#10 – Prince, Controversy

#10 – Prince, Controversy 

Life is just a game, we’re all just the same

Sex. Like booze, it’s a great leveler. Of class, of society. If you’ve ever wondered what links the aristocracy to the proletariat, ask them about their drinking habits and their sexual preferences. 

Will there be an individual as sexual as Prince to ever walk the earth again? I doubt it. I recently argued that ‘L.A Woman’ by The Doors could make you feel cool even if you weren’t. ‘Controversy’ on the other hand, will make you feel horny, desirable (to men and women, whether you like it or not) and just downright sexy. And not just from the track names that don’t leave much to the imagination – ‘Sexuality’, ‘Do Me, Baby’, ‘Private Joy’ and ‘Jack U Off’

What else could have followed ‘Dirty Mind’ as a 3rd album? Musically, it’s what we’ve now come to expect from the master whose brilliance should never be taken for granted – inspired fusions, limb-shaking beats, snaking and striking melodies, horns and synthesizers combining to make extraordinary music to make you feel extraordinarily sexy. 

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The tone of his voice (urrrhhhh). The brashness of the lyrics. The production, the seduction. He has an inexplicable way of making you feel like he’s singing just to you, like he’s actually hitting on you, taking you home right there & then. The complexity of the rhythm on the title track makes you walk with just the right kick of knees. The funky-ass punch of the bass-line on ‘Let’s Work’ magnetises your hips back and for uncontrollably.

Incidentally, Prince and I have more in common than you might think. We both had unusual problems with our hips for our age – his apparently from wearing high heels, mine allegedly from…sports (I’m sticking to it). We were dependent on opioids to function and to sleep, for him, tragically, fatally so. We both play(ed) lead guitar. He supported the Rolling Stones on their 1982 tour, the year after ‘Controversy’ was released. I supported them by going to their 2015 tour.

As the name suggests, ‘Controversy’ dabbles in religion and politics. And with prayer, gun control, nuclear war and Russian relations it does so in a way that it’s as relevant today as it was 35 years ago. Prince sadly never lived to see Trump in the White House, but I suspect if he had he’d have done more than sing “Donald, Talk to Russia” in response, ironically or otherwise. 

One of the things I’ll always love about Prince’s music is the sudden insertion of the deep notes of his voice interjecting with the floating highs, hitting you like a slap on the arse, with just the right firmness and suggestiveness. The album oozes funk and soul while keeping it all highly sexual, as it should be – we’re mammals after all.

There are many noteworthy facts surrounding the album, the interest of which will depend on how much you love Prince or how in awe you are of him. For example, it was the album which began his association with the colour purple. He plays most of the instruments on here, with the exception of some keys and backing vocals (mainly on ‘Jack U Off’ because of course he couldn’t do that alone). It’s when you listen to how incredibly accomplished the musicianship is, you reflexively bow to what a talent we were graced with, and how sad and tragic it was that he passed away last year.

Whatever your politics, your background, your beliefs or your preferences, we could all do with having more music like this in our lives from time to time. And just be a bit more…Prince.

#9 – The Doors, L. A. Woman

    Motel, money, murder, madness,

Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness”  

Since Miles Davis’ 1957 seminal works, ‘Birth of The Cool’, the word ‘cool’ has best been used as a noun. It’s, well, just a bit more cool. When describing something, it’s should be thought of in the same sense as, say, a place name can sometimes, irritatingly, be used as an adjective. As in, “that sound is so Los Angeles.”  

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I seem to recall a judge once said of pornography, “it can be hard to describe, but you know it when you see it”. When I say recall, I mean I read about it in a law book, rather than actually heard the judge say it. From the dock.  

Cool 

I’d argue the same can said of ‘cool’ – you’ll struggle to pin it down in words or capture its meaning with any effectiveness. But as sure as you know you can’t be cool chasing a ping-pong ball down the street, you know that when you see it, you know something’s cool. And if you want to know what cool sounds like, then listen to The Doors’ exquisite 1971 record, ‘L. A. Woman’. The very quintessence of cool. 

Jim Morrison’s gravelly vocal laid against Robbie Krieger’s horn-inducing, seductive guitar lines and the beautifully minimalist rhythm accompaniments will make you melt or growl, depending where you are or who you’re with. In the coolest possible way.  

The roaring opener, The Changeling, sets you up for the groove-fest that follows. Been Down So Long is not just instrumentally spot on, but lyrically moving in a way that actually draws your gut in, but very slowly. The sheer class and quality continues all the way through, with belters like Crawling King Snake and The WASP keeping things raw, emotive and quite brilliant.  

The best blues 

Never mind being the best Doors album, I’d go so far as to say this is one of the best blues albums from non-pure-blues artists of all time.  

