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Jason Parkes (Worcester, UK)
(No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)   

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The Great Escape
The Great Escape
Price: £13.03

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than memories..., 7 Oct. 2012
This review is from: The Great Escape (Audio CD)
For years I've held the opinion that 'The Great Escape' was a folly - the gushing reviews at the time were O.T.T. and Blur would have been better off releasing a few singles/e.p.'s instead of a whole album. My view before picking up this box-set at a bargain price was there were four killer songs ('Best Days', 'The Universal', 'He Thought of Cars', & 'Yuko and Hiro') and the rest was sub-'Park Life'-tosh (...or worse). But I was wrong and revisiting the album it seems much better than memory suggested.

I am still of the opinion that the best Blur-albums remain 'Modern Life is Rubbish' and '13' - 'Park Life' has a whole bunch of filler lesser than tracks here ('Clover over Dover', 'Magic America' anyone?) and the eponymous album was annoying after Damon's anti-American-whining reverting to "Tonight Matthew we'll be imitating Pavement circa-'Wowee Zowee'. I've also seen a few music journo-sorts raving over this album and gave my tape away to a charidee-shop years ago. So, coming across it cheap, time to revisit?

There are some extremely annoying/overfamiliar songs here which certainly step into self-imitation and disingenuous irony, but in the sequence of the album they seem to make sense. Well, apart from 'Ernold Same', which is absolutely godawful and one of Blur's worst moments starring a misjudged Ken Livingstone (who seemed to become a Labour/ex-Labour/Labour-parasite of bands since Red Wedge. No wonder Damon described himself as a Communist after the Blair-comintern tried to co-opt him!). It does seem absurd that 'Country House' was a single when something as great as 'Young & Lovely' was lost on a b-side of a multi-format - though it does belong to the clutch of anti-Dave Balfe songs, riffs on The Kinks' 'House in the Country', has the disturbing "blow me out!"-coda, and the great Balzac/Prozac-juxtaposition.

Recorded in the post-'Park Life' imperial phase 'The Great Escape' is strange as it charts the rise/decline/fall - some of this is weakness like the reference to Oasis' 'Morning Glory' (which I don't think was released at the time) and when singing songs about their present it can nail the record to the dire Age of Britpop (as Eric Hobsbawm may have had it). Like Pulp's 'This is Hardcore', it's slightly annoying that Albarn & co had whored themselves around since almost splitting a few years previously and wanted to be a pop-band. But when they get it, find out it's empty and the screaming girls/cocaine/chart positions etc don't fill the void. So, yes, 'The Great Escape' is one of those rock-star-blues-albums. Which is interesting as you can file it next to 'On the Beach', 'In Utero', 'Hotel California', the aforementioned 'This is Hardcore', 'Songs of Faith and Devotion', 'Vitalogy', 'Station to Station' etc...

The band appear to be moving towards a wall - dressed like Heaven 17 circa 'Penthouse & Pavement' and having a great time and thinking of cars...This means you get some dull tracks which feel b-sidey ('Mr Robinson's Quango', 'It Could Be You') and self-parody ('Charmless Man', the chorus of 'Stereotypes'). But, as I said, listen to it as a whole and you might get the notion why the 5-stars and 10/10 reviews followed.

'Stereotypes' is weird, a blend of 70's Kinks with Elastica with an annoying chorus and an ability to transport me to some dodgy indie-club in the mid-90's. Still quite a good song...'Fade Away' and 'Top Man' not so great as they just seem to be Damon having a go at being 'More Specials' and Fun Boy Three respectively (his single with Terry Hall at the time was fantastic and one of Tezzer's finest moments). 'Globe Alone' builds on 'Bank Holiday' and 'Jubilee' and points towards 'Blur' and 'Bugman', while 'Dan Abnormal' (a name Albarn used when guesting on Elastica's debut) remains kind of pop and a bit psychedelic. 'Entertain Me' is even better and feels like Cobain rewriting 'Girls and Boys' post-success and after getting into The Fall's 'The Infotainment Scan.'

...but it does come back to the great tracks here: 'Best Days' countering the self-celebration of Britpop with an arrangement that would fit on the hallowed 'O.K. Computer'; the reworking of an unreleased Tricky-collaboration intended for the Nearly God LP 'The Universal' (...perhaps slightly less effective after being used in a long-running advert); and 'Yuko and Hiro', which focuses on a couple "working for the company" in the Far East as surrogate for 'Damon and Justine.' This continues the melancholy of songs like 'Blue Jeans', 'Badhead', and 'This is a Low' and moves towards 'Tender' and 'No Distance Left to Run.' It does feel like a bit of a lost Eno-solo track from 'Taking Tiger Mountain...' and like something got fused in the 'Trainspotting' soundtrack....

The bonus cd is one of the less interesting in this series - the 'Mile End'-live material reminding that Blur were more focused on 'Park Life'-ambitions made real and as with the previous LP, the b-sides aren't as exciting as those you got for the first two albums (...though likely the band The Horrors got their name from a b-side from 'Charmless Man'). If looking for better bonus material I'd point to the first two, or 'Blur' and '13'...

Perhaps Damon Albarn should re-work this material as a musical/opera - 'The Great Escape' does seem to be where things like 'Monkey' and 'Dr Dee' started and like 'The Good, the Bad & the Queen' and the second/third Gorillaz albums, working as a sequence. 'The Great Escape' was certainly better than my memories...
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 22, 2013 3:00 PM BST


A Victim of Stars, 1982-2012
A Victim of Stars, 1982-2012
Price: £12.99

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying career retrospective, 17 Mar. 2012
I did wonder if 'A Victim of Stars' was really necessary given that 10 tracks previously featured on 2000's compilation 'Everything and Nothing' , 'Wonderful World' was also compiled on the brilliant 'Sleepwalkers'-compilation, and there's only one new song (the rather excellent 'Where's Your Gravity?'). But I couldn't resist this compilation when I saw the cover featuring a brilliant photo of DS at the height of his beauty taken by former partner and long-term associate Yuka Fujii...

