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All Things Must Pass
All Things Must Pass

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Quiet Beatle's Wall Of Sound, 18 Aug. 2011
This review is from: All Things Must Pass (Audio CD)
Compared to John Lennon's first, seminal solo records, and Paul McCartney's diverse offerings with Wings (`diverse' being a polite description) George Harrison had never really been on my radar until recently; I had previously made the arrogant assumption that, although he wrote some of the Beatles' finest compositions, he was never anywhere near as consistent, or melodically ambitious as his two most prominent peers. What I mean by this is that, while `You Like Me Too Much' and `Piggies' have their charms, those songs just don't have the same scope as `Strawberry Fields Forever' for instance.

My early recollections of this album revolved around its most famous tune, `My Sweet Lord,' which, despite its ingeniously subtle key changes and almost transcendent aura, is far too repetitive for its own good. While `Isn't It a Pity,' strives to match the grandeur of some of Lennon and McCartney's work, Harrison constructs something that too closely resembles `Hey Jude' in the coda to warrant great acclaim.

Nevertheless, on reappraisal, I have now discovered that the album is far more effective when one listens with great patience to fully understand Harrison's nascent songcraft, and how it differentiates from the whimsical impulses and the emotional rawness that Paul and John were responsible for respectively at the time.

At its core, this album has a diverse palette of arcane, highly rewarding songs, enhanced wonderfully by Phil Spector's echo-drenched production. On songs such as `Beware of Darkness', 'Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp' and `Awaiting On You All', Harrison, the musicians on board and Spector toil to create a sonically heavy sound, where unexpected chord changes, angular, hushed melodies and soaring slide-guitar solos at times surpass anything The Beatles ever accomplished.

As the quietest Beatle (meaning, essentially, the least obnoxious of the four) the record is intensely likeable because Harrison is so genuinely likeable too. It's a record where the underdog comes out of his shell and exceeds all expectations: There is a humble charm to `Apple Scruffs' with its joyous falsettos and earthy harmonica; `I'd Have You Anytime' is lilting and lovely, `Wah Wah' rocks triumphantly; `If Not For You' has far more West-coast swing to it than Dylan's version on `New Morning', and `What Is Life' is unadulterated, unparalleled pop.

What prevents the album from being a flat-out classic is its elongated nature, which renders the album rather inaccessible (the Jam's that are tacked onto the end of the album are so inessential it hurts). Plus, songs like `Run of the Mill' are as evasive melodically as Harrison was elusive as a person. Even still, the album is a wonderful collection of surprisingly majestic songs; underrated even to this day, out of all the Fab Four's post-Beatles releases, `All Thing Must Pass' is only outshined by John Lennon's `Plastic Ono Band' LP.

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £4.64

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THIS GENERATION'S TALKING HEADS?, 17 April 2011
This review is from: Vampire Weekend (Audio CD)
Upon my first encounter to Vampire Weekend (on Jools Holland, sometime in 2008) I dismissed them. Why? It was probably due to the choice swearing on Oxford Comma; which I perceived to flippantly belittle English grammar. Also, concededly, I disliked (or maybe I just didn't quite `get') the African rhythms that the band employed. Or maybe it was Ezra Koenig's delivery that grated. Either way, I was made to rue my detrimental views towards them several years later, especially after my discovery and subsequent infatuation with another preppy, whimsical group with a taste for exotic rhythms (that band being Talking Heads, of course).

A family friend, quite bizarrely, had the album on in her car driving back from the village shop (not at all representative of my weight and overall laziness, I should stress, but I digress) Hearing the album from `Campus' onwards somehow made it more accessible. The track itself, with its shuffling bassline and more immediate chorus somewhat whetted my appetite. The cascading guitars of `Bryn' and the synth washes amidst the off-kilter rhythms of `Blake's Got a New Face' also instigated my intrigue. Then, of course, the car journey abruptly ended and I listened no more.

Eventually, I did give the album a listen in full; and I was astounded by the band's fully-formed cohesion and musical vision. It is simply a set of concise, cerebral, punchy and musically accomplished songs (and not a complete rip-off of Paul Simon's Graceland, as a fair few lazy reviewers are apt to point out). The band combines obscure lyricism with chamber-pop, reggae and African musical influences. This formula on paper sounds artificial; being arty and clever for the sake of mixing genres and, well, being difficult. Yet the band's genuine affinity for these genres, as well as the effortless way they assemble them into their own definitive sound, only makes their debut more convincing.

Opener `Mansard Roof' is possibly the song most indicative of the album's sense of fun and absurdity. The random, but well-placed organ stabs at the beginning make for an unconventional opening. The outlandish lyrics add a sense of mystery and playfulness, with images of French architecture and (seemingly) the Falklands War sitting uncomfortably together.

On second thoughts, Oxford Comma is a brilliant pop song. Aside from the affecting, and relatively direct, lyric in the chorus: ("Through the pain, I always tell the truth") the song's effectual backbeat is matched by the magnificent crescendo towards the end.