This blog is easy to write at times as all I do is listen to an album and write about how it makes me feel. And listening to ‘L. A. Woman’ just makes you feel cool, no matter how uncool you are, which is quite something.  

It’s being a nobody, strutting down Berwick Street feeling so confident you think you could take out Anthony Joshua in the 11th. It’s drinking a round with Brad Pitt, listening to his woes of divorce, thinking that if you’ve survived a bust-up or two with your partner and are still in a half-stable, half-happy relationship you’ve somehow achieved more in life than he has. It’s buying a blue denim jacket in your mid-thirties and feeling like you did when you wore one in the mid-nineties.  

I’ve done two of these three in the past week. And I know none of them are that cool. But if you do pretty much anything to a soundtrack of this, Morrison, Krieger & co’s finest hour then you may even feel like you were Brad Pitt taking down Joshua in the last and stealing his denim jacket after it just for the crack.  

At over 7 minutes long you’d think you’d want them to end, but the closing tracks of both sides of the LP – ‘L. A. Woman and ‘Riders of the Storm are so engaging, so gripping, so absorbing and so much fun you just want them to go on and on. 

Miles Davis may have given birth to it, but with ‘L. A. Woman’, The Doors epitomized cool for generations to come. A fitting send-off to and from the great, the legendary Jim Morrison, who died 3 months after the album was released.  


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Pussy 

Howard Jacobson appears to be the first to have put pen to paper to satirise the horror show that is the post-election United States administration and has done so with a parody of Trump and various other unsavoury characters’ earlier lives in the run up to the vote. 

In his inimitable and unmatchable style, Jacobson uses precision of detail and beautifully crafted language to tackle the serious issue in a funny but devastatingly castigating way. And it leaves you thinking, thank god real life isn’t like this…until you remember what he’s writing about and it makes you wish some of the politicians society is offered as a choice were only a tenth as competent as Jacobson is a writer. Bravo, Mr Jacobson, your fury is shared. 

#8 – The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 

“Yours sincerely, wasting away.” 

Abstinence. It’s good for the soul, they say. I once abstained from alcohol for 113 days about 10 years ago. It was for a bet – I wish I’d abstained from gambling instead. I’m pretty sure I once abstained from sex for just as long, though that wasn’t necessarily out of choice.  

Listening to a Beatles album today is like returning to a vice after years of abstinence, and Sgt Pepper is the dirtiest, most gratifying of the lot.  

“It was 20 years ago…”, actually it will be 50 years ago in June the album was released, so in honour of that and all the reissues, remasters, remixes and re-reviews of this masterpiece, here’s my blog about it.   

The best of all time?

I won’t dwell on the frequent claims that it’s the best album of all time. I find that view difficult to concur with as I just don’t believe such a thing exists. I would argue, however, that no album, has opened with 3 such mind-bendingly majestic tracks. The sequence of the title track, followed by ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ then ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’, if you haven’t heard them for a while, is the auditory equivalent of a twenty-something single lad ending a 9-month drought with Angelina Jolie. You want to fist-pump the world it’s that good, and the wait is forgotten  

And like Angelina, the album is stunning and spectacular in many ways, but not perfect. But then who or what is? A guilty part of you wishes they’d just left it as the classic pop album instead of interpolating harpsichord melodies and sitar nuances, but then music would be stuck where it was before this revolutionary art was made and we’d all be worse off.  

It’s been said George Harrison never played an unnecessary note or chord in his life and here is no exception. One of the joys of blogging on albums like this is it encourages you to listen to every note on every track; the subtle sparsity of the guitar for example on ‘Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds‘ or ‘Getting Better‘ are just what’s needed, no less, no more.  

Musicality

The vocals and sheer musicality throughout remind you just how damn good these guys were, at everything. McCartney on Sgt Pepper…’ epitomises what the modern rock singer should aim for.  

The dancing melody of Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite perfectly teases you through the psychedelic story that you become immersed in. She’s Leaving Home is the weak link in the album but if you listen to Kasabian, whom I love, and their string-backed tracks immediately after listening to this you’ll still see how unavoidable the Fab Four’s influence continues to be.  

Within You Without You is an excess too far and drags like an erection after an orgasm – still pleasurable but you get the sense the Beatles are enjoying it more than you are.  

With the help of some irresistible clarinet When I’m Sixty Four beautifully paints a picture of the scene being described. The lyrics, the melody and the sentiment, even today, bring a lump to my throat. The near-perfect finale of ‘A Day in The Life’ is probably the thing that leaves people thinking this is the best album of all time made by undoubtedly one of the greatest producers of all time.  

