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klaher (Dublin)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Not so difficult 5th album, 24 April 2010
This review is from: Everclear (Audio CD)
This album represented a bit of a change for American Music Club. Released in 1991, it saw them working with a half decent recording budget, which led to a fuller sound. Bruce Kaphan was now a full member of the band, and he pitched in on production, as well as steel guitar duties. Nothing of the subtlety of this band was lost with this change. It's compounded by the vivid artwork on the cover, a painting by Jean Lowe.

The album starts with Why Won't You Stay, a lament for a departed lover which drifts in unassumingly, with some heartbreaking lyrics from Mark Eitzel ("in memory of a little girl who was far too much in love with the world, and who didn't wanna stick around for the end"). Rise follows, which is a bit more of a self-conscious anthem, with a very definite chorus (the fairly un- Eitzel "make it ri-i-ise"). It's a good song, though it sounds a little dated.

The understated anthem to apathy, Miracle on 8th Street, follows, drifting along in a similar vein to the opener, but Ex-Girlfriend is less oblique, with a hard-hitting, insistent melody and fairly direct lyrics ("day to day life shouldn't be what it's all about"... "I guess you got no one to take care of you") over some great guitar-hero style playing from Vudi.

The usual AMC curveball follows, Crabwalk, a cheesy country song which totally disturbs the mood, until it's reined back in by the almost smooth The Confidential Agent, which floats along in a similar vein to Miracle, aided and abetted by the subtle steel guitar playing of Bruce Kaphan and some nice keyboards.

The album seems a little smooth up to now, but Sick of Food is angrier, with more great guitar from Vudi, and Eitzel displaying great passion towards the end. He's angrier still on The Dead Part of You with the refrain "there's so little of you left". Royal Café is a gentle country-rock song and it's followed by the beautiful What the Pillar of Salt Held Up, another sad(ish) song based around a fragile acoustic guitar.

The album resolves wonderfully with final track Jesus' Hands. It's basically a drinking song, Eitzel singing "I got a thirst that would make the ocean proud". There is some really nice mandolin on this one, played by Dan Pearson.

The World Won't Listen
The World Won't Listen
Price: £4.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Songs that saved your life, 24 April 2010
This review is from: The World Won't Listen (Audio CD)
How to review an album I've been listening to on and off for 23 years?? This odds and sods collection of songs was most welcome in 1987. A bit like "Hatful of Hollow 2", it was a collection of non-album singles, B-sides, some album tracks and one new song.

It started off with 2 of the Smiths more commercial singles, Panic and Ask. Panic had become an unlikely hit the summer before, indeed, its Dublin reference in the lyrics had made it one of the first Smiths songs that people didn't call "depressing". It's a kind of stomping, glammy anthem which zips along in less than 2 and a half minutes. Ask, which follows is one of the Smiths' weaker singles with a fairly bog standard Morrissey tune, though it features nice jangly guitar from Johnny Marr.

London is one of Morrissey's "leaving home and heading to the big smoke" songs. Lyrically it's right on the money, with lines like "and you think they're sad because you're leaving, but did you see the jealousy in the eyes of the ones who had to stay behind." Musically it's a very fast song, which speeds up even more towards the end. Many of the songs are less than 3 minutes long, and quite fast in tempo, so the album flies along.

The rest of the first "side" of the album features mainly album and non-album singles, but the heart of the album is after this when we get to the B-sides. The Smiths' singles were always worth buying, more so than any other band of the era as some of their strongest songs were on the B-side. Asleep is a wintry ballad, which sounds as morbid as Morrissey gets, over a simple piano tune, with some studio trickery creating a howling wind. Unloveable follows, a classic Morrissey self-loathing ballad. Check out these lyrics: "I know I'm unloveable, you don't have to tell me" or "I wear black on the outside cos black is how I feel on the inside". Some would base their ideals for living around these throwaway lyrics. The music itself is relatively simple, a descending guitar line with plenty of room for Morrissey to sing the aforementioned lyrics.

The next track, Half a Person is even better. Marr's guitar playing on this one is quite wonderful, and Morrissey's vocals sound great, without an ounce of strain on them. The song borrows a little from the Velvet Underground's "That's the Story of My Life", but the Smiths put their own twist on it to create an absolute classic... "if you have 5 seconds to spare."

Stretch Out and Wait follows, another superb slowish song . Marr chooses a great set of chord changes, which I haven't heard anywhere else, and the melody is quite unusual also. Lyrically, Morrissey's very much on `home ground' ("will the world end in the night time I really don't know").

The one completely new song here is You Just Haven't Heard It Yet Baby, which is kind of like the great lost Smiths single. The tune is bright and upbeat, and it sounds like it would have been a hit. Once more Marr excels himself on guitar.

Listening to this album it's hard to review these songs, as most of them are completely imprinted on my brain. However it would be wrong to ignore this album for that reason. Final track Rubber Ring, says it all: "don't forget the songs that made you smile, and the songs that saved your life."
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Rain Tree Crow
Rain Tree Crow
Price: £7.73

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than Japan??, 24 April 2010
This review is from: Rain Tree Crow (Audio CD)
This was a short-lived `group' who released one album in 1991. It was to have been released under the Japan name but David Sylvian insisted on using the name Rain Tree Crow. Although the name itself isn't great, it's kind of appropriate that the Japan name wasn't used as the music is more of a departure from the old group. The rest of the band were put out about this and didn't speak to Sylvian for several years.

