FEATURE: Edge of Seventeen: BBC Radio 6 Music: The Progression, the Power and Prime Cuts – and Why the Station Remains the Ultimate Ambition for Folk Like Me

FEATURE:

 

 

Edge of Seventeen

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IMAGE CREDIT: BBC/@BBC6Music  

BBC Radio 6 Music: The Progression, the Power and Prime Cuts – and Why the Station Remains the Ultimate Ambition for Folk Like Me

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YOU’LL excuse (I hope) the long title...

but I have another cold – does anyone stay healthy living in London?! – and germs seem to be invading every crevice, crease and psychic corner of my mind, body and temperament. I am hoping it clears through but, as I battle the Game of Thrones-like violence of a dreaded cold, I have been thinking about a big anniversary that is coming up: the seventeenth birthday of BBC Radio 6 Music. 11th March marks the official seventeenth anniversary and I think it is a mighty big one! Apart from all the seventeen-named songs they could play (I have included Stevie Nicks’ finest at the very top), it is testament to the station’s brand, loyalty and quality that means it is still on the air. BBC Radio 6 Music is a digital station and, back in 2002, survival and popularity was not a guarantee. In July 2010, there were plans to close BBC Radio 6 Music to allow its commercial superiors the room to breathe and focus. Figures such as Lauren Laverne voiced their concern and, with vociferous and passionate campaign, the station was saved. It seems ludicrous to imagine the airwaves without such a big and alternative station. The figures show that, by 2018, BBC Radio 6 was the most-listened-to digital station around with over two-and-a-half-million listeners. I will talk more about the changes, movements and personal reasons why the station remains so close to my heart but, at its core, is this very loyal and dedicated group of people.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 6 Music’s new breakfast show host, Lauren Laverne/PHOTO CREDIT: Chris McAndrew for The Times

From the producers to social media guys; the small and big cogs that make BBC Radio 6 Music the must-listen-to option for those who want their music fresh, quality-huge and eclectic…they all deserve to, as Madonna said, take a bow. In terms of staff retention, BBC Radio 6 Music must rank as one of the most unchanged and impressive! I am not sure how many regular fixtures have moved since the launch but there has not been a great deal of movement through the years. Many argue there is a need for some new blood and changes – more women and black faces – but BBC Radio 6 Music, like its Wogan House-sharing colleagues at BBC Radio 2, have made some big steps. The fact Lauren Laverne hosts the breakfast show – she has naturally settled into the spot Shaun Keaveny used to fill – and we have Mary Anne Hobbs doing mornings means two of the station’s most-prominent and popular slots are occupied by women...women of the North, no less! There are, perhaps, fewer women at the station that one might hope but there is some great talent coming through. Katie Puckrik is a fabulous voice that many feel should be a permanent part of the station’s rotation; Cerys Matthew has her own show and Liz Kershaw is another big name at the station. Amy Lamé is also at BBC Radio 6 Music and there are quite a few female producers...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Amy Lamé/PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Writtle

I feel, as the station grows and more listeners flood in, there will be a remit and budget to transfer more talent in – maybe in the form of making temporary female D.J.s permanent or scouting Internet stations and local players like Soho Radio. Georgie Rogers is a voice I have been lobbying to hear more of as, not only has she got one of the most beautiful radio voice possible; she knows her stuff and is an energetic, popular and knowledgeable presenter. I am not sure whether the structure will remain the same but there are other presenters, such as the excellent Jon Hillcock, who deserves their own permanent show. Rogers has her own Sunday show on Soho Radio and I think she could create her niche at BBC Radio 6 Music with some late-evening vibes and some seriously big tunes. Hillcock is another fantastic presenter and I think a weekend evening show, every week, would be his sort of fit. Not to put words and suggestions in the box at the BBC Radio 6 Music door but there are voices on social media that are passionate about these people and would love to hear more from them. There is, naturally, finite room at the station and the intense loyalty from its long-serving riders mean job opportunities are hard to come by.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Miranda Sawyer/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I will look more closely at the station’s ethos and D.N.A. structure in a bit but, in a recent post, I was a little cold when it came to giving non-music peeps their own show. The excellent Miranda Sawyer has her Sound and Vision show that talks with popular figures from the screen and reveals their musical tastes. The Leisure Society with Gemma Cairney looks at the arts and steps outside a purely musical sphere. These incredible women present shows that are very different to anything else at BBC Radio 6 Music and it is good we get that cross-pollination of disciplines, fields of the arts and options. The fact Cillian Murphy has his own show is, yeah, a good thing (he is only stepping in temporarily but I think he might get his own long-term option)! Props to the man and I know he is already proving a popular selection – he takes over Guy Garvey’s Sunday show. I was a bit ambivalent regarding actors getting their own radio slots – bitter grapes overflowing in my wine glass! – but I think it is good. Murphy can bring his own perspective to the slot and I know he will be a very entertaining, informative and calming voice for those who want some quality tunes and relaxation on a Sunday. Aside from the need to get a few more women onto the station, it is great there are new features and shows cropping up. One cannot doubt BBC Radio 6 Music is moving and shaking in the right direction!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Actor Cillian Murphy is temporarily taking over Guy Garvey’s Sunday show as the Elbow frontman works on a new album/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I have mentioned a few of the presenters on the station but, at the moment, the weekday schedule has the reliable start from Chris Hawkins. He must be the hardest-working human on Earth and seems to be the go-to-guy when a show needs a substitute or there is some last-minute saving to be done! He is the King of Early Mornings and is responsible for waking us up with his patented blend of world-class musical knowledge, warmth and affection towards his listeners (we love him too)…and his smooth professionalism. Hawkins is one of those people you do not want to see leave the station and he keeps things warm until Lauren Laverne gets into the chair at Wogan House – Hawkins presents from MediaCity in the city of Salford. Laverne is a wonderful radio host and the fact she is also chairing (for the time being) Desert Island Discs means she is one of the most potent and powerful women on radio right now. I loved her mid-morning show but she has adapted to breakfast like a champ and has introduced some new features that have recruited fresh listeners. Hawkins has kept his core and continues to be a big pull for BBC Radio 6 Music. Laverne is one of the most knowledgeable names on the show and I always marvel how her and her production team manage to bring so many great sounds to us (is that a split infinitive?!).

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Shaun Keaveny/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/Getty Images

I love Laverne’s show and her features – including Monday’s Cloudbusting and her Desert Island Disco – are fantastic. She has brought her listener from mid-morning but I think she is also bringing in a new demographic to breakfast. Shaun Keaveny is on afternoons now and moved from breakfast. He is a fantastic D.J. (and person) and has, like Laverne, kept his followers and brought in some new people. His musical outlay is slightly different to Lauren Laverne’s show – each show has its own tattoos and flavour – and there are some different features. Keaveny seems more refreshed in the afternoons and is producing excellent shows. He is another name that is essential to the station’s survival and growth - and you always get that great mixture of humour, anything-could-go-wrong-at-any-moment and faux-moaning from the man. I was worried when he moved from his slot but Lauren Laverne is smashing the breakfast show and Keaveny is doing a wonderful job on afternoons. He is joined by Matt Everitt on music news and their bond is a key element to the afternoon show’s feel. Everitt – formerly of Menswear and The Montrose Avenue (drummer) – knows his beans and he brings us a daily dose of music news! I do like the interplay between Keaveny and Everitt and it is this sort of long-standing friendship and warmth that makes BBC Radio 6 Music feel so familial and wonderful.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Mary Anne Hobbs – who was poorly last week with flu – is doing Laverne’s old slot and bringing her unique talents to the mid-morning gig! The soothing and warm voice of Hobbs is a perfect way to keep the momentum going and ensure the working week is as captivating and interesting as possible. Like Lauren Laverne, I am glad Hobbs was ‘promoted’ and, coming from MediaCity, there is this nice sandwich (albeit a four-layered one!) between the London-based and those in Salford. Hobbs’ sheer passion, experience and knowledge means she is bringing us rare treasures, unheard-of treats and some of the best artists around. She is as much a curator and discoverer as she is a D.J. Every show is eye-opening and you know how much music means to Hobbs – as it does every single human who works there! I like the different tones of the weekday shows and how someone like Mary Anne Hobbs can inhibit their own world. You never get two same-sounding shows and there is always something fascinating on BBC Radio 6 Music. Through weekdays and weekends, BBC Radio 6 Music boasts these incredible and highly addictive shows. Tom Robinson is one of those D.J.s who has a long history in the music industry and he brings his expertise and sheer verve to every broadcast. Don ‘The Rebel Dread’ Letts has his awesome style and show (check out his page on the BBC Radio 6 Music website) - and who can imagine weekdays without Steve Lamacq and Marc Riley?!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Marc Riley/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I love Gideon Coe’s show and what he provides; Tom Ravenscroft – another name that should be permanent on a daily basis (have his own show each day) – is someone who naturally seems at home on BBC Radio 6 Music (…and is the son of the late John Peel). Gilles Peterson, Nemone; Huey Morgan and Craig Charles are entertaining, hugely popular and essential ingredients in the BBC Radio 6 Music cuisine! Doing weekend breakfast is Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe and I was a bit worried when they were taken from their weekday afternoons and moved to weekend breakfast! That said…they have made weekend breakfasts their own and they are doing wonderfully. I love the fact that these icons of radio remain together and that is what I mean regarding togetherness and loyalty – I could not imagine Radcliffe or Maconie being without on e other! Their morning show is fantastic and they have the let’s-hope-never-ending The Chain and Tea Time Theme Time. The presenters are fantastic and one mustn’t forget all the people behind the scenes that make it all run smoothly. There have been few big changes regarding personnel and shows through the years but I like the fact the D.J.s feel happy where they are and always bringing something new to their shows. BBC Radio 6 Music is never stale and predictable: every year, there are these revolutions, changes and new aspects.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Craig Charles/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Not only is the love the presenters have for the station the reason why BBC Radio 6 Music recruits new listeners – and existing ones are not upset when their favourite names leaves! – but you have these familiar and fabulous voices that seem like family. They follow us when we head to work in the dark and they keep us company, secretly, when we sneak a listen in the office. We get to hear them when we are commuting home and, when we need something electric, eclectic and  fun at the weekend, they are there to provide a box-full of cool vinyl, fresh cuts and engaging chat! I have written about the station multiple times – and will continue to do so – but there are multiple reasons why I am a die-hard fan. For a start, the music played is definitely a lot cooler and more ambitious than many stations. Tune the dial to any of the big and small names and you get varying quality. This might be subjective bias but BBC Radio 1 is too chart-based and, aside from people like Annie Mac…not many of the D.J.s are playing top-quality stuff as often as they should. BBC Radio 2 can stray into the slightly chart-cheese/calm realm and, whilst they play a lot of the classic hits, they are not so up regarding the newest underground acts. Each station around has its own remit and demographic but I worry whether there are these divides between stations like BBC Radio 1 and 2 – the former for the younger and the latter for those who prefer some softer chart music and the older tracks. I guess that is the way it needs be but I feel BBC Radio 6 Music is a natural peacemaker and can unite the classic and new without much effort.

Although they do not play a lot of BBC Radio 1’s worst moments (the processed Pop and inane Electronic music), there are some common threads between the stations. BBC Radio 6 Music will dip into the cauldron of BBC Radio 2 without playing a lot of the slightly sterile and faceless chart songs that favour those of a slightly more mature frame. In acting as an intersect on the Venn diagram, we have this divining rod that is wide-ranging and speaks to those who like their music without barriers, restrictions and guidelines! It is the freewheelin’ and unpredictable nature of the station that pricks the ears of the curious and keeps its loyal core happy and safe. One would not be shocked to hear BBC Radio 6 Music play something from Del Shannon alongside The Prodigy or Stevie Nicks! They do not tend to play much commercial chart stuff or certain genres but, with few limitations, the sky is open and theirs for the taking! That is the main reason BBC Radio 6 Music succeeds and appeals to the genuine music lover: the huge breadth of their playlist and how they can introduce us to great new acts and remind us of some of the legends and classics songs we forgot about! I do love the fact they give a home to unsigned and upcoming artists; so many I know have been given a boost by the station.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Matt Everitt with The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood (who he interviewed for his The First Time with… show)/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/@matteveritt 

Not only is the variety of music played amazing but the features and shows we see on BBC Radio 6 Music is insane! There are one-off broadcasts that cover everything from album anniversaries through to women in music and, as they have been doing lately, Berlin has come under the spotlight. It is not the case, as you get with many stations, they are very rigid and do not deviate much from the format. I like the documentaries on the station and the regular features like Matt Everitt’s The First Time with... and The Leisure Society. The station marks albums’ anniversaries and they celebrate icons who have big birthdays. One of the hardest things they had to do was react when Prince and David Bowie died in 2016. Instead of panicking or ignoring the fact, they dedicated the station to them and seamlessly altered their playlists so that their music was played. The list of assets and wonderful facets (of BBC Radio 6 Music) is endless and BBC Radio 6 Music is always responding to its listeners and what they want. I guess the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival will be back this year - they didn’t run it in 2018 - and it will be interesting to see who they book for their stages. I predict Self Esteem (Rebecca LucyTaylor) will play a big role but there will be this great mix of established artists and the new breed.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

I have talked a lot about a possible BBC Radio 6 Music awards – that would be better and more equal than the Grammys and BRIT Awards – and would cure some of the downfalls regarding the Mercury Prize and how it chooses its shortlist. The station has been going for nearly seventeen years and it has adapted to changes in music and technology. Looking at the BBC Radio 6 Music Twitter feed and there is this constant communication between the station and fans – getting the listeners involved and responding to their voices. I have only really scratched the surface of what makes BBC Radio 6 Music great but I know, when it hits seventeen, there will be much cheer and celebration.

The fact it was threatened with extinction only eight years into its run makes it extra-special the ship continues to sail and conquer new lands! I do wonder if there will be any personnel changes in 2019 – aside from Cillian Murphy’s appointment – but, if it ain’t broke, then why fix it?! Seventeen is quite a milestone and, rather than mark this stroppy and hormone-laden teenager, we will party tribute to this dignified and cool-as-hell student – if BBC Radio 2 is the parent that asks the kids to keep the volume down; BBC Radio 1 is the drink-laden revelers turning up the volume then BBC Radio 6 Music is the smiling teen that sits in an empty bath and listens to a Talking Heads record on a turntable and peruses a biography of Madonna!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @heftiba/Unsplash

One of the big reasons why people like me – music journalists and impassioned folk – love the station so is because it seems like our natural home! Whilst there is a long list of people who want their own show there, I hope I do live to see the day when I can hear my own show back – even if is only a one-off. I adore the fact there is this scope for one-offs and once a week slots; a chance for autonomy and something fresh. Cillian Murphy has his show coming up very soon but my desire has been to have this show– maybe once a week – that is a few hours long and I can mix in these new songs (those that might not be familiar with BBC Radio 6 Music) and the songs/artists who have moulded me. I would dedicate the second hour of each show to my own segments and ideas. Every week would feature a documentary that would focus on anything from albums celebrating anniversaries to sexism in the music industry; a look at movements like the birth of Hip-Hop or talk about sampling in music. There would also be a music interview with various figures – from D.J.s and actors through to celebrities – that would allow them, almost Desert Island Discs-like, the chance to pick songs important to them - and we could shoot the breeze along the way.

I am currently pitching a Kate Bush documentary idea to radio producers and feel like BBC Radio 6 Music would allow a D.J. to bring that to the station or something similar – I am also thinking about a Madonna documentary that would be pretty cool too. There are numerous reasons why musicians and ordinary folk alike see BBC Radio 6 Music as the best station around. Not only are there these amazing presenters and names that have such passion and love but there is this consistently great music! I have discovered so much new and older music through the station and continue to do so. I love how each show has its own skin and sound and there are these presenters who sound effortlessly assured and completely dedicated to what they do. BBC Radio 6 Music provides an alternative spirit - but it never alienates and excludes. Instead, it is a warm and welcoming inn for those who want to stray away from the samey and commercial-heavy streets and discover something evocative, memorable and hugely picturesque. The station is the natural haven for those who put quality of the music above ‘popularity’ and a rather flawed notion of what is cool and relevant. If you are unware of BBC Radio 6 Music then make sure you get it on your DAB radio or Smartphone (or laptop) and listen as much as you can.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash

I listen during the week and weekends but you can dip in and out and discover all these great shows. It is almost like this incredible banquet filled with colours and varied scents: everyone will be able to find something that suites their tastes and come away fulfilled and happy. So many of us have been enriched and made better by BBC Radio 6 Music and given fresh perspective. I, personally, have been given this ambition to get there myself and present my own show. The station has made me more informed and ambitious as a music listener and journalist and I have this always-reliable and wonderful station full of friendly voices that can keep me protected against the vicissitudes of daily life and hard decisions. It would be folly to suggest the station can remain active for decades to come but I see no reason why not! The BBC chiefs realised, back in 2002, the station was a great idea and, when it was threatened with closure, they listened to those who felt aggrieved and angry. Now, as BBC Radio 6 Music grows each year and remains this titan, there is no way the ball will not keep rolling. There will be thousands of listeners out there whose lives have been changed – significantly or in a minor way- simply because of the station and what it does to us. I do not get the time to listen as much as I used to but I listen on BBC Sounds and ensure I catch up every day!

Who knows how much more growing the station can do and what BBC Radio 6 Music will look like in, say, a couple of years. I hope the established presenters are still there but I would like to see some new talent come in and get their own shows. The great and growing BBC Radio 6 Music has already asked its parents for presents and I am sure, like every seventeen-year-old, it will want a party with its mates! I hope the station does have a shindig on 11th March. I mentioned how BBC Radio 6 Music is the cool kid who shuns the noise and hangs out in the bathtub so, whilst there might be some Blur pounding on the living-room stereo, I’d like the think the seventeen-year-old station will keep its cool and sobriety and listen to Remain in Light (Talking Heads) with a smile on its face – although one would forgive it if a sneaky beer were to make its way in (even the most sensible teenagers let themselves go once in a while)! I have so much to thank BBC Radio 6 Music for and I have so much love and appreciation for all the remarkable people who make the station run. From the controllers and bosses to the producers, runners and presenters – all of them are essential and are the reason why, in 2019, BBC Radio 6 Music is the most-listened-to, digital-only station. Let’s hope the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival is back in 2019 and I cannot wait to see what shows and broadcasts come. Some big albums turn thirty this year (including De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising on 3rd March and Madonna’s Like a Prayer on 21st March) and The Beatles’ Abbey Road is fifty in September. It is going to be a big year for BBC Radio 6 Music and, after switching their weekday line-up (four shows, at least), the station is growing and bringing in new ears. As BBC Radio 6 Music will mark its seventeenth birthday with a big cheer, I will be sure to slip a card and a cool vinyl...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Hawkins (back, centre) with The Lottery Winners/PHOTO CREDIT: @ChrisHawkinsUK/BBC

THROUGH the post!

FEATURE: The Mid-Life Crisis? Ten Classic Albums Turning Forty-Five in 2019

FEATURE:

 

 

The Mid-Life Crisis?

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IN THIS PHOTO: Queen’s Freddie Mercury in 1974/PHOTO CREDIT: Mick Rock 

Ten Classic Albums Turning Forty-Five in 2019

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MAYBE 1974 does not have as many giant albums...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: LaBelle photoed in New York in 1974/PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Gruen

as other years but there are definite gems that turn forty-five this year! It is a great year for music and there are some records from that time that are still making an impression today. I have looked at the list of 1974-released albums and collated ten that are worthy of closer inspection. Do make sure you have a look and investigate them. I think those anniversaries that end in a ‘0’ or ‘5’ warrant attention and we need to keep the albums alive that have endured. Take a good listen to these ten albums that turn forty-five this year and, back when they were released, either made a big impression and succeeded or have grown in stature since their release. I am sure you will discover some albums in the assembled that will...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Stevie Wonder pictured in Detroit, MI in 1974/PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Gruen

PEAK your interest.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify

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Jackson BrowneLate for the Sky

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Release Date: 13th September, 1974

Label: Asylum

Producers: Jackson Browne/Al Schmitt

Review:

Another difference between "Pet Sounds" and "Late For The Sky" is - while "Pet Sounds" is made (officially) by the group but it is estimated that it's a work of Brian Wilson and guest stars, "Late For The Sky" is officially Jackson Browne album but many key ingredients were added by his backing band, most importantly David Lindley. So maybe it would be fair to say that "Late For The Sky" is Jackson Browne Band album. David Lindley's guitar parts are piercing through the air, check out intros of "Late For The Sky" and "Farther On", as well as backing vocals adding more colors and depth to already great picture. This is one of records you hear the air trembling between instruments, making silence audible and meaningful. In terms of completeness and perfection this is album at very top. Although all of the stuff are pure masterpiece, there are three songs which touch me every time I hear them: "Late For The Sky", "For A Dancer" and "Before The Deluge". 

Browne was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. In his induction speech, Bruce Springsteen noted that while the Eagles got to the Hall first, "You (Browne) wrote the songs they wished they had written". Amen to that, all the evidence is on "Late For The Sky
" – Sputnikmusic

Standout Cut: Late for the Sky

Stream/Download: Farther On/The Road and the Sky/Walking Slow

Roxy MusicCountry Life

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Release Date: 15th November, 1974

Labels: Island/Polydor (U.K.)