What I learnt from my limited, but sorely memorable, encounters with abstinence is that the best thing about it is its ending – that’s where soul really lies. So go ahead and abstain, from anything, but be sure you have an end in sight. And when that happens, have someone, or something special there to enjoy it with you. And there’s nothing more special than Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 



amis

 The Pregnant Widow

The overtly sexual references in this blog may partially be due to that fact I’m reading Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow at the moment. He’s one of my favourite authors and I would put Money, London Fields and Dead Babies all in my top 20 favourite books. I picked up The Pregnant Widow out of laziness more than anything as I didn’t know what to read next so reverted to MA without too much thought. It’s witty and biting, has an achingly-desirable female character named Scheherazade and a protagonist called Keith, so if you love Amis you won’t be disappointed. 


 

#7 – Blondie, Parallel Lines

"Once I had a love, and it was a gas,"
"Soon turned out, it was a pain in the ass" (Blondie, Heart of Glass)  

I saw a man breakdown on the Underground last week. Not on his train, as happens daily. And not one of those feeling-faint episodes that are a bit of an embarrassment after drinking too much the night before. No, this was a full-on heart-wrenching, emotional-outpouring of a breakdown.  

In my experience only a death or a woman can do that to a man, or maybe both. I hoped it was the latter. Especially as I carefully observed him getting out of his seat to wait by the doors, still sobbing, not really having any idea where he was. It’s an unfortunate truism that if one were to find oneself in that situation on the Underground, one is literally only 3 minutes from the next quick and presumably painless suicide opportunity. Or maybe 6 if you’re on the District Line. So I was concerned about this chap.  

But he gathered himself moments later. Breathed in deeply, and again, then gave a resigned smile. He wiped his face, straightened his headphones and got off the train, presumably back to, or away from the source of the pain, or the solution.  

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I got home that evening and for no apparent reason other than I’d recently bought the record, I put on Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines. If you ever wonder why Blondie are as big a name as they are and can’t quite put your finger what made them so remarkable, listen to this album.  

It’s an absolute zinger of a pop album. It has it all – chest-filling energy; soul-lifting passion; guitars and bass to dazzle the ear and rock the globe; and of course, Debbie Harry’s exceptional vocal and raunch brining it all together.   

Obviously ‘Heart of Glass and ‘One Way or Another‘ stand out as the classics purely through the extent to which they’ve been played since. But the album as a whole is nothing short of a masterclass in composing and producing some of the best pop tracks that have ever been put together and evidence why the bygone format of a full album was so, so powerful.  

It is rhythmic, melodic, harmonic and dramatic. Boy, is it dramatic! Who knew Blondie told such great stories. Or rather, could tell the same story in such beautifully varied, witty and lyrical expressions. Because it’s essentially an album of serenely musical love songs. ‘Picture This’s‘ falsely assuring chord pattern; the classic bassline of ‘Pretty Baby‘ pumping your feet and your heart the whole way through; ‘Sunday Girl‘s’ soft melody perfectly capturing the song’s message.  The discordance and reggae-esque ending of ‘Fade Away‘ keeps you on your toes and the angularity of ‘Know But I Don’t Know‘ gives just the right jolt to what could otherwise be  almost too pleasant an album. Which brings me back to feeling… 

If you’re feeling in a slightly emotionally fragile state, as I imagine the man on the tube must have been, then beware – Parallel Lines will take you from heaven to hell, but possibly back again. 

And that’s the whole point of music for me, particularly pop music; and there is no better example of this than Parallel Lines. I don’t know what it was that made the man on the tube breakdown in tears, or equally what gave him the strength to compose himself before going on his way, but I suspect I felt the briefest of trembles of all those waves of feeling pass through me as I listened to Debbie Harry ride flawlessly through Blondie’s ultimate album.  

You may laugh, you may cry, but at the end of it, you’ll wish music today had even half an ounce of the emotion and brilliance of composition that Parallel Lines has. 


 

#6 – Kraftwerk, Die Mensch Maschine

#6 – Kraftwerk, Die Mensch-Maschine(The Man Machine)

I felt uninspired. Uninspired by the music that’s selling big today. By the programmes on television. Uninspired by Brexit, Trump and what’s going on in the world around us.  

In these situations, I often turn to new books and old music, as evidenced somewhat by the existence of this blog.  

Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception makes the case that we can all be artists in our daily work-lives, from the nurse on the hospital ward, to the accountant, to the mechanic, to the office clerk. But to do so we actually need to make art, face and overcome the resistance and dare to be different. It’s an approach rather than a talent. To oppose industrial efficiency and the lizard brain, to connect to society in a way that is entirely human. Not to fly too low to the ground.   

