago late last year, with Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey) behind the desk.  The result is Hugh’s best sounding album to date, and surely up there with Nosferatu and Guilty as one of his finest albums.

A lot of credit must go to Albini for capturing the rich vocals and dirty, raw guitar from one of the class of 77’s finest performers. The Totem & Taboo title track is driven by powerful  drums and a guitar line reminiscent of early Bowie ala Rebel Rebel.

The albums second track, The Face, is about attending a party in honour of the material girl.  The pace picks up with I Want One Of Those, a real new wave thrasher, with lyrics bemoaning the consumerism of society, and the constant upgrade, give me it now culture. Albini captures Hugh’s guitar sound perfectly, with a wonderful solo closing the song.

Stuck in Daily Mail Land has shades of The Jam / Kinks & The Who (check out the nods to Start / Taxman in the bassline and the Keith Moon freakout drums in the break). It’s so refreshing to hear an album where all the musicians are clearly playing live in a room, at the same time, without countless overdubs.

Hugh Cornwell April 2012. Photo Copyright Kevin Nixon.Bad Vibrations is a highlight of Hugh’s live set, and has a wonderful, dirty overdriven bass sound, and Nosferatu‘esque  / Wired discordant guitar / drums interplay after the chorus.  The guitar at the end of the song has a real early Skids feel to it. One of my favourite tracks on the album, I never tire of this song.

God is a Woman features some great interplay between the three musicians, and is the result of bringing well-rehearsed, road-tested songs into the studio environment.

“You know she made the birds and the bees,
You know she made the plants and the trees

I want to see you down on your knees
God is a woman.”

Love Me Slender could be a comment on our image-driven society, as well as obviously being a misappropriation of Presley’s Love Me Tender.

The album ends strongly, with a trio of the albums most powerful songs, all connected by the United States.  Gods Guns and Gays is driven by a wonderful guitar line reminiscent at times of his former band’s Always The Sun, and lyrically discusses the contradictions and obsessions of the Country. Timpanis underpin some sections of the song (possibly a wry nod to another acerbic USA lyric, Dead Loss Angeles and it’s symphony of lonely tympanis line?).

Street Called Carroll is a new wave firecracker and a love song to LA. There is something about this song that reminds me of The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s Summer In The City, and I love the “staying cool, staying cool…” refrain.

“He’ll be drawing in the chalk again,
They are telling me the dead can walk again.”

From the polluted, smog-filled inner-city jungle of LA, the album slips to a more mystical side of the USA with Totem & Taboo‘s closing track, the epic In The Dead of Night.  The sound of assorted wildlife and a real feel of the wide open spaces of the Mojave Desert usher in the track, with it’s walking bass and loping drums.  Cornwell delivers a Riders on the Storm for the 21st Century, with the most effortlessly cool song you will hear this year.

The 60s feel continues as a riff that references Peter Gunn underpins the solo in the middle of the song. I love how Cornwell & Albini resisted the temptation to over-complicate the arrangement.  It remains true to the live version premiered last year, and is a great finish to the album.

Buy the CD on Amazon

Visit the Hugh Cornwell website








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