Perhaps it was the disappointment of Sylvian cancelling his 'Implausible Beauty' tour due to health reasons, so this compilation a surrogate for that lacking - though I doubt he'd have played much of disc one with the projected tour being played by jazz/classical/improv sorts with various electronics. I think it would have been more like the 'Blemish' tour; since its release I've been playing this lots and pretty bowled over.

The second disc is probably more impressive - especially the material from 'Died in the Wool' which improves on the 'Manafon'-originals ('Snow White in Appalachia' the sole track from 'Manafon') and a sublime take on an Emily Dickinson poem, 'I Should Not Dare.' I was expecting that to be like another E.D. poem Sylvian adapted, 'A Certain Slant of Light', which was spoken word and close to the earlier 'Thoroughly Lost to Logic', but instead Sylvian has added a gorgeous blend of classical and electronic music and a wonderful vocal. Anyone who says D.S. sounds like he's singing a phonebook should listen to this track...

There are three songs from Nine Horses' 'Snow Borne Sorrow' which was the most commercial L.P. Sylvian recorded since 'Brilliant Trees' - nice to see Sylvian collaborate with Steve Jansen (& I hope they play together again in the near future). I've never really liked all of 'Darkest Birds' and probably would have picked 'A History of Holes', 'The Librarian', or 'The Day the Earth Stole Heaven' instead. 'Wonderful World' featuring Stina Nordenstam, Keith Lowe, and a string arrangement from Ryuichi Sakamoto remains a classic, seeming to fuse post 9/11-War on Terror dread with life after Sylvian's divorce charted on 'Blemish.' 'The Banality of Evil' is great stuff and advances on earlier songs like '20th Century Dreaming' and 'World Citizen' - though is much darker and has a title that refers to Hannah Arendt's classic book on the trial of Eichmann.

The 'Blemish' selections are quite bold - selecting the glitchy despair of 'The Only Daughter' (which caused many to return the LP as faulty) and the ironic 'Late Night Shopping' (a relative of the earlier 'Pop Song') does seem a bit obtuse. 'A Fire in the Forest', recorded with Fennesz alternately is an obvious selection being one of the most affecting songs Sylvian has recorded...this covers the Samadhi Sound material - but not in complete detail. I'd definitely recommend picking up a copy of 'Sleepwalkers' which includes 'World Citizen', 'Ballad of a Deadman', 'Money for All', 'Sleepwalkers', 'Playground Martyrs', 'Transit' and many other fine collaborations....

The rest of disc two devotes itself to three songs from the epic double 'Dead Bees on a Cake' - the gorgeous 'I Surrender' which blends 'Astral Weeks' influences, zen-bliss, Marc Ribot's guitar, earlier lyrics from 'Earthbound', and a Mahavishnu Orchestra-sample. 'Alphabet Angel' is a lovely inclusion and quite unexpected, as is 'Darkest Dreaming' - probably a good thing that lacklustre late Virgin singles like 'Godman' and 'The Scent of Magnolia' were left off this compilation. Sadly there's nothing from either version of the Fripp/Sylvian live LP 'Damage', nor 'The First Day' out-take 'Blinding Light of Heaven', or the collaboration with Hector Zazou from which the compilation takes its title. 'Jean the Birdman' sounds brilliant, I'd have also included 'Endgame', 'Earthbound/Starblind', 'Damage', 'The First Day', and 'Brightness Falls'...still, space may dictate.

Disc one is an odd one - not sure why the E&N version of 'Ghosts' is used - would have made more sense to pick the original as that was really where Sylvian wrote Japan out of the mix and indicated the direction he would go in. Nice that both 'Bamboo Houses' and its flipside 'Bamboo Music' are included - the Sakamoto collaboration sounding more like Y.M.O. and a more minimal take on late Japan tracks 'Still Life in Mobile Homes' and 'Life Without Buildings.'

The re-recording of 'Forbidden Colours' that featured on the original c.d. of 'Secrets of the Beehive' is included - I always thought this was better than the original from 'Merry Xmas, Mr Lawrence.' E&N was a bit absurd as it included several unreleased songs which meant that certain records weren't very well represented - just 'Weathered Wall' was included from 'Brilliant Trees' (though a re-recording of the title track was on the third bonus disc). This seemed odd as Sylvian had said around 1999 that the Rain Tree Crow LP and 'Brilliant Trees' were the two records he was most proud of. So this compilation sets things right with the inclusion of hit single 'Red Guitar' and the other two singles from the great 1984 album, 'The Ink in the Well' (Cocteau and Picasso referenced; lovely performances by Jansen, Mark Isham, and Danny Thompson) and 'Pulling Punches' (which is like a more organic take on 'The Art of Parties' and the last time Sylvian would rock till his work with Fripp in the early 90's).

The two singles from 'Gone to Earth' are included - 'Taking the Veil' was always a mood-piece, but 'Silver Moon' a bit too bland for me and the presence of B.J. Cole a too obvious attempt at the Walkers' 'No Regrets.' I'd have gone with 'Wave', 'River Man', 'Laughter & Forgetting' or my fave Syvlian song, 'Before the Bullfight.' & nothing from the instrumental side of 'Gone to Earth', which reminds me that the whole instrumental/experimental side of Sylvian isn't represented here. See: Alchemy/Words with the Shaman, GTE disc 2, Approaching Silence etc

Sadly the brilliant single 'Buoy', where Sylvian collaborated with Steve Jansen and the late Mick Karn is not included nor their other great song 'When Love Walks In' - I'd have preferred that to the sub-Peter Gabriel single 'Heartbeat (Tainai Kaiki II)' included at the end of disc one. The selections from 'Secrets of the Beehive' are perfect and three of Sylvian's finest songs - though they were all on 'E&N.' Stand alone single 'Pop Song' was also on the 2000 compilation, but is worth revisiting here as it debuts the ironic side of Sylvian and showcases Cage/Stockhausen influences. In fact, I think it sounds like the Czukay albums that preceded it put into a pop song form. Great stuff.

