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Andy Sweeney "music was my first love" (Brighton, East Sussex)
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Aquostic (Stripped Bare)
Aquostic (Stripped Bare)
Price: £8.00

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quo Unplugged, 21 Oct 2014
For anyone who like Status Quo, the last five years have been anything other than dull. Reforming the original “Frantic Four” for some memorable, triumphant gigs, making a rather dodgy film (Bula Quo) as well as releasing one of their best studio albums in years (Quid Pro Quo) with their current line-up. Given the recent creative diversity, not many things, short of an experimental drum 'n' bass project, would shock fans at the moment. As for “Aquostic”, an album of stripped-back, acoustic versions of some of Quo's best songs, as well as some deeper foraging into their back catalogue, the only mildly shocking thing about the release is the cover art, featuring the Quo showing some skin. With a massive twenty-four tracks, it is almost surprising that “Aquostic” is consistently listenable and enjoyable throughout, but there is no question that this album would appeal to fans only. However, as surely only Quo fans would buy this, the limited appeal is a moot point, much like every release by Rossi and Parfitt's group; the critics may sneer, but the fans love them.

As well as unplugging the Telecasters and getting the acoustic guitars out, many of the songs are enhanced by string arrangements to a truly touching effect. Songs such as “Rock 'n' Roll” shine much more brightly than the original and their début single “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” sounds utterly splendid, given a chamber-pop pomp. Other songs get a more folk-flavoured accordion-laced treatment, such as the jaunty “Burning Bridges”, which is such great fun that they're missing a trick if they don't shoot a morris dancing themed video. Other highlights include a dark, stomping “Don't Drive My Car”, a wonderfully silly “Paper Plane” and the Cajun spiced “Down Down” which is surely intentionally humorous. Their playful treatment of “Caroline” and Whatever You Want” as well as many other of their best-loved songs shows that there are no sacred cows here. This album is just brimming with the personality of the band and it's one of the most endearing characteristics of this charming album.

Of course, there will be people who hate this album, even Status Quo fans; specifically the ones who are very much lovers of the early hard rock/blues era of the band and who were in seventh heaven when the Frantic Four reformed. That said, I imagine the vast majority of the fans will happily go with them on this slight detour, given the fact that the project has been realised so well, with this record delivering an equal measure of fun and poignancy. The fact that there are nearly seventy-five minutes of music here and yet there aren't any moments which leave you reaching for the 'skip' button is a testament just to how well executed the whole album is. Although they're great (often underrated) musicians, Status Quo don't take themselves too seriously and, when you're listening to this, you should really embrace this for what it is, an excellent piece of diverse entertainment and a creative re-imagining of some of their most enduring songs.


Hotpoint Multifunctional Food Processor Fully Accessorised, 1000 Watt, Silver
Hotpoint Multifunctional Food Processor Fully Accessorised, 1000 Watt, Silver
Price: £113.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Great bit of kit!, 15 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm not sure you could ask for much more from a food processor. Chop, liquidize, grate, blend... anything you could possibly think of doing with a food processor, this lovely looking machine does it. With four rubber feet, it grips the kitchen surface perfectly and there's even a built in storage compartment to house the different attachments. The powerful 1000w motor makes light work of fruit and vegetables (it's sometimes a little too efficient, so you need to be careful when using it for slicing) and there is choice between the large 2.6l mixing bowl and the 1.5l jug, each with their own functions and attachments. We have, so far, used it to juice, chop vegetables for a casserole and to liquidize veggies for a soup - all to great effect. All of the attachments were washed easily in the dishwasher too.

Seeing as so many of the other reviewers have already thoroughly described the different functions, attachments and how it all works, I am not going to simply repeat this information in different words. I do, however, thoroughly endorse this attractive appliance as the best food processor I have owned, by a long way.


Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Price: £7.98

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as the albums that made you fall in love with Weezer in the first place, 6 Oct 2014
Wow. I knew there was a reason I'd kept the faith with Weezer. Their first album, released twenty years ago, was a beautiful geek-rock revelation and I absolutely loved it, as well as the of the two albums that followed, but it has unfortunately all been a bit patchy and disappointing since then, despite the occasional great single or two and occasional twisted melodic glimpses of what made the band so appealing in the first place. Their ninth full-length release, “Everything Will Be Alright In The End”, quite appropriately given the album cover, is an utter monster of an album and easily the best Weezer release in a long, long time. The band started working on the follow-up to 2010's “Hurley” the same year, with a view to releasing it in 2011, but they abandoned the sessions in order to give Cuomo more time to write. More than two hundred songs were then written in that time and were whittled down to eleven tracks, to produced by The Cars' Ric Ocasek, who had been the original producer for the “Blue” and “Green” Weezer albums, no doubt hoping that the kind of magic that happened on those records could be recaptured. Well, mission accomplished. “Everything Will Be Alright In The End” is a tight, accomplished album that never loses its sparkle, playfulness or sense of adventure and, although really quite instant, has a depth which means it goes deeper into your psyche with every listen.