When you’re uninspired this is harder. But that’s no excuse, argues Godin, and he’s right. Go and look for it. Seek it out. Just look around.  

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There are such things, I’m told, as futurists. Attempting to predict what society, technology, our culture holds for the future. I doubt anyone will have been able to predict the slow but sure change we are seeing in our brains as not only does the addiction to flat, touchable screens become unstoppable but the thirst and hunger for new, instantly gratifying information become a built-in response, an irresistible reflex for us all. But this doesn’t need to be bad, for we are men and women. Not machines, robots, or models.  

Where better to turn for some Europhilic, techno-embracing creative inspiration than Kraftwerk,  the electro-punk-krautrock group formed in 1969 and their artistic masterpiece The Man Machine.  

Unbelievably, this was released in 1978, nearly 40 years ago! And guess what? It sounds as fresh as ever. Which is ironic, as, unlike that sometimes over-used cliche, this album really does. The beats, the space, the synthesizers, the minimalist vocals. The precision. The conveyance of a theme so beautifully crafted and captivating. This is as much a testament to Kraftwerk’s genius as it is an indictment of much of the dross that’s been pushed out for the last 10 years.  

What the audience make of it

People who know about or are interested in music history will know Kraftwerk well and be familiar with the immeasurable influence they’ve had on everything ever since. If you think you’ve never heard  Kraftwerk you’re probably wrong. Listen to ‘The Model‘ and I suspect you will know the main synth riff instantly. I can’t think of a flurry of notes that is at the same time as haunting as it is jubilant as this exquisite keyboard composition. It’s uplifting but cautionary, rallying and energetic. 

But then again, is it? I listened to the album and felt excited, intrigued, fresh and adventurous. Dare I say, inspired? The better half of me, however, sat across the dinner table this week listening to the exact same record, thought it was slightly dated, melancholy and forlorn.  

And she’s usually right on these things. But that’s the point, there is no right way to receive art, which is what Godin eloquently puts in his book. Art is only what the audience make of it. Kraftwerk must’ve known at points in their career they were going to be criticised for what they were making. That many people would think it was just electronic trash, and wouldn’t buy their records. That to some, they may be seen as failures. But they made it anyway and changed the world.  

Kraftwerk could never have predicted that Man Machine could one day have been made available in a form of digital bits accessible via the touch of a screen whether you’re sat in a tent in Sri Lanka or dancing at a warehouse bar in Kreuzberg, Berlin. If they did then they probably wouldn’t have also thought that a record store in Soho would still be selling Man Machine and it would still be being produced on vinyl in 2017. But they are and it is and I’m thrilled and it was enough to spark a brief combustion of inspiration for me to write about this week.  

What Kraftwerk do here for me, above all, is remind us that technology can and should be used for good. For art and for inspiration. And for connecting. The negative consequences we see all around every day, the lack of conversation, the lack of eye-contact, the automation, hindered creativity, can all be countered if we look hard enough. If we believe, if we create. If we make art in the way that Kraftwerk so brilliantly did in 1978.  

Uninspired? Are you a man or a machine?

#5 – Rival Sons, Pressure & Time

5. Rival Sons, Pressure & Time

"I come for revenge for my broken dreams. 
Didn't come to wait tables or park limousines."
(Rival Sons, Burn Down Los Angeles)

Stepping out of the train station, the taxi cab, or the hotel lobby onto the streets of any of the world’s great cities, it’s likely at some point, this line may briefly go through your head. Even, or especially, if there’s no limousine in sight.

Cities. The lifeblood of society? More like the tachycardic left ventricle. Of economies, of revolutions. Of thought, feeling, culture, creativity. Everything that matters, everything that doesn’t. Religion, politics, hedonism, hard work. Destruction, salvation. Pressure. And Time.

Arriving for the first time in a city you’ve heard of but never been to before requires and ignites a certain degree of pace.

I recently read City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg’s debut novel set in ’70s punk scene, New York. A perfect backdrop, a good read. It would’ve been a great read had it not been so damn long. It’s impossible to express in over 900 pages the sheer pace that makes great cities what they are. It misses the point. Our cities will outlive us all, but the magic in cities happens quickly, unexpectedly, in a flash.

The chance meeting of an old friend on the subway. The deal you weren’t expecting which lands you a monkey, the mugger you didn’t see that strips you of it. The first date that leads to a second. The quickie in the park at lunchtime that doesn’t. Even the 3-day benders pass in a blur and are over as quickly as the hit from whichever drug got you through it.

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It’s all about pace, and you need to keep up. If you stumble, think you can’t make it, the city will grab you by the neck like a cat picking up its litter and throw you against the wall – ‘keep up, kid’. Loving or laughing, it’s hard to tell.