Finally there's the Rain Tree Crow material - just two tracks including single 'Blackwater' and the highlight of that record, 'Every Colour You Are' - I think that LP is a highlight of Sylvian's brilliant career and works really well as a whole. I might have liked 'Pocketful of Change' - but you can't have everything...

'A Victim of Stars' is a pretty fine compilation of Sylvian's long and brilliant career - I think it's better than E&N as it doesn't include a bunch of leftover material that should probably have been released seperately. Hopefully he will get well again and the projected tour will happen, as well as the projected LP of duets with Joan as Police Woman...Certainly a perfect introduction to the world of David Sylvian...
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2014 9:40 PM BST


Upside Down: The Best Of
Upside Down: The Best Of
Offered by onepeecd
Price: £8.32

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Budget price compilation of the Mary Chain, 28 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
'Upside Down' is a nice budget-price compilation that manages to blend material generally found on the '21 Singles', Barbed Wire Kisses' and 'Sound of Speed' compilations with selections from all their albums and a few oddities.

Having most of their material on vinyl or tape and not completely updated to CD, this was a budget price joy containing 44 tracks for £4. Some of the selections may be a bit random and two b-sides ommitted ('Taste of Cindy - acoustic' & 'Heat') seem a bit silly as they featured in a film ('Adventureland') and TV-advert (car? beer? can't remember) - so would have contrasted well with 'Just Like Honey' (now associated with the end of Lost in Translation). & not all the singles are included - 'Snakedriver' (which was included on '21 Singles' and a lead-e.p. track) is missing - instead 'Something I Can't Have' is included from that e.p (though the claim on the sleeve that all their singles are included isn't very accurate...and the sleevnotes also state 'Cherry Came Too' was from Automatic, which is sloppy).

Still, plenty of odd b-sides, from their early take on Syd Floyd's 'Vegetable Man' to a cleaner 'The Hardest Walk' (recorded for 'Some Kind of Wonderful) to their fine cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Tower of Song' to 'Some Candy Talking' b-side 'Psychocandy.' Plenty of great singles - 'Upside Down', 'Never Understand', 'You Trip Me Up', 'Just Like Honey', 'Some Candy Talking', 'April Skies', 'Happy When It Rains', 'Darklands', 'Sidewalking'...

Though the 'Automatic'-material has a production that thinks it's Suicide, but comes across as 'Midnight to Midnight'-Psychedelic Furs blended with Billy Idol's 80's material. By the early 90's the Mary Chain had Stone Roses' style drum-beats (think 'What the World is Waiting For') and weren't completely convincing. Still, 'Far Gone and Out' is pleasant enough and 'Sometimes Always' with Hope Sandoval is thoroughly charming. Even towards the end the singles were strong - 'I Hate Rock & Roll', 'I Love Rock and Roll', 'Cracking Up' - and the new track 'All Things Must Pass' (recorded for TV's Heroes) is fine and suggests the Reid-brothers should think about a new LP.

It was a fairly enjoyable career, despite the fact the Mary Chain were eclipsed by many of the bands they influenced in the early 90's - still, it's churlish to sniff at a double-cd that includes such wonders as 'Kill Surf City', the 7" of 'Sidewalking', early b-side 'Happy Place', the Shane MacGowan-fronted 'God Help Me', and the pure noise of 'In a Hole.' Lovely and the ideal budget primer into a fairly great band...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2011 3:18 AM BST


Thirty-Second Annual Report
Thirty-Second Annual Report
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revisiting the 2nd Annual Report, 23 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Who'd have thought that one of the highlights of 2008 would have been a low-key release of Throbbing Gristle's Paris performance last year to celebrate their fairly unlistenable 1977 opus, The Second Annual Report?

I always found the original album quite hard work, partly due to the poor recording quality and partly due to Genesis P-Orridge's (non) musicianship being rather close to one journalist's assertion that he sounded like a `gorilla with his hands cut off playing bass.' However since their 2004 reformation, TG have got better at what they do.

Their Camber Sands-performance generally focused on new material to the irritation of fans, but tapped back into TG of yore with revisits to `Hamburger Lady' and `What a Day,' both of which advanced on the original versions (the latter even dropping in lines from The Small Faces' `Lazy Sunday'!). Subsequent live shows have seen them revisit In the Shadow of the Sun for a performance at the Tate and this show - hopefully this will mean future performances centring on 20 Jazz Funk Greats or Heathen Earth?

Following the self-explanatory `Industrial Introduction,' TG move through three versions apiece of `Maggot Death' and `Slug Bait,' which at times sound like completely new material. `Maggot Death 3' wipes the floor with Warp-electronica types, while `Slug Bait 3' centres on a hypnotic guitar loop from Cosey Fanni-Tutti and an immensely disturbing interview with a child killer. Somehow this is enjoyable to listen to.

P-Orridge processed/screaming vocals help during `Slug Bait 1' - the tale of an intruder who castrates a man, then forces him to consume his detached genitals before cutting open a pregnant woman's belly and cannibalizing her baby. Some things you don't need to hear...

`Maggot Death 1' has a hook - "Play a little game/Put a record on/Midnight or day..."- that sounds like Syd Barrett singing Joy Division. For the most part The Thirty-Second Annual Report is located in alienating electronic soundscapes, nightmares from an industrialised future. The performance, complete with bizarrely excitable Parisians cheering every emission , veers off into space with a vast revision of `After Cease to Exist' which at 20-minutes wipes the floor with the version from Heathen Earth.