Based around three themes, Rivers' relationship with others (The Panopticon Artist), women (Bella Donna) and his father (Patriarchia), and ending with a three part suite entitled “The Futurescope Trilogy”, the ambition behind this piece of work is evident. However, it is to the band and producer's credit that it never feels overly complicated, intellectually opaque or pretentious; it has the punch and appeal of a cross between the “Blue” album and “Pinkerton”. Straight away, “Ain't Got Nobody” sets the bar high and its old-style sound will immediately make Weezer fans' ears prick up. Brilliantly bombastic lead single “Back To The Shack” hints at the band's rediscovery of their roots and “Eulogy For A Rock Band” is a Jellyfish-esque paean to a faded big rock band. “Lonely Girl” is the closest thing there is to an ordinary track here whereas the excellent “I've Had It Up To Here”, co-written with The Darkness' Justin Hawkins, is a perky, melodic rock marvel.

“The British Are Coming” has a chorus reminiscent of some of the best hooks from their début two decades ago, as well as a grin-inducing guitar solo and “Da Vinci” similarly has both a catchy verse and chorus. “Go Away” is slightly less impressive and not quite as ambitious in terms of structure and composition, but is certainly bouncy and pleasant on the ear. “Cleopatra”, the choice for second single, is really quite excellent, however, and is extremely creative, with an adventurous arrangement and some particularly pleasing guitar flourishes. “Foolish Father” is a slightly darker track with a classic Cuomo chorus and “The Futurescope Trilogy” which finishes the album (comprising of (i) The Waste Land, (ii) Anonymous and (iii) Return To Ithaka) is a classic rock suite which treads similar ground as Queen and Muse whilst keeping a definite Weezer character.

To say that “Everything Will Be Alright In The End” is a return to form would be a massive understatement. It's like Rivers Cuomo has suddenly started writing like he is back in his youthful peak a couple of decades ago; penning meaningful, pithy, catchy ditties that, unlike much of his work over the last decade, doesn't sound like he is trying too hard to work a massive hook into a rather ordinary rock track which, with the addition of a witty, clever video may get them airplay and enough sales to keep the record company happy. Also, unlike many of the previous releases, this actually feels like a proper album, a solid, complete, satisfying piece of work. Like a miracle, Cuomo's mojo has been well and truly recaptured and, finally, an album has been made which can be compared in favourable terms alongside those gems from the early days of the band. From the viewpoint of a long-term fan, it's an absolutely wonderful record, an absolutely glorious set of songs, the kind of album most people had given up expecting... but here it is. After a series of rather ordinary releases, some bordering on the mediocre, Weezer finally deliver an album that will repay fans for years of loyalty and the title appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: in the world of Weezer, everything will be alright in the end.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 18, 2014 8:50 AM BST


VIP: Very Interesting Persons
VIP: Very Interesting Persons
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Findlay Napier and Boo Hewerdine: Very Impressive Partnership, 6 Oct 2014
Scottish folk musician and singer-songwriter Findlay Napier met up with Ely-based musician Boo Hewerdine to help improve his songwriting craft. Hewerdine, who first found success with his eighties band The Bible, may not exactly be a household name, but has a dedicated fan base of his own, is very well known amongst musicians and has written and co-written songs for for a huge number of artists, as well as running songwriting workshops a few times a year. These mentoring sessions resulted in a prolific bout of songwriting and led to Boo co-writing and producing Findlay's first solo album, "VIP: Very Interesting Persons". With each song based on a notable character throughout history, this immensely likeable album introduces the listener to a cast of con artists, baseball players, cosmonauts, fighter pilots and much more. This is richly descriptive and entertaining contemporary folk; musical storytelling at its best. "VIP" makes you smile, moves you and, what's more, inspires you to learn more about the people these delightful songs are written about.