Producers: Chris Thomas/John Punter/Roxy Music

Review:

Continuing with the stylistic developments of StrandedCountry Life finds Roxy Music at the peak of their powers, alternating between majestic, unsettling art rock and glamorous, elegant pop/rock. At their best, Roxy combine these two extremes, like on the exhilarating opener "The Thrill of It All," but Country Life benefits considerably from the ebb and flow of the group's two extremes, since it showcases their deft instrumental execution and their textured, enthralling songwriting. And, in many ways, Country Lifeoffers the greatest and most consistent set of Roxy Music songs, illustrating their startling depth. From the sleek rock of "All I Want Is You" and "Prairie Rose" to the elegant, string-laced pop of "A Really Good Time," Country Life is filled with thrilling songs, and Roxy Music rarely sounded as invigorating as they do here" – AllMusic

Standout Cut: Out of the Blue

Stream/Download: The Thrill of It All/Bitter Sweet/Casanova

QueenSheer Heart Attack

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Release Date: 8th November, 1974

Labels: EMI/Elektra

Producers: Roy Thomas Baker/Roxy Music

Review:

One of the great strengths of the album is how all four members find their voices as songwriters, penning hooks that are big, bold, and insistent and crafting them in songs that work as cohesive entities instead of flourishes of ideas. This is evident not just in "Killer Queen" -- the first, best flourishing of Freddie Mercury's vaudevillian camp -- but also on the pummeling "Stone Cold Crazy," a frenzied piece of jagged metal that's all the more exciting because it has a real melodic hook. Those hooks are threaded throughout the record, on both the ballads and the other rockers, but it isn't just that this is poppier, it's that they're able to execute their drama with flair and style. There are still references to mystical worlds ("Lily of the Valley," "In the Lap of Gods") but the fantasy does not overwhelm as it did on the first two records; the theatricality is now wielded on everyday affairs, which ironically makes them sound larger than life. And this sense of scale, combined with the heavy guitars, pop hooks, and theatrical style, marks the true unveiling of Queen, making Sheer Heart Attack as the moment where they truly came into their own" – AllMusic

Standout Cut: Killer Queen

Stream/Download: Brighton Rock/Lily of the Valley/In the Lap of the Gods

Randy NewmanGood Old Boys

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Release Date: 10th September, 1974

Label: Reprise

Producers: Lenny Waronker/Russ Titelman

Review:

Perhaps, in another universe, he might have remained more at the center of the pop songwriting world, whether or not he was singing on the records (his voice had always been a hard one to sell). But his compulsions forced him elsewhere. “I like to know what makes people tick, what their mothers and father were,” Newman told journalist Paul Zollo. “Why they talk the way they do, using this sort of word or that sort of word. What it all means.” Randy Newman, in that search for meaning, became the king of the unreliable narrator in American popular music, and one of rock’s greatest lyricists full-stop. But part of earning the distinction involved venturing into dark corners, and inhabiting them for a while; in his Good Old Boys review for Rolling Stone, Stephen Davis would use this logic to diagnose Newman as deeply “troubled.” It was a dirty job, and certainly, no one had to do it. It was usually thankless and almost always alienating. But it also yielded one of the best singer-songwriter albums of the 1970s, which remains as shocking, pristine, and regrettably relevant as the day it was released" – Pitchfork  

Standout Cut: Birmingham

Stream/Download: Rednecks/Guilty/Naked Man

Steely DanPretzel Logic

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Release Date: 20th February, 1974

Labels: ABC/Probe

Producer: Gary Katz

Review:

Dense with harmonics, countermelodies, and bop phrasing, Pretzel Logic is vibrant with unpredictable musical juxtapositions and snide, but very funny, wordplay. Listen to how the album's hit single, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," opens with a syncopated piano line that evolves into a graceful pop melody, or how the title track winds from a blues to a jazzy chorus -- Becker and Fagen's craft has become seamless while remaining idiosyncratic and thrillingly accessible. Since the songs are now paramount, it makes sense that Pretzel Logic is less of a band-oriented album than Countdown to Ecstasy, yet it is the richest album in their catalog, one where the backhanded Dylan tribute "Barrytown" can sit comfortably next to the gorgeous "Any Major Dude Will Tell You." Steely Dan made more accomplished albums than Pretzel Logic, but they never made a better one" – AllMusic   

Standout Cut: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

Stream/Download: Night by Night/Any Major Dude Will Tell You/Pretzel Logic

Stevie WonderFulfillingness’ First Finale

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Release Date: 22nd July, 1974

Label: Tamla

Producers: Stevie Wonder/Robert Margouleff/Malcolm Cecil

Review:

As before, Fulfillingness' First Finale is mostly the work of a single man; Stevie invited over just a bare few musicians, and most of those were background vocalists (though of the finest caliber: Minnie Riperton, Paul Anka, Deniece Williams, and the Jackson 5). Also as before, the appearances are perfectly chosen; "Too Shy to Say" can only benefit from the acoustic bass of Motown institution James Jamerson and the heavenly steel guitar of Sneaky Pete Kleinow, while the Jackson 5 provide some righteous amens to Stevie's preaching on "You Haven't Done Nothin'." It's also very refreshing to hear more songs devoted to the many and varied stages of romance, among them "It Ain't No Use," "Too Shy to Say," "Please Don't Go." The only element lacking here, in comparison to the rest of his string of brilliant early-'70s records, is a clear focus; Fulfillingness' First Finale is more a collection of excellent songs than an excellent album" – AllMusic    

Standout Cut: You Haven’t Done Nothin’

Stream/Download: Too Shy to Say/It Ain’t No Use/Please Don’t Go

Eric Clapton461 Ocean Boulevard

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Release Date: July, 1974

Label: RSO

Producer: Tom Dowd

Review:

The Clapton original “Let It Grow” may be the true highlight of the album, featuring a mixture of acoustic and electric guitars under more very somber vocals, perhaps the quietest Clapton sings on this quiet album. This base hippie folk song about “planting love” builds in tenacity and mood with acoustic, electric, piano, organ, ever so creeping to prominence. A short but potent slide guitar leads to an intense outro with a picked electric pattern and subtle, swelling keyboards by Dick Sims. “Steady Rollin’ Man” is a piano and clavichord driven rendition of a Robert Johnson Tune with good bass by Radle. The ending song “Mainline Florida” was written by Terry and feels like the most rock-oriented song on the album, featuring a great seventies rock guitar riff and a wild lead over the vocals later in the song.

461 Ocean Boulevard topped the charts in the USA and Canada and reached the top ten in several other countries. While this was his only album in four years, Clapton got much more prolific and released four studio albums over the next four years, all of which pretty much follow the same style patterns as this one" – Classic Rock      

Standout Cut: Motherless Children

Stream/Download: Get Ready/I Shot the Sheriff/Let It Grow

Leonard CohenNew Skin for the Old Ceremony

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Release Date: 11th August, 1974

Label: Columbia

Producers: Leonard Cohen/John Lissauer

Review:

The fact that Cohen does more real singing on this album can be seen as both a blessing and a curse -- while his voice sounds more strained, the songs are delivered with more passion than usual. Furthermore, he has background vocalists including Janis Ian that add significantly to create a fuller sound. It is no surprise, however, that he generally uses simple song structures to draw attention to the words ("Who By Fire"). The lyrics are filled with abstract yet vivid images, and the album primarily uses the metaphor of love and relationships as battlegrounds ("There Is a War," "Field Commander Cohen"). Cohen is clearly singing from the heart, and he chronicles his relationship with Janis Joplin in "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." This is one of his best albums, although new listeners should start with Songs of Leonard Cohen" – AllMusic    

Standout Cut: Chelsea Hotel #2

Stream/Download: Is This What You Wanted/Field Commander Cohen/A Singer Must Die

New York DollsToo Much Too Soon

Release Date: 10th May, 1974

Label: Mercury

Producer: Shadow Morton

Review:

To help bestow a modicum of spiritual contentment on those born too late to have seen their original incarnation, the New York Dolls released two perfect albums in August 1973 and May 1974. The second ranks second because the greatest David Johansen originals are on the debut--only the climactic "Human Being" achieves the philosophical weight of "Personality Crisis" or "Trash." But if any band today shopped hooks as sure and lyrics as smart as those of "Who Are the Mystery Girls?" "Puss 'n' Boots" or guitarist Johnny Thunders' "Chatterbox," the Strokes would buy a boutique and retire. And the covers are magnificent: a Sonny Boy Williamson song that turns the Chicago blues master into a campy scold, and two R&B novelties whose theatrical potential was barely noticed until the Dolls penetrated their holy essence" – Blender

Standout Cut: Stranded in the Jungle                                                

Stream/Download: Babylon/It’s Too Late/Bad Detective

LaBelleNightbirds

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Release Date: 13th September, 1974

Label: Epic

Producer: Allan Toussaint

Review:

The band broke loose from the decorous girl-group tradition on Nightbirds and redefined sexual relations using the terms of R&B and its debt to gospel as metaphors for a larger cultural move. “Somebody Somewhere” confronts female indecision, hints that God might be the answer, but finds salvation in the arrangement — blaring horns and a New Orleans strut. “Are You Lonely?” is nouveau urban funk made stately by Toussaint’s marching piano and gritty by impatient bass arabesques. When claiming empowerment — cultural, sexual and spiritual — the band is fiercely engaged, responding in kind to the raucous percussion of “What Can I Do for You?” and forgoing its gospel unison to swoosh in sisterly harmony on the repetitive, hymnlike “It Took a Long Time.” Toussaint’s compositions bristle with suggestiveness: “Don’t Bring Me Down” is sly, stop-start R&B, showcasing Patti at her sassiest and most elastic. The poignant “All Girl Band” stumps along cheerily, pretending it’s not about the quotidian struggle of being young, female and relentlessly hopeful. By 1974, black had been beautiful for almost a decade; the astrofunk goddesses of Labelle made it chic" – Rolling Stone

Standout Cut: Lady Marmalade                                                          

Stream/Download: Are You Lonely?/It Took a Long Time/Nightbird

FEATURE: Bartering Lines: The Fall from Grace of Ryan Adams

FEATURE:

 

 

Bartering Lines

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IN THIS PHOTO: Ryan Adams photoed in New York on 17th September 2015/PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hallman/Invision/AP file  

The Fall from Grace of Ryan Adams

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I would like to say 2019 will unveil fewer...

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

cases where male artists are in the news for the wrong reason. The problem only exists with male artists and I am talking about them taking things too far; being accused of sexual misconduct, inappropriateness and bad behaviour. In so many cases the allegations are so serious you have to wonder why they are still allowed to continue making music. There have been high-profile cases of artists being accused – including R. Kelly – and it is always harrowing and upsetting to see. The latest musician who has coming under fire is Ryan Adams. I know his music fairly well and love his albums such as Gold and Heartbreaker. His talent is undeniable and his consistency is strong. His previous record, Prisoner, was released in 2017 but there has been other material brewing – most of his plans in that regard have now been cancelled. Few outside of Adams’ circle would have expected to hear the news that is circulating regarding his actions. To make things clearer, Vox reported the story on Thursday:

Musician Ryan Adams is the latest powerful man to be accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo eraIn a new New York Times report, multiple women — including Adams’s ex-wife, the singer and actress Mandy Moore — say that Adams dangled professional opportunities in front of them and then used those opportunities to manipulate them into sex. In the relationships that ensued, these women say, Adams would become controlling and emotionally abusive. “Music was a point of control for him,” says Moore.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Mandy Moore/PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images  

In a Twitter thread, Adams characterized the accusations against him as “upsettingly inaccurate,” saying, “Some of its details are misrepresented; some are exaggerated; some are outright false.”

According to the Times article, Adams follows a pattern. He reportedly approaches aspiring young musicians and “love bombs” them, telling them they are brilliant and talented and that he would like to work with them. Usually, the women are at the beginning of their careers, and often they are very young; one woman whom the Times identifies as Ava says she was 14 when Adams first approached her online. “I was really alone,” Ava told the Times, “and he was really friendly and cool”.

I have seen a few reports relating to various male artists and it always gives me an uneasy feeling. I do wonder why they feel they can behave this way and whether this impression remains: the big star with all the power feeling they can act any way they want with a woman because they are famous. I think there is still a small sector (of male artists) who abuse their power and think, just because they are popular and move people with their music, there are no rules in everyday life. We have to ask, with yet another high-profile musician in the spotlight, whether something needs to be done. The repercussions for Adams will be severe. The backlash has already started.

This article responds to reports Adams’ forthcoming album, Big Colors, has been held back following investigation by the FBI into his actions:

The release of Ryan Adams’s new album Big Colors has been shelved following accusations that the singer behaved abusively towards an underage girl.

According to the New York Times, the FBI is now investigating claims that he sent more than 3,000 text messages to the girl over a nine-month period starting in late 2014, when she was 15.

The 44-year-old singer-songwriter from North Carolina had planned to release three albums this year, with Big Colors due on April 19th.

Variety reports that Universal Music Group, which distributes Adams’ releases, has pulled the album from its schedule, and the website for Adams’ own label, Pax-Am, has deleted the pre-order pages for the new album”.

I think the effects and snowball will continue to remove Adams from the market. One wonders, like R. Kelly, whether fans will buy his music or whether he will be allowed to release an album. We have heard a score of albums from Adams and few were interpreting them in any other way bar an innocent sense. Now, amid these allegations, people will scrutinise and wonder whether there was ulterior meaning and intent. Any new record will be poured over and picked apart; people looking to see whether messages of sexual desire are aimed at the women/girls described in testimonies and reports.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Jason LaVeris/Getty  

There is, as I intimated, this idea that male stars with a big following feel they are entitled to act as they please and have this insulation of protection and fame. Laura Snapes, in The Guardian provided her experiences and related a dark truth: the case of Ryan Adams is the tip of a fairly large iceberg:

The concept of male genius insulates against all manner of sin. Bad behaviour can be blamed on his prerequisite troubled past. His trademark sensitivity offers plausible deniability when he is accused of less-than-sensitive behaviour. His complexity underpins his so-called genius. As I wrote for this paper in 2015: “Male misogynist acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of ‘difficult’ artists, [while] women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art.” This was after, in response to an interview request, Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek told a crowd that I was a “bitch” who wanted to have his babies. Note, too, how many female geniuses are dismissed as divas, their art depicted as a symptom of disorder, their responses to mistreatment and calls for respect characterised as proof of an irrational nature”.

There are those who have met Adams and claim that there were suspicions; there were signs that he was abusing his power and acting inappropriately towards women. The New York Times talked about women coming forward relating their experiences; how Adams operated and how he managed to use his lure and status to take advantage of women:

Some now say that Adams’s rock-star patronage masked a darker reality. In interviews, seven women and more than a dozen associates described a pattern of manipulative behavior in which Adams dangled career opportunities while simultaneously pursuing female artists for sex...

 

In some cases, they said, he would turn domineering and vengeful, jerking away his offers of support when spurned, and subjecting women to emotional and verbal abuse, and harassment in texts and on social media. The accounts have been corroborated by family members or friends who were present at the time, as well as by correspondence from Adams reviewed by The New York Times.

The music world, in which a culture of late nights and boundary-pushing behavior has been normalized, hasn’t been as roiled by the #MeToo movement as other sectors of media and entertainment. But many in the business say that harassment and inequitable treatment of women is pervasive and that the “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” ethos has shielded men from being held to account.

Other women in music said they, too, were subjected to Adams’s intense flattery and a bait and switch in which professional opportunities would be commingled with sexual come-ons.

The musician Phoebe Bridgers was 20 when Adams invited her to the Pax-Am studio one night in fall 2014. “There was a mythology around him,” she said. “It seemed like he had the power to propel people forward”.

I do hope we do not see other incidences of men in music being called up because of their behaviour towards women. I am shocked by what I am reading about Ryan Adams and there are likely to be more details in the coming days. You do wonder what will become of his recording career.

The once-celebrated songwriter has inspired scores of new artists but you wonder whether Adams will be able to record again and release his material. Nobody can stop him doing that but there has been a definite fall from grace. It is hard to know whether his music should remain on streaming sites or removed. Certainly, the future is clear: the American artist will not enjoy the opportunities and (positive) attention he once did. Many will still stream and buy his records but many will turn away and banish his music. I have heard many of his albums and there is this uneasy aftertaste now. Pitchfork published a piece that highlighted a good point regarding men in music.

Every time another headline pops up about how women are underrepresented on the charts or in music production or missing from festival lineups, we should think about the countless gatekeepers who, instead of helping women, used their positions for sexual gain at the expense of their targets. This casual abuse of power is the norm in music, a grey area unlikely to be dealt with by a male-dominated industry still just wading into #MeToo. But the Ryan Adams account is a necessary reminder that this is what many women deal with, at one point or another, in pursuit their dreams. The more often these difficult stories are told, the less abusers can hide behind feigned ignorance and weak, deflective apologies”.

There are a lot of discussions to be had following the Ryan Adams revelations. I think there needs to be some sort of moderation to ensure we do not continue to see big male artists exposed and accused. Maybe there is this never-ending myth regarding the male artist and this sort of lurid fantasy – that they could get away with anything and do what they please. The artists accused can defend themselves and make excuses but I do not think there is anywhere to hide or any excuse they can make. It is 2019 and we cannot continue to see women/girls controlled and abused by male musicians. What happens next regarding Ryan Adams? I think his music career will continue but he will definitely not be afforded the platforms and radioplay he is used to. I am not sure how many accusations come through but I am pretty sure we have not seen the end of them. Let’s hope Adams’ predicament sends a message to other male artists out there. Maybe we will never see the end of the darker and more sworded side of the industry but let’s hope there will not be another case where an established artist does what Ryan Adams has done (or been accused of). Adams’ career will suffer but the real victims are the women who have been hurt by him. They are the ones whose voices need to be heard to ensure we do not see anything as troubling...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Reuters

AS this again.

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Winter-Ready Playlist (Vol. IX)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: SASAMI/PHOTO CREDIT: @abaxley  

An All-Female, Winter-Ready Playlist (Vol. IX)

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AS things start to warm up a bit...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Roses Gabor/PHOTO CREDIT: Francesca Allen

many are thinking of spring and wondering how long it will be until we get constant daily temperatures in double digits. I have assembled some new songs together that will get the temperature rising and creates that balance between winter and spring. Here are some great female-led songs that have incredible life, depth and colour. It is always wonderful unearthing the best female artists from the underground and seeing what is about. From Pop solo artists to female-led bands, this is a fantastic playlist that you should keep with you. Have a good listen to these tracks and discover what quality there is out there right now. If you are starting your weekend and are in need of a boost and some motivation, I have the tracks that will...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Cat Clyde

SURELY do the job.

ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images

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Kelsey BulkinKareem

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SzjerdeneRestart

Ehlie LunaDon’t

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PHOTO CREDIT: @abaxley

SASAMIJealousy

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YONAKABad Company

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Roses GaborTurkish Delight

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PHOTO CREDIT: @sophie.kutay.photography 

Polina GracePure Fire

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Molly MarrsAll of Me

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The RegrettesPumpkin

Jasmine Thompsonloyal

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PHOTO CREDIT: Charlie Woodward

Saltwater Sun - Blood

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Girl Crush - Baby Steps

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Hannah Jane LewisLast Night Every Night

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Eve Belle (ft. Isaiah Dreads) - CutThroat

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Grace AcladnaWhen I Saw You

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LUENAWorth It

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ALMASummer

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Sharna BassThis View         

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Cherry PicklesIt Will All End in Tears

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Fever HighJust a Ghost

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Cat ClydeAll the Black

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SADSUNControl

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Mags on EarthComeback

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PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Hunt 

Manu GraceSaturday Night

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Leah NobelSteps

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Ariela JacobsMissing You

FEATURE: The February Playlist: Vol. 3: I Adore You Cuz I Love You

FEATURE:

 

The February Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jessie Ware 

Vol. 3: I Adore You Cuz I Love You

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THIS is one of those weeks where there is…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Alicia Keys

so much greatness to be found it is hard to take it all in! Not only are there new tracks from Jessie Ware and Lizzo but there is material from Alicia Keys, Kacey Musgraves; Julia Jacklin and Weezer. Throw into the blend some songs from Anteros, John Legend and St. Vincent and there is more than enough to get stuck into! The weather is getting better and brighter and I think these tracks are really great to kickstart things and get you into the groove. I am excited to see what comes next week and whether we can top this selection! It is another titanic and high-quality variety of songs from some of the biggest artists around. Make sure you have a good listen to the tracks and make your weekend a winner. It is a brilliant week for music and one that shows 2019 is definitely going to be…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Julia Jacklin

FULL of gold!  