As a treat, TG encore with single `Zyklon Z Zombie' which nails the dirge from the Velvets' `I Heard Her Call My Name' to a lyric that takes the proverbial out of punk rock's so-called outrage via a Holocaust reference. P-Orridge even sounds like he's enjoying himself as he asks, "Are you ready, Cosey?" as she emits guitar hail over the machine drones. Strange, and potentially disturbing, that I enjoyed The Thirty-Second Annual Report also; can the world be as sad as it seems?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 10, 2012 2:07 AM BST


If You Could Hear Me Now
If You Could Hear Me Now
Offered by UK-Media Supplies
Price: £8.64

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nite Flights material worth the price of admission..., 8 Mar. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
'If You Could Hear Me Now' is one of many Walker Brothers' compilations, like 'The Singles Plus' & the 'A Very Special Collection' it focuses on the reformed Walkers' of the 1970s. This takes in the albums 'No Regrets' (1975), 'Lines' (1976), and 'Nite Flights' (1978), with the addition of several out-take tracks of differing quality.

Having a compulsion to buy most Walker/Walkers' compilations, this one doesn't feel in any way definitive, but does highlight great material ('Lines', 'Til I Gain Control Again', 'Brand New Tennessee Waltz') that didn't make 1992's best-selling 'No Regrets' compilation, which took 'No Regrets' and perversely 'We're All Alone' over the 'Nite Flights' e.p. and 'Lines.'

The main reason to buy this budget-priced compilation is due to the fact it includes all four tracks penned by Scott Walker for 'Nite Flights,' with the addition of Gary Leeds' 'Death of Romance' (which fits well with material of the new wave) comprised the first side of 'Nite Flights.' Many put value on Walker's first self-composed material since the flop of solo LP 'Til' the Band Comes In' - an e.p. of his songs from 'Nite Flights' was released and is effectively included here. The out-take 'Tokyo Rimshot' is a curio/potential b-side, but not as strong as those four tracks...

Walker had obviously hinted at material of this nature before, lyrics like 'The Plague', 'War is Over (Sleepers),' and 'The Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)' had hinted at darker subject matter. Scott alluded to Beckett, Bergman, Camus, Genet & Pasolini...and this all fed into the less string-dominated sound of the 'Nite Flights' material. The strings are there, but so is the band too, and the sound is not a million miles from Bowie and Eno in Berlin. Both of whom have cited Walker's material here, both appearing in the documentary 30 Century Man, while Eno almost worked on a record with Walker, & Bowie covered 'Nite Flights' (as did those Fatima Mansions). The material here sits well, and predicts (to a degree) acts such as Associates, Japan, Magazine, and Ultravox. Certainly one to play alongside 'The Idiot', 'Low', and "Heroes."

'Shutout' is like a disco Joy Division, while 'Fat Mama Kick' is more demented and art - as with all the material from 'Nite Flights', there is a feeling that the directions Walker would follow are set here. The title track is one of gorgeous paranoia and easily as powerful as any earlier Walker moment - just a shame there wasn't more Walker-penned material in the 'Nite Flights' style, though play these against 1983's 'Climate of Hunter' and you will see the natural progression. The highlight and model for 'Climate of Hunter,' 'Tilt', and 'The Drift' is 'The Electrician.'

This six-minute epic is the real dark stuff, Walker fixating on torture in Latin America that involved the complicity of the CIA, the theme of torture returning on songs like 'Sleepwalkers Woman' & 'Face on Breast.' The opening and concluding parts of the song are the most disturbing, having the drones and minimal strings common to 'Tilt' et al, and Walker singing over the top, "Baby it's slow/When lights are low/There's no help no/Baby it's slow/When lights go low/There's no help no..." The band then comes in, sounding very Low/"Heroes" and Walker continues, "He's drilling through the Spiritus Sanctus tonight/Through the dark hip falls/Screaming, "Oh you mambos kill me and kill me and kill me..."/If I jerk the handle/You'll die in your dreams/If I jerk the handle/Jerk the Handle/You'll thrill me and thrill me and thrill me..." The song then veers off into a strange symphonic direction, which probably was a huge influence on Ultravox's 'Vienna.' There is some minimal guitar and the disturbing opening drone, close to Throbbing Gristle, returns. Very dark stuff, Walker linking CIA torture practice to sexual gratification - a key record and probably reason enough to buy this compilation...
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 14, 2012 2:01 PM GMT


Christmas Number One [7" VINYL]
Christmas Number One [7" VINYL]

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Santa = Satan, 15 Dec. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
While an advocate of Low's Christmas e.p., Mogwai's My Father the King & buying Malcolm Middleton's single as it would be better than the X Factor (despite certain Radio 1 DJs giving themselves hip points for supporting the former Arab Strapper), my Xmas record of choice has to be Christmas Number One by the Black Arts.

For some reason the Black Arts have only released this on green vinyl 7" - so clearly not going with a mass of formats, they aren't expecting to get to Xmas #1. I have a feeling this song will become an anthem in the future and will feature on many a compilation, leaving songwriters the Deverell Twins to live the Rio-lifestyle Duran Duran did in the 1980s.

The Black Arts are, of course a combination of Black Box Recorder and Art Brut's Eddie Argos - stemming from the briefly heard of English Travelling Wilburys. The a-side is a post-modern slice of pop of a seasonal variety which you'd expect from the people who brought you Leeds United, Discomania, French Rock & Roll, The Art of Driving, When Britain Refused to Sing, Andrew Ridgley & Being Number One. More 70s related stuff and a cast that includes Noddy Moore, Roy Haines, Frosty Nixey, Eddie Argos Christmas Catalogue, Tim 'Merry Gentlemen' Weller, John 'Festive Man' Fortis & Keith Christmas Totp. It's a glam racket with sleigh bells, Moore & Nixey's daughter adding the Roy Wood-touch & some of the dark stuff you'd expect from Haines & Moore. Almost as great is the flipside Glam Casual, more the Art Brut-side with supporting contributions from the Deverell Twins...

