This Week’s Albums
September 9th, 2015
IT is a case of “Something old, something new/something ‘borrowed’, something…
that doesn’t rhyme”. I do a D.J. gig every week at The Stoke Pub and Pizzeria (https://www.facebook.com/TheStokeGuildford?fref=ts); I have the opportunity to play four different albums: one that is ‘old’ (to my mind, anything pre-1985), something ‘new’ (released brand-new that week); something influential (and has inspired a genre/other acts)- in addition to dealer’s choice (any album I choose). Having done this for over a year-and played everything from Graceland to Pearl Jam; from FKA twigs to Beastie Boys- it is enormous fun. I get to talk to people about music; play some awesome stuff- turn people on to some great/forgotten sounds- well, I try to. I shall publish this every week; try and highlight some fantastic albums- maybe some you had forgotten about.
The Old: Joni Mitchell- Court and Spark (1974)
Whilst Blue remains perhaps her most recognisable album; Court and Spark is her finest: the infusion of Rock and Folk strands; her most astute and assured collection- a step-away from the more confessional/personal work. Court and Spark is more character-driven; it mixes humour with relationship-insight outpouring. Revolving around a simple concept- the issue of trust in relationships- it delivers remarkable consistency. Free Man in Paris (the album’s stand-out hit) looks at the evils of the music industry; its urgent vocal enforces the song’s lyrics- the using-and-abusing; the business-like double-cross. Raised on Robbery– about the realities of the singles bar scene- sees predatory figures exposed. Lacing wild Jazz horns with multi-tracked vocals- it is an evocative and scintillating number. With Down to You looking back- it sounds like it could have featured on Blue– investigating the transience of morals and ‘love’; Mitchell unites her past and present. The Canadian’s lyrics match warm and wry; funny and tragic- her most accomplished set. Her vocals on this album have a warmth, depth and passion- perhaps lacking in earlier releases- whilst her commitment is paramount and unflinching. In an age now- where every artist wants to release something Joni Mitchell-esque- listen to the original; the legend herself- and see how it should be done.
The New: The Libertines- Anthems for Doomed Youth (2015)
Few people could have predicted a third ‘Libertines album- given the acrimony and fall-out that occurred during their sophomore release- yet the brotherly unity shared between Pete Doherty and Carl Barât burns bright. The band does not try and replicate the past- most critics are disappointed by this- instead offering an of-the-moment representation of their sound. Lead single Gunga Din recounts The Libs’ of old: the drunken haze and spotty recollections; the morning-after regrets and who-gives-a-f*** swagger (although its cod-Reggae verses sound a little flushed). Heart of the Matter (their newest single) showcases Morrissey-does-Reggae fusion; looks at blame and attention-seeking behavior. The title track is both slow-burning and impassioned – “life can be so handsome”- showcasing one of the album’s best Carl-‘n’-Pete shared vocals. Elsewhere, rollick and ‘traditional ‘Libertines’ sound comes out in Glasgow Come Scale Blues– and stands as the album’s stand-out. An instant and memorable chorus; ragged and drunken guitars; catchy riffs a-plenty. Whilst the production values are too polished- Mick Jones’ raw and ragged ‘Clash-esque touch is sorely missed- all the key ingredients are here: the love and passion; the trials and inequities of modern youth- everything the band stands for. Whilst not their finest L.P., it is good enough to rival 2015’s best: essentially, The Libertines back in force!
The Influencer: Gang of Four- Entertainment! (1979)
Released in 1979, the English post-Punk band (on their most spectacular album) influenced a sea of bands- including Fugazi and Rage Against the Machine. One of the first albums to mix spoken/shouted lyrics; dirty and scuzzy guitars, a mix of sexual and social politics- its templates have been employed countless times since. Selfish and corruptible politicians are laid bare in the dizzying I Found That Essence Rare; sexual politics are under the spotlight in Damaged Goods– “Your kiss so sweet/your sweat so sour”. Lead-off track Ether looks at Special Category prisoners in Northern Ireland; Natural’s Not in It and Return the Gift expound Marxist themes of commodification. Album closer Anthrax draws everything into one glorious swansong: the distorted and animalistic guitars; the Punk atavism and virile energy; the love-is-like-cattle-disease analogies- wrapped around an intense and endlessly compelling band coming-together. Rapturous and snarling; accomplished and inspirational: it was an album that changed the Punk scene; altered the face of music in the 1970s -it introduced a wave of acolytes and admirers. If the lyrics do not compel you- and their mix of sexual incongruity and Marxist ideologies- the music surely will: you are helpless to resist its dance-worthy energy; the layers and nuance- a timeless and sensational record.
The ‘Other One’: Stevie Wonder- Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
One of music’s greatest albums- where Wonder celebrates the joys of life and strength-through-God- it has influenced countless artists (Prince claims it is his favourite album ever); the album is a vast and ambitious work- few double-album releases are as accomplished, focused and spotless. With issues like ghetto exploitation, religion and romantic transcendence put into focus; Wonder is at his most heightened, here. For fans of his older works- that look at social and race issues- tracks like Village Ghetto Land (about the harshness and realities of the ghetto), Black Man (looking at those who helped build America) and Pastime Paradise are stand-outs; Summer Soft and Joy Inside My Tears mix cathartic and romantic- redemptive and introspectiveness too. As– one of the album’s most-covered and celebrated songs- looks at that peak of passion: loving someone to the boundaries of impossibility; channeling faith and spirituality into the mix- a mesmeric celebration of love’s possibilities. A total of 130 people worked on the album (it was recorded between 1974 and 1976) whilst Wonder himself barely slept or ate – just vibing and working; never stopping; others around him struggled to keep pace. That dedication, inspiration and passion shows throughout Songs in the Key of Life: an essential album that re-shaped R ‘n’ B, Soul and Pop; floored critics and listeners- a record whose ambition, scope and wonderment will never be bettered. A true work of genius from a master at his peak.