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Jessie WareAdore You

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LizzoCuz I Love You

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Julia JacklinComfort

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IN THIS PHOTO: Avril Lavigne

Avril Lavigne (ft. Nicki Minaj)Dumb Blonde

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PHOTO CREDIT: David McClister

Kacey MusgravesRainbow

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Alicia KeysRaise a Man

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WeezerTake on Me

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Cloud Nothings So Right So Clean

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PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Smithies for CLASH

Sea GirlsOpen Up Your Head

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Sundara Karma Higher States

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AnterosDrive On

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Kodak BlackTransgression

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St. VincentMasseducation

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CiaraGreatest Love

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ALMASummer

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Bebe RexhaLast Hurrah

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Cardi B & Bruno Mars Please Me

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John LegendPreach

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Kehlani Butterfly

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Maisie PetersStay Young

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Crystal Fighters Wild Ones

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FoalsOn the Luna

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HozierDinner & Diatribes

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SG LewisBlue

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Betty WhoMarry Me

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Ladytron The Animals

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Catfish and the BottlemenFluctuate

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Rex Orange CountyNew House

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Bryan AdamsThat’s How Strong Our Love Is

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Jenny LewisHeads Gonna Roll

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YONAKABad Company

The Cinematic OrchestraA Promise

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Mae MullerLeave It Out

FEATURE: Carry That Weight: 26th September, 2019: The Beatles’ Abbey Road at Fifty: Why It Is the Most Important Album Anniversary Ever

FEATURE:

 

 

Carry That Weight: 26th September, 2019: The Beatles’ Abbey Road at Fifty

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Why It Is the Most Important Album Anniversary Ever

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IT is a fair few months away...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles captured in their final photoshoot on 22nd September, 1969 in the grounds of Tittenhurst Park/PHOTO CREDIT: Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco

but I think the bunting needs to come out of the storage cupboards and we need to get ourselves ready for a very special Beatles anniversary! There are a lot of albums celebrating big anniversaries this year but there is something about a fiftieth that is truly epic and unbeatable. Maybe it is the length of time elapsed or the fact it just seems so unlikely – those legendary albums come up for their fiftieth and it allows the generations to come together. I was not born when The Beatles’ Abbey Road turned fitly on 26th September, 1969 but it is a record that was a big part of my childhood! My mum always highlights that medley that forms most of the album’s second side. In 1969, it was rare to have a medley of songs on an album, whether it was from a huge artist or someone unknown. In fact, in 2019 we do not have that many medleys – or single tracks composed or various different vignettes! That is masterful and wonderfully handled by the band but there are so many other treats through the album. I feel the fiftieth anniversary of Abbey Road will be the most important milestone of my lifetime. In terms of albums from iconic artists, can you name any more important?! Many consider other Beatles albums finer but the critical and fan opinion seems to have swung the way of Abbey Road – even if, for a time, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has taken the top spot before.

Many will argue Revolver is a better record but for its sheer significance then you cannot top Abbey Road! Remember, the band had already recorded 1970’s Let It Be before they set to work on Abbey Road: it is their finale and the last time the band would record together in the studio on a full album. The experience of Let It Be was quite tense and unhappy and, when that album turns fifty next year, I wonder whether it will get the same impact as Abbey Road – I really do not think it will. The band went into recording Abbey Road with an aim: as it was their final album, they would get rid of the tension and try and get back to where they were before. To be fair, there were some tough times during recording and a bit of that friction remaining in the air! George Martin had to be asked back as producer by Paul McCartney after the tension of The Beatles (1968) and the fact Phil Spector produced Let It Be. The fact everyone was back in the same studio was a relief and produced some of the best music of The Beatles’ career. I will come to my argument regarding the importance of this anniversary but, after the fraught electricity that produced Let It Be, Abbey Road began life on 22nd February, 1969.

Billy Preston accompanied the band on Hammond organ and the final album came together on 20th August. That was the date is memorable because it was the last time every Beatle was in the studio together – I think a separate celebration/anniversary should be held for that! Paul McCartney and John Lennon had enjoyed working on the non-album single, The Ballad of John and Yoko, and that bonhomie carried on in the sessions of Abbey Road. Although the experience of recording this time around was better than the last, there was tension and arguments between the entire band at some point! There are exaggerations as to how much of a role Yoko Ono played in these fall-outs but it was clear, by 1969, the band as they once were had disappeared. Lennon and Ono were together a lot and there was still a sense of McCartney trying to keep it together and guide things. It is the two halves of Abbey Road that fascinate me. The first has more conventional numbers and traditional Beatles songs and the second is dominated by that suite. If Lennon was still digging at McCartney because some of his (McCartney’s) songs were for grannies, then the band as a whole had a point when McCartney presented the odd Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – endless takes and hours were spent putting it together to the point the rest of the group had had enough!

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Claire Huntley

There are truly remarkable tracks throughout Abbey Road. George Harrison’s Something is viewed by many as the finest track on the album – and one of the band’s best – and Here Comes the Sun is an incredible track. Harrison was really coming into his own as a songwriter on the final album and it makes me wonder how strong The Beatles would have been if they recorded more records – knowing they had three world-class songwriters penning the tracks! Come Together is a stunning opening and Lennon’s I Want You (She’s So Heavy) is unlike anything The Beatles ever produced. The band was taking their music, as usual, in all sorts of directions and this near-eight-minutes-long-wonder-piece just suddenly stops...and with it the first half of the album. The second side has the relief of George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun welcoming people back in before we start to enter that medley. I think the fact that suite of songs was so unheard of an inventive deserves accolade all by itself. It would have been a huge gamble for any band but for The Beatles, regardless of their strength and situation, it was a massive deal. They were always pioneering but they had never tried another like that song-cycle on the second side. The End ends things (well, the hidden track, Her Majesty, does!) and you are left breathless and try and take everything in.

Many argue about The Beatles’ discs and which one comes where. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Revolver have competed for top place but Abbey Road has always been up there. I think, the more time that elapses, the more Abbey Road will be seen as their most important album. There are several reasons why The Beatles final-recorded album’s fiftieth anniversary is vastly important. This will be the last truly big anniversary of any titanic Beatles album (fifty, seventy-five etc.) with any surviving members. The songs are wonderful and, after a brief blip, see the world’s greatest-ever band returning to their daring best. A few iffy tracks here and there (Octopus’s’ Garden and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer) add to the charm and mood and I cannot find anything to fault. The production is fabulous and I love the fact there is this distinct tale of two halves. The fact there was a hidden track was a bit of a first. I cannot think of any big Pop/Rock band before 1969 doing that and, since then, artists from all corners have been popping in hidden tracks. Remember this was the last time The Beatles recorded together and it was the end of an era makes Abbey Road’s fiftieth anniversary bittersweet. I have not even mentioned Abbey Road’s iconic cover – The Beatles were no strangers when it came to creating these immaculate and brilliant covers!

The shot of the band on a zebra crossing was based on sketches by McCartney and shows him out of step with the other members. It was taken on 8th August, 1969 outside EMI Studios on Abbey Road. The band had only ten minutes whilst traffic was being held. Photographer Iain Macmillan was up a step-ladder and captured this unique image – much-parodied through the decades – in a real flash. It is said six images were taken before McCartney examined them and decided which was best as the cover. Many fans have mimicked and copied the cover and, when Abbey Road turns fifty, you can bet a whole new generation will produce their own version of that cover! There are so many aspects of the album that deserve a spotlight and that is why I think Abbey Road at fifty will be something special. There are not that many Beatles albums that have gained one school of thought upon release and then opinion changes through time. Abbey Road received some mixed acclaim upon release as many were unhappy with the production and sound – many were looking for something more live-sounding. You do not need me to tell you – but I will... – that contemporary reviews have been a lot kinder and more unified. AllMusic had this to say:

The last Beatles album to be recorded (although Let It Be was the last to be released), Abbey Roadwas a fitting swan song for the group, echoing some of the faux-conceptual forms of Sgt. Pepper, but featuring stronger compositions and more rock-oriented ensemble work...

 

The group was still pushing forward in all facets of its art, whether devising some of the greatest harmonies to be heard on any rock record (especially on "Because"), constructing a medley of songs/vignettes that covered much of side two, adding subtle touches of Moog synthesizer, or crafting furious guitar-heavy rock ("The End," "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Come Together"). George Harrison also blossomed into a major songwriter, contributing the buoyant "Here Comes the Sun" and the supremely melodic ballad "Something," the latter of which became the first Harrison-penned Beatles hit. Whether Abbey Road is the Beatles' best work is debatable, but it's certainly the most immaculately produced (with the possible exception of Sgt. Pepper) and most tightly constructed”.

It is sad to think that, after we mark Abbey Road’s fiftieth, the next major anniversary is a long way away – maybe sirs Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will not be with us! We have those emotional reasons and the quality of the songs; the inventive aspects of Abbey Road and the iconic cover; the fact it was the final time The Beatles recorded and album and the record has endured for so long. It is a long way away but I do wonder whether there are plans coming for something unforgettable. Last year, there were celebrations regarding The Beatles (‘The White Album’) and that was great to see. That album is fantastic and the fact it is so sprawling and eclectic made it ripe for dissection and fresh investigation.

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  IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles captured in their final photoshoot on 22nd September, 1969 in the grounds of Tittenhurst Park/PHOTO CREDIT: Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco

Abbey Road is comparatively simple but its weight, majesty and sheer important means it is even more worthy of a proper celebration. I know there will be the odd bit on radio stations around the world but I wonder whether there are plans to do a full-on night that talks about the album, gets people to play renditions of songs – popular artists providing their take – and contributions from musical names and maybe those involved with Abbey Road. Giles Martin (George Martin’s son) was present when there was a YouTube stream commemorating The Beatles at fifty – featuring Matt Everitt, Georgie Rogers (both of BBC Radio 6 Music) and esteemed music names – so I think it would be possible to work something up in the next few months. The fact Martin was there was because he remastered the album and provided rare cuts and demos to go on a fiftieth anniversary collection. One assumes Abbey Road will get a Martin makeover and there must be stuff in the vaults we have not heard. I believe Abbey Road hitting fifty is the most important album anniversary of this generation because of everything happening with The Beatles at the time – and the fact this was their glorious finale. I would love to see a proper shindig and party for this remarkable and hugely influential record. It was revolutionary and bold in 1969 and its beauty and meaning has only grown deeper in the following years. The Beatles sang, on The End: “The love you take/Is equal to the love you make”. They provided us with something truly spellbinding and unrivalled with Abbey Road and it is only right, on 26th September, we throw as much love as we can back and...

COME together!

FEATURE: Golden Hour? Did the Grammys Get Everything Right This Year?

FEATURE:

 

 

Golden Hour?

IN THIS PHOTO: Kacey Musgraves was a big winner at this year’s Grammys/PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Ray Davidson for GQ

Did the Grammys Get Everything Right This Year?

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TOMORROW will be good as I wanted to raise something...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kacey Musgraves delivering an acceptance speech at this year’s Grammys/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

very interesting and, in fact, this topic is one that has been on my mind. Last night was the Grammys in the U.S. and it is definitely a step forward in terms of gender and genre. One of the biggest issues with the award ceremony, in past years, has been the male domination and a commercial leaning. In fact, when Bruno Mars swept the board in 2018 for his album, 24K Magic, there were some raised eyebrows. That album is not especially strong and it definitely has that chart-pandering sound. There is nothing particular challenging to be found and it was another year for men taking most of the big awards. There was call for change and it meant, when the nominations were announced for this year’s ceremony, there was some relief. Although female artists like Cardi B and Kacey Musgraves were announced, that was not a guarantee there would be recognised and actually win an award! I was a bit nervous I’d turn on the news yesterday morning to see it was the same old selection and issues. Luckily, when it came to handing out awards, female talent was being honoured! The award show gave prizes to H.E.R. (Best R&B Album for H.E.R.), Kacey Musgraves (Best Country Album for Golden Hour) and Best New Artist to Dua Lipa. Cardi B won Best Rap album for Invasion of Privacy and it was good to see a lot of talented women getting what they deserve.

Not only were women walking away with awards but there was greater inclusion regarding black women. Although there were some award categories that could have gone a different way, few had any complaints when the likes of Cardi B and Ariana Grande (she won the Best Pop Vocal for Sweetener) walked away with prizes. There was no sense of the Grammys making concessions and fitting women in just to silence people: they were genuinely making an effort and there has been some big steps. I was thrilled there was greater balance and I hope this continues next year. The BRIT Awards are very soon and it will be a chance to see if the biggest award show in the British calendar can match the Americans. The Grammys have always been slighted because of the narrow focus and the fact they tend to favour mainstream stuff and do not really consider women. There was no way they could have repeated previous years and allowed things to go on as they have for so long! Has everything been solved, though?! Many might say it is only a music award show and who really cares if it ticks all the boxes and is perfect? The Grammys will never be flawless but I think it has made some big improvements since last year. It is good to see big artists like Cardi B not being overshadowed and Kacey Musgraves’ win was a big nod.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Although Drake did not perform at the Grammys, he collected the award for Best Rap Song (for God’s Plan)/PHOTO CREDIT: Trace TV

Country music has been attacked because it does not play as many women on the radio as men – the fact Musgraves won Album of the Year and Best Country Album should, I hope, open a conversation in music regarding the way women in Country are treated. It was a good night regarding female inclusion and recognising genres like Country but, in some ways, there were needless issues. USA Today observed that there were problems when it came to interrupting speeches but, despite everything, they were on the up:

 “The most jarring slash was to Drake's speech. For the Grammys, Drake's presence was a major win, his first appearance at the awards since 2013, after years of criticizing the show's decision to not air most of its rap awards on TV.

And yet, when the rapper made a surprise appearance to accept the Grammy for best rap song ("God's Plan"), the show went to commercial in the middle of his speech, just as the rapper could be heard starting another sentence.

And the Grammys were also missing another major name, Ariana Grande, after a PR nightmare in which the show's producer Ken Ehrlich implied in an interview that Grande couldn't pull her act together fast enough to perform. Cue Grande claiming Ehrlich was "lying" and that the Grammys wouldn't let her perform the songs she wanted, which, if true, is quite a bad look for a show trying to do right by its female nominees this year.

And yet, beyond the failures of the telecast, the 2019 Grammys were actually a major improvement from last year's controversial ceremony, with female artists seeming to dominate the microphone as the night's performers and winners -- 31 women won across 38 categories, a sizable uptick from 2018, in which only 17 of the 86 prizes were won by female artist -- and with Glover, despite his absence, making history for hip-hop artists with his wins”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Ariana Grande was a notable omission at the Grammys/PHOTO CREDIT: Craig McDean for Vogue

It is rather jarring seeing an artist make a speech and, when they have not been talking for that long, have it interrupted and washed over. The Guardian took up the baton and dissected Drake’s acceptance speech – what there was of it!

And then Drake made his acceptance speech for best rap song. His initial point was that big musical awards ceremonies such as the Grammys are essentially meaningless, because there’s a weekly musical awards ceremony, voted for by the public, called the charts. This is not totally accurate: in awarding album of the year to Musgraves’ Golden Hour, which triumphed over commercial behemoths including Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys and Drake’s own middling Scorpion, the Grammys performed one of the few genuinely useful functions a musical award ceremony can perform, shining the spotlight on an artistically brilliant album that has thus far underperformed commercially”.

You can, as the article explained, talk about Kacey Musgraves and the fact her album, Golden Hour, matches genres together and is an exceptional work yet, in commercial terms, did not shift as many copies as some of her Pop peers. Maybe that is a problem with the American Country radio network and how little airplay they are giving to female artists.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Alicia Keys hosted the 2019 Grammys and was hugely impressive/PHOTO CREDIT: Jaclyn Martinez/Courtesy of AK Worldwide, Inc

One can dispute some of what Drake said above but, regarding another point he made, there can be few disputes:

But Drake’s second point, about the Grammys’ attitude to artists of colour, was more difficult to dispute. The last 12 months have seen hip-hop continue a commercial domination of music that began in 2017 when Nielsen Soundscan figures from the US suggested eight of the 10 most listened to artists in the world were rappers. But you only had to look at the Grammy awards to realise that hip-hop artists have largely given up on the prospect of seeing themselves properly represented at the ceremony: Jay-Z and Beyoncé didn’t bother to turn up to collect their award; Childish Gambino was absent; Kendrick Lamar and Drake both turned down an invitation to perform. It looked suspiciously as if some of the biggest stars in the world were boycotting what’s supposed to be the biggest award ceremony in its field”.

There does seem to be this problem, still, with race and it is rather worrying. Sure, Cardi B was a big winner at the Grammys but the fact Drake and Kendrick Lamar both failed to perform suggests there are concerns. Hip-Hop dominates and has overtaken Pop but Rap is almost on the backbench. Some of its biggest names forfeited performing and there are a lot of things the Grammys needs to work on. This article counts all the slightly embarrassing moments at the Grammys.  

Ariana Grande did not attend because of a dispute regarding her performance; there was this feeling that, whilst many women won awards on the night, it was all a bit too little and too late. Big names bowing out and not performing cast a shadow and it seems like the Grammys has taken two steps forward and one back. I am relieved there is a move towards gender equality and recognising genres like Hip-Hop. I am not saying Pop should not be overlooked but it is nice to see this development and change. The fact speeches were cut and there were these niggles cannot be overlooked. I do think music ceremonies are important because they celebrate great work and can actually boost the profile of artists. Think about the new fans that will flock Kacey Musgraves’ way and the fact radio stations will need to retune their dials! Maybe the show was not essential viewing – it was very long and few awards were handed out on T.V. – but there were definite positives.

I feel the Grammys still holds weight and needs to exist. The same can be said for the BRIT Awards and the Mercury Prize. If the Grammys can address the issues this year and ensure that 2020’s ceremony has greater sight and gives more time to Rap – creating few disputes regarding performances – then it can grow and be seen as worthy. There are many who think it has never really been a guide regarding good music and a bit of an indulgent addition to the year. I would argue against this and go back to my point regarding the winners and the fact awareness will be raised – their sales will climb and it is a good chance for people to discover their music. There were some drawbacks and downfalls at this year’s Grammys but, compared to 2018, there were...

SOME enormous leaps.

FEATURE: Spotlight: Jorja Smith

FEATURE:

 

 

Spotlight

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Jorja Smith

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I have featured Jorja Smith before...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

but, as her stock rises, I feel it is worth mentioning her again. In fact, right now, she will be in America and it getting ready for this year’s Grammys. She is nominated Best New Artist category and many are predicting her to walk away with the prize. This year’s ceremony has already had its share of issues and controversy. A number of key artists are rumoured not to be playing – Kendrick Lamar is among them. There is no reason given why that is the case but, in a year when diversity is coming to the fore, it is disappointing to hear. Ariana Grande has been in the press and it is rumoured she was not allowed to perform the song she wanted - the organised have given a different reason and said she is the one to blame. There is always a lot of talk around every Grammys show and this year is no exception. At least this year is making more space for females and black artists. There is not total equality but there are more women being nominated for big awards. I hope there are female winners tonight and we see this change come in permanently. Many have called for the Grammys to be more equal and varied. Among the nominations this year is Jorja Smith for the new artist slot. Dua Lipa is another British female artist who could win the award but there is tough competition from Bebe Rexha and Luke Combs.

Many are predicting Greta Van Fleet to win (God help us!) but I think Smith should win the award. It is a shame Smith only gets the odd nod because her debut album, Lost & Found, is terrific. There has been endless comparisons to Amy Winehouse – a similar smokiness and vocal power – but Smith is her own artists and writes in a very different way. It is great to see how far Smith has come in the past year or so and many would not have expected her to develop so fast. Lost & Found gained impressive reviews but the success is warranted. The Midlands-born artist moved to London in 2015 and she began honing in her music aspirations when there. She released the incredible single, Blue Lights, on SoundCloud and, with its Dizzee Rascal/Sirens inspiration, it became a big hit. A lot of big names and tastemakers were attracted to the song and could detect this very rare and promising voice. Smith was put on Drake’s playlist, More Life, in 2017 and that followed Smith’s debut E.P., Project 11 in 2016. It is amazing to think Smith, who has worked and recorded in the U.S., was a barista in Starbucks only a few years ago. She lived in London and, although she had the music world around her and so many opportunities, she felt lost. She was lost but, in many ways, she had found her niche and home – hence the name of her debut album.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

The songs on Lost & Found were written before she headed in the studio so it allowed her the chance to work on the songs and perfect them. A lot of artists create new songs in the studio but Smith’s care and attention meant she was focusing on her written songs and getting them right. Instead of writing new songs, she was adding new elements and nuances to her familiar tracks. Although there is an element of Amy Winehouse and classic Jazz performers through Lost & Found, it is clear the material is from this unique and passionate young artist – someone who does follow others and has put her everything into every note. CLASH gave their thoughts when Lost & Found was released:

Any artist of note will tell you they’re influenced by all kinds of different musical genres, and Jorja Smith is no exception. On ‘Lost & Found’, the hook on ‘Teenage Fantasy’ is straight out of an early ‘00s R&B cut. Jazz exerts a force right from the album’s title track (and indeed throughout) and, needless to say, Dizzee Rascal interpolation ‘Blue Lights’ nods to her affinity with rap, a discipline in which she regrettably dabbles on freestyle ‘Lifeboats’. The moments at which Smith manages to distill any of these genres into something entirely her own are truly special.

It’s the first full length album from a young creative brimming with ideas and promise. While ‘Lost & Found’ doesn’t feel like Jorja Smith’s magnum opus, it’s a brilliant first draft”.