Don’t like it? Leave

The album on my record player this week is Pressure & Time, by Rival Sons. It’s 10 songs only, over in 31 booming, cymbal-crashing minutes. For me, it perfectly encapsulates what cities are all about. And it brings back all those blistering, awe-inspiring moments you’ve had which remind you why you live in a city, or why you don’t.

Strolling at dusk down the streets of Soho. Remembering to breathe while crossing Fifth Avenue. Haggling your dignity in the souks of Morocco or betting it all on the tables at the Bellagio. The restaurants of Paris, the markets of Beijing. The lavishness of Dubai. Hong Kong’s…well all of it. The sights, the tastes, the smells all rushing through you like Scott Holiday’s defibrillating guitar lines.

The album is fun yet sophisticated, brash but refined. If you were brave enough or stupid enough to ride a gold-plated limo through Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa, dressed in an Elvis onesie washing down a plate of wagyu beef with a bottle of Chateau Margaux, Pressure and Time is the album that should be playing on the stereo. You get the picture.

Cities can be dark places, they can be scary as hell. At times there’s a menacing edge to Pressure & Time, from burning down LA to graphically showing how the West was won. But it just reminds you that you’re listening to a proper blues-rock album and if you don’t like it, go and live in Chipping Campden.

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The city will beat you

An inescapable observation made about Rival Sons is that they sound like they’re trying to sound like Led Zeppelin. But who cares when they do it so well, with Holiday’s non-stop Firebird riffing from the-off with ‘All Over the Road‘ and Jay Buchanan’s larynx-rupturing vocals – the title track being the highlight here. And all without the quiet subtleties that everyone says they love about Led Zep but deep down just want more of the hard stuff. 

The final tracks wrap it up fittingly, but it’s over way too suddenly, like the last night of your city vacation; hearing ‘White Noise‘, asking who’s gonna ‘Save Me‘.  ‘Face of Light‘ has its ‘date with the moon’ only to ‘wake up with its wings.’ The lyrics on the record, while not masterly, just kind of work, in the same way our greatest cities, with their own inconveniences, just work.

Gypsies, dreams, arson, girls, boys, factory jobs, debt, down, out and up. The album like any city worth its salt, takes a bite, chews you up and spits you out.

No matter what you think, or how hard you try, make no mistake, the city will beat you. But when you’re done scrapping, when you’re broke & broken, coming down and coming home, you’ll brag and boast about your shift and say it was your best yet. You may even raise a smile and turn to the next brave, lucky soul stepping off the plane and say ‘take my keys, kid, go park my limousine.’

Burn Down Los Angeles if you dare. It will rise again, as the Rival Sons surely will.

#4 – Pink Floyd, The Wall

Hopeful surfing

If ever there were an act that required uncompromising perseverance, yet yielded maximum reward, learning to surf is surely it. If that sounds too physical, or you simply can’t be bothered, then watching someone you care about learn to surf will do the trick. You may feel a sliver of dread, tinged with hope. Or maybe just enough hope, tinged with some dread.
I watched my wife take a surfing lesson last week. It was her third ever so not a total novice, but still beginner enough to give rise to the odd chuckle and grimace. Watching a loved one learn to surf is more exhilarating than it sounds. There are prolonged periods of being on-edge. Brief spells of boredom. You watch each swell that passes thinking ‘that’s the one’, only to be disappointed. When they finally catch the perfect wave, are on their feet cruising, the surge of pleasure you know they are experiencing is unrivalled and you think to yourself, there must be nothing better. When they crash and burn face-first into 2 feet of water and a second wave puts them under again for good measure, Schadenfreude momentarily supplants admiration as the foremost sensation you’ll feel.

Watching someone you care about learn to surf and seeing them do it quite well, and quite badly, can, I found last week, be compared to listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.

This is my 4th blog, there are millions of albums to choose from. Why in Dave Gilmour’s name would I choose to write about ‘The Wall’ and all its celebrated eminence?

PhDs may have been written on interpreting the meaning of ‘The Wall’. I’ll spare you, therefore, the operatic grandeur of destructive isolationism that is the journey of Pink’s detachment from life and society. Although with the recent election of a certain President partial to a wall of his own, the appeal of depression-relieving analgesia to make one comfortably numb has arguably never been greater.

I was going to write about ‘The Wall’ because I was recently bought the album on vinyl as a gift. The sleeve, the ‘hand-written’ lyrics inside, brought back all the magic I felt holding my parents’ original copy of it as a teenager.