Findlay Napier has been on the folk scene for well over a decade and his strong, yet soft voice, is a superb instrument with which to deliver captivating lyrics, with the words ringing, crystal clear, over the music. Whether expressing the romanticism of the touching "Hedy Lamarr" or "An Idol In Decline", the bluesy-folk of the excellent "The Man Who Sold New York" or the country-leanings of "Eddie Banjo", Napier's voice conveys enviably apt expression and emotion. "VIP" is also one of those excellent pieces of work where every song brings something special to the album and each is beautifully performed by the core musicians of Napier, Hewerdine and talented multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren, as well as other guesting artists. There are a superbly eclectic range of styles and textures on offer here too, with "Rising Sun" and "Sweet Science" providing some more exciting rhythms and arrangements to contrast with more conventional folk ballad compositions such as the pretty "Valentina".

Boo Hewerdine is a master collaborator, whether it be with Brooks Williams in State Of The Union or writing songs and performing with Eddi Reader or Chris Difford and his gentle, lilting melodies and harmonies are sprinkled all over "VIP" like icing sugar on a sponge cake and, listening to this piece of work, it is easy to understand why Boo and Findlay's songwriting partnership flourished when it produced such fine songs as these; they appear to be a perfect fit for each other. Recorded (and subsequently mixed and mastered) in Glasgow by Mark Freegard in his Kyoti studios, the instruments are given the breathing space for their natural tones to shine; the feel of this record is like listening to a truly fine live performance, so that when, for example, the flute comes in on "Valentina", your attention is immediately drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Findlay Napier's first solo album, quite simply, sounds beautiful and listening to the rich stories told on "VIP" is nothing less than a pleasure, from start to finish. Contemporary folk at its finest.


Xanadu - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Xanadu - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Price: £5.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One half is pretty good..., 3 Oct 2014
Full disclosure here: I'm writing this review because of my interest in The Electric Light Orchestra and have to admit that I feel utterly indifferent to Olivia Newton-John's music; it is not something that has ever interested nor offended me (although I do think “Physical” is rather awful). Honestly, I am not writing these words to upset fans of the film or of Olivia, Cliff or anyone else to do with the project. Sadly, I do think it's a shame that Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra had anything to do with the 1980 film “Xanadu”, such was the negative critical response. It was named amongst the worst films of the year by critics and was even an inspiration for the Golden Raspberry Awards, formed specifically to 'honour' bad motion pictures. However, the silver lining to this cloud is the handful of excellent Lynne-penned songs which appear in the film and, subsequently, on the soundtrack. Being completely objective, I can't say that there is much on side one of the album to interest me and the fact that ELO share a soundtrack with Cliff Richard is one that causes an uncomfortable shifting in my seat. Unfortunately, these songs comprise half of the record, so it would be wrong to ignore them and just pretend they weren't there... as much as I would like to.

Each of the five songs on the first half of the album are written by John Farrar, a successful songwriter and long-time collaborator with Olivia Newton-John (he wrote “Have You Never Been Mellow”, as well as “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “You're The One That I Want” on the “Grease” soundtrack), so his track record is impressive. Indeed, opening song “Magic” was a number one single in the USA, so he worked his magic (sorry) on this soundtrack too, but I'm going to have to disagree with millions of record buying Americans, because I find it inoffensive, but really rather bland. The duet with Cliff Richard, “Suddenly”, is a well-written, melodic song with a chorus that will have pleased many ears at the time, but it's way too slushy and sugary for my taste. “Dancin'” features San Francisco rock band The Tubes and is a rather strange track that splices a peppy Andrews Sisters-type vocal harmony song with a rather straight forward (and very eighties-sounding) rock track. Oddly enough, it's so strange that it's probably my favourite out of the first five tracks. Sadly, with the ballad “Suspended In Time”, we're back to pop so sugary, they had to put warnings for diabetics on the front cover and the big band jazz of “Whenever You're Away From Me”, performed with Gene Kelly, is pleasant but way too light, lacking the kind of punch the song and style calls for. On the whole, Farrar's side isn't absolutely terrible, but I have to admit to being relieved when it is over and very rarely revisit those five songs.

So, onto side two of the album, which is completely comprised of Jeff Lynne compositions. If you're anything like me, these five songs will be the only reason to consider adding it to your collection. Luckily, there are just enough Jeff Lynne gems on offer here to make the whole soundtrack a worthwhile purchase. “I'm Alive” is the first track on the ELO portion of the album and is a cracker just for the melody line alone, never mind the sweeping Louis Clark strings and joyful, life-affirming character. The lesser of the five songs is “The Fall”, which almost sounds like a re-written “I'm Alive” but the haunting “Don't Walk Away” sees Jeff making the very most of a classic chord progression by delivering a beautiful, emotionally effecting vocal performance. The catchy “All Over The World” has enough energy and musical nous to overcome the slightly clichéd lyrics before the album ends with Olivia Newton-John and ELO's version of the UK number one hit, “Xanadu”. It remains Jeff Lynne's only ever number one hit, but it's such a beautifully written and arranged song, it's definitely a worthy chart-topper (I do, however, prefer the slightly more unfussy Jeff Lynne version which first appeared on the box set “Flashback”, but you can't deny Olivia's excellent vocals on this original).