The Line of Best Fit added their words to the mix:

Her debut is skilfully arranged so that most music fans will be able to unearth some element that they can relate to. Smith’s debut may cast the net wide, but she is an artist with ambition, who doesn’t want to be limited to one specific market. A multifaceted performer, her music reflects her personality.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that Lost & Found is Smith’s first LP. The sureness and creativity that exudes from each and every song disguises what some would call a lack of experience. But isn’t this when artists are at their most exciting? Stepping out into the unknown, crafting a sound and energy that is sincerely theirs. As Smith says herself as the final notes of “February 3rd” dissipate, “I’ve been lost, I’ve been lost again, and I’ve been found / Then I found myself… but I’m constantly finding myself”.

The album is tremendous and it was nominated for a Mercury last year. It faced stiff competition from Nadine Shah and the winners, Wolf Alice, but not many artists get such a buzz from their debut album. The stock of Jorja Smith is rising and here is someone who is very planted and level-headed but has this extraordinary ability and sound. A lot of new artists are noted because of their voice or lyrics but Smith ticks all the boxes.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Jon Gorrigan for The Guardian

She is busy heading to the Grammys and, even if she does not win the award she is nominated for, she has already scooped prizes and got a lot of kudos since she came onto the scene. In an interview with The Guardian, Smith was asked how she celebrated being nominated for a Grammy:

 “Literally the day before I was talking to my boyfriend [producer Joel Compass] because he makes music and he wanted to come out to LA around that time just to work with some people,” she says. “And I was like: ‘Oh, I reckon I’ll do the same, but maybe next year…’ Then the day after I get a message from his manager: ‘Congratulations!’ I was like, ‘What for?’ And then I saw. I didn’t even know.”

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PHOTO CREDIT: Findlay Macdonald

So how did Smith celebrate? She looks a bit confused, like it’s a trick question. “Hugged my boyfriend,” she replies. “And that was it.”

Given her mature voice and accomplished songs, many would be forgiven for thinking she is an artist in her late-twenties or early-thirties: Smith is only twenty-one. This point was raised in the interview where, during the interview, Smith’s ordinary life and youth came to the fore:

Such attention could, and should, be head-spinning. There is a moment, when we are bombing down the A4, where she pops a brace into her mouth and it’s genuinely shocking to realise – to be reminded really – that’s she’s only 21. Three years ago she was sitting her A-levels. When Drake was heaping praise on her, she’d not long given up a job as a barista in Starbucks. She starts our conversation warily, but quickly warms up. There’s a preternatural assurance here, one that explains how a young woman from the West Midlands, growing up with no connections in the industry, finds herself in LA tonight waiting to find out if she’s won another life-changing award”.

Smith talked about her solo work but, to many, she is still known for her work with Drake and Kendrick Lamar:

“It was never part of my plan to work with Kendrick or Drake or Kali, but they just added to everything,” says Smith now. “Because then I got opened up to a whole new Drake world, a whole new Kendrick world and a Kali world. So I got new fans from it and maybe they were waiting for me to put a project out and then they liked that, hopefully.”

Given the success of Lost & Found and the award nominations that have come Smith’s way, many would expect her to be snapped by a big label and have them guide her career. Smith’s rationalisation is simple and impressive: she does not like being told what to do.

Smith’s success is all the more astonishing for the detail that she isn’t backed by a major label. There’s a simple reason for that: she doesn’t much like being told what to do. That clear-headedness could be seen at the Observer’s photo shoot. “If I don’t like something, I won’t wear it,” says Smith, who has now changed into her travelling outfit of a Mondrian-ish Nike tracksuit, with her hair scraped back into a tight bun. She giggles: “I have a lot of control, yeah.

As for what’s next, Smith just wants to get back to writing. “Or else I’ll never put out another album. And this year I will write more stuff.”

 

I like the fact Smith is forging her own path and she is not selling out quickly. A label would probably push her in a more Pop direction or get her to do all sorts of photoshoots. Maybe there would be more money and gigs (with a label) but Smith’s talent is doing the pulling and she can call the shots. She is looking ahead to her second album but there are tours and, I am sure, festival appearances. It will be a busy year where all the nominations and praise translates into gigs and a busy diary. She has not felt the need for a major label to do her bidding and who can blame her: she has already managed to achieve so much and it looks like all the attention is not going to fade away anytime soon!

When speaking with GQ last year, Smith was asked about the awards she has won and how she reacted:

All this, plus Smith became the first unsigned artist to win the Critics’ Choice Award at the 2018 Brit Awards, released the most talked-about debut album this side of the Atlantic (Lost & Found charted at No3 in June and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in July) and is now GQ’s Vero Breakthrough Solo Artist Of The Year.

“It’s mad,” she says of the award, “but I’m very happy to be recognised for what I’m doing.” Smith’s sound incorporates left-field soul, jazz, R&B and hip hop, with the odd powerhouse ballad thrown in for good measure. Think Amy Winehouse meets Lauryn Hill. Where “Blue Lights” samples Dizzee Rascal, the classically trained singer has also borrowed from the likes of Henry Purcell”.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: GQ

I wonder whether Smith will get a chance to breathe before the year is out and whether you will be heading into the studio to record new material in the coming months. She can afford to take her time and I wonder whether the writing experience will be different this time around. Rather than rush back into the studio, she has the opportunity to set time aside and write – maybe on the road – and bring a set of new songs with her when she starts the sophomore album. It has been an incredible last few years for Jorja Smith and I know things will get bigger and better. I hope she does not succumb to the lure of a big label and keeps her career in her own hands. I can picture her waking up and getting ready to go to the Grammys tonight; a first-time thing as she has surrounded by some of music’s biggest names. After tonight, it will be a chance for her to take stock and plan her next moves. There will be tour dates and openings; new possibilities and, maybe soon, more material. I have not seen an artist like Jorja Smith. She has this amazing talent and incredible maturity but there is a reality and accessibility to her. She is a real and very relatable person and her music is not just about her experiences and struggles – anyone can connect with it and take something away. Despite all of the acclaim and pressure, Smith is keeping her head and not getting stressed. That is rare to see and it is another reason why Jorja Smith is one of the finest...

BRITISH artists of the moment.

FEATURE: A New Master with a Masterplan: What Next for HMV?

FEATURE:

 

 

A New Master with a Masterplan

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IN THIS PHOTO: The original logo/design for HMV (His Master’s Voice)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images  

What Next for HMV?

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EVERY time a big company or chain...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Doug Putman has taken over 127 HMV stores in the U.K/PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

is threatened with closure, it causes my blood to run cold. I get this impression of multiple shops closing and hundreds of jobs going. There has been talk of chains like House of Fraser closing many of its stores and it seems like, although most are still open, there might be some problems ahead. We can say the same of Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and other chains. Supermarkets like Tesco are cutting people and it seems like the high-street is fading before our eyes. I walk around various towns and villages and you see all these shops boarded up. It is sad to see this happen and you know, as soon as another business fills the space, their time is limited and uncertain. I cannot imagine a high-street vista without HMV being in it. HMV has been a part of my life since I was a child and it was great, in the 1990s, having a choice of record shops. I recall growing up somewhere that had an HMV and an Our Price and one could brose both shops and ensure they got what they needed. This was back at a time when cassettes, C.D.s and vinyl were big; when there was a big appetite for physical music and we did not have streaming services. Now that the landscape has changed and we are all digested music/film online, HMV has been threatened and struggled to keep up with the competition.

One of the biggest problems with the company is the fact that its model and look is very similar to how it was years ago. Services like Spotify and Netflix have led to a decline in the popularity of DVDs and C.D.s. More of us are streaming T.V. shows and films so there is less of an appetite for physical purchases. Although C.D.s still exist; many of us are streaming our music and it means fewer of us are walking through the doors of HMV. It saddened me to see HMV threatened and the fact is this: many of its stores are going to disappear and leave a black mark on the high-street. Not only do shops like HMV invite casual browsing and curiosity but it is often the only source of music (physical) for many people. A lot of us do not go to independent record shops and HMV is that all-under-one-roof emporium where you can get all your music needs and a whole lot more. Every popular shop that gets shut leaves a gap and it is sad we are so reliant on the Internet. Not only does one get to interact with knowledge staff members at somewhere like HMV but there is that chance to browse and actually look at products in the flesh. The Internet is fine but there is no social aspect and it can be a little boring scrolling through pages and not actually looking for music in a real shop.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The flagship HMV store on London’s Oxford Street was opened on 20th July, 1921 and was presided over by composer Sir Edward Elgar (it was opened by the Gramophone Company at 363 Oxford Street)/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Thomas/REX/Shutterstock

Although there was a fear all HMV shops would be closed, its new owner has come in and is intent on preserving every single shop. Doug Putman has big plans and he is the boss of Canada’s Sunrise Records. He gave an interview with The Guardian and was asked about whether all the stores will be closed:

The new owner of HMV is hoping to reopen the chain’s flagship store on Oxford Street, and is in talks with landlords on the rest of the 27 outlets which closed down earlier this week.

Doug Putman, the 34-year-old boss of Canada’s Sunrise Records, rescued 100 HMV stores from administration, beating off a bid from Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley. But branches such as Oxford Street, with higher rents, were not included in the deal.

Speaking to the Guardian, Putman said he was optimistic that these outlets could be reopened: “Where certain stores have closed, our public have really rallied around and I credit that with some of the landlords coming back to us,” he said. “They can see how much support we are getting

That flagship store on Oxford Street is an institution and essential for London. There are not many big HMV stores in the capital and it is in a perfect location. It is set on three floors and has a whole range of C.D.s, DVDs; T-shirts, merchandise and vinyl. I hope Putman and his team can find the money to keep this store alive and make sure the rest (threatened with closure) are saved.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

There is one problem with Oxford Street’s store: the cost of rent and ensuring it can remain open:

But the site is expensive – rent on the Oxford Street store is £3.2m a year, and the rates bill is £1.4m, according to HMV’s former owner, Hilco.

Putman said if he could not cut a deal with the landlord, he would look for another central London flagship with a more affordable rent.

He is investing more than £10m into HMV as he revamps the website, ensures the latest releases are in stock and gives store managers more freedom to buy what their local customers want.

“We are getting away from the corporate mentality where every store is set up the same – we have to move away from that and let each store have its own personality,” he said. “I want to unlock the passion and creativity,” Putman says.

The stores will “double down” on vinyl, not just because he is now a self-confessed vinyl nut – he owns four record players – but because it’s what shoppers are asking for”.

One of the big criticisms that came out of the news HMV might cease trading was the slightly generic and old-fashioned look. Many people walk into HMV and they are greeted with DVDs rather than music. I can understand people love DVDs and there is that demand but HMV was set up because of the music – the logo sports a dog listening to a record on a gramophone!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @_sharon_garcia/Unsplash

HMV diversified and expanded to cater for technologies like DVDs but, as the Internet starts to take away the market and a bigger share of the profit, it is a good idea to let each store monitor what they sell most of us and promote accordingly – rather than be beholden a general and indiscriminate HMV model. I do like the fact a chain might be able to adopt this flexible approach so the head office and managers can interact and set up their stall how they like it. The demands are different in smaller towns as they are in the city. Many people who do not have access to a lot of record shops and options prefer an HMV that has a general spread and looks as it does now. Many in larger cities have streaming passes and subscriptions so they are not reliant on stuff like DVDs and prefer vinyl. Putting records back in the forefront – as they were at the very beginning – is a really interesting idea and one that might not have seemed possible a few years ago. Vinyl sales have been tracking upwards but one wonders, when CDs were more popular, whether there could have been this record-heavy look. Putman, as he explained in this interview is keen to put records front-and-centre:

Crucial to Putman's plans will be sales of vinyl records. They offer, he says, a 'huge opportunity'. Vinyl record sales in the UK fell to just over 200,000 in the middle of the last decade but by last year had hit 4.4 million – back to early 1990s' levels...

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PHOTO CREDIT: @priscilladupreez

'Customers are saying very loudly, 'Hey, we want more vinyl, give it to us.' And I try never to turn down someone's money.'

He wants to move vinyl records racks to the front of shops – as in his Sunrise stores in Canada.

Can he raise vinyl sales which are estimated to be less than 10 per cent of HMV's turnover? 'I think we can get vinyl to close to 30 per cent,' he says”.

Putman’s aims seem to be three-fold. He wants to keep all stores open and protect jobs; he wants to keep DVDs and merchandise but put vinyl at the front. He also wants to ensure the chain is making a profit by the end of the year. He has plenty of passion and ambition; a lot of money to get the chain back on its feet and almost start from scratch. HMV is in a rare position where it is almost alone in regards the bigger music chains. It can organise itself so the bulk of the stores have vinyl at the very core. When you walk in, you see all these organised and categorised shelves of vinyl and, at the sides, you can get your DVDs, C.D.s and other bits. I think there are some great independent record shops that are definitely worth a visit but many of them are quite small and crowded.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @fstop64/Unsplash

You can get a few records you want but the choice is not always there. I have seen HMV increase its stock of records but there remains an issue: the high prices and the lack of cheaper options. Maybe it is fair enough paying twenty-five quid for a double-album or slightly less for a new album but can we be expected to shell out twenty pounds for a single album that is a few years old?! I know vinyl production is expensive but there is a way to cap prices and provide greater value and still be in profit. Even if most records were fifteen quid then that would entice more people in. I think a lot of people are put off buying records because they are more expensive than streaming services. I wonder whether Putman has a pricing strategy and whether his profit forecast takes in the current price of vinyl. If HMV were stoked with a huge range of vinyl and they provided this complete experience – ensuring people did not need to go online to find what they want – then there could be this huge boom. Keeping the prices lower and more accessible means younger listeners would be tempted to browse and you’d get these impulse purchases. Maybe there should be loyalty schemes where members could get discounts or there could be a promotional deal where you could get three records for, say, forty pounds.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @samueldixon/Unsplash

Most of us dream of owning a record shop and we often have idea of what the place will look like and the range of records that will be included. I hope Putman is true to his word and looks at some of the most successful independent shops, like Resident in Brighton, and sees how they do things. I think you can bring the charm and familial aspect of an independent to a chain. The reason I love Resident is the fact it lists its vinyl by category and has C.D.s too; there are music books and you can get more obscure records and singles. That might be racing ahead but I think HMV, now that it seems safer, has a chance to not only get into profit but actually re-establish its crown as the king of the high-street. We need a stable chain that can exist in various towns and cities so, if people want, they can get out and buy music. The Internet is important but it cannot be everything – we still need shops to exist. I am glad there is this music-loving owner who is putting music above profit and his own ends. Putman will look out for the consumer and staff members; he knows how important it is for HMV to exist and I am pleased he is fighting to keep all stores open.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

2019 has only just started but it seems like HMV, by the end of the year, can find itself on solid ground and start to grow. I am interested to see whether this records-first approach will extent to all stores and how far it will go. I have been reliant on HMV since childhood and I hope to visit stores until I am old. We all want HMV to thrive and be a part of the high-street tapestry and, with Doug Putman dropping the needle and choosing the records, a revival and evolution is in the air. Putman, in this interview, talked about the generational split and how many technology-focused youngsters are seeing people buying records and reacting:

'The younger people are seeing the older ones buy it so it's cool, it's hip. When we grew up we had cards, we had vinyl, there was lots to collect. I think you are seeing a generation that never really collected anything, but want to'”.

It is a changeable time and the future is a less unclear. I think Putman will steer HMV where it needs to go and I cannot wait to see the day when my local store has records at the very heart of what it is about. I have a romantic vision that HMV, when we do our Christmas shopping this year, is thriving and there are masses of people flicking through record racks and buying music gifts for their friends and family. If this can happen then I think it will make the high-street, and people who love their music, so much happier...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: John Rennison/The Hamilton Spectator

AND better off.

FEATURE: Remembering an Icon: The Essential Whitney Houston Playlist

FEATURE:

 

 

Remembering an Icon

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IN THIS PHOTO: Whitney Houston My Love Is Your Love World Tour Book (Photo 1)/PHOTO CREDIT: Warwick Saint/whitneyhouston.com

The Essential Whitney Houston Playlist

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TOMORROW marks seven years...

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 IN THIS IMAGE: The album cover for 1985’s Whitney Houston/IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

the world lost Whitney Houston. Whether you are a fan or not, nobody can deny the impact she made and how influential she is. Houston is one of the best-selling musicians of all time and has sold over two-million records worldwide. Houston was one of those artists keen to break barriers and fuse genres together. Her blend of R&B, Pop and Soul made her stand out and you can debate Houston videos appearing on MTV inspired other black American women to follow in her footsteps. She was someone who wanted to bring music to as many people as possible and she definitely helped bring about changes. Houston’s passion for music began when she started singing in church as a child. One can hear those Gospel elements in her voice and that spiritual aspect. She signed to Arista Records at the age of nineteen and her first two albums, Whitney Houston (1985) and Whitney (1987) reached number-one on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. Her debut album made a slow start in commercial terms but began to grow by the summer of 1985. Saving All My Love for You and Greatest Love of All are, perhaps, the two best-known tracks on the debut but the record as a whole is full of great moments. Although Whitney took fifty-five weeks to reach the top spot, it spent a long time on the charts and introduced the world to this rare talent.

There was controversy when Houston missed out on a Grammy nomination in 1986. She was not named in the Best New Artist category and, given the fact her debut did so well, there was a bit of confusion. The disqualification was explained due to the fact Houston appeared on a Jermaine Jackson song and, as she had been heard then, she would not be considered ‘new’ on her debut album. That did ruffle feathers and there was no real excuse to deny Houston Grammy glory. It might have been this ignorance that spurred her to create a bigger and better album with Whitney. The 1987-released album exceeded expectations and took Houston to a new level.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Whitney Houston in a recording studio early in her career/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/whitneyhouston.com

The album stayed at the top of the charts for eleven consecutive weeks and the fact Houston, by the time, had spent twenty-five weeks at the top (cumulatively) was a record. Whitney’s four singles, I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me), Didn’t We Almost Have It All; So Emotional and Where Do Broken Hearts Go were played all over the radio and each single peaked at number-one.  Whitney Houston was breaking records all over the place – this was only her second album! By the time the 1988s Grammys came along, she was nominated for three awards and won the Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me). Although Whitney Houston’s second album gained huge commercial following and chart success, some critics were less passionate.

The New York Times had this to say in 1987:

Predictably, ''Whitney'' is an album of love songs, and once again they honor pop formulas instead of shaping themselves to the singer's voice (unlike 1986's major black pop success, Anita Baker, whose material is utterly personalized). There's been a slight shift of image: Where ''Whitney Houston'' presented the singer as shy but irresistibly tempted by lust, she now acts more experienced and more physical about her affections. She even declares ''Love Is a Contact Sport.'' At the same time, she maintains her good-girl persona, sticking to songs about long-term, monogamous romance or about missing an absent lover.

Putting across a pop love song, especially on recordings that will be heard repeatedly, a singer has to stay attentive to individual words and lines while building a dramatic shape for the song as a whole - caressing some words, stretching others, rushing or hesitating or lingering. On ''Whitney,'' however, Ms. Houston's delivery makes her love songs curiously distanced”.

1990’s I’m Your Baby Tonight did not fare as well as her previous two albums but it did take her music in a new direction. This time, Houston was picking the material – rather than the label selecting songs – more and getting a bigger say. Working alongside producers like Babyface and Michael Masser, her third album was a different beast. There is less reliance on pure Pop and those who felt Houston did not evolve between her first two albums could have had few arguments here. There were fewer standout hits on I’m Your Baby Tonight but Houston was bringing in more Dance-driven music and Funk this time around.

Many consider 1998’s My Love Is Your Love to be Houston’s finest work. Maybe film exposure and performing in The Bodyguard (1992) created greater strength and helped bring new elements to her music. This was Houston’s first album in eight years and you get a nice blend of mid-tempo R&B and Hip-Hop. In fact, My Love Is Your Love is packed with genres and different sounds; Houston moving in new directions and keen not to repeat herself. Houston’s greater use of Hip-Hop added a new edge to her music and helped bring her to new audiences. The record sold less in the U.S. compared to her previous work but it did sell ten-million copies worldwide. It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay, My Love Is Your Love and If I Told You That are classic Houston cuts are fit in very well with what was happening in the late-1990s. Again, every single released from My Love Is Your Love was a success – each of the five tracks doing really well. Reviews were largely glowing and it was clear that, by 1998, Houston had reached new peaks and combined all her tastes and talents into this record. AllMusic, in a retrospective review, had this to say:

Never before has Houston tried so many different sounds or tried so hard to be hip. It's one thing to work with Babyface, the standard-bearer of smooth soul in the '90s, but it's quite another to hire Wyclef JeanLauren HillMissy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, and Q-Tip -- all cutting-edge artists (albeit on the accessible side of the cutting edge), the kind who never would have been associated with Houston in the late '80s. The gambit works. There is still a fair share of David Foster-produced adult contemporary ballads, but the true news is on the up-tempo and mid-tempo dance numbers..