Single of the year and Xmas single of choice, it's like Throbbing Gristle and Denim at the work Xmas party...sad it's only available on 7" or i-tunes download. I want CD singles to provide as Secret Santa presents in the workplace! & if you've visited the Black Arts my space site, the amusing low budget video is well worth a view...

Santa = Satan, acquire the Black Arts...this is another should have been smash like The Rubettes by The Auteurs or Leeds United by Luke Haines...and the "see you next year" hopefully alludes to the return of Black Box Recorder and their fabled fourth LP...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2008 11:53 AM GMT


Anthology
Anthology
Offered by Japan-Select
Price: £38.58

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reissue of classic Can primer..., 6 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Anthology (Audio CD)
This two disc compilation, which like much of Can's back catalogue bar Out of Reach, was originally on cd in the mid 1990s - now it's lovingly remastered and tweaked and definitely worthy of attention. These days Krautrock is very well known, we're a decade or so on from Julian Cope's Krautrocksampler (reprint and annotate from the present day please Mr Cope!)and mungbeans like Kasabian mention Faust now...But if you're not yet acquainted with the wonder that was Can, this two disc Anthology is a pretty decent primer - taking in most of their career and a precursor to the excellent two disc compilation of remixes that tied in with the splendid Can DVD a few years ago.

Can were, for the most part, Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli (RIP), Jaki Liebezeit, and Irmin Schmidt - and of course their two great frontmen, Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki (and Tim Rose was almost a member, as were members of PIL, and then there was that dude Rosco Gee). But Can always seemed to me Czukay-Karoli-Liebezeit&Schmidt - and often were - having a definite chemistry that managed to fuse their respective styles. This sounds easy, but it's surprising how few bands have that - not that it always worked, and apart from 1989's late flower Rite Time, there is quite a bit of debate over the value of the Can output following 1974's Soon Over Babaluma (...though there are some odd great moments, which this compilation captures, as well as some great solo works, notably Czukay's grounbreaking Movies, also reissued in 2007). I'd still recommend getting all the reissues of all Can albums though...they were Can, after all.

Can remain one of the most groundbreaking, influential and referenced bands of all time, they have been cited and can be detected in work by the following: PIL (the improvisation & oddness of the first three albums and Lydon's great radio broadcast), Radiohead (have covered Thief and used the Can approach of recording on Dollars & Cents), Sonic Youth (cited Ege Bamyasi on their first e.p.), Happy Mondays (Halleluwah=Hallelujah & Madchester), Kanye West (sampled Sing Swan Song on his latest LP), David Sylvian (worked with Czukay & Liebezeit , Japan's Ghosts probably stems partly from Aumgn), Jah Wobble (worked with Czukay & Liebezeit - get those records too!), Talk Talk (Mark Hollis cited Tago Mago as an influence on masterpiece Laughing Stock), The Stone Roses (just play Fools Gold 953 or Something's Burning against early 70s Can), Lo Fidelity All Stars, Julian Cope, Loop (covered Mother Sky), Brian Eno (paid tribute to them on the Can DVD, obviously a fan of Czukay's editing techniques), Blur (think of the stranger Blur albums or the world elements on Think Tank or much of Albarn's other careers), Primal Scream (Burning Wheel sounds like Future Days at the start & Liebezeit played on Xtrmntr), Depeche Mode (Liebezeit played on Ultra), Talking Heads (Eno-produced TH was a tighter take on Soon Over Babaluma-Can), The Fall (wrote I am Damo Suzuki, Mark E Smith reportedly a big fan of Suzuki's solo work), The Jesus & Mary Chain (covered Mushroom - probably Gillepsie's doing), 23 Skidoo, This Heat, Joy Division (have mentioned listening to Tago Mago at the time), David Bowie (has named Future Days as one of his favourite albums), U2 (took Can approaches and sounds into their interesting years, from Achtung Baby! to Pop), The Flaming Lips (wrote a Mushroom-inspired song on one of their early records), UNKLE (one of the many remixers on Sacrilege), Spoon (wonder where they got their name from?), The Mooney-Suzuki (ditto Spoon), The Pop Group (was reminded of the out there bits on Tago Mago when listening to the reissue of Y earlier this year) etc. Can are a big deal...

These two discs are packed, though I think every Can album from Delay 1968 to Babaluma should be owned (at least) - you should only settle for the full length/infinite version of Mother Sky, a wonder of a song influenced by the Velvet Underground's Sister Ray and a song that blows my mind (still!) years after hearing it. Some of Can's material might make you think of post-Syd/pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd, or The Doors playing He Loved Him Madly, or some post-punk or baggy. They probably have always been here before, if you think about it...

But so many joys here (labelled parts one to ten): 1. Halleluwah (Fools Gold 9.53 + Martin Hannett x Happy Mondays), which displays Can's minimal approach that could seemingly go anywhere, rivalling certain Ennio Morricone. 2. Spoon 3. Moonshake - both examples of space funk, the former was kind of a hit in West Germany at the time and always makes me think of the great adaptation of Alan 'biggest Can fan in the universe' Warner's Morvern Callar 4. Mother Sky, it might be edited for space purposes, but it's Mother Sky? 5. She Brings the Rain, one of Mooney's greatest moments, great to compare that acoustic-jazz vibe with Suzuki's more out there moments that followed 6. Last Night Sleep, the latest song here from the Rite Time line-up and gorgeous stuff from Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World soundtrack - a shame they didn't record a whole LP like this song! A bit world, odd chants that sound like foreign languages, and something very Can present and correct 7. I Want More, one of the greatest pop songs ever and one of my favourite TOTP performances (shame about the Noel Edmonds joke before they mimed!). The repetition here setting the mode for great pop from Kylie and Girls Aloud, obviously...I WANT MORE AND MORE AND MORE AND MORE...8. Below this Level, though I think Rite Time deserves its reputation as a late classic and warrants purchase as much as Monster Movie or Future Days 9. Mushroom, one of Suzuki's greatest moments - is he singing "I gotta keep my despair" or "I gotta keep my distance?" - makes you think of Hiroshima and that great thing in rock and roll of the last thirty odd years where a new language is created, or at the very least, spoken in 10. Aumgn, the epic instrumental that slays many a listener who had previously coped with the first four songs on Tago Mago - it sounds quite normal these days and set the tone that bands like Cabaret Voltaire, The Pop Group and Throbbing Gristle would continue over the next few years (the strange violin noise here recurs on Y by the Pop Group and makes me think of Genesis P Orridge's violin playing in TG).