The Electric Light Orchestra were down to a four-piece band at this moment in time (Jeff, Bev, Richard and Kelly) and their work for this soundtrack very much sounds like an extension of the same kind of danceable pop style that 1979's “Discovery” was centred around, especially “All Over The World” and “I'm Alive”, whereas “Don't Walk Away”, with those sparkling synthesisers, could easily have been an album track on their previous record. Everything on this record is good, catchy pop music, but, objectively, there isn't a composition on this soundtrack, with the exception of “Xanadu” itself that measures up to the vast majority of songs on either “A New World Record” or “Out Of The Blue”. ELO fans will certainly want a copy of this soundtrack to complete their collection, but this is most definitely the least essential purchase out of all of their albums, especially given the fact that they don't appear on half of it. Unless, of course, you love Olivia Newton-John or, even less likely, the film itself (which I attempted to watch once and couldn't sit through), in which case, you probably own this already and disagree with most of what I've had to say. In my defence, the current score on the Internet Movie Database (imdb) for this film, according to users, is a lowly five out of ten. If you go purely by professional critics, that average drops to three and a half. It's a cult classic, but I'm happy to not be part of that particular cult, other than enjoying Jeff Lynne's contributions. Sorry.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 13, 2014 2:18 PM GMT


Xanadu
Xanadu
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £8.05

3.0 out of 5 stars A few very good songs... the rest of the material isn't so convincing, 3 Oct 2014
This review is from: Xanadu (Audio CD)
Full disclosure here: I'm writing this review because of my interest in The Electric Light Orchestra and have to admit that I feel utterly indifferent to Olivia Newton-John's music; it is not something that has ever interested nor offended me (although I do think “Physical” is rather awful). Honestly, I am not writing these words to upset fans of the film or of Olivia, Cliff or anyone else to do with the project. Sadly, I do think it's a shame that Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra had anything to do with the 1980 film “Xanadu”, such was the negative critical response. It was named amongst the worst films of the year by critics and was even an inspiration for the Golden Raspberry Awards, formed specifically to 'honour' bad motion pictures. However, the silver lining to this cloud is the handful of excellent Lynne-penned songs which appear in the film and, subsequently, on the soundtrack. Being completely objective, I can't say that there is much on side one of the album to interest me and the fact that ELO share a soundtrack with Cliff Richard is one that causes an uncomfortable shifting in my seat. Unfortunately, these songs comprise half of the record, so it would be wrong to ignore them and just pretend they weren't there... as much as I would like to.

Each of the five songs on the first half of the album are written by John Farrar, a successful songwriter and long-time collaborator with Olivia Newton-John (he wrote “Have You Never Been Mellow”, as well as “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “You're The One That I Want” on the “Grease” soundtrack), so his track record is impressive. Indeed, opening song “Magic” was a number one single in the USA, so he worked his magic (sorry) on this soundtrack too, but I'm going to have to disagree with millions of record buying Americans, because I find it inoffensive, but really rather bland. The duet with Cliff Richard, “Suddenly”, is a well-written, melodic song with a chorus that will have pleased many ears at the time, but it's way too slushy and sugary for my taste. “Dancin'” features San Francisco rock band The Tubes and is a rather strange track that splices a peppy Andrews Sisters-type vocal harmony song with a rather straight forward (and very eighties-sounding) rock track. Oddly enough, it's so strange that it's probably my favourite out of the first five tracks. Sadly, with the ballad “Suspended In Time”, we're back to pop so sugary, they had to put warnings for diabetics on the front cover and the big band jazz of “Whenever You're Away From Me”, performed with Gene Kelly, is pleasant but way too light, lacking the kind of punch the song and style calls for. On the whole, Farrar's side isn't absolutely terrible, but I have to admit to being relieved when it is over and very rarely revisit those five songs.