 

In fact, the songs that feel the stiffest are the big production numbers; tellingly, they're the songs that are the most reminiscent of old-school Houston. That's not to say she can no longer belt out ballads convincingly -- in fact, the best ballads are where she restrains herself, delivering them with considerable nuance. Houston has never been quite so subtle before, nor has she ever shown this desire to branch out musically. That alone would be reason enough to rank My Love Is Your Love among her more interesting albums, but the fact that it works more often than not pushes it into the top rank of her recorded work”.

Houston would record three more studio albums (including a Christmas one) before her death but they did not match the brilliance of her 1998 gem – although there are fine moments to be heard on every album. Some felt 2002’s Just Whitney... was not as punchy and memorable as her previous albums and the songs were a way of diffusing rumours about her in the press. 2009’s I Look to You was seen as a return-to-form and won her some great reviews. It is clear that Houston had been through a lot since 2002. She told press she was getting used to being a single mother and riding the ups and downs. There is a lot of passion and determination on I Look to You and some great writers/producers help bring the best from Houston’s voice.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

It is clear Whitney Houston made a giant impact on music and, whether you like her music or prefer other artists, the legacy she has left behind is clear. Alongside Michael Jackson, Houston helped bring more black faces to MTV and she helped bring about a hybrid Pop sound – maybe not as radical as Madonna and Michael Jackson. Many claim Houston cannot be seen as an icon because she released fewer albums that many of her peers. The fact that her incredible voice was the central instrument meant it was important to get the material right. She also struggled with press intrusion and personal issues but was able to come back and create great material.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Whitney Houston in a promotional shot for her final studio album, I Look to You (2009)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/whitneyhouston.com

Whereas Pop icons like Michael Jackson might be remembered more for their moves and albums, Houston’s voice sent waves through music and set the bar for future R&B. You can hear her influence in so many modern artists and Houston is regarded as a singer’s singer. Everyone from Lady Gaga, Toni Braxton; Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child and Alicia Keys count her as an influence and the list goes on and on. Houston opened the door for so many artists and she spawned so many imitators – although there was only ever one Whitney Houston! Everyone, male and female, can connect with Whitney Houston’s songs and her finest moments have not dated at all. It is seven years since she died but, in that time, new artists have emerged that count Houston as a role model. That is a great legacy and I feel, as the years tick on, we will see many more artists...

WITH Whitney Houston in their blood.

FEATURE: You’re So Great: Blur’s Eponymous Album at Twenty-Two

FEATURE:

 

 

You’re So Great

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Blur’s Eponymous Album at Twenty-Two

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I recall the Britpop years and a time when...

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Blur and Oasis battled it out for chart supremacy! Between 1994 and 1997, it was like the two bands were releasing albums close to one another on purpose. Although Blur released Parklife in April of 1994 – Oasis released their debut, Definitely Maybe, in August – it was a spectacular year for two mighty British bands. Blur had been releasing material since the early-1990s (perhaps a bit before) and they made a big impact with Parklife. In a year that saw so many genius albums, Parklife is seen as one of the very best. It is a masterful record filled with Pop gems that range from the simple and catchy to the slightly quirky and odd. The title offering inspired endless singalongs and is one of the defining anthems of the Britpop time; emotional tracks such as This Is a Low proved Blur had depth alongside the cheekiness and energy. Oasis were not be undone and outshone. They were not directly in competition with Blur then but their debut arrived and singled them out as a northern, working-class alternative. Definitely Maybe is packed with anthems and arena-ready gems that saw the band ascend from the unknown to the mega-big. The album was an instant commercial and critical success whilst songs such as Live Forever and Slide Away ingrained themselves into the minds of the masses! There was this battle between the bands that intensified by 1995. There was the Britpop chart battle between Blur’s Country House and Oasis’ Roll with It and, whilst neither was the best work of either, Blur won the day.

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  IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Both bands followed up career-defining albums the year after. Oasis kept the pace going with the excellent (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? whereas Blur brought us The Great Escape. Oasis’ sophomore record provided the world Wonderwall and Some Might Say – many felt the album was even stronger than their debut! Oasis continued their hot streak and did not vary their template too much. Blur stayed fairly close to Parklife’s sound but there were many who felt Oasis were ahead in 1995. Reviewers were kind to Blur but not as ecstatic as they were the year before. Something similar would happen to Oasis in 1997 but, soon after the acclaim came in for The Great Escape, many critics started to wander away. It is clear there are some great songs on The Great Escape. Stereotypes, Charmless Man and The Universal are among the best Blur songs released and match the funny and interesting with the brave and bold. Although Oasis and Blur both produced epic albums, many critics and journalists felt Oasis were cooler and could sell more magazines. Some reviewers realised Oasis were stronger in 1995 and issues retractions regarding five-star reviews. Some felt The Great Escape lacked the breadth and commercial appeal of Parklife and, because of that, Oasis edged ahead. That media hype and swift retraction would blight Oasis by 1997.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Both bands, again, released albums in the same year. Blur were to undergo a massive change and evolution whereas Oasis put their foot more on the gas and came up with the bloated, overlong and unfocused Be Here Now. They did not release that album until August – Blur’s revived masterpiece had been out in the world over six months before Oasis could respond. It was not as though both bands were recording material to best the other but there was a sense that, by 1997, these Britpop titans had to adapt to changes. There was no longer this huge Pop core and British dominance: American guitars and bands were being promoted and there was a yearning for something a bit difference. Maybe the romance of Britpop had died and it was clear bands had to adapt. Oasis’ third album has some great moments (Stand by Me among them) but the record wanders and there is a lack of anthems. They gave themselves a hard task following up two world-class albums and, as such, Be Here Now seemed like a disappointment. Critics raved about the album but it was because of hype and build-up; the same sort Blur received in 1995. Whereas Blur’s shock would see them produce a great retort, Oasis did not really recover and it was clear they had already peaked. What is amazing about Blur’s eponymous album is the fact it sounds distinctly like them but incorporates American influences and moves with the time.

The band’s guitarist, Graham Coxon, suggested a stylistic change for Blur. Bands like Pavement were being mooted and, alongside producer Stephen Street, Blur set about recording an album that was theirs but sounded like nothing they had produced before. There were Pop jewels to be found on Blur but the record is a grittier, more experimental recording than their previous efforts. The band feared their new direction might alienate their fanbase and the label but, with singles like Beetlebum doing well and storming the charts, there was no worry of that! Beetlebum, according to Blur’s lead Damon Albarn, was a song about heroine and the drug experiences of his then-girlfriend Justine Frischmann (of Elastica). The song is sleepy and catchy and, whilst one can believe Albarn’s story, the Beatles-nodding sound might be a dig at Oasis and their dependence on the Liverpool band for inspiration! There were tensions between members of Blur before they started recording and there was a fear they would dissolve before another record. Coxon was battling drinking problems and the abandonment of their Britpop sound did not bode too well with the other band members at first. The band wanted to scare people again and wanted something more stripped-down. Albarn came around to Coxon’s love of lo-fi American music and it was the harmony that came which led to such a brilliant album.

Whereas Oasis’ ego and sense of fame led them to lose clarity and a sense of focus, Blur were on the point of split and regrouped; concentrated on a new direction and taking their music to another level. Recording was split between London and Iceland and, after recording at Mayfair Studios in London, the remainder of the album was laid down in Reykjavik. Vocals for tracks such as Beetlebum and On Your Own were recorded there. The band wanted to head away from the Britpop scene and see whether this new and strange environment could work its wonders. Blur had moved from this band with commercial pressures who were writing big hits to people who were more concerned with texture and taking their time. The band started to jam together and there seemed to be more relaxation and cooperation in the ranks. They had recovered from this strained unit to a Blur that was willing to try something new. The music on Blur, like every other album from the band, was eclectic and took in a number of different genres. If anything, the eponymous album was more varied and interesting than anything they had ever recorded. Death of a Party – my favourite song from the album – had a sense of creep and unnerving; the band taking the lights down and being darker.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Blur (circa mid-1990s)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Chinese Bombs is a straight rave and burst that is all Punk and teeth; Country Sad Ballad Man is lo-fi Psychedelia and On Your Own is a classic slice of youthful Blur – big choruses and a terrific vocal from Damon Albarn. You’re So Great (a rare lead vocal from Graham Coxon) is the biggest nod to America and Blur is that perfect unity of American guitar music and the Pop they were leaving behind. Look Inside America is another gem and one of the most interesting songs the band ever recorded. The boys had the songs and a new lease of life but there was still a worry that they were committing some form of commercial suicide. Blur were used to playing to teenage fans – a lot of female admirers – and had this perception in the press. Blur was them shedding that skin and making music more primed to older boys; maybe those who were less enamoured of Pop and keener on American Indie. Tracks like Song 2 – not even two minutes but, within a few seconds, it was always likely to be a classic – and Beetlebum kept Blur in the mainstream and, if anything, gained them a new core of fans. Their eponymous record was a big success and hit the top of the charts around the world. It took a little while for all critics in the U.K. to get behind the record. American critics were keen and impressed – maybe thinking this was an American band! – whereas journalists here were adjusting to this 2.0 Blur.

Retrospective reviews are kinder and, before long, critics started to get behind Blur. Whereas Blur would see critics rave over The Great Escape and then withdraw some praise later, it seemed like the reverse was true here – Oasis would suffer their version of The Great Escape later in 1997. This review from Rolling Stone showed the sort of love that was coming from the American press in 1997:

So you get terrific things like “Beetlebum,” a rare Beatles tribute in that it remembers to include the Fab Four’s sex appeal, and the otherworldly street ballad “Strange News From Another Star,” which luxuriates in lots of melancholy and infinite sadness. You get classic English gesturing in “Death of a Party” (imagine Noel Coward in a band), and you get elastic rockers (“I’m Just a Killer for Your Love”), witty celebrity profiles (“Country Sad Ballad Man”) and one dashing old-style dramatic piece (“Essex Dogs”). “M.O.R.” is a roaring homage to Mott the Hoople.

But most of Blur remains fascinated with the U.S., as in the classic ’90s road ballad “Look Inside America.” In the song, the band is just up from last night’s show, swigging Pepsi to find the energy to do a local TV show. Blur’s single has been added to KROQ. “Look inside America,” Blur sing. “She’s all right; she’s all right.” Blur might just see the compliment returned”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

There were some positive British reviews at the time but this one, from NME, tried to reconcile the ‘new Blur’ with the old:

Old Blur was about strings finely plucked, about attention to detail, about rendering beautiful the substance of other people's lives. New Blur is about confusion, about what they feel and so it is about scuffed edges, new influences; the same incredible talent for songwriting but twisted into uncomfortable shapes. It's just that where once (Piers! Suits! Clacton!) these influences were wildly out there, now (Tortoise! Beastie Boys! Er, guitars!) they're already so widely available, this abrupt change of sound can't help but sound like a purely cosmetic calculation. That's Damon Albarn. The only man who could get uptight about not appearing slack enough.

It's an American thing, and one of the most disquieting about 'Blur': the idea that sounding untutored - like whacking a hardcore punk song like 'Chinese Bombs' next to a masterful hymn to inertia like 'Death Of A Party' - is in some way a genuinely truthful expression. Through Blur's previous three albums, it has been the sensitivity of the arrangements - the spectre of self-doubt lurking in 'Country House' - that has elevated their songs into the realm of the masterpiece. Missing the point a bit, Blur seem to be attempting to unlearn their craft to appear more 'real’

I think most of the mediocre reviews Blur received from the British press was based on what they (the press) expected and how they would continue their Britpop plight. Many expected them to produce a similar album to what had come before and unaware the band wanted to evolve and do something different.

I feel critics were overlooking the quality of the songs and how much variety there was. Critics soon opened their minds and eyes and Blur’s eponymous record is seen as one of their finest. They had, as I mentioned, retained their sound and identity but there was a move away from British Pop and more American influence guiding them. I love how they moved from short and intense songs such as Chinese Bombs and could give us something expansive and extensive like Essex Dogs. Consider Song 2 and its sound and match it with Look Inside America. There are no weak tracks on the album (in my view) and I can tell how inspired the band sound. Blur are still going (I think) but they helped introduce American sounds to Britain and, whilst people were aware of new American sounds, Blur made a big impression. Blur would continue to record albums after 1997 but I do not think they matched the heights and depths of Blur. It is a record that sounds exceptional still and keeps revealing new pearls and favourites. Many go after the big hits like Song 2 and On Your Own but I love Death of a Party and Look Inside America – others like the rarer oddities like Essex Dogs and Theme from Retro. 1997 was a year when Britain’s two biggest bands, Blur and Oasis, were priming new albums and both were in different places. Oasis could do no wrong and many felt their third album would topple everything that came before. Blur hit gold with 1994’s Parklife but The Great Escape found them elevated and then brought down to earth – it was a strange time and it seemed like their commercial pull was on the slide. Blur came along on 10th February, 1997 and took them to new heights. It might have taken the British press a while to warm to the wonders of the album but now, twenty-two years later, Blur is considered a...

TRULY stunning record.

FEATURE: For the Joy of It: How Music Can Heal and Cure

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For the Joy of It

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PHOTO CREDIT: @priscilladupreez/Unsplash 

How Music Can Heal and Cure

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I think there is a bit of a problem...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @thanospal/Unsplash

in music right now because there is this lack of energy and fun Pop. I am writing about modern Pop tomorrow and how the scene has changed. I have written about this before but I think it is worth repeating. Every year that goes past seems to see a departure from the more buoyant and catchy Pop music to something more processed and similar. There are some great Pop artists now but I tend to find the music being produced is a little too machine-fed and lacks the real heart and bang of past years. I do wonder whether we can return to that time when mainstream music was filled with something interesting and spirited. Look out at the scene now and I do not see the same sort of music as I did when I was young. I guess that is the way things go but this does not mean everything in modern music lacks determination, crackle and effervescence. Look away from Pop itself and you’ll find plenty of artists who write music that gets you uplifted and in a better mood. I think there is a need to bring more kick to the forefront but, for now, the most fun and inspiring music is coming away from the mainstream. I am listening back to more and more older music because I know it can produce the happiness I require. There is, in fact, a song I am trying to think of that was released in the late-1980s/1990s and it has been rattling around my head.  

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @duck58cth/Unsplash

I can recall a few of the notes and sounds but the damned thing will not come to me! I am sure it will reveal itself but the fact the song is in my mind is down to the fact it is so fun and energised. I often scout Spotify for music I remember and know will put me in finer spirits. As life gets harder and there are bad days, music is doing its part and making a huge impact. I am turning to it a lot and it is doing much more than I could possibly imagine. Some of the music is from now but most of it is from the past. I think the real power and potential of music is overlooked. A lot of times we hear these familiar songs and they make us smile. We will have a sing and chant along and we all feel better. Without thinking about it, we gravitate towards music and do not really consider why. I know music I listen to will make me feel better but it goes much deeper than that. In other pieces, I have talked about music being therapeutic and helping those with memory issues. There are a lot of generic playlists on streaming services that are designed to make us feel better or cure the Monday blues. They are great and help alleviate the strain but we often listen and then forget about the songs. Music can be this very powerful tool that helps us through heartbreak or makes us think of someone. I feel, as we all lead busier lives and there is a mental-health problem, music has a huge role to play.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @neonbrand/Unsplash

I love music for a number of different reasons but it is the way it can put me in a better headspace and improve my mood that amazes me. I listen to a lot of 1980s and 1990s music and do wonder whether artists now need to look back and realise why songs from then are still popular. I am not suggesting music can replace therapy and medication but think about the burst of life and radiance you get from particular songs. Music does not necessarily have to be happy and peppy to make us feel better or get into the mind. Songs that are more emotive can help us unburden ourselves and they sort of strike a chord. I guess so many modern artists write in a slightly more downbeat way is because they are trying to relate to the listener and, in turn, there is that sense of connection. Whether you gravitate towards a more emotive song or prefer tracks that are kicking and alive, music has this extraordinary ability. I find music not only helps my psychological state but it can help me physically. A lot of times I experience aches and tiredness and a well-selected group of songs can ease the stress and pains and bring me back to life. Maybe there is something general about the mood of the song or it might be connected to nostalgia but I know music can do something other people and things can’t.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @wiesehofer/Unsplash

That tie to childhood might be a reason why I can often transport myself to another place. Music is subjective but we all have these songs that remind of us better times. Whether that is school days or memorable moments, we can play this music and instantly have all the worries melt away. That sort of relief and release does not instantly go away. Maybe music is not as effective as, well, genuine happiness but it is a very potent and striking remedy. It makes me wonder why more radio stations do not promote more high-energy sounds and those designed to put people in a finer mood. I think there is this dependence on music that is more synthetic or moody; artists that are interesting but do not write to make people feel happy. Streaming services can do their part and ensure listeners are exposed to upbeat music. I know they have to promote new acts and there are playlists around but there is so much wonderful music that can make us all feel revived and delighted. I know I can feel bad and like everything is a bit hopeless and then play music and feel so much better. Some of it is down to memories flooding back and the rest is that combination of pure sounds and positive messages. It is important music is broad and we promote everything but so much of the biggest sounds and move-improving gems are left aside and not bring put out there.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @creativesimonn/Unsplash

I have learned so much from music and, at bad times, I know there are songs I can play that will do something wonderful and change my mood. Music is brilliant when it comes to making us all feel happy and together but it goes much deeper than that. There is this power and ability to help the body and aid recovery. Whilst conventional therapies and medicines are most important, music has been used as therapy and a way of recovery. Something as simple as a playlist – adding to it as you discover more music – can be very important and helpful. I will not post one here but I would suggest everyone think about their favourite songs that have energy and fun; that lifts the body and brain and makes you smile. It might not be a long-term solution to bigger problems but I think we underestimate music and how it can transform us. As much as anything, it brings pleasure and happiness when everything around is quite bleak. I do wonder whether modern artists are too concerned with being personal and revealing and forgot what many of us look for: thrills, energy and a spirit that creates happiness. It might be hard to do but, as we can all attest, music has immense powers. The weather is a bit naff at the moment and spring is not quite here. If you need your spirit and soul nourished and you need that smile back on that face, spend some time collating a playlist of music that...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @brucemars/Unsplash

BRINGS back the happiness.

FEATURE: An Incredible Vision: The Exceptional I Trawl the Megahertz

FEATURE:

 

 

An Incredible Vision

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

The Exceptional I Trawl the Megahertz

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THIS is the second day in a row where I have...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Paddy McAloon proudly sporting I Trawl the Megahertz/PHOTO CREDIT: @Prefabsprout/Getty Images

featured an album that was recorded during a difficult period. To be fair to J Dilla, he did die shortly after the release of 2006’s Donuts but he recorded a lot of it from his hospital bed. The man was near to death and suffering from a blood disorder and, with not much time left, determined to record this album. What resulted was staggering and I wonder how the man managed to actually have time to think, let alone make music that is of such a high standard!  At some points, he was being led between his hospital bed and instruments. Although Paddy McAloon was not as ill-fated and unwell as J Dilla when he recorded I Trawl the Megahertz; I wonder how he actually got around to recording and making music. I will come to his recent round of publicity regarding the reissue and remastering of the 2003 album but, so long after the heyday of Prefab Sprout, many were not expecting anything new at all. The new edition is credited to Prefab Sprout but, as it was McAloon, essentially, doing this on his own (bar musicians and engineers etc.) the album was credited to him. Certainly, it is not like any other record you’d expect from the man who leads Prefab Sprout! I think many of us have our own favourites and impressions when it comes to Prefab Sprout.

To me – I shall wander back onto the straight and focused path soon – I am fascinated by The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. To me, all Pop music should take the same stand and create something fresh, quirky and utterly fun! I do wonder whether the mainstream has lost its way and should follow Paddy McAloon’s lead! I recall that song being played a lot and first encountered it when on a family holiday. It was playing at a water park (in this country) and I completely fell in love with it! The chorus is among the catchiest ever written and I love its video – complete with someone in a frog costume and a male diver. It is a brilliant track and, although some critics felt it was beneath the best McAloon was capable of, it remains one of Prefab Sprout’s finest songs.

A lot changed with Prefab Sprout between 1988’s From Langley Park to Memphis (where The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was housed) and 2003. I shall come back to the band’s past work later but, in 1999, McAloon was rendered blind for a period. He suffered from detached retinas (a congenital condition) and, understandably, was not able to do too much. Most of us would be panic-stricken and unable to adjust to life without sight. His vision did come back but there was a period when the northern songwriter was pretty much house-bound.

It was during this time when McAloon found solace and inspiration in radio plays, transmissions and shortwave radio. Everything from chat shows and call-ins entertained him and, whilst it was possible to listen to the T.V. and get something from it, the radio was a much more suitable medium. McAloon recently provided an interview for BBC’s Newsnight and, looking resplendent in a crimson suit and hat, he is a million miles away from the man we remember from the 1980s. I shall come to that later, too, but I often wonder how McAloon found the focus and energy to record material for a new album as his vision was failing. The material that would make its way onto I Trawl the Megahertz is a big departure from the Prefab Sprout sound. Prefab Sprout traded in these intelligent and unique Pop songs that were very smart but were accessible and popular. They could write something like The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll but also pen something like Desire As (from Steve McQueen, 1985). There was a lot to admire about Prefab Sprout and right at the centre was these incredible songs that won their way into the heart. There is only a bit of McAloon vocal on I Trawl the Megahertz as the remainder is instrumental. Aided by co-producer Calum Malcolm and composer David McGuinness; the album turned out to be a revelation!