More profoundly, I was going to write about ‘The Wall’ because I recently met a 91 year-old man on a train. An hour later, after hearing tales of his life dating back to the late forties, we reached our destination. I then met up with some dear friends and their 1-year old baby boy. The dichotomous contacts with a 1 and 91-year old, friend and stranger within close proximity made me question whether any piece of music, any album, can adequately capture the journey from cradle to grave in the way that, say, great literature can. I need only to think back to the last 3 books I’d read to recall ‘Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant’, by Anne Tyler. An outstanding example, illuminating the extremes of both joy and sorrow that mundane, everyday life can bring. Books map these journeys far better than music does almost all of the time. ‘The Wall’ being, in my view, the one great exception.

I had the pleasure of seeing our friends all weekend, in awe of the little one’s curiosity. When I got home I listened to ‘The Wall’ and concluded that no piece of music better captures the endeavour and achievement of learning to walk quite as well as ‘In the Flesh’ does, the opening track of the album. The shock of getting to your feet. The triumph. Like standing up on a surfboard. The upbeat melody coming at just the moment you realise for the first time you can walk, or nearly walk, then fall, then try again. A riff that stays with us throughout the album, a gait that stays with us throughout our lives.

On the edge of collapse

But now, I find myself writing about ‘The Wall’ because watching my wife surf last week, I went through much of what I went through listening to the album for the first time. The briefest tedium. An unsatisfactory ending. A chuckle, a grimace. Dogged perseverance. But my, what extremes those tracks can take you to. The hope. The dread. The angry thrills. Sadistic elation with “my favourite axe.” The guitars, the lyrics, the melodies, the groove, the lot.

When it gets there, when you’re up on that metaphorical surfboard, teetering on the edge of collapse, it’s among the best, most emotionally charged music ever produced.

One of the last things the kind & humble 91-year old stranger said to me on the train after I’d listened patiently to his heartfelt stories, was:

“Before I go to bed every night, I now think to myself, am I going to wake up, and still be here tomorrow.”

I’d never felt such sorrow for someone I’d only just met.

I wonder whether one day I’ll wake up and this album will no longer be relevant. I slightly dread that generations to come won’t get to experience the beauty that is ‘The Wall’ in its entirety. I mostly hope that musical masterpieces such as this will be there forever, transcending the fickle and cyclical modalities we’re forced to endure of communicating or listening to great works of art.

Be it learning to walk, or learning to surf, or learning to age, ‘The Wall’ can accompany you through the highs and the lows of such great adventures.

With a sliver of dread, tinged with hope. Or maybe just enough hope tinged with some dread.

#3 – Todd Terje, It’s Album Time

It Can Only End One Way

I think it’s around 11.10pm. Maybe 11.15pm to be safe. The time when, without warning, ‘out’ becomes ‘out-out’. Those times when it just creeps up on you. From nowhere. Like a car suddenly appearing in your rear view mirror when you thought the road was clear. You need to make a decision. Do you slow down, calmly and allow it to pass? Or do you drop a gear, grip the wheel and rev up to 11?

If you’re still in the bar at 11.15pm and don’t have your coat in your hand heading for the door, you’re ‘out-out’. And there’s no going back. You’ve chatted all evening, flirted all night and drunk enough to make you know about it the next day so you think ‘sod it, I’m ‘out-out’ ‘. And when you’re ‘out-out’ all you want to do is dance. 

Todd Terje’s ‘It’s Album Time‘ is the debut album from a Norwegian DJ. It’s his take on what a full-length dance record should sound like. Released in 2014, there are nods to disco & funk and the ’70s blaxploitation films as well as euphoric dance tracks of the ’90s. But the sentiment I personally couldn’t shake off listening to this was a wonderful, nostalgic delivery of the mind back to a version of myself in the 1980s. 

With the softer openers, I’m 6 years old, sitting in a pub trying to steal a sip of my old man’s pint of Albright. I’m wrestling a joystick at home playing Starship Command on the BBC Micro. Television springs to mind – Dr. Who, or every 80s sci-fi series you’ve ever listened to. All this, just like the enjoyment of listening to a pure dance record, comes as a bit of a surprise. The songs themselves don’t sound too much like those soundtracks, but it’s the vibe, the feeling they instil.

Terje is toying with us at this stage, goading us to join his party.

I age slightly as it progresses, with innocence turning to mischief. The music is laced with humour, like all the best dramas are. You can sense Terje grinning as we become engrossed in his parody. It gets more hilarious. ‘Strandbar‘ is like watching Eddie Murphy hurtling through Beverly Hills as Axel Foley, with Bill Bailey following him round with his piano clanking out happy chords, looking left and right, making jokes. Seriously, have a listen.

This doesn’t sound wholly like an ’80s album. Apart from an obvious reference – Bryan Ferry singing a cover of Robert Palmer’s Johnny and Mary – it can feel both earlier and later than that decade of excess. Yes there are lots of synthesisers but they don’t stab and the vibrato isn’t overdone. The drums are firm and certain, not overproduced or echoey.