Sylvian dominated this particular "project" which was very much in keeping with his solo work. The cover photograph of a blasted landscape suits the mood of this nocturnal album. The first track, however is a complete misstep, sounding very much like the band were jumping on the `world music' bandwagon. A vast improvement is the 2nd track, Every Colour You Are, which is, like a lot of the best tracks on this album, brooding, mope-along mood music. Sylvian is in fine voice here and on other tracks such as Pocketful of Change and Blackwater.

The rest of the album is dominated largely by instrumentals, where the band "faffs" about in a sort of AOR, atmospheric way, and it works well. The titles are fantasically pretentious (New Moon at Deer Fallow, A Reassuringly Dull Sunday), not to mention some of the `credits' - treated piano, Steve Jansen and Mick Karn on wine glasses (I kid you not!) on the track I Drink to Forget. There are also moody vocal interludes (Rain Tree Crow, Boat's for Burning), the second of these featuring the brooding quiet threat "strike the match, stand well back, this boat's for burning." Overall the album is a triumph, and in my opinion, better than any of Japan's previous work.

You're Living All Over Me
You're Living All Over Me
Price: £10.59

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Feast of guitars, 24 April 2010
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This album was released in 1987, which was not exactly the era of heavy guitars. The album packs considerable wallop and a great guitar sound. It roars out of the blocks with Little Fury Things, which sets the tone for the album. J Mascis plays some great crunching guitar riffs, though his singing (whining) is almost laughably out of tune! Towards the end of the song it becomes drenched in feedback, a trick they repeat on quite a few of these.

The formula just kind of works, Mascis plays heavy, distorted riffs, with a cleaner line accompanying them, and Lou Barlow's bass bounces along trying to keep up. Sludgefeast is particularly notable, with ten tons of guitar riff providing a superb anthem, though on this one Mascis' vocals can barely be called singing! Towards the end of the song another almost metallish riff comes in for the end of the song.

The Lung sounds like the Lemonheads might have been listening at the beginning of their career before Evan Dando discovered country. The song plods along nicely before drummer Murph decides it's not fast enough and speeds things up, and the other instruments kind of shamble up to the same tempo. There's some lovely guitar work on this one, particularly towards the end.

Tarpit is another very strong song. Murph's drums sound cavernous at the beginning before the riff properly kicks in and bludgeons the listener into submission (in a good way). Like a lot of tracks here, it's a basic two chord riff but it sounds enormous. Lose has screaming guitars and screaming vocals, both at breakneck speed.

Poledo is a total misstep, it's a Lou Barlow track which sounds like a home recording. Mainly acoustic, it's a mess, the sort of `experiment' that should never see the light of day.

They also do a version of The Cure's Just Like Heaven, with much heavier guitars and even dodgier vocals. It kind of works, though their treatment of the bridge is almost pure heavy metal, and Cure-heads should probably avoid it!

It's a great feast of guitars, one to file away with Crazy Horse (especially with Mascis' whining married to the heavy guitars), the Stooges' Raw Power and even Sonic Youth.

Viva Hate
Viva Hate
Price: £8.44

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great start to Morrissey's solo career, 24 April 2010
This review is from: Viva Hate (Audio CD)
This was Morrissey's first solo album, released in the aftermath of the Smiths' split. In these pre-internet days of 1988 I was somewhat taken aback that he had regrouped so quickly and was a little worried about the quality of the writing.

I needn't have bothered worrying, the album is stronger than it has any right to be. He had been working with erstwhile Smiths producer Stephen Street, and guitar genius Vini Reilly (of Durutti Column). The album kicks off with the heavy Alsatian Cousin, which followed on nicely from heavier Smiths tracks like I Started Something I Couldn't Finish. There is some wonderful imagery here - "leather elbows on a tweed coat, oh is THAT the best you can do?" After the vaguely Spanish sounding ode to a forgotten TV star Little Man, What Now? (Morrissey loves to throw in commas in his song titles!) came one of his most popular and enduring singles, Everyday Is Like Sunday, with soaring strings and an uplifting melody, sort of in the vein of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Bengali in Platforms was criticised at the time for some semi-racist overtones but the tune itself is pleasant enough, and following track Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together is a pleasing bit of melodrama that some interpreted as an ode to Johnny Marr. Not that Morrissey would ever admit it.

Album centrepiece Late Night, Maudlin Street is a seven minute epic tale of growing up, late night brushes with the law, and moving house. It features classic self-loathing Morrissey lyrics ("when the world's ugliest boy became what you see, here I am, the ugliest man", amongst many others) and some lovely piano (Street) and guitar touches from Reilly. When this was released, I actually was "moving house" and did feel like "a half-life was disappearing."