Not THAT different to what McAloon had written before, it was a little aside from the more radio-friendly sounds many were used to at the start of the Prefab Sprout run. I Trawl the Megahertz contains myriad sounds; there are samples here and there and Classical passages inspired by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. McAloon, Malcolm and McGuinness (there’s a law firm in there somewhere!) translated McAloon’s writing, computer-produced sounds and ideas and integrated them with actual players. The spoken samples we hear on the album are from Yvonne Connors. She performs on the title-track and provides samples for the excellent I’m 49. McAloon does sing on Sleeping Rough but, for the most part, this is almost the work of a Classic composer. Many might seem it odd I compared Paddy McAloon and J Dilla  at the top of this piece. Both were very unwell whilst creating but there is a sense of mortality and reflecting on life on both records. I Trawl the Megahertz is very personal and poignant; it has mournfulness but philosophical looks at life and loss. Look at the title cut from the album and the samples and vocals (from Connors) is this unbelievable and highly emotional suite that sort of takes your breath! Although McAloon was not using as many snippets and samples as J Dilla did when he recorded Donuts; both were using sound in a unique way and creating work that could be personal and deep whilst bringing together other sounds and effects.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Paddy McAloon and Wendy Smith during the Prefab Sprout regency/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Many might feel Prefab Sprout’s records were quite ‘out there’ and on a different plain – that was nothing compared to I Trawl the Megahertz! Paddy McAloon is inspired by artists like Howlin’ Wolf and T.Rex - so it is no shock to hear that he would integrate the odd dose of the eccentric and ambitious into his work. Many assume he was this songwriter that just talked about heartache and the normal sort of things. McAloon was always a cut above the competition and, as early as Prefab Sprout’s debut, proving he was a genius songwriter. McAloon did fear I Trawl the Megahertz would miss the critical spotlight and the record would be seen as this somewhat overlooked thing. The reviews were highly positive and it was clear there was a huge amount of love for McAloon. He had lost none of his gift and passion and, on this rare and wonderful record, showing a new side to himself. The most recent Prefab Sprout record, Crimson/Red, was released in 2013 and is more conventional and story-based. Even though Prefab Sprout included McAloon’s brother Martin alongside Wendy Smith and Neil Conti (there were other various members at different stages); the work McAloon was putting out around 2003 was very much him. McAloon is still in touch with the former members and I know his brother still works with him. It is great we get to see I Trawl the Megahertz rebranded under the Prefab Sprout moniker as it shows McAloon has a lot of love for the group and, too, wants it to spread to a wider audience.

When I Trawl the Megahertz was unleashed to the world, it was received with warmth and fascination. I wanted to include the review from AllMusic as it seems to say a lot about the album’s brilliance and why McAloon is, and always will be, a musical genius:

I Trawl the MegahertzPaddy McAloon's first solo album, is as likely to perplex and infuriate as it is likely to stun and spellbind. Grand, heavily orchestrated, predominantly instrumental, and not the type of thing you put on prior to going out or when you're in the mood for cleaning the house, the record is incredibly powerful -- almost too powerful -- even when held up against everything from Prefab Sprout's past. The most significant song is the opener; 22 minutes in length, it's nearly elegiac in it its mournful tones played out by a swaying string arrangement and a weeping trumpet. Throughout its duration, Yvonne Connors speaks matter-of-factly -- yet dramatically enough to be poignant -- as she rifles through fragments of her memory, the most disarming of which reads like this: "I said, 'Your daddy loves you very much; he just doesn't want to live with us anymore.'" Of the eight remaining songs, McAloon's voice is present on just one, which doesn't come along until near the end. This song, the particularly autumnal "Sleeping Rough," is almost as emblematic of the album as the opener, expressing a somewhat sorrowful but content coming to grips with the passage of time ("I'll grow a long and silver beard and let it reach my knees"). The album was conceived during and in the wake of McAloon's bout with an illness that temporarily took away his eyesight, but it's plain to hear that his vision remains”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Paddy McAloon captured in 1985/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Putland

I urge everyone to go out and get I Trawl the Megahertz and enjoy this fantastic creation! If you can get it on vinyl then I think you’ll get the best and most immersive experience possible. I love the fact the album is very different to other Prefab Sprout material and is largely instrumental. McAloon has always been this curious and changing songwriter and, being confined to the house, it was only natural he would explore sound and take a different approach. The title-track is this masterful thing that could have been an album itself and would have sold! You need to listen to the twenty-minute-plus epic and get to grips with all the brilliant sounds and elements that make it so symphonic, emotive and captivating. The nine-track album is a masterpiece and proof McAloon, whatever decade he is creating in, is a step above everyone out there. This takes us to the present. I have mentioned how he has been given interviews and spreading the word regarding I Trawl the Megahertz. McAloon, now, is a very different-looking man to the floppy-fringed imp of the earliest days. His white beard and hair makes him seem prematurely old but I love his look. In some ways it is a way of compensating for poor vision and hearing (he has Meniere's disease). The man may look different but that wonderfully warm and witty voice remains.

McAloon was on Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie’s breakfast show on BBC Radio 6 Music this morning and was in fine form. He explained the process of recording I Trawl the Megahertz and discussed some of his influences. He looked back to a time when he met Paul McCartney and was stunned to discover the former Beatle loved The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Instead of thank Macca for the compliment, McAloon felt the song was not what he should be writing and wondered if it was the right direction – McAloon, this morning, admitted to the fact he should have just said ‘thanks’ and left it! The interview was fantastic and McAloon was really funny. He was asked, cheekily, whether he would tour the remastered album (McAloon is unable to tour because of his conditions) and McAloon joked he would be doing this big tour and would open with Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls! It was a really great chat and you can catch it here (the chat is in the final half an hour of the broadcast). It makes me wonder whether we will see more material from Paddy McAloon/Prefab Sprout. McAloon can write and record fine but not the way he used to. It is a different process now but that is not to say we will never hear another album from him. 2013’s Crimson/Red gained great reviews and many said the same thing: McAloon is one of the best songwriters in the world! That is true and, even if he does not release many more albums, we have this incredible catalogue.

Look at the classic Prefab Sprout albums – such as Steve McQueen and Jordan: The Comeback – and you can hear all these different sides to this masterful songwriter! McAloon’s voice is soulful and pure; it can cut and jab but there is so much passion in there. Anyone who is unfamiliar with Prefab Sprout should spend a few hours going back and looking at their albums. I Trawl the Megahertz arrived at a challenging time and McAloon would be forgiven for resting and waiting until his sight was better. Instead, he crafted this sonic adventure that is amongst his finest work. I love the title number and think it is one of the finest pieces ever. Fall from Grace and Orchid are masterful and, in fact, the whole album is astonishing! I am glad McAloon is giving interviews at the moment as he always brings humour and incredible stories. He is a songwriter that does not get the same credit as John Lennon and Paul McCartney – I think he should! Not many artists could pull off I Trawl the Megahertz and make it sound completely natural and effortless. Pick up a copy of the new edition of I Trawl the Megahertz and let it envelop you! It is a staggering work from someone who, whilst short of sight, had not lost any of his vision. The album is proof that the incredible Paddy McAloon then, before and now is one of this world’s…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

GREATEST talents! 

FEATURE: The February Playlist: Vol. 2: Diamonds Turning to Gold

FEATURE:

 

The February Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: MARINA 

Vol. 2: Diamonds Turning to Gold

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I intimated, last week, that the new selection…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Ariana Grande

of music was not that strong but, lo and behold, there is a raft of epic music to compensate this week! I have been picking the very best and it is great to see the return of MARINA (formerly Marina and the Diamonds). Alongside her new single is music from Ariane Grande and Kelly Rowland; The Amazons, Drenge and Anna of the North. There is so much good tuneage to get your head around and there is such a variation! I hope you enjoy what is on offer and, as the weather is pretty mediocre, it is a good time to stay in and listen to some quality music! Let the sounds do their work, move your way through this week’s new selection and I am sure the music will take you somewhere…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Drenge

TRULY special.  

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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MARINAHandmade Heaven

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Nicki MinajBust Down Barbiana

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Ariana Grandebad idea

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Kelly Rowland Crown

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The AmazonsMother

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Cleo SolOne

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Circa Waves - Me, Myself & Hollywood

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Ibibio Sound Machine - Wanna Come Down

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beck

Beck (ft. Robyn and The Lonely Island) - Super Cool (from The LEGO Movie 2)

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PHOTO CREDIT: Harley Weir

These New Puritans - Anti-Gravity 

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SOAK Valentine Shmalentine

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Dizzee Rascal - Quality

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The Japanese HouseWe Talk All the Time

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GIRLI - Deal with It

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Drenge - Never See the Signs

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PHOTO CREDIT: @idafiskaa_

Anna of the NorthLeaning on Myself

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Charly Bliss - Capacity 

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Dermot KennedyLost

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Fontaines D.C.Big

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George Maple Champion

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Honeyblood The Third Degree

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PHOTO CREDIT: Kelsey Cherry Photography

Leah Nobel Truly Known

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Jack WaltonWe Are Golden

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MahaliaDo Not Disturb  

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Superorganism Hello Me & You

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IN THIS PHOTO: Maren Morris

Maren Morris (ft. Brandi Carlile) Common

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Yizzy Yeah

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Sarah Closelondon

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AJ TraceyCountry Star

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Cass McCombsReal Life

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Jessica PrattAs the World Turns

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Rita Ora - Soul Survivor

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MNEK - Girlfriend

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Mercury RevJesseye’ Lisabeth

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Laura StevensonLiving Room, NY

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TalkboySomeone Else for You

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Winter-Ready Playlist (Vol. VIII)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jamila Woods 

An All-Female, Winter-Ready Playlist (Vol. VIII)

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THE weather is pretty shocking...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: SOAK

and it is clear we are in the depths of winter! I am determined to let some great music compensate and bring warmth and brightness! There are some slower and more intimate songs in the pack but there are plenty of upbeat and spirited songs that showcase some brilliant female talent. Many assume music from women is a genre rather than being, well, nothing of a sort. The fact there are so many women being denied chances to headline festivals and have the same opportunities as men annoys me so, in these playlists, I am keen to exploit the finest female artists around. Here is a typically fulsome and interesting collection of songs that will stay in the head and linger in the bones. This is a packed collection that will distract you from all the crappy weather and bring plenty of joy and energy. If you need that boost and extra kick to get you through to the weekend then make sure you...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: MARINA

INVESTIGATE all the songs here.

ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images

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Ebony BuckleThe Mermaids Said No

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PHOTO CREDIT: Knut Åserud

Jackie CharlesTime Travel

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MahaliaDo Not Disturb

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Vera BlueLike I Remember You

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Anna of the NorthLeaning on Myself

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Vivienne Chi - Woman

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Le Butcherettesin/THE END

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Baker GraceWrong Kind of People

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ElohimTV

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Calva LouiseNo Hay

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Wilk

Meg MacSomething Tells Me

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IAMDDBWokeuptoflexxx (WUTF)

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SOAKValentine Shmalentine

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MARINAHandmade Heaven

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Orla GartlandWhy Am I Like This?

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Jamila WoodsZORA

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ShaqdiDaydreaming

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PHOTO CREDIT: @ebruyildiz

Boy HarsherLA

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Lucy RoseSolo(w)

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ShahraeAwkward

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LisabelStars Dance

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Erica CodyOver & Over

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Jessica PrattFare Thee Well

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DEWEYBent Star

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PHOTO CREDIT: Francesca Tirpak

jellyskinHalf Pedal

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PHOTO CREDIT: Emily Scarlett Romain

Sonia SteinParty

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PHOTO CREDIT: Matilde Cunha

VaarwellMoney

FEATURE: A Secret Recipe: J Dilla’s Incredible Influence and the Peerless Donuts

FEATURE:

 

 

A Secret Recipe

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

J Dilla’s Incredible Influence and the Peerless Donuts

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YESTERDAY marked what would have been...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: J Dilla/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

J Dilla’s forty-fifth birthday - and there were a lot of tributes on social media. Many non-Hip-Hop fans might not be aware of his work but he not only had this incredible solo career but worked with a range of other artists. He emerged in the 1990s and was part of the underground Hip-Hop scene in Detroit. Among the luminaries he worked with were A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul; Erykah Badu and The Roots. J Dilla (or James Dewitt Yancey to give him his real name) died of a blood disease, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura in 2006 and the world was stunned. Not only were people deprived of this incredible talent but he died so young: he was only thirty-two. J Dilla met Detroit musician Amp Fiddler in 1992 and – under the name Jay Dee at that stage – he worked alongside MC Phat Kat – they formed 1st Down and they were the first Detroit Hip-Hop group to sign with Payday Records – a deal that ended after one single when the label collapsed. By 1996, he went on to record the album, Fan-TastTic Vol. 1, as part of the group Slum Village. That album helped bring Jay Dee to the public consciousness and was a huge hit in the Hip-Hop community. Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest) felt 1st Down could succeed A Tribe Called Quest – Jay Dee felt uncomfortable with this comparison. He, in the mid-1990s, worked on a number of singles and remix projects; working for Janet Jackson, De La Soul and Busta Rhymes.

A lot of these projects were relatively low-key but Jay Dee did work on seven tracks from The Pharcyde’s album, Labcabincalifornia (released in 1995) and, by the turn of the century, J Dilla (we can switch between names) was working on new material. By 2000, the major label debut of Slum Village, Fantastic Vol. 2, emerged and there was this fresh following for J Dilla as a producer and M.C. His first solo album came in 2001 and the single, Fuck the Police, was followed by the record, Welcome 2 Detroit. The switch from Jay Dee to J Dilla occurred in 2001; by then his name was huge and his music gaining this huge following. J Dilla moved to MCA and they requested a record with a big commercial lure that was free from samples and accessible. I will come to an album that contained samples and showed the true skills of J Dilla: Champion Sound (recorded with Madlib) was a success in 2002 but not the album J Dilla wanted to make. I will finish by looking at J Dilla’s epic album, Donuts, and why that is special but, before then, a tribute from Pitchfork caught my eye. The article is illuminating and shows how wide J Dilla’s influence is:

And while plenty of rap and R&B artists have absorbed his influence-- from fellow Detroit resident Black Milk's excellent Tronic to Kanye West's production on Common's Finding Forever-- his influence isn't limited to hip-hop and neo-soul. Flying Lotus picked up on elements of Dilla's style for his 2006 debut album 1983-- underwater basslines, stripped-down snare-tap percussion, bristling synths, textural hiss-- and has been boldly mutating them into a new strain of b-boy IDM ever since, culminating with this year's expansive Cosmogramma. He's at the vanguard, but he's not alone; artists on L.A. labels like Brainfeeder, Alpha Pup, and Proximal Records have hit creative paydirt by siphoning Dilla's ear for rhythmic suppleness through electro, dubstep, and ambient funk”.

It was the way J Dilla – there are reasons behind that moniker but not important now – evolved and continued to push what was possible that meant he stood out from the pack:

His immaculate sense of rhythmic interplay and carefully built atmospherics were what put him in the upper echelon of  producers in the late 1990s, and his creative restlessness and experimentation were what kept him there through the 00s. He was never content to wring every last drop out of one of his stylistic phases, opting instead to move on once he felt he'd hit a particular zenith. This left him with a body of work that was a succession of distinct yet naturally progressing phases, exploring and evolving where other great producers were merely content to inch forward or simply maintain”.

Check out the article to look at all the artists and projects J Dilla worked on but there is one that stands out to me – him working on Janet Jackson’s Got ‘Til It’s Gone (Ummah Jay Dee’s Revenge Mix) in 1997. Pitchfork explain why there was some controversy:

One of the more contentious moments in Dilla's career is an issue of attribution. Yancey claimed co-authorship of this song alongside Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and the original version of "Got 'Til It's Gone" bears all the hallmarks of the Ummah style: neo-soul electric pianos, subdued kicks paired with prominent snares, and bass that burbles so thickly that it flows instead of pops. But the official production credits name Jackson, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis alone.

The revenge in question, then, is simply a matter of cranking up those aforementioned trademarks until the source is unmistakable. The bassline congeals, the keyboards are run through a rippling wah-wah, the titular Joni Mitchell loop fades in and out of focus-- it's the difference between a neon sign and a lava lamp”.

There have been very few albums, Hip-Hop or otherwise, that have been quite sample-heavy over the past couple of decades. I think about the late-1980s and early-1990s for those rich and ambitious records that take these disparate cuts and fuse them together into something wonderful. There were great sample-rich albums through the 1990s but it sort of stopped by the early-2000s. There have been posthumous J Dilla records but Donuts was released around the time of his death in 2006. By 2002, J Dilla has been diagnosed with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and he knew it was incurable (the disease is terminal). The idea for Donuts occurred whilst J Dilla was in hospital in 2005.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The album is an instrumental Hip-Hop album and, whilst it is not as overloaded with samples as some of the classic Hip-Hop albums, the way the samples are used and moulded is extraordinary. In many ways, it is sort of like nothing else around: most albums that used a lot of samples and instruments contained vocals and some sung passages. In a way, it is like scanning between radio stations because each of the thirty-one tracks last between one and one-and-a-half minutes (some tracks are a bit longer). The album starts with an outro and ends with an intro; there are all manner of wonderful sonic moments and it allowed J Dilla the chance to do whatever he wanted with samples and produce the record he wanted to. The ending of the final track is an infinite loop: it goes along with the donut (doughnut) concept and the fact that it is circular and never ends.

Most of the tracks on Donuts was recorded in hospital and he worked on a modest record player and sampler. His mother brought records to his bed and that would form impetus for the sounds heard on the album. His mother, it is said, brought a crate of records to his bed and, whilst he removed a dozen or so, he pushed the rest aside and said they were not good. There was this determination to finish the record – as his condition worsened and he was barely able to move – and he was physically moved between his bed and instruments so he could record these songs. It is gobsmacking thinking how ill he was and how courageous he was at the time – he only wanted to get the music down and that steely eye goes right into Donuts. CLASH, when talking about the record, had this to say:

‘Donuts’ is a joy, from start to finish – amazing given the circumstances of its creation, with the vast majority of tracks laid down from Dilla’s hospital bed. It’s entirely instrumental, sampled snatches of vocals aside, and yet feels like a really personal statement, a beyond-satisfying epilogue of sorts coming after the great production work Dilla had put into tracks by The Roots, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, D’Angelo and so many more. Those relationships, between producer and vocalists, helped to shape Dilla’s career – but it’s ‘Donuts’ that caps it, and exploring every one of its details is as magnificent as scaling the tallest peak...

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IMAGE CREDIT: Dewey Saunders  

Its legacy is undeniable, too. Listen to a host of producers today and you can hear elements informed by the work of Dilla, from Clams Casino through to Hudson Mohawke. And beats from ‘Donuts’ continue to be sampled for fresh use amongst contemporary rappers: members of Wu-Tang Clan, Drake and Big Pooh have turned to these 31 cuts for still-fresh sounds to contextualise anew. Pitchfork deemed ‘Donuts’ worthy of a 10/10 on its 2013 reissue, while Clash has previously celebrated its brilliance in our Essential 50 of 2009 (here). And we see no reason to not continue our love affair with such a remarkable record.

AllMusic observed the following in their review:

It's fitting that Motown echoes, a predominant theme, are often felt, from the use of Dionne Warwick's Holland-Dozier-Holland-written "You're Gonna Need Me" (on "Stop"), to the shifting waves of percussion plucked from Kendricks' "People... Hold On" (on "People"), to the Stevie-like piano licks within Kool & the Gang's "The Fruitman" ("The Diff'rence"). Most of the tracks fall into the 60-90 second range. It's easy to be overwhelmed, or even put off, by the rapid-fire sequence, but it's astounding how so many of the sketches leave an immediate impression. By the third or fourth listen, what initially came across as a haphazard stream of slapped-together fragments begins to take the shape of a 44-minute suite filled with wistful joy. Like everything else Dilla has ever done, Donuts is not defining; in fact, elements of its approach bare the apparent influence of Jaylib collaborator Madlib. His mode has always been too slippery and restlessly progressive to be equated with any one track or album, but Donuts just might be the one release that best reflects his personality”.

This great article shows how J Dilla managed to change the future and have a big impact on the Jazz community; this Wikipedia page shows just how influential the album was and how, in many ways, it continues to inspire artists.

There are some great features that look at Donuts and its influence and appeal. Study Breaks wrote last year about Donuts and how it has inspired the new breed:

“In the years following the album’s release, “Donuts” has become a classic. Ranked 66 in Pitchfork’s Top 200 albums of the 2000’s list, the album has a vast influence on the hip-hop genre today in the work of amateurs and professionals alike.

Musicians such as Knxwledge, the producer behind Kendrick Lamar’s song “Momma” on “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Adult Swim collaborator Flying Lotus — both groundbreaking artists in their own right — have stylistic foundations steeped in J Dilla’s work.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Dilla’s influence on artists within or without the hip-hop community through music arguably surpasses that of any other hip-hop artist, except for The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac. The artists whom his music influenced vary from Joey Badass, Big Sean and Common to Ghostface Killah, MF DOOM and The 1975.