As the songs get more serious, the experiences become fantasies of decadence. Mischief becomes rebellion. I’m downing pina coladas on Miami Beach. I’m watching Scarface, buying Hawaiian shirts trying to look like Tony Montana. I reach ‘Oh Joy‘ and ‘Inspector Norse‘, and that’s it, the revs are up. Morality goes, depravity prevails – I’m in a Tom Wolfe novel, spiralling out of control, SPEAKING IN CAPITALS, knowing it can only end one way.

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Inevitably, that’s where Todd Terje gets me to with this and I love it. My head is bouncing and my hips are shaking. I’m in my mid twenties wishing I was back in the late 80s. By the end I’m shouting – ”take me out, Todd! Take me ‘out-out’, 80s style!”

My wife and I once met a couple of Norwegians in a club in Berlin. We’d been for a quiet dinner, having what we thought was our final drink of the evening, when they appeared next to us at the bar, from nowhere. Like a car in the rear-view mirror when you thought the road was clear. They were eccentric. They drank cocktails, had wild hair and tastes that spanned the decades. They started chatting to us, buying us drink after drink, toying with us. We knew we had to make a decision. We could politely decline and allow them to pass by.

Or…I glanced down at my watch and saw it was bang on 11.15pm.


Any albums make you want to go ‘out-out’?? Feel free to comment below.

#2 – The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome

Could they still impress?

There’s a moment that occurs somewhere between anticipation and attainment. It can be brief & fleeting. Or it can feel like an age.

It’s when you’re 2 scores up, with 2 minutes on the clock. Safe & relieved. The game’s in the bag.

We’ve all dithered over menu choices, terrified our mates will make a better choice than us. This moment comes when your bubbling, oozy mac & cheese with pulled pork, with extra cheese is presented at your place opposite your friend’s over cooked beef with watery gravy and a limp leaf of kale. Result.

More than that. You’ve been on a handful of dates with someone who is clearly way out of your league. You’ve made an effort on each occasion with your dress; the choice of venue; your sharpest wit. You’ve thought before, ‘tonight’s the night’, but each time been rejected.

The moment between anticipation and attainment is when you risk your embarrassment again, utter those 8 small words – ‘do you want to come back to mine?’ and the response is unequivocal. The mouth says ‘OK’. The smile says ‘I’d love to’. The eyes say, ‘hell yes’.

It’s sad I know, but that’s pretty much the feeling I got when I heard the Rolling Stones were releasing a new blues album. The nervous confidence. The buzzing excitement. The near-certainty that you know you’re going to experience something fantastic.

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I grew up listening to Little Walter and Lightnin’ Slim, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. My love for the blues is perhaps for a whole other blog. But it’s ingrained. Unrivalled by any other genre. It’s what I go back to time and time again if ever I veer slightly into uncomfortable musical territory and need to find my bearings.

And yet when I held Blue & Lonesome before listening to it for the first time, there was a niggle. Like the wait on the pitch ’til the final whistle goes. When they’re camped on your line for the last 90 seconds. A nagging, irrational, suggestion that you still might lose.

Until you actually taste that macaroni, there’s still a fear that the cheese won’t be strong enough, or the breaded crust won’t crunch. That the pork hasn’t been sufficiently pulled.

Even when you’re in the taxi back together after your date, nervously restraining yourselves while the tension builds to almost unbearable levels. You know there’s still a chance you’ll blow it.

There was always a slight possibility The Stones did this just for the money. That they’d become lazy and thrown together a dozen clichés so they could still claim to be ‘around’. Thankfully, the track list suggested otherwise. But could they still impress? Could they still make you smile, make you swagger? Could they really be bothered with it all any more? After listening to the album this week for the 5th time, the answer is clear – hell yes.

Ok, it’s not the perfect album. It takes a bit to get going and isn’t an instant crowd-pleaser. Its appeal grows massively by, say, the 3rd listen. The guitars roll and riff, brilliantly, in an understated way all the way through. The soloing comes a little late for me, but then I’m someone who secretly looks forward to the return of the 8-minute solo drowning out the rest of the band…but who would ever want to drown out this exceptional blues band.

Most strikingly I’d say, hats off to Jagger – in addition to a reminder that he really is a great blues singer at heart, his harp playing here is extraordinary, the stand out star of the show.

Mick, Keef, Ronnie & Charlie don’t need me or anyone else for that matter  to say how good or bad their new album is. They’ve done it for themselves. And this blog isn’t a review or a critical appraisal,  it’s an expression of how great accomplishments of music or writing make me feel. And Blue & Lonesome is a great accomplishment.