`A-punk' is even more catchy. Its spidery riff and `Oh!' chants may have doomed the song to many a drunken indie dance-floor for at least the next decade, but all this is counter-balanced by some deft flutes courtesy of a mellotron in the bridge. Its brevity, at a refreshing 2.18, encapsulates the band's sheer effectiveness.

`Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' sans the arbitrary Peter Gabriel references, is pure nonsensical fun. `M79' is perhaps the only reggae-infused baroque pop song in existence, and certainly the only one to be glorious.

There is, however, a detectable lull in the second half, with `I Stand Corrected' and `Walcott' perhaps overstaying their welcome a little too long. But this makes perfect sense, gearing up towards the finale: `The Kids Don't Stand a Chance'. If there is any song on this album that epitomises Vampire Weekend's promise, it is this. Initially, it appears not to be as exciting as the shorter songs on the album, but the song can be categorised as a slow-burner. The sparse bassline and the snare drum kicks are the soundtrack to more dissociation lyrics in the verses. But soon this develops into a majestic, elegant closer; an aural picture matching the grandeur of the chandelier depicted on the sleeve. Sweetly picked guitar merges with a swooning orchestral arrangement, where cracking drums are offset by ornate flourishes of harpsichord. It seems illogical that something so exhilarating could be so delicate, but this is testament to the giftedness of this four-piece. As they say themselves: "The precedent's already set now".

Washing Machine
Washing Machine
Offered by MediaMerchants
Price: £6.82

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sonic Youth's White Album, 6 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Washing Machine (Audio CD)
Due to the fact this is a sprawling album which flows erratically, and contains compositions of fluctuating quality, it is easy to liken `Washing Machine' to `The White Album' (albeit an uncompromisingly alternative version of The White Album). I say this mainly because of the variety of the songs exhibited here, which showcase different sides of the band's sound, along with both albums' vertiginous scale of ambition.

The opener 'Becuz' starts the album in typically claustrophobic manner (it's no surprise Geffen Records objected to its original six-minute form, and promptly gave it a trim). This is swiftly followed by 'Junkie's Promise,' which at least attempts more of a verse-chorus structure, yet is sneered with contempt by Thurston Moore (who contends the song is NOT about Monsieur Cobain) to ensure the band's fierce indie credibility remains intact.

'Saucer-Like' is one of Lee's songs and it begins with a guitar that escalates madly like a kite caught by a strong gust of wind which refuses to be tied down. Surprisingly though, the backing vocals on the chorus turn out to be quite melodic, although it's hardly vintage SY.

The title track however, sparks the band and the album into life: the opening few minutes being a frenetic, almost funky workout, with Kim growling about soda-pops and the like. Gradually, this section fades out and is replaced with something that sounds altogether different in terms of tonality, but no less impressive. A more driving Krautrock beat and bass-line enters the mix, Kim's vocals abandon their coarseness and instead sing with wide-eyed wonder; Soon enough the guitars statically sizzle like blinding rays of sun.

If all brilliant nine minutes of that isn't enough, the gorgeous `Unwind' is captivating: its poetic lyrics and glimmering guitars making it a standout, whilst foreshadowing the band's later work on albums such as `Murray Street'.

`Little Trouble Girl' is unlike anything the band ever recorded; a homage to fifties girl-groups. The melody is so innocent, but, juxtaposed against the eerie arrangement of the music, it creates a rather unsettling effect. Ultimately though, it culminates in one of the band's most memorable moments. Ex-Pixies bassist Kim Deal's vocals steal the show, just as she so often did with her former band.

The amalgamation of profanity and swagger on `No Queen Blues', as well as the decidedly unsexy grunting and chugging on `Panty Lies' dispel any notion that the band are going too soft on the album. But the album doesn't seem to be heading anywhere, with the ambient but arbitrary `Untitled' and the lacklustre lyrics of `Skip Tracer'.

However, if Daydream Nation is considered their best album, then `The Diamond Sea' still betters it as the band's indisputable magnum opus. Easily the most melodic song the band ever crafted, (although- ever unconventional- they decided to make it the longest song they ever crafted too) the finale has plenty of downright beautiful moments, along with downright ear-splitting moments (check out the final release of feedback at 18:29; it's like the nightmarish sensation of being sucked out of an aeroplane after its window has been smashed in). Even the obtuse lyrics and cracked vocals are nothing short of exemplary.

So all in all, Washing Machine stands as one of the most challenging albums by one of America's most musically challenging bands. But that doesn't make it an absolute classic. Having said that, the album's highlights are among the band's finest works, (compensating for the album's faults, which do, concededly, occupy more than half the album). Nonetheless, the album is worth getting, if only for Unwind, The Diamond Sea and the title track - which may sound silly, but then that's about 35 minutes of music in itself! This isn't for beginners: if you like louder Sonic Youth go for Goo or Dirty, for the quainter material go for Murray Street. But for anyone who enjoys challenging, yet rewarding albums, there are very few better candidates than Washing Machine.

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