Surprisingly enough, one of J Dilla’s homagers isn’t an artist at all. Adult Swim’s famous bumper music, which plays during breaks in the programming, has included both tracks from “Donuts” and from Dilla’s posthumous albums. This homage showcases the song to a demographic largely unfamiliar with J Dilla or his music.

In the music magazine Pitchfork, Nate Patrin writes, “Dilla threw everything he’d known into this album and wound up delivering a simultaneous farewell and magnum opus three days before his passing; we should all be so lucky to produce something this moving in the face of our own mortality.” J Dilla’s music in “Donuts” embodies his legacy, and it is one of the best anyone could possibly hope for”.

This fascinating piece from Red Bull Music Academy Daily takes a deep look at Donuts and how it differed to everything else out there. It is well worth reading the whole article but these words stood out to me:

For 43 minutes across the 31 tracks of Donuts, released ten years ago this week, J Dilla breaks and rebuilds samples in a way that breaks and rebuilds the way you hear music. While the music is sample-based, the sources aren’t so much looped as they are transformed into molecules of sound. Dilla’s production turns tracks into convection currents, samples roiling in and out of the mix. And unlike any other instrumental hip hop album you’ve heard, you never once want, miss or even expect a single bar from an MC, let alone 16. Without question, it’s the high point of instrumental hip hop. It was also the last album Dilla would make.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Dewey Saunders  

Its influence has never waned. Five years out, his reach was long, his grip on hip hop – both indie and commercial – as strong as ever. Just listen to two Kanye West beats, a producer Dilla greatly admired, one five years pre-Donuts, one five years post. First, cue up to “Izzo (H.O.V.A)” from Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, one of Kanye’s first major commercial beats. The beat is inspired, no question, and catchy as hell, but hear the relative reverence for the Jacksons sample. Now listen to “Otis” from 2011’s Ye and Jay reunion Watch the Throne. Hear how chopped and jolting it is, how little deference is paid to the loop, to the sanctity of Redding’s voice. It’s garbled, warped, bleating. That’s a donut”.

A lot of people still do not know about J Dilla and how he managed to transform and evolve Hip-Hop. Even if you only listen to Donuts and do nothing else today, it gives you a better impression of the man and the passion he had. He was this rare gift and exceptional mind whose imagination ran wild and led to this wonderful music. His experience with other artists gave him the experience and confidence to put so much into his own work and I know albums like Donuts will continue to shape music for decades to come. There is more to his legacy than his final album (that he was alive to see released) but, in an age where there are few samples and instrumental albums, it is both rare and bittersweet. I wonder whether we will see a record like it and something as bold, original and packed with colours. It is clear we will never see another J Dilla: a superb and multi-talented M.C. and writer whose music has touched and changed so many lives. I will end things now but wanted to pay my respects to J Dilla, a day after what would have been his forty-fifth birthday. Sunday marks thirteen years to the day he died and it is a perfect reason to play his music and learn more about the man. Even this many years after his death, we are all learning details and sounds that show he was in...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Irish Times/Getty Images

A league of his own.

FEATURE: That First Year of School, All Nervous... A Dozen Classic Albums Turning Five in 2019

FEATURE:

 

 

That First Year of School, All Nervous...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beck (circa 2014)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

A Dozen Classic Albums Turning Five in 2019

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I started this process yesterday...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Perfume Genius (date unknown)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

and began by looking at albums celebrating fifteen years of life in 2019. It was good to uncover some great records that helped change music and make a giant impact. I am turning the clock forward and looking at albums released in 2014. It is good to uncover some great records that did really well that year but now, five years later, still sound brilliant and essential. It is always difficult to see which albums will last the test of time and whether it is worth marking their anniversary. In the case of these twelves albums, there is just cause to celebrate and get out some bunting. These are big albums that made their mark back in 2014 and are still being played/unpicked to this very day. You might be new to some of these albums whereas others will be pretty familiar and ingrained. I think you’ll agree these dozen albums are all magnificent, nuanced and filled with great moments! Make sure you take time to listen to them all and, when their anniversaries come out, mark them by spending some focused time investigating the songs. I look back at this magnificent year and am amazed by all the terrific albums that arrived. Familiarise yourself with these epic creations that made 2014...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: La Roux captured in 2014/PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Nodland for Billboard

A year to celebrate.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify

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FKA TwigsLP1

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Release Date: 6th August, 2014

Label: Young Turks

Producers: Various

Review:

There aren't as many 4am jams on here of the 'Papi Pacify' ilk, which may bother some fans, but the album operates a little later into the hangover and is more impressive for it. It feels carefully crafted and yet somehow gloriously spontaneous and accidental.

Twigs seems destined for endless comparisons with Banks such is the similarities in their sound, and it will be interesting to see whether the American's debut album can live up to this when it drops in September, but Twigs has the edge at the moment in terms of originality and texture, the vocals being of a higher thread count, the melodies reaching that bit further out into the ether.

FKA Twigs emerges the high priestess of R&B's latest corruption, and the world will kneel at the altar” – The Independent

Standout Cut: Two Weeks

Download/Stream: Pendulum/Video Girl/Kicks

Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 2

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Release Date: 24th October, 2014

Label: Mass Appeal

Producers: El-P/Little Shalimar/Boots/Wilder Zoby

Review:

Paranoid androids like "Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1" benefit, as if Run-DMC embraced EL-P's compressed beatmaking and dropped the F-bomb whenever possible. "Early" is deadly serious with Killer Mikepleading "I apologize if it seems I got out of line sir, cuz I respect the badge and a gun/And I pray today ain't the day you drag me away right in front of my son," and that's right before things turn grave. "All Due Respect" with Travis Barker enters Death Grips' territory with punk, techno, and vicious rhymes all crawling up the spine, but this rebel music can still come with a smirk, as a stuttering Zach de la Rochaoffers the infectious and weird hook on the wonderfully titled highlight "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)." If the first album was the supernova, RTJ2 is the RTJ universe forming, proving that Mike and El-P's one-off can be a going, and ever growing, concern” – AllMusic

Standout Cut: Blockbuster Night, Pt. I

Download/Stream: Oh My Darling Don’t Cry/Lie, Cheat, Steal/Angel Duster

The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

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Release Date: 18th March, 2014

Label: Secretly Canadian

Producer: Adam Granduciel

Review:

Dream’s best song, “Burning,” finds Granduciel confidently driving across an emotional rift, while “Dancing In The Dark” synths hum underneath. Dreamy instrumental “The Haunting Idle” is the only weak track; since the record is already abstract, the song redundantly interrupts its momentum.

As with other War On Drugs records, every hook on Lost In The Dream attempts to organize emotional chaos into understanding. Or as Granduciel puts it on “Burning,” we’re all “wide awake to redefine the way you listen in the dark.” On Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs provides the darkness, and fans are just lucky enough to listen” – AV Music

Standout Cut: Under the Pressure

Download/Stream: Red Eyes/The Haunting Idle/Lost in the Dream

St. VincentSt. Vincent

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Release Date: 24th February, 2014

Labels: Loma Vista/Republic

Producer: John Congleton

Review:

St Vincent's 40 minutes offer an embarrassment of fantastic songs: the electronic judder of Psychopath, the sumptuousness of I Prefer Your Love. It feels emotionally lighter than its predecessor – last time around there was a lot of sex, some of it a bit painful in every sense, whereas this time there's a lot more love – but Clark still comes up with some startling lyrics. Floating along on a kind of synthesised spectral chorus and blessed with the kind of tune you just want to wallow in, Prince Johnny is a fascinating puzzle: it's hard to work out whether the titular character is male or female, whether or not the song's narrator has slept with him or her, or how much their affection is tinged with contempt. In fact, the words are often ambiguous – Digital Witness isn't the only song about the disparity between public image and reality – but they're the only thing here that is: bold, poised, precise without sounding sterile, St Vincent seems to be a straightforward triumph” – The Guardian

Standout Cut: Digital Witness                 

Download/Stream: Birth in Reverse/Regret/Psychopath

Perfume GeniusToo Bright

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Release Date: 23rd September, 2014

Label: Matador

Producer: Adrian Utley

Review:

Hadreas' sexuality is obviously a huge part of his work, but he's above all a human—one who's spoken about battling addiction and sickness and sadness, and one who possesses the ability to write about it in a way that feels universal. A huge part of what makes the work so strong is the generous human spirit that bleeds into it, and Too Bright is the best example to date of the lengths he goes to confront his fears and demons. These songs feel less like songs and more like treasures, ones that fill you with power and wisdom, and as a result, Too Bright seems capable of resonating with, comforting, and moving anyone who's ever felt alienated, discriminated against, or "other-ized," regardless of sexual orientation” – Pitchfork

Standout Cut: Queen                                  

Download/Stream: Fool/My Body/Grid

Sharon Van EttenAre We There

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Release Date: 14th May, 2014

Label: Jagjaguwar

Producers: Sharon Van Etten/Stewart Lerman

Review:

Both ‘Break Me’ and ‘Tarifa’ float along with the buoyancy of vintage soul, recalling the misleadingly upbeat dynamic of ‘Tracks of My Tears’ by The Miracles or The Temptations' ‘Just My Imagination’. ‘I Love You But I’m Lost’ and ‘I Know’, on the other hand, rely on just one or two instruments to get their point across.

Although there is the occasional overwrought lyric (such as “Stab my eyes so I can’t see” on ’Your Love Is Killing Me’), and nothing ground-breaking here in terms of song structure or instrumentation, the emotion in the delivery makes up for it. Van Etten tackles heartache with refreshing sharpness, distilling complex sentiments into something beautifully simple
” – NME

Standout Cut: Taking Chances                

Download/Stream: Your Love Is Killing Me/You Know Me So Well/Break Me

D’Angelo and the VanguardBlack Messiah

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Release Date: 15th December, 2014

Label: RCA

Producers: D’Angelo/Alan Leeds/Kevin Liles

Review:

At the other end, there's "Another Life," a wailing, tugging ballad for the ages that sounds like a lost Chicago-Philly hybrid, sitar and all, with a mix that emphasizes the drums. Black Messiah clashes with mainstream R&B trends as much as Voodoo did in 2000. Unsurprisingly, the artist's label picked this album's tamest, most traditional segment -- the acoustic ballad "Really Love" -- as the first song serviced to commercial radio. It's the one closest to "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," the Voodoo cut that, due to its revealing video, made D'Angelo feel as if his image was getting across more than his music. In the following song, the strutting "Back to the Future (Part I)," D'Angelo gets wistful about a lost love and directly references that chapter: "So if you're wondering about the shape I'm in/I hope it ain't my abdomen that you're referring to." The mere existence of his third album evinces that, creatively, he's doing all right. That the album reaffirms the weakest-link status of his singular debut is something else” – AllMusic

Standout Cut: 1000 Deaths                       

Download/Stream: Really Love/Back to the Future (Part I)/Prayer

BeckMorning Phase

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Release Date: 21st February, 2014

Labels: Capitol/Fonograf

Producer: Beck

Review:

Beck remains a master of pastiche, and trainspotters can have a field day mapping reference points: “Blue Moon” shares a name with the Rodgers-Hart and Alex Chilton songs, but more closely resembles Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet” getting abstracted by Brian Eno in a Laurel Canyon time share. The strings from “Cycle” resurface in “Wave,” a lovely voice-and-orchestra meditation that could almost be a Björk cover. On “Country Down,” reminiscent of Harvest-era Neil Young, he sings about a man in a lifeboat while Greg Leisz’s pedal steel draws chem trails across the sky.

The album ends with another aching morning song, “Waking Light.” But the line that persists comes a few tracks earlier, on “Don’t Let It Go.” “In the crossfire, there’s a story,” Beck offers, “how it ends, we do not know.” With lyrical nods to Bob Dylan‘s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” and the crossfi rehurricane birth in the Stones‘ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the song is in effect about how musical storytelling helps us push through terrible times. Morning Phase aspires to no less” – Rolling Stone

Standout Cut: Waking Light                     

Download/Stream: Heart Is a Drum/Blue Moon/Wave

Azealia BanksBroke with Expensive Taste

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Release Date: 7th November, 2014

Labels: Azealia Banks/Prospect Park/Caroline

Producers: Various

Review:

Now she has shock-released Broke With Expensive Taste, her much delayed debut, herself, without label support, and it’s better than anyone might have reasonably expected. It’s an avant-garde hip-hop album that shows Banks has more in common with indie musicians such as fellow eccentric Ariel Pink, whose Sixties surf rock-style Nude Beach A Go-Go she covers, than with her fellow rappers.

Tales of New York life such as Gimme a Chance and BBD combine heavily rhythmic rapping with insouciance and sonic invention, while Miss Camaraderieis an eerily beautiful blend of house beats and synthesiser chords that’s imbued with a pervading sense of ennui. There are flutes, xylophones and tribal drums on Wallace, and reflections on Banks’s favourite soft drinks interlaced with soulfully related words of heartbreak on Soda. There are weak moments too, like the dated club track Heavy Metal and Reflective, but in the main this is a clever, far-reaching record, which proves Banks to be a far more thoughtful artist than her brattish persona suggests” – The Times

Standout Cut: Yung Rapunxel                                        

Download/Stream: Heavy Metal and Reflective/Ice Princess/Chasing Time

Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots

Release Date: 25th April, 2014 

Labels: Parlophone/Warner Bros.

Producers: Damon Albarn/Richard Russell/Brian Eno

Review:

On Lonely Press Play there’s a sedative quality to the musical repetitions as Albarn addresses “Arrhythmia/ Accepting that you live with uncertainty”. There’s a rare moment of domestic vulnerability on The Selfish Giant as Albarn sighs: “It’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on.” Meantime, Photographs (You are Taking Now) directly addresses the tension in our need to experience and document our lives simultaneously.

But it’s not all bittersweet blues. The final song, Heavy Seas of Love (co-written with Albarn’s gym buddy Brian Eno), has him shake off the isolation to fall into the arms of the Leytonstone Pentecostal Mission Church Choir for the musical equivalent of a group hug” – The Telegraph

Standout Cut: Everyday Robots                                    

Download/Stream: Lonely Press Play/Hollow Ponds/Photographs (You Are Taking Now)

alt-JThis Is All Yours

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Release Date: 22nd September, 2014 

Label: Infectious

Producer: Charlie Andrew

Review:

After all, this is a band that proved with its debut that it can go from icy, distant, and often excruciatingly beautiful to downright feral at the crack of a snare drum (or pots and pans, as the group's humble, dorm room beginnings often required), and This Is All Yours does little to tarnish their reputation as choirboys with dark passengers. That penchant for edgy refinement, along with frontman Joe Newman's elastic voice, remains the band's most effective weapon, but it's hard to pinpoint where and when that magic occurs, as it's so effortlessly woven into the group's sound. It's somewhere in between the autumnal and apocalyptic, Miley Cyrus-sampling "Hunger of the Pine," the bucolic, recorder-led "Garden of England," and the oddly soulful, midnight-black posturing of "The Gospel of John Hurt," and it gets under your skin, where it somehow manages to both hurt and heal” – AllMusic  

Standout Cut: Left Hand Free                  

Download/Stream: Nara/Every Other Freckle/Hunger of the Pine

La RouxTrouble in Paradise

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Release Date: 18th July, 2014 

Label: Polydor

Producers: Elly Jackson/Ian Sherwin/Al Shux

Review:

Conjuring up that weird, false sense of instant familiarity is one of the most potent and difficult tricks in pop music. It's what lies behind the mammoth success of both Daft Punk's Get Lucky and Pharrell Williams's Happy, and it happens over and over again on Trouble in Paradise, most arrestingly on the opening trio of songs: the single Uptight Downtown, the Abbaesque Kiss and Not Tell and Cruel Sexuality, which it seems fairly safe to say, is the most sublimely euphoric exploration in recent pop history of the pressures placed by society on the individual who declines to define themselves as either straight or gay.

In truth, the songwriting quality never really dips. Almost sickeningly overburdened with fantastic tunes, Trouble in Paradise may well be not just a triumph against the odds, but the best pop album we'll hear this year. Listening to it, it's hard not to feel that whatever agonies went into its creation were worth it” – The Guardian

Standout Cut: Kiss and Not Tell 

Download/Stream: Uptight Downtown/Paradise Is You/Tropical Chancer

FEATURE: Stuck in the Middle: Content or Context? Albums That Improve with Age and Were Overlooked Upon Initial Release

FEATURE:

 

 

Stuck in the Middle: Content or Context?

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

Albums That Improve with Age and Were Overlooked Upon Initial Release

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IT might seem odd to some that I have this particular album...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Natalie Imbruglia (date unknown)/PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

at the top and centre - I have been listening a lot to records that were given a bit of a mixed review when they came out. The reason I have started with Natalie Imbruglia’s Left of the Middle is because at the time, in 1997, it was subject to some mixed reviews. Her single, Torn, had been a massive success but many felt the remainder of the album did not have the same sort of power and memorability. I think some of the issue might have been with the artists around at the time and how Imbruglia fitted into the scene. I recall getting the album because I loved Torn and tracks like Big Mistake. Here was someone who was a bit different to what I was listening to in 1997 – the likes of Blur and Radiohead – and that might have been a consideration. The scene in 1997 was very much about these very different bands who were producing their own thing. It was a year when some epic albums were unleashed and I think Left of the Middle got overlooked. This retrospective review by AllMusic is positive:

Admittedly, some of the material will be seen as pop fluff by certain listeners, but fans of popular latter-day female artists like Paula ColeSheryl Crow, and Meredith Brooks will find Imbruglia's debut most enjoyable. What separates Imbruglia from the aforementioned artists is her willingness to experiment with electronic sounds, no doubt courtesy of mixer Nigel Godrich (of Radiohead fame), which can be heard on such tracks as "Smoke."

 

“Torn" proves to be the best song on the album, with its bouncy acoustic feel, but the pop/rocker "Big Mistake" is almost as good. Not all of the material on Left of the Middle fares as well, however, such as the Alanis Morissette sound-alike "Intuition," but Imbruglia need not worry about being lumped into the copycat category; for the most part, she has a style all her own”.

At the time, artists like Alanis Morissette were hitting it big – Jagged Little Pill came out in 1995 – and there were a few female singers who had that rather intense-sounding voice. Maybe it was common in 1997 to hear someone like Natalie Imbruglia. A lot of the songs on her debut are written off because there is a familiarity regarding the vocal. Turn the clock forward nearly twenty-two years and the songs actually stand up pretty well. There are some tracks that are a bit light but how many Pop artists do we have now like her?! Critics need to judge records on how the view them at the time and what is around them but I feel many of us overlook perfectly fine albums because of how we viewed them at the time. If there are singers like Paula Cole and Meredith Brooks around in 1997 – and that means there is little breathing room – then should we ignore the album years down the line?! I am not suggesting everyone listen to Left of the Middle now (although it is pretty good) but I feel a lot of dismissal and underwhelming reviews are based more on the flavour of the times and not indicative of the nuance and true quality of the material.  

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

There are many albums that get stick or are not completely adored when they are released and they sort of improve and find their place down the line. I have raised this subject before but there were some really big albums brought out in the 1980s and 1990s that critics hated and, since then, they have been proved wrong. Maybe the situation is different to that of Imbruglia and her experience but I feel there is this sense of not giving records chance; judging them against what is ‘normal’ or, if there are a few artists that sound the same, maybe writing someone off and assuming they are exactly the same. It happened a lot with Pop albums but there were some big Rock/Blues albums, like Led Zeppelin’s debut, that were written off by some. Rolling Stone felt the playing was proficient but the songwriting weak and the material too close to the Jeff Beck Group. Again, there was a sense that here was an artist a little too similar to someone else; why bother listening hard and realising there is personal depth and originality? John Mendelsohn, of Rolling Stone, tore apart Neil Young’s Harvest when it came out in 1972 and felt it offered nothing to set it apart from the pretty singer-songwriters at the time. One feels he might have been talking about singers like Joni Mitchell and not truly listening to the music. Even at the time the record was astonishing but, yeah, perhaps the fact a certain scene has died and the legends have passed, it makes albums like Harvest even stronger.

Think of the slightly cold reviews Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique received in 1989 and the comparison a few years later. Not many were prepared for a sample-heavy masterpiece back then and felt, because it was unusual, it was no good. 1989 was a great year for music – and Hip-Hop was hitting its peak – but there was not a lot around that had the same ambition and sounds as Paul’s Boutique.  Some reviewers not only compare albums in a contextual sense – whether they are too similar or inferior to what is already around – but they unfairly compare them to an artist’s previous work. Weezer’s Pinkerton is a classic case of reviewers looking for the U.S. group to repeat what we are used to and not accepting their 1996 gem. Rolling Stone readers ranked the album as the worst of 1996 and many critics hated the lyrics. Maybe it was not what we were used to from Weezer and confused by the sexual nature of the lyrics. Pinkerton was not a complete failure at the time – although Weezer’s lead, Rivers Cuomo sort of dismissed it – but I feel a lot of people were ranking it against what/who was popular in 1996 (Fugees, Beck and Manic Street Preachers included) and sort of being a bit myopic.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

If reviews for Pinkerton were a little mixed at the time, retrospective reviews, like this one, have redressed the balance:

Loosely structured as a concept album based on Madame Butterfly, each song works as an individual entity, driven by powerful, melodic hooks, a self-deprecating sense of humor ("Pink Triangle" is about a crush on a lesbian), and a touching vulnerability ("Across the Sea," "Why Bother?"). Weezer can still turn out catchy, offbeat singles -- "The Good Life" has a chorus that is more memorable than "Buddy Holly," "El Scorcho" twists Pavement's junk-culture references in on itself, "Falling for You" is the most propulsive thing they've yet recorded -- but the band's endearing geekiness isn't as cutesy as before, which means the album wasn't as successful on the charts. But it's the better album, full of crunching power pop with a surprisingly strong emotional undercurrent that becomes all the more resonant with each play”.