This is the very least Can you should own - though it's a lot more funky and organic, for the most part, that the motorik joys of Cluster, Harmonia, Kraftwerk and Neu! Salute those great bands of West Germany in the 60s and 70s who went beyond inner space and created the future as we know it...
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Passionoia
Passionoia
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Price: £5.45

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 Odd Pop Greats, 6 Dec. 2007
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This review is from: Passionoia (Audio CD)
I never got to grips with Passionoia at the time, which I probably put down to the fact it was the most irritating LP title this side of PJ Harvey's Uh Huh Oh Her, or my belief that 2000's celebrated The Facts of Life was Black Box Recorder's definitive statement. I was wrong, and now I want more...and strangely, Passionoia is the Black Box Recorder LP I listen to the most. Heck, one of the albums I listen to the most these days, for some strange reason. 10 Odd Pop Greats, in case you were wondering...

First things first, Passionoia probably has the best front/back cover twist since 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Throbbing Gristle - Haines and Moore looking as slick as Bullingdon Club members, Nixey reclined in bikini, corpse in the pool blending Michael Barrymore with Sunset Boulevard, champagne bottles, the kind of place you expect to find Rowan Pelling, interesting reflections, a copy of 120 Days of Sodom...all a bit like Ballard's dark side of suburban utopia. Yes, probably worth buying for the cover alone...

Haines and Moore, the songwriters here, are probably too clever for their own good, and their brand of delectable, subversive pop doesn't get to infect the mainstream and ends up getting celebrated by anally retentive souls like myself alongside folk like baader meinhof, Denim, (early) Fatima Mansions, Luke Haines, Magnetic Fields, Microdisney & Sparks...I will say that it sounds like pop to me, but I like all manner of oddness, so my idea of pop is slightly deranged, which means this is the perfect album. Passionoia, as The Facts of Life, has an electronic edge - something that some critics haven't liked on wonderful Haines solo records like Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop and The Oliver Twist Manifesto (...where else to go after After Murder Park with Albini?). All Luke Haines-associated records should be owned and revered, even the slightly average Now I'm a Cowboy and the slight boring remix thingy not long after that...a national treasure, mark my words...

For the most part, Passionoia wipes away the acoustic elements of The Facts of Life, though I don't really see why this LP was so ignored and seems unsung (...I might have to nominate it for Unsung status on Head Heritage, despite the fact that the band members weren't bearded psych/Kraut types from the US 60s-70s!!). Sometimes these songs don't stand out on their own, but the effect of listening them all together builds up to something like the Village Green Preservation Society made by Girls Aloud imprisoned in the Death Factory...

Passionoia opens with a chant of Black Box Recorder, and the Dre-influenced world of the Oliver Twist Manifesto combines with The Facts of Life, and charts waters just off Beachy Head. Sarah Nixey drifts into dominatrix mode, sounding like Anne Widdecombe forced to sing Venus in Furs, the chant continues, and Nixey is allowed to sing (...though not sure how catchy "Destroy your record collection" is - probably a good idea, unless you're just doing it to win the Turner Prize). It gets even better with GSOH QED, which is very zeitgeist (then and now, dig the anachronism!), and tells you everything you need to know about the Western World you can't get in American Pie: The Wedding. The opening triad of songs concludes with the sublime pop of British Racing Green, which has a strange Hawaian vibe and probably should be played in the shops we buy our clothes in...as much as I love the songs on England Made Me (1997) and The Facts of Life, British Racing Green shows that Haines/Moore (or Moore/Haines) were getting better at their co-writing. It also has a guitar solo that Radiohead would lightly whine for...

Passionoia gets even better with Being Number One, which like the later These Are the Things, probably should have been a huge hit (something that also applies to Lenny Valentino, Unsolved Child Murder, Baader Meinhof, Child Psychology, The Rubettes, The Facts of Life, Weekend, Discomania etc)- the latter is a song that Girls Aloud or Sugababes could have sung, which explains the Richard X Leeds United (another should have been smash...) Being Number One seems to have been viewed like those crap Irvine Welsh novels about policemen who listen to Saxon or The Great Escape by Damon Albarn, sneering at the world it depicts. But it's much better than that, not just the easy target that people like Simon Cowell represent, but is actually attacking the shallow world that most of us exist in (or aspire to, even if we pretend we don't want to work for THE MAN) The Haines/Moore male backing vocals very apparent on The Facts of Life aren't as present on Passionoia, so it's notable that the part on Being Number One when they come in ("God bless the public, God bless number one vs. God bless the radio/God Bless TV vs God bless parking money - these are the days of too much wine and sun...") This is history, pop kids, and with amusing references to Gloucestershire Pig and Max Clifford...

Black Box Recorder and Pete Hofmann refine the sound of the Facts of Life, no more apparent than on The New Diana, a Facts of Life-style ballad with a dash of Kid Loco's Cocaine Diana and that bit about Diana on Blue Jam by Chris Morris. Passionoia is probably the English record that most criticism of the Good the Bad & the Queen's album said that was...a shame that a high budget video wasn't forthcoming for the New Diana. Think about it, Haines & Moore in Monte Carlo, Sarah Nixey on a jetski in leopard-print, and a wonderful denoument in a tunnel in Paris that recalled the final scene of the original version of The Vanishing. In dreams...