So, onto side two of the album, which is completely comprised of Jeff Lynne compositions. If you're anything like me, these five songs will be the only reason to consider adding it to your collection. Luckily, there are just enough Jeff Lynne gems on offer here to make the whole soundtrack a worthwhile purchase. “I'm Alive” is the first track on the ELO portion of the album and is a cracker just for the melody line alone, never mind the sweeping Louis Clark strings and joyful, life-affirming character. The lesser of the five songs is “The Fall”, which almost sounds like a re-written “I'm Alive” but the haunting “Don't Walk Away” sees Jeff making the very most of a classic chord progression by delivering a beautiful, emotionally effecting vocal performance. The catchy “All Over The World” has enough energy and musical nous to overcome the slightly clichéd lyrics before the album ends with Olivia Newton-John and ELO's version of the UK number one hit, “Xanadu”. It remains Jeff Lynne's only ever number one hit, but it's such a beautifully written and arranged song, it's definitely a worthy chart-topper (I do, however, prefer the slightly more unfussy Jeff Lynne version which first appeared on the box set “Flashback”, but you can't deny Olivia's excellent vocals on this original).

The Electric Light Orchestra were down to a four-piece band at this moment in time (Jeff, Bev, Richard and Kelly) and their work for this soundtrack very much sounds like an extension of the same kind of danceable pop style that 1979's “Discovery” was centred around, especially “All Over The World” and “I'm Alive”, whereas “Don't Walk Away”, with those sparkling synthesisers, could easily have been an album track on their previous record. Everything on this record is good, catchy pop music, but, objectively, there isn't a composition on this soundtrack, with the exception of “Xanadu” itself that measures up to the vast majority of songs on either “A New World Record” or “Out Of The Blue”. ELO fans will certainly want a copy of this soundtrack to complete their collection, but this is most definitely the least essential purchase out of all of their albums, especially given the fact that they don't appear on half of it. Unless, of course, you love Olivia Newton-John or, even less likely, the film itself (which I attempted to watch once and couldn't sit through), in which case, you probably own this already and disagree with most of what I've had to say. In my defence, the current score on the Internet Movie Database (imdb) for this film, according to users, is a lowly five out of ten. If you go purely by professional critics, that average drops to three and a half. It's a cult classic, but I'm happy to not be part of that particular cult, other than enjoying Jeff Lynne's contributions. Sorry.


Discovery
Discovery
Price: £5.17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disco? Very., 2 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Discovery (Audio CD)
1979 was the year when Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra embraced the smooth, slick sounds of disco that dominated the charts at the time, making one of the most noticeable changes of direction they'd embarked on for a while. Although commercially successful (it stayed at number one in the album charts for five weeks), a large proportion of ELO fans were rather unimpressed by Jeff's follow-up to the magnificent "Out Of The Blue" and, to many, was a step in the wrong direction. The fact that violinist Mik Kaminski and cellists Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale do not appear on the album (and were subsequently dismissed for being surplus to requirements after the promo videos for the album were made) is indicative that Lynne wanted to dramatically change things. Still, in terms of sales and popularity, Lynne's band were still riding high and the collection of radio-friendly pop songs, "Discovery", contains many tracks that would be considered stalwarts of ELO greatest hits compilations. Whether you believe that this album measures up to any of the band's other albums made during their most commercially successful era is simply a matter of taste.

The stomping disco vibes of "Shine A Little Love" provide a classy start to the album and the joyful, uplifting "Confusion", resplendent with dramatic kettle drum fills, is one of the instant highlights. The longing, tender "Need Her Love" is a rather lovely song, although I'm really not sure about the wince-inducing line "she tries to sing", and "The Diary Of Horace Wimp" is a flamboyant slice of excellent songwriting, arguably marred by the rather excessive Vocoder use, that boasts a beautifully Beatlesque ending. "Last Train To London" is a superb song with both an irresistible bassline and an infectious chorus and is probably Jeff's best disco-inspired composition. "Midnight Blue" is utterly gorgeous, although I'd have much preferred it with the kind of instrumentation and arrangement it would have received on, for example, "A New World Record", rather than being so synthesiser-heavy. The high energy "On The Run", with its bouncy, catchy melody could easily have been a single whereas "Wishing", a perfectly likeable but ordinary offering, is probably the only track which really couldn't have been. The album finishes with the monster hit, "Don't Bring Me Down", a bass-heavy track with a thumping beat and memorable chorus. From a compositional point of view, it's a simplistic, rather formulaic track, but Jeff proves once again his knack of transforming it into something that sounds so much more accomplished.