After the poppy single Suedehead the album takes a bit of a dip in quality. Break Up the Family is quite pleasing though with some nice guitar over some bongos and a great vocal performance by Morrissey. Here shades of optimism take over in the lyrics - "I'm so glad to grow older, to move away from those darker years." The next 2 tracks are comparably weak, The Ordinary Boys being a piano-led song without a very good tune basically, while I Don't Mind If You Forget Me is basically a watered down version of the Smiths' You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby.

Dial-A-Cliché is great, with some lovely guitar lines and a nice bit of French horn, while closing track Margaret On the Guillotine brings Morrissey's loathing of Thatcher to its logical conclusion. It's a simple enough tune and lyrics that leave nothing to the imagination ("when will you die"). The song continues for a bit with some nice guitar touches before ending abruptly with the aforementioned guillotine.

Down Colorful Hill
Down Colorful Hill

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Obsessive and compulsive, 24 April 2010
This review is from: Down Colorful Hill (Audio CD)
We'll skip past the appalling American spelling of "colorful" to bring you a review of the album that foisted Mark Kozelek on the world. The lovely 4AD artwork gives way to an album of only 6 lengthy ponderous songs. But what songs. 24 opens with a barely there plucked guitar before Kozelek's voice enters. We instantly know what territory we are in as he sings "so it's not loaded stadiums or ballparks", navel-gazing, brooding self-analysis. It's like Neil Young's Old Man updated for the 90s.

Medicine Bottle follows, and it's ten minutes of dissection of a failed relationship in painstaking detail over dark, echoey guitars. It's one of the few long songs that doesn't feel that long. There is great imagery in the lyrics - "no more breath in my hair, or ladies' underwear tossed up over the alarm clock." It's obsessiveness of the highest order, unsparingly capturing every last detail and "setting it all out step by step".

After 2 stunningly good songs, the next 3 songs are a little ordinary, with the title track itself being a little dull. The album concludes with Michael, a wonderful lament for a departed friend over some staggeringly beautiful strummed guitars. Largely acoustic, there are some lovely lyrical nods to misplaced youth here: "me with my ridiculous looking pierced nose, I remember your warm smile in the sun."

One could be critical and accuse this album of being fairly samey. Is it self indulgent wallowing? Absolutely. Since when is that a bad thing?!

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Musical Hopes and Dreams, 24 April 2010
This review is from: Mercury (Audio CD)
When Mark Eitzel and co finally started to get some plaudits (for 1991's Everclear), a major label deal and a relatively large recording budget, they reacted in the only way they knew how. They made enlisted producer Mitchell Froom to make a somewhat difficult album which bore little resemblance in sound to their previous output!

I prefer to call it a subtle album. Those who fell in love with pedal steel guitar player Bruce Kaphan's contributions to Everclear would be disappointed here, as he is limited to minimal embellishments here and there.

Gratitude Walks is a classic Eitzel song, opening with piano and some steel guitar, before Eitzel croons lyrical gems like "chains on the oasis that leads a man to drink, drunk on the kind of applause that gets louder the lower you sink." It's a classic alcoholic insight that needs no explanation. If I Had A Hammer is probably one of the more conventional songs here, again leading off with piano and same great guitar touches. It's all going along quite nicely till they throw in a weird bleepy bit in the middle, before Eitzel continues on the theme of the last song, singing "I don't know if I've reached the bottom yet... I feel time pass like a joy I tried so hard to relearn, but somewhere along the line I passed the point of no return."

Challenger is a total change of pace, with Vudi's raging, murky guitars before we're back in familiar territory with I've Been A Mess. This song is almost self-parody with Eitzel self-flagellating ("I've been a mess since you've been gone") over prominent steel guitar. One of my kids said to me once that it sounds just like me singing on guitar!

Most of the rest of songs are reasonably subtle, albeit many of them with lengthy titles (What Godzilla Said to God When His Name Wasn't Found In The Book Of Life, The Hopes and Dreams of Heaven's 10,000 Whores), which often bear little relation to the songs themselves. Self-sabotage? If so it's a thoroughly enjoyable one.

The album is also notable for the presence of Johnny Mathis' Feet, which is to non-AMC fans, probably the song they are best remembered for. It's a classic contradiction that it is in fact a fairly atypical song for them, musically at least. It's pretty much a big ballad, with Eitzel bellowing out a tale of comparing his songs unfavourably with Johnny Mathis, over a big `kitchen sink' style production number which throws in strings, steel guitar and dramatic crescendos.

One of the stranger tracks is the second last one, More Hopes and Dreams, which is a bit of self-indulgence from the band where they recorded sounds from an electrical power station which sounded perfect for the album! The final track, Will You Find Me, is an AMC acoustic-based closer in the vein of Last Harbour from California. It's downright lovely, with a fragile acoustic guitar riff, sensitive vocals from Eitzel sounding almost at breaking point, and some keyboards which work really well. The middle section with an acoustic guitar solo backed by unconventional guitar work from Kaphan demands to be heard. It's almost impossibly beautiful, and gives the lie to those who dismiss steel guitar as clichéd country nonsense.

Predictably this sort of stuff did not sell in grunge-era 1993, and from then on American Music Club were doomed to obscurity.

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