Maybe Haines and Moore took things too far with Andrew Ridgley, though the construction of the song seems to be predicting that Xenomania several songs against another quality apparent in something like Biology. The rest of the record is a definite odd pop wonder, especially When Britain Refused to Sing, which has a shift in gear akin to A Walk in the Woods by Fatima Mansions, and now the Black Arts appear with their Xmas single, rumours of a fourth Black Box Recorder LP abound, and John Moore's other works on i-tunes...we're spoilt ambassadors, we really are...in the meantime, here were 10 Odd Pop Greats from Haines, Moore & Nixey.
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Viva Dead Ponies 2CD
Viva Dead Ponies 2CD

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reissue of classic debut LP plus best of..., 4 Nov. 2007
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This review is from: Viva Dead Ponies 2CD (Audio CD)
Viva Dead Ponies was the classic debut album from the mighty Fatima Mansions, the act Cathal Coughlan formed following the demise of the equally mighty Microdisney (who have also released a two-disc anthology; Coughlan's former partner Sean O'Hagan would find critical acclaim with the High Llamas and also work on many a fantastic record by Stereolab and Super Furry Animals). Microdisney's initial output in 1989/1990 was released on singles and the mini LP Against Nature, collected a few years later on the deleted compilation Come Back My Children - let's hope this reissue of the debut and career overview leads to their back catalogue coming out again. Fatima Mansions were one of the greatest bands of the 1990s, in case you don't know...

Since someone pilfered my LP of this sometime ago and the tape I picked up 2nd hand was eaten by my car's tapedeck, it's just spiffing that this has been reissued. VDP was prior to the heavier band sound adopted from Hive onwards and apparent on Valhalla Avenue and Lost in the Former West (& in their mighty live sets). There is a more electronic/pop thing going on here, which is why I tend to think Lost in the Former West is the Fatima Mansions' masterpiece; of course, this remains a five star joy. It's the Mansions, man!

Viva Dead Ponies has lots of amusing interludes and instrumentals between the songs proper - though it's pretty weak that Thursday has been excised (shouldn't Blues for Ceausescu be on the best of?). Angel's Delight was a cop killer themed joy where Coughlan had raging metal guitars worthy of his vitriolic lyrics - I did find late period Microdisney too ironically slick (I always thought Armadillo Man or Send Herman Home could have been Wet Wet Wet). Tragic too that drivel like Carter USM was hit bound, while FM were ignored - even the less exciting material here (Mr Baby, Thursday, Pack of Lies) widdles over folk like that. Single You're a Rose is gorgeous stuff, the kind of direction Julian Cope might have gone into had My Nation Underground not sent him to form a nation underground. The Door to Door Inspector is sterling dark pop, while the title track and live favourite Look What I Stole for Us, Darling still sound wild. This is the place to start with the Mansions, man!

The second disc is a non-linear 16 track overview of Fatima Mansions' career, taking in most of the obvious highlights and no doubt creating some controversy over what's been forgotten amonsgt longtime fans! Odd that the Juno Reactor remix of The Loyaliser is chosen over many other possibilities. Where are the amusing maulings of Everything I Do (their biggest hit!) and Shiny Happy People? What about Gary Numan's Porsche? A Walk in the Woods? Something Bad? Hive? On Suicide Bridge? A Singer Must Die? Walk Yr Way? As I Washed the Blood Off?...This is the reason why the Fatima Mansions' back catalogue needs to be reissued in full, y'knaa? Am not sure why the music is presented non-linear, or why the intro to Bertie's Brochures has been nixed (space, I guess).

From the early years, you can't go wrong with Only Losers Take the Bus and from the Against Nature platter you also get Wilderness on Time and You Won't Get Me Home (I'd have picked The Day I Lost Everything, which still makes me laugh!). The 1990 stand alone single Blues for Ceausescu was a Faith No More style blast of black comedy directed at the deposed dictator who was ousted from Romania and executed in the gutter with his wife following a show trial. Hard to feel sorry...goodbye! - recall that the UK gave Ceausescu the Royal treatment in 1977 - a bit like our recent brownnosing of the King of Saudia Arabia!! Remember - some mass murderers and human rights abusers are just dandy...

The compilation jumps a year or so to the highlights of the Berties' Brochures mini-album - the Walkeresque ballad Behind the Moon and the truncated title track. Keeping things obvious and very primer are the singles from Valhalla Avenue, Evil Man and 1000%, which are obviously great - from the same record is the sublime North Atlantic Wind, a 1990s equivalent to Microdisney's Gale Force Wind. Finally we reach their adieu Lost in the Former West, which I'm pleased to report is the most referenced album here - their cover of the Walkers' Nite Flights and initial single The Loyaliser are fantastic, but my two faves Belong Nowhere and Popemobile to Paraguay being included is very, very welcome. The former addressed the new Europe, post Iron Curtain and the horrors of contemporary existence requiring "someone English and shifty" - Mark E Smith rocking out. Popemobile to Paraguay relates partly to their controversial catholic provocation on U2's ZOO-TV tour that resulted in a riot in Italy (...don't ask!). Coughlan's lyrics address Pope John Paul II's stance on mass ethnic rape and abortion in the Balkans (where the children born of rape should be had and not aborted as "a gesture of reconiliation"). Coughlan wonders where the chimera the US will pick on next is, and alludes to CIA black ops and other dark tactics - just hearing that makes me want to dig out Lost in the Former West, a record probably only matched by Leonard Cohen's The Future or Luke Haines' baader meinhof.