"Discovery" leaves me conflicted more than any other album in the Electric Light Orchestra catalogue. Conflicted because, although I really like and enjoy every song on the record and there are some undeniably brilliant tracks, there's something about the whole project that doesn't quite match up to much of Jeff's previous work. It is a hugely commercial collection of songs and nearly every song a potential single, but if you compare it with the most ambitious and grandiose moments of "Out Of The Blue", the polished pop sheen of "Discovery" with the contemporary soul/disco influences Jeff incorporated into the style of the music feels a little superficial, in comparison. It is, therefore, almost annoying that the songs are this good; it's very difficult to seriously criticise a meticulously crafted, thoroughly enjoyable album where over half of the tracks were hit singles. Regardless of the obviously quality and commercial appeal of "Discovery", it remains one of the very few ELO albums I hardly listen to. If I'm completely honest, as an entire album it leaves me a little cold and even the most emotionally engaging songs on the album ("Confusion", "Need Her Love", "Midnight Blue") struggle to touch the heartstrings through the synthesisers and pop sheen. Although this is an exceedingly listenable record, this really isn't the Electric Light Orchestra I fell in love with and, as catchy as much of this material is, it will never be one of my favourite ELO releases. A great cover of Del Shannon's "Little Town Flirt" as a bonus track on the 2001 remastered version sweetens the deal a little, however.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 24, 2014 9:48 AM BST


The Breaks
The Breaks
Price: £13.45

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly delightful album, 30 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Breaks (Audio CD)
Martin Carr has been making interesting, boundary-pushing music for years. As the main songwriter in The Boo Radleys, under the moniker of Bravecaptain and as a solo artist, Carr has been responsible for an impressive catalogue of songs and is widely respected for walking his own artistic path. However, if “The Breaks” feels like a comeback, it's not just because it is his first album release in five years, it is because it comes across like a wholesale embrace of the crafted indie-pop instincts which made The Boo Radleys' best work so fine. The experience and musical nous Carr has accumulated over the years are very much in evidence here. Martin has combined intelligent, witty lyrics with a sublime range of melodies, harmonies and balanced, yet inspired, instrumentation for an experience thoroughly pleasing to the ear and has also managed to avoid treading ground which would be deemed too familiar for discerning musical minds. Importantly, “The Breaks” also has an invigorating spark and energy to it; although mature and accomplished, this album still has a twinkle in its eye.

Although this is a very pleasing album from start to finish, there are more than a few highlights. Opening track “The Santa Fe Skyway”, for example, has an instant pop punch and floats on a haze of summery harmonies and tasteful brass punctuation. “St. Peter In Chains” is an up-tempo tale of an oppressive religious upbringing (““Jesus loves you” Sister Mary said/as she beat out the rhythm on the back of my head/love with the ruler or the hand or the cane”) and “Mainstream” a beautifully poignant and honest composition, made even more so by how high the weary vocals are in the mix, as well as the sublimely understated choral and brass accompaniment to the chorus. The terrific “Senseless Apprentice” is a barely disguised knife to the jugular of Katie Hopkins, a particularly odious person who frequently extols the virtues of selfishness. It would have won me over on the lyrics alone (“Your greedy eyes and your mouth for rent/your grabbing hands and your desperate scent”) but it's also a rather superb track, musically, with some excellent guitar work and inventive bursts of vocal harmonies.

The gently acoustic “No Money In My Pocket” contains more lyrical gems (“But Jesus was a leftie/so they nailed him to a tree/you don't get on the wrong side of the business community”) and bears a few similarities to the compositional style of Eels' Mark Everett. “I Don't Think I'll Make It” is utterly charming, with the kind of laid-back, easy, rolling characteristic of one of Richard Hawley's “Coles Corner” pieces. It finishes with the title track, a soothing, folk-influenced piece which radiates internal tranquillity whilst the world crashes on all around you. All-in-all, “The Breaks” is an exceptionally likeable and enjoyable album. Admittedly, there are a few moments where a particular phrase, guitar-line or style may remind you of other songs and artists, but the inventiveness, originality and fresh ideas Martin brings to this album are undeniable. People who have previously enjoyed Martin's work and, especially, those who admired his knack for a melody during his stewardship of The Boo Radleys really should get themselves a copy... it's Carr's comeback, you know. Apparently.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2014 6:05 PM BST


Greatest Hits
Greatest Hits
Price: £11.99

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quarter-century of Levellers, 29 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Greatest Hits (Audio CD)
There have been a few Levellers compilations before, but this is the definitive article. Compiled by the band and stretching over their entire career, this two CD and one DVD collection is going to be an essential purchase for existing fans who will relish the opportunity to own a brand new, thorough retrospective, plus all of the promo videos, as well as for those curious souls who maybe like a song or two and are looking at buying an excellent introduction to the band. There are also four exclusive collaborations with Imelda May (Beautiful Day), Frank Turner (Julie), Bellowhead (Just The One) and Billy Bragg (Hope St.), both in audio and visual form, a booklet featuring lyrics and some excellent sleeve artwork by bassist Jeremy Cunningham. I don't think you're going to find any Levellers fan who will prefer the collaborations over the originals, but I really like all of them, especially Imelda's kicking "Beautiful Day" and Billy Bragg's more subtle, thoughtful rendition of "Hope Street". You could argue that Billy manages to tug on the heart strings and convey the emotional content of the song more effectively than the original.