When you look back on those moments between anticipation and attainment, you laugh, and mock yourself. Tell yourself, ‘it was never in doubt!’ You inhale slightly more sharply and deeply than usual, filling yourself with something like pride. Your cheeks tingle slightly. Your shoulders lift. And finally, you relax. Rest easy.

How did this album make me feel? Seriously?! The Stones, doing a straight-up, old-school blues album? I felt like I’d been in the dressing room after winning the cup, drinking out of the trophy. I’d eaten a double helping of 4-cheese macaroni pimped with the sweetest pork that had been slow-cooked for 18-hours. Like I was sat up naked, in an unfamiliar bed with one arm behind my head slowly sucking on my second cigarette of the morning.

If you like The Rolling Stones, or you like the blues, or you just want to get up and dance around your living room flinging your arms around like you’re Mick Jagger, go and buy Blue & Lonesome.

Anticipate pleasure. Attain pure joy. And everything in between.

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Records and Writing #1

#1 – Clark Terry, Mumbles

HAVE YOU EVER been to Mumbles? It’s in West Wales. Hang on, before that…

Welcome to my first ever blog! My thoughts, views, pondering and waffling on anything related to records and writing. More precisely, how a particular work makes me feel and think. All just my own opinions…

It’ll be unpolished, with minimal editing and you’ll find significant flaws in my writing style coupled with some sub-optimal grammar usage at times.  I’m sure you’ll also disagree with much of what I say or think about records & writing, which is great. I welcome as much constructive feedback as possible. I’m expecting to fail so it doesn’t matter if you hate it or find it boring. Nobody succeeded first time round.

Here’s the gig: I write something roughly once a week. Between now and May I aim to post 12 blogs. It’ll be based on and inspired by the arbitrary record I’ve picked that week – a habit I’ve got into again since receiving a record player as a gift and committing to picking up as many random records as possible. If you like the blog, share it with like-minded people. Facebook, Twitter, email, Tinder, wherever. If you don’t like it (but do like records and writing) let me know why not and what would make you read it more. I’m also very open to suggestions on new music to listen to or new writing to read.

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Who’s it for?

Anyone with an interest in listening to or making records and reading or creating pieces of writing. Simple.

Back to Swansea…

The album I was listening to when I came up with this idea  was Clark Terry’s Mumbles.

In addition to the mellow, soothing saxophone playing,  the album consists of Terry mumbling along trying to make a tune. There’s some serious musicianship as you’d exepct producing the accessible accompaniment. From the bluesy opener, to the wilder dance tracks (proper dance) drifting into smooth, relaxing jazz, it’s great fun. By the end of the album you will no doubt have a smile on your face as big as Mr. Terry’s on the front cover.

I doubt whether Terry had even heard of the renowned beauty-spot on the west of the Swansea Bay let alone been there. But seriously, once a guy from West Wales, or anyone who’s ever been to Mumbles gets it in their head that the whole album is about Wales, the connotations of ‘Mumbles’, ‘Rum and Mumbles’ and ‘The Mumbler Strikes Again’ become entirely different. What’s more on further reflection, the scenes of boozing and cavorting down the Mumbles mile as a twenty-something may be the exact images Terry was aiming to bring to mind!

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‘Rum and Mumbles’

Listening to any decent album, like sections of meaningful writing, often leads me to think differently about every day life, from the mundane and banal, to the evolutionary and radical. This album served to remind me that, as we should always keep in mind, words can sometimes have two meanings.


Why am I doing this?

These are 2 things I love – music and reading. I have no specialist knowledge about either above that of the next person with a vague interest in creative arts. But I enjoy both and this seemed like a good idea.

Like most human endeavours , there is an element of selfishness behind it. I started writing a journal 2 years ago and found the process stimulating and therapeutic. Experts say it should be, but as we don’t take experts too seriously nowadays take it from me, it works. I’ve stalled on meaningful creative projects recently so am looking to set up something new.

I’ve occasionally been known to pretend to aspire to be a writer. Two things struck me more firmly this year as, with great shock, I became nearer in age to 50 than 20:

1) I’m about as likely to become a professional writer as I am to play at Wembley again with my band.

2) I can achieve some of the goals of being a professional writer without being a professional writer – I can write, regularly and with purpose. I can get this writing across to a target audience. You. The size of the audience may be restricted by my marketing abilities, but if 3 people read my blog then I have achieved that goal. Assuming they’re not my brother and my parents.

Thank you to Clark Terry for inspiring this blog with his 50-year old creative flurry of mumbling and enchanting sax runs. And thank you for reading it. That’s it. First blog done. The next will be available within a week.

Now pass me the rum…