This is a very welcome reissue, despite the criticisms. Fatima Mansions were one of the great acts of the 1990s - Cathal Coughlan's subsequent solo career has been great too, especially Black River Falls. CC and FM a "national treasure" from Ireland and other places - if anyone wants to experience what much of the 1990s was like, I'd point to a Fatima Mansions record. Odd that people got excited over Prml Scrm dropping grammar, getting angry and referencing DAF/Gang of Four/PIL etc - Fatima Mansions did all that (& a lot more) in the 1990s.

Viva Dead Fatima Mansions!!!


The Facts Of Life
The Facts Of Life
Price: £7.33

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's just a nature walk..., 4 Nov. 2007
This review is from: The Facts Of Life (Audio CD)
Released in 2000, 'The Facts of Life' was the second album from Black Box Recorder (featuring the lovely Sarah Nixey, the dastardly Luke Haines & the decadent John Moore) and to date this is probably their masterpiece (though debut 'England Made Me' is almost as great & the neglected 'Passionoia' equally excellent...though probably too clever. Maybe people thought BBR had made their point? & perhaps the TV talent show/state of pop themed 'Being Number One' and 'Andrew Ridgley' were slightly obvious targets?) Fingers crossed for the rumoured fourth album from Black Box Recorder; in the meantime, The Facts of Life...

Penned by Haines and Moore, The Facts of Life advances on the dark climes of England Made Me - Weekend references The Specials' Friday Night, Saturday Morning AND the book/film that referenced (Saturday Night, Sunday Morning), and manages to take its title from one of Jean-Luc Godard's most enjoyable films (autogeddon, cannibalism, communism, intertextual pop references). Weekend captures the whole life of consumption thing, the allure of capitalist hedonimism that Gang of Four once sang about ("Please give me evenings and weekends")- Cashmachine macht frei, if you like. The album opens with single The Art of Driving, which joins the ranks of Ballard/Crash themed pop songs (see: Warm Leatherette, Pull Up to the Bumper, Cars, Fly on the Windscreen...) and probably isn't that far away from Godard's Weekend. The clashing vocals between Moore and Nixey are fun, and the guitar here kind of a glam take on that Throbbing Gristle sometimes employed. I come from a world where proper guitar solos' depress...

The car theme continues with The English Motorway System, BBR's Autobahn and the kind of song that Morrissey should be writing, and probably only MES (apart from Haines/Moore) could pen these days. The Facts of Life is packed with sublime pop, like Haines' solo albums there are synths etc that some may object to (whilst pining for New Wave), it's cleverer than most listeners, and some great harmonics/backing vocals (check the comclusion of the title track when the boys come in, or the opening of Straight Life, or the distant moans in the English Motorway System). & people go on about Thom Yorke, what gives? May Queen is almost BBR folk, guitar that reminds you of the Velvets, of when Johnny Marr was good, or some Auteurs. The gothic themes apparent in the World of Haines, from the cover of Luke Haines is Dead, to After Murder Park, to Unsolved Child Murder relate to this one; & imagine if Kate Nash had a song like this! She'd be listenable then!!!

Sex Life probably should have been a single, though the title and boys/girls together lyrics probably would have been too much, and the record label that put this record out didn't do much of a job with it. Odd that The Facts of Life came highly in Critics Polls of 2000, yet Passionia was hardly referenced - I recently read some drivel about how 2000 was rubbish and saved by The Libertines. Hello?...Black Box Recorder, remember them? & is their anything better than the hook/harmony of "...in your dreams" - no, not really. Haines' vocals appear at the start of French Rock'N'Roll, which no doubt alludes back to Serge, BB, Francoise Hardy et al, though sat amusingly against cack like Phoenix, who were in vogue for a quarter of an hour in the early zeroes (the kind of music supermodels smoke to...so "super-cool"). Again, more hooks that a Captain Hook Society facing off a Dr Hook tribute band - The Facts of Life is one of the great pop records of modern times. How often do you get great pop albums? Treasure this one...

The title track scraped in the Top Twenty and resulted in one of those truly odd Top of the Pops performances that included the Associates doing Partyfearstwo, Mark E Smith with Inspiral Carpets, a manic Specials doing Ghost Town, PIL doing Flowers of Romance, & The Smiths doing What Difference Does It Make. The kind of performance that was great, partly as it confounded both audiences at home and studio. That would come in my top ten TOTP performances alongside the obligatory Starman and New Order murdering Blue Monday...I guess Straight Life is the kind of thing Damon Albarn failed to write around The Great Escape, advancing on Ideal Home from the debut, this might get the same critique that Albarn and Mike Leigh did. But I think of the serial killer from Se7en telling Brad Pitt's cop how he envied his life - the roots of Straight Life are probably both In Every Dream Home a Heartache and Shangri La...

Gift Horse returns to the territory of May Queen, a feast of jangling guitars (Haines & Moore have their roots in the C-86 era, I point you to The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Servants) and sad synths combine, as Sarah Nixey sings of human remains being found. The cover and artwork are fantastic by the way, though shame Amazon don't show the white outer sleeve cover with that iconic picture of BBR, especially Moore in a dapper white suit, looking a bit Under the Volcano. The Deverell Twins continues the folky theme, and taps back into the dark English seam apparent in the World of Haines, from Child Brides to All the English Devils, to Freddie Mills is Dead, to Tombstone. The keyboards feel a bit like the soundtrack to something like Get Carter too, or John Barry after too much Peter Ackroyd and Colin Wilson. Goodnight Kiss is the gorgeous kiss off to this post-millennium classic, the fact it sounds not far from Goldfrapp or Morcheeba is probably accidental - though I should remind you that the title track was based on Honey to the B by Billie (aka TV's Billie Piper, star of Dr Who and that awful programme where she wears lots of nice underwear). I guess I think this is pop, then again, I think the same of certain records by Denim, The Fall, Jack and Super Furry Animals and no one agrees with me there...In all, an English classic and one no ideal home should be without; here's to the return of Black Box Recorder...
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