Brighton's folk-rock heroes have released some absolutely superb songs over the last quarter of a century and, even if hardcore fans don't entirely agree with the track listing and may think some of their personal favourites are missing, you can only fit so much much on two discs and it's difficult to really argue with a compilation selected by the artists themselves. The Levellers have released ten studio albums to date and, although there is an eclecticism to the band's sound that casual listeners wouldn't particularly realise, I think it is fair to say that their brand of fiery, impassioned rock, blended with violins, mandolins and other folky instruments, combined with the intelligent, poetic, wonderfully descriptive and emotive lyrics are what usually draws people into becoming Levellers fans. The gritty despair of "Fifteen Years" and "Hope Street", with their themes of alcohol, poverty and utter defeat are the perfect couple of songs to start this compilation. If you're not hooked after the first two tracks alone, you're probably never going to appreciate what the band are about. It's not all lyrically downbeat; the joyful "What A Beautiful Day" is arguably their most commercial track and the infectious, sing-along quality is damned-near irresistible.

All the big songs are here. "Fantasy", "One Way", "Carry Me", "This Garden", "Belarus", "Celebrate", "Far From Home"... these may just be song titles and very little else to people unfamiliar with the Levellers catalogue, but to fans they are anthems and live favourites; buy this "Greatest Hits" and you'll discover why. This double CD collection is, however, a prime opportunity to present a body of work rich and fully representative of exactly who the band are beyond the recognisable hits and also to include a lot of excellent material from the last decade or so which, it has to be said, has only ever been heard by those people who have loyally bought the band's albums. As far as commercial recognition, the nineties was The Levellers' era (even then, they never once enjoyed a UK top ten hit single, just a few close calls), but they have been making compelling, superb music all the way throughout their career and this "Greatest Hits", presented in a non-chronological order on the CDs, showcases their excellent post-millennial work alongside the more well-known earlier songs.

Admittedly, this may be all the Levellers one person needs, especially given the superb DVD gathering together all of their videos, but if you listen to this compilation and love it as much as I do, it's almost an inevitability that a through investigation of their back catalogue is going to happen. This two CD collection is a massively enjoyable, timely reminder of what great musicians and songwriters these guys are, as well as what an impressive repertoire of classic songs they have amassed and, given any justice in the world, this will win them a legion of new fans as well as many returning older ones for whom The Levellers perhaps provided a soundtrack to their youth. Hopefully this compilation will spur such lapsed fans into discovering top-notch albums such as Green Blade Rising (2002), "Letters From The Underground" (2008) and "Static On The Airwaves" (2012), as well as Mark Chadwick's truly brilliant and compelling second solo album, "Moment" (2014). If you need to start anywhere, though, start here; this wonderful, life-affirming celebration of all things Levellers.
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Out Of The Blue
Out Of The Blue
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jeff Lynne's magnum opus, 27 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Out Of The Blue (Audio CD)
The Electric Light Orchestra's “Out Of The Blue” is the kind of record that many ELO fans never name as their favourite; like The Beatles' “Sgt. Pepper”, it's the kind of legendary album that is just so obviously good, people will automatically choose another title to champion as their personal pick. It almost goes without saying that it's one of the best pieces of work Jeff Lynne has written, performed and produced, but I'm not going to just assume people know that and, for the record, would like to happily state that I believe “Out Of The Blue” to be a work of genius. You only have to scan the titles of the songs to recognise more than a handful of massively popular hits (“Turn To Stone”, “Sweet Talkin' Woman”, “Mr. Blue Sky”, “Wild West Hero”), but, as this is a double album, you'd probably expect the vast majority of the album to be excellent if anyone declared it a work of genius, right? Well, “Out Of The Blue” meets all of these expectations in so many ways and, although there are a handful of tracks which perhaps fall short of greatness, the overall character of this work is one of overwhelming, remarkable prolific creativity. Indeed, although I believe “A New World Record” (1976) to be Jeff's most flawless work, “Out Of The Blue” is his magnum opus, his greatest achievement. He made excellent albums before and after this one, but his one and only double album has a worthy place in history as his most commercially and critically successful.

At the start of the album are two of the most radio-friendly hits, the shimmering, catchy “Turn To Stone” and the gloriously overblown “Sweet Talkin' Woman”, with the grandiose piano ballad “It's Over” (also a single, but not a very successful one) sandwiched in between. The dramatic Richard Tandy piano on it is breathtakingly beautiful and, such is the emotional nature of the track, the fact it shares its title with a Roy Orbison song doesn't appear at all coincidental. With its driving tempo and energy-packed string section, “Across The Border” is an terrific rocker whereas the brilliant “Night In The City” has a trapped, intense feel to it, frenetic, edgy strings giving the track a wonderfully paranoid quality; both tracks could easily have been singles. The dreamy, lush “Starlight” evokes memories of those big American orchestral numbers from the thirties and forties (with a discernible ELO character, naturally) and “Jungle” is utterly charming, with an excellent percussion section and a ridiculously catchy hook. It's wonderfully silly, of course, but so much detail has been packed into four minutes, it's almost impossible to not love it.

Jeff's love of dramatic, big, emotional music is evident on “Believe Me Now”, a reverb-drenched mostly instrumental track which serves as in introduction to “Steppin' Out”, one of the greatest moments on “Out Of The Blue”, being one of Lynne's heart-wrenching tear-jerkers, a remarkably beautiful composition full of both sadness and hope, masterfully augmented by Louis Clark's magnificent string arrangements. Arguably, the most artistically ambitious moment of the album comes on what was side three of the original vinyl double album, the “Concerto For A Rainy Day”, four songs that run together consecutively, starting with the adrenaline fuelled “Standin' In The Rain” and culminating in perhaps ELO's most loved song, “Mr. Blue Sky”. Inspired by Jeff writing music in a Swiss chalet and being interrupted by torrential rain beating on the door, it's actually difficult to hear this sequence of four songs without becoming rather awestruck at the sheer genius and accomplishment of Lynne's compositional ability. “Big Wheels”, for example, the second song in this concerto, is one of the most magnificent pieces of music on the album, arguably of of Jeff Lynne's greatest songs, and yet a casual listener owning only a greatest hits would never have heard it. The exuberant “Summer and Lightning” is no weak link either, with the breezy, summery melody drifting over blissful harmonies and sublime strings.

What can be said about “Mr. Blue Sky” to do it justice? This irrepressible five minutes of wistful, sentimental, optimistic loveliness bounces along and makes the listener feel, for just a short while, that everything is right with the world. The chorus, the orchestra, the superb performance by Bev Bevan, adding little flourishes on ride cymbal... are there many moments in popular music more perfect than this one? It would be perfectly understandable if any track following “Mr. Blue Sky” on an album felt flat by comparison, but it is to Lynne's credit that the airy, romantic “Sweet Is The Night” is anything but and the close-knit backing vocals as well as Kelly Groucutt's crystal-clear lines all result in a swooning, caressing jewel of a song. “The Whale” is a pleasant, listenable, expansive instrumental, but it and “Birmingham Blues”, a likeable song about being on the road and missing home, both suffer from being on an album with so many better compositions and, so, give the double album the impression of tiring a little towards the end. Thankfully, the last track, the magical “Wild West Hero”, conjuring up childhood memories of watching westerns and dreaming of being the courageous, capable lead in such fantastical tales, finishes the album with a last piece of Jeff Lynne genius, featuring a superb vocal performance from the man himself and a dizzying honky-tonk piano solo from Tandy.

Although “Out Of The Blue”, complete with its iconic artwork, isn't exactly perfect (some may disagree), it hit creative heights that Lynne had yet to reach before and, arguably, has never managed to repeat since. If you were asked to be completely objective and ruthless, you could trim down the album a bit and remove the slightly novelty aspects (“Jungle” and “Birmingham Blues”) and perhaps even decide that the track listing would have an altogether greater impact without “Starlight” and “The Whale”. However, it wouldn't surprise me if the majority of ELO fans would be horrified at such a suggestion; the supposedly lesser songs on “Out Of The Blue” are every bit as much a part of the charm of the album as the big pop songs and ballads. They provide character, texture and variety and even a little bit of comic relief to a piece of work dominated by grandiose strings and big, beautiful ballads. However, the price paid for this texture is that other albums in the Electric Light Orchestra catalogue have the appearance of being trimmer, punchier and perhaps even easier to listen to as a whole. That is the risk of double albums, of course. Even The Beatles' “White Album” provokes discussion by fans as to whether it would have been better off as a single disc. Needless to say, I believe “Out Of The Blue” to be perfectly imperfect, very much like the Fab Four's sprawling double album, but when you consider that the songs on The Electric Light Orchestra's 1977 album were written by just one person, the bearded bard of Birmingham, it makes Jeff's accomplishment here that much more impressive.


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