The one and only album from Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, was attacked because of its anarchic and rebellious spirit. I feel a lot of critics were not really listening the songs and the fact they conveyed huge potency and quality. Maybe many did not like the band’s anti-royalist stance but now, in 2019, an album like this sounds completely right and fresh. I am not saying all critics would rave but we are more used to albums like Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. If critics were not aware of the Sex Pistols’ place in Punk in 1977 then many felt the same the same about The Rolling Stones and their impact on Rock in 1972 – Exile on Main St. was initially seen as quite ragged and unfocused. Maybe critics were used to a slightly cleaner and more focused style of music but, given the fact it was The Rolling Stones, I am shocked to see any negative reviews for such a great album! Many might see this pattern and think that it is mainly Rock and Punk bands who were ahead of their time. Ramones were subject to doubts when they unveiled masterpieces and the same is true of Black Sabbath and Nirvana. Look at some Pop diamonds and it is not a certain style of music critics misunderstand. I will return to Natalie Imbruglia in a bit but there have been some great Pop records that have been written off and only revaluated further down the line.

Michael Jackson’s Bad arrived in 1987 and, compared to 1982’s Thriller, many felt it was a pale imitation and an album that did not scale the same heights. This is a case of critics comparing artists to what they perceive is their ‘golden days’ and, in 1987, huge albums like Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’ Roses) and The Joshua Tree (U2) were out. Even though this was Jacko, was it the case there was not a lot of Bad-sounding albums around – were critics judging it against what was trending at the time and not given the material a fair shout?! When the Spice Girls released their 1996 debut, Spice, they were perceived by some as another bubblegum band that were not adding anything with depth and quality. Again, look at the year 1996 and the fact albums by Rage Against the Machine (Evil Empire), DJ Shadow (Entroducing.....); Beck (Odelay) and Tupac Shakur (All Eyez on Me) were receiving a lot of praise. Look back now and the Spice Girls’ debut is a solid and memorable set of songs. It actually stands out more now because there is a surfeit of like-minded artists. Girl bands are somewhat redundant and Pop is becoming less anthemic, fun and interesting. 1996 was a hard year to pitch a Pop tent because we had passed through the best of Britpop and a new dynamic was taking shape. Critics were keen to emphasise this and not too concerned with listening to the songs in their own right and not being concerned with how Spice ‘fitted in’.

Perhaps a lot of these once-maligned albums become bigger and more relevant because of how they change music. I do wonder what some critics were listening to when they give albums from Michael Jackson, Spice Girls; Led Zeppelin and Neil Young bad press. Another Pop act that were overlooked because they were outside of current convention was No Doubt. They introduced their eponymous album out in 1992 and it has Ska and Pop mixing together. This was the time when Grunge was ruling and critics were drooling over something a little meatier, masculine and familiar. This is an album many critics are unsure of because it differs to the more radio-friendly Pop they would become known for. One of the most famous cases of an album being judged based on past standards and expectations is The Beatles’ Let It Be. In 1970, many were embracing bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and there was less attention for The Beatles. The band was gaining headlines because of tensions and the fact they were nearing the end but many critics in 1970 were not too keen on Let It Be. A lot of contemporaries felt Let It Be was a sorry addition to the band’s output and not a fitting epitaph. Retrospective reviews were kinder and saw true quality. This review from Pitchfork in 2009 highlights issues around the album and how we should view Let It Be:

And when they finished, no one really liked what they'd laid down on tape. So not surprisingly, the essential nature of Let It Be is that it feels incomplete and fragmented; it's a difficult album to peg because the Beatles were never sure themselves what they wanted it to be. So the best way to approach it is as a collection of songs by guys who still were churning out classics with some regularity. It may not succeed on the level of the Beatles' previous albums, but there's enough good material to make it a worthy entry in their canon”.

There are many cases of albums being judged against what is popular then rather than the quality on display. We can all name other albums that were sort of given short shrift because they did not conform with what was popular back then; maybe it was not what we expected from an established artist but, in many cases, albums have grown and found new room because of changes in terms of sounds and genres. There are bigger albums than Natalie Imbruglia’s Left of the Middle that deserve new ears and bigger reviews but I was particular stirred by her debut. It was a case of there being similar-sounding female artists being around and I think many were too eager to compare Imbruglia to them. Urban Hymns by The Verve came out in 1997; The Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land came out then as did The Chemical Brothers’ Did Your Own Hole and Oasis’ Be Here Now – an album, ironically, that got great reviews back then but, upon closer listen, did not fare too well. I do like Natalie Imbruglia’s debut and think the songs, on their own, stand up and warrant more appreciation. I look at other albums I have mentioned and feel like critics need to judge them fairly and not compare them to the current scene or what they deem is ‘cool’ and ‘original’. The more you think about it and research, you will be shocked by some now-respected albums that, back when they were released, were given...

A beating by critics.

FEATURE: The Not-So-Awkward Teens: A Dozen Brilliant Albums Turning Fifteen in 2019

FEATURE:

 

 

The Not-So-Awkward Teens

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IN THIS PHOTO: Björk captured in 2004/PHOTO CREDIT: Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones 

A Dozen Brilliant Albums Turning Fifteen in 2019

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I will do another couple of pieces that look at albums...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Libertines in 2004/PHOTO CREDIT: Dean Chalkley/NME

celebrating big anniversaries – I am keen to look at those released in 1984 and 1974 – but, for now, I will at the albums turning fifteen this year. It is that stage in life (fifteen) when you are still at school and learning so much; maybe nervous regarding the future but on the way to becoming an album. In musical terms, it is quite a long time but it is good to have a look at these twelve albums below and see how they have aged and the impact they made. I was in university (just) in 2004 and it was a great year when it came to discovering new music. I left that September but I remember a lot of the best records that year and I still have many in my collection. I think it is worth marking any album that has a big anniversary and these L.P.s are no exception. Maybe you are experiencing them for the first time or heard them when they came out – amazed that it was that long ago! I will go back and investigate great records from 1974 and 1984 but, right now, here are twelve exceptional albums that wowed the music world...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Arcade Fire photoed in 2004/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

BACK in 2004.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify

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The StreetsA Grand Don’t Come for Free

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Release Date: 17th May, 2004

Labels: Locked On/679

Producer: Mike Skinner

Review:

By stressing his paranoia and doubts ("It's hard enough to remember my opinions, never mind the reasons for them," he blubbers as he loses a domestic dispute), he deftly avoids the melodrama of today's network reality TV. Instead, his approach echoes the faux reality of The Office (which shares a non-ending ending with A Grand) and the me-first neediness of its "star" David Brent (whose final-episode self-actualization echoes Skinner's). Like The Office, Skinner's anthropological humanism typically focuses on either the mundane or disappointing-- and, let's face it, life is most often one or the other--- but he does so with such endearing intimacy and bare honesty that it's easy to give yourself over to the album's narrative on first listen and, perhaps just as importantly, to want to revisit it over and over again” – Pitchfork

Standout Cut: Dry Your Eyes

Stream/Download: It Was Supposed to Be So Easy/Blinded by the Lights/Fit But You Know It

Kanye WestThe College Dropout

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Release Date: 10th February, 2004

Labels: Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella

Producers: Various

Review:

Even though those with their ears to the street knew West could excel as an MC, he has used this album as an opportunity to prove his less-known skills to a wider audience. One of the most poignant moments is on "All Falls Down," where the self-effacing West examines self-consciousness in the context of his community: "Rollies and Pashas done drive me crazy/I can't even pronounce nothing, yo pass the Versacey/Then I spent 400 bucks on this just to be like 'N*gga you ain't up on this'." If the notion that the album runs much deeper than the singles isn't enough, there's something of a surprising bonus: rather puzzlingly, a slightly adjusted mix of "Slow Jamz" -- a side-splitting ode to legends of baby-making soul that originally appeared on Twista's Kamikaze, just before that MC received his own Roc-a-Fella chain -- also appears. Prior to this album, we were more than aware that West's stature as a producer was undeniable; now we know that he's also a remarkably versatile lyricist and a valuable MC” – AllMusic

Standout Cut: All Falls Down                         

Stream/Download: Jesus Walks/The New Workout Plan/Slow Jamz

Devendra BanhartRejoicing in the Hands

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Release Date: 24th April, 2004

Label: Young God

Producers: Devendra Banhart/Michael Gira

Review:

Rejoicing in the Hands establishes Banhart as a major voice in new folk music. Not only does it improve on the promise of his earlier releases; it effortlessly removes the listener from the context of the recording. That is, it doesn't seem like an album so much as a collection of road hymns and journals, and small tributes to smaller pleasures. If some people miss the appeal of this stuff in an attempt to digest it as any other product, all the better knowing Banhart will probably keep on rejoicing until forever” – Pitchfork  

Standout Cut: This is the Way                       

Stream/Download: The Body Breaks/Will Is My Friend/See Saw

Green DayAmerican Idiot

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Release Date: 20th September, 2004

Label: Reprise

Producers: Rob Cavallo/Green Day

Review:

“...All of which should make anyone want to hole up with an Ramones album. But Green Day — namely, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong — make the journey entertaining enough. At various times, American Idiot evokes football-game chants, ’50s greaser rock, military marches, classic rock (hints of ”Strawberry Fields Forever” and ”All the Young Dudes”), and the band’s own past (”Wake Me Up When September Ends,” an elegiac bookend to their own ”Good Riddance [Time of Your Life]”). As often happens with concept albums, the disc tends to rely on lyrics over music, so some of the songs are forgettable. But Green Day are now slinging mud not at their audience but at America’s pumped-up militaryindustrial complex — where ”a flag [is] wrapped around a score of men” and war rages ”from Anaheim to the Middle East” — without losing their bratty humor or power chords” – Entertainment Weekly   

Standout Cut: American Idiot                       

Stream/Download: Holiday/Boulevard of Broken Dreams; Give Me Novocaine/She’s a Rebel; Wake Me Up When September Ends

Loretta LynnVan Lear Rose

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Release Date: 27th April, 2004 (U.S.)

Label: Interscope

Producer: Jack White

Review:

Each song is sung by Lynn's untarnished voice. She has somehow managed to maintain her gorgeous vocal cords through the years, sounding as youthful as ever.

The musical accompaniment here really pushes the songs to great heights. Whether it's the slight airiness around one of Jack's guitar riffs, a crisp crack of a snare, or the sudden emergence of slide guitar, the additional instruments provide a complimentary boost. Jack's production techniques sound both aged and modern; a fine balancing act that does Loretta's solid songs much justice. Without White's assistance, these immaculate tunes may have not gotten the exposure they certainly deserve. Van Lear Rose owes its greatness to timing and well-bred songwriting” – Tiny Mix Tapes

Standout Cut: Family Tree                              

Stream/Download: Portland, Oregon/Have Mercy/This Old House

Arcade FireFuneral

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Release Date: 14th September, 2004

Label: Merge

Producer: Arcade Fire

Review:

“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” captures 24-year-old Butler’s obsession with innocence and his fantastical way of exploring it. A blizzard covers the suburbs, burying the parents, and two young lovers meet to start the world over again. Snow is a symbol for death and renewal. Blackouts play a similar role in the gentle, New Wave–tinged “Une année sans lumière.” Chassagne — who sings one of the album’s best songs, the nostalgic “Haiti,” and its worst, the precious “In the Backseat” — shares his preoccupations.

As the parentheses and French title suggest, this youth movement is more pretentious than, say, blink-182’s. But while Butler’s lyrics can feel overwrought, his desperate yelp and cracked croon add patina and grit to the purple. And the music — whether danceable, bittersweet, stately or avalanching — reveals added nuance with every listen. Which is to say, it ages gracefully
” – Blender

Standout Cut: Rebellion (Lies)                       

Stream/Download: Neighborhood #2 (Laika)/Haiti/In the Backseat

The LibertinesThe Libertines

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Release Date: 30th August, 2004

Label: Rough Trade

Producer: Mick Jones

Review:

Despite conflict being writ large over the album, the only actual fight occurred during the recording of'Music When The Lights Go Out', a beautiful acoustic strum. Elsewhere, the songs not explicitly dealing with Pete'n' Carl's relationship are even better.'Campaign Of Hate', 'The Ha Ha Wall' and 'Narcissist' are La's-inspired Libland anthems superior to anything on the debut. Meanwhile 'What Katie Did' and 'Don't Be Shy' display a new-found tenderness.

But it's 'The Man Who Would Be King' that's perhaps the album's greatest achievement. Displaying the best "la la la"s since [a][/a] first flexed his larynx for'This Charming Man', it then dissolves through a haze of trumpets into a waltz as deliciously hazy as [a][/a]''Golden Brown'.

'The Libertines' even manages a little social commentary. The 73-second punk thrash 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (translation: 'Work Liberates') takes its title from the sign above the gates of the Auschwitz camp where millions of Jews were gassed. Ladling it on thickly, its payoff comes from a British soldier who fought the Nazis but doesn't like "blacks or queers".

Finally, there's'France', a fragile lament sung by a weezing Carl to a former French girlfriend. After the fighting, it's a moment of beauty, like sunshine after a storm: a reminder of what 
Libertines are. And what they could still be.

Whatever happens, this an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime album, proving 
Libertines are both the stuff of revolution and aesthetic princelings among the (very) lumpen indie proletariat. We won't see their like again” – NME

Standout Cut: Can’t Stand Me Now          

Stream/Download: Last Post on the Bugle/Music When the Lights Go Out/What Katie Did

BjörkMedúlla 

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Release Date: 30th August, 2004

Labels: One Little Indian/Elektra

Producers: Björk/Mark Bell

Review:

Björk began recording the album with those darned old instruments before her au naturel epiphany, but only a couple of tracks belie their origins as conventional pop songs. Most easily digestible is the peppy, nearly hip-hop-flavored ”Triumph of a Heart” tucked away at disc’s end, as if a reward for making it through the more challenging passages. Leading up to that, you get a few sinister-sounding examinations of human behavior whose growling, gulping, or moaning will alienate some ears. ”Submarine” has guest Robert Wyatt warbling for help in queasy falsetto, sounding like Carl Wilson trapped under ice. Her strikingly beautiful Olympics song, ”Oceania,” is more rapturously aquatic, the computer-enhanced choir behind Björk suggesting a cosmic harem of pleased dolphins. Here she imagines herself as the sea itself, proud of all the belegged creatures she’s spit out onto land over the last hundred million years. It’s the nearest evolutionists have come to having their own gospel tune.

Björk has said a guiding rule for the album was ”not to sound like the Manhattan Transfer or Bobby McFerrin.” Well, duh — but if that was hardly a danger, there was every likelihood that the album’s synths-for-larynxes quid pro quo would be remembered as a stunt, at best, instead of one of her best efforts. To anyone approaching Medúlla with that apprehension, we offer these four words: Don’t worry, be happy” – Entertainment Weekly

Standout Cut: Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)  

Stream/Download: Pleasure Is All Mine/Oceania/Triumph of a Heart

Franz FerdinandFranz Ferdinand 

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Release Date: 9th February, 2004

Label: Domino

Producers: Franz Ferdinand/Tore Johansson

Review:

On the rare occasions that an alt-rock artist dabbles with sexual ambiguity in their lyrics, they either start carrying on as if they personally invented the concept of homosexuality and deserve some sort of medal - see electro-rapper Peaches - or else, like Suede, they overdo the mincing and end up sounding ridiculous, like John Inman visiting an indie disco. Michael does neither, settling for an intriguing combination of sly humour and bug-eyed lust, as if the song's central character started camping it up for a laugh and ended up in rather deeper water than he had anticipated.

You simply don't get songs like Michael very often in current rock music. It's symptomatic of the originality that makes Franz Ferdinand so intriguing. Their debut album pulls off a fine balancing act: clever without sounding pretentious, idiosyncratic but easy to get along with, a shift away from post-Britpop traditionalism that still recognises the importance of writing great pop songs. You can only hope their success continues long after the madness of the January charts has subsided. Listening to their debut album, that seems a fairly safe bet” – The Guardian

Standout Cut: Take Me Out

Stream/Download: Tell Her Tonight/The Dark of the Matinée/Michael

Elliott SmithFrom a Basement on the Hill 

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Release Date: 18th October, 2004

Labels: ANTI-/Domino (U.K. and Europe)

Producers: Elliott Smith/Rob Schnapf/Joanna Bolme

Review:

Perhaps it's not "the next White Album," which is what McConnell claims it could have been, but it has a similarly freewheeling spirit, bouncing from sweet pop to fingerpicked acoustic guitars to fuzzy neo-psychedelic washes of sound. It's not far removed from Smith's previous work, but it feels like a step forward from the fussy Figure 8 and more intimate than XO. The most surprising twist is that despite the occasional lyrics that seem to telegraph his death (particularly on "A Fond Farewell"), it's not a crushingly heavy album. Like the best of his music, From a Basement on the Hill is comforting in its sadness; it's empathetic, not alienating. Given Smith's tragic fate, it also sadly seems like a summation of his work. All of his trademarks are here -- his soft, sad voice, a fixation on '60s pop, a warm sense of melancholy -- delivered in a strong set of songs that stands among his best. It may or may not be exactly what Elliott Smith intended these recording sessions to be, but as it stands, From a Basement on the Hill is a fond farewell to a singer/songwriter who many indie rockers of the '90s considered a friend” – AllMusic

Standout Cut: Pretty (Ugly Before)

Stream/Download: Don’t Go Down/Twilight/Shooting Star

Brian WilsonBrian Wilson Presents Smile 

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Release Date: 28th September, 2004

Label: Nonesuch

Producer: Brian Wilson

Review:

Here, then, is a faithfully remade version of that celestial undertaking, minus the Beach Boys, of course, and no longer clothed in the warm glow of analogue recording technology, but mind-blowing all the same. From the opening a capella harmonies of 'Our Prayer/Gee' to the closing chords of 'Good Vibrations', it unfolds in its original, and never before complete, sequence as a thing of rare beauty and cumulative power.

Like 'Surf's Up', the song that ends the album's second movement, the seldom heard 'Roll Plymouth Rock' is another of Parks's elliptical lyrics, though more instantly recognisable as a signature Beach Boys song than almost anything else here. 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow', originally titled 'Mrs O'Leary's Fire', may well be the 'scary orchestra piece' that Wilson alluded to, still looking disturbed by the memory, when I interviewed him a few years back. It is uneasy listening in every sense, and the only segment that suggests the fragility of his mind back then, and the abyss he fell into thereafter.

The rest is as wondrous and as complex as the claims made on its behalf for all those years, though strangely disconcerting in a kind of Brian Wilson heritage industry way. (Imagine, by way of comparison, McCartney re-recording 'Sgt. Pepper' with George Martin and the best Beatles' tribute band in the world.)

For all that, it raises one of pop's great unanswerable questions: had Brian kept it together back then, where would he have gone from here? God only knows” – The Observer

Standout Cut: Heroes and Villains

Stream/Download: Roll Plymouth Rock/Wonderful/Surf’s Up

Nick Cave & the Bad SeedsAbattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus 

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Release Date: 20th September, 2004

Label: Mute

Producer: Nick Launay

Review:

Cave also has a sense of humour (he once penned an open letter insisting that he would not "harness my muse to this tumbrel, this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes", certainly an original way to decline an MTV award), a fact that emerged in No More Shall We Part and becomes even more evident here. Repeatedly, the lyrics make you laugh out loud. His retelling of the myth of Orpheus ends with everyone concerned profoundly unmoved by his lamentations: God ("a major player in Heaven") throws a hammer at him, while Eurydice emerges from the underworld and threatens to shove his lyre up his arse.

There She Goes My Beautiful World picks at the subject of writer's block, snapping disconsolately at other artists' means of finding inspiration: "Gauguin, he buggered off man, and went all tropical." Abattoir Blues is packed with standard apocalyptic Cave imagery, but he sounds most horrified about a visit to Starbucks: "The sky is on fire, the dead are heaped across the land," he moans. "I woke up this morning with a Frappucino in my hand."

You can't really imagine anyone else in rock writing lyrics like that, but then, you really can't imagine anyone else making an album like this. Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus is an entirely unique return to form” – The Guardian

Standout Cut: Nature Boy                              

Stream/Download: Get Ready for Love/Messiah Ward/Breathless

FEATURE: One Love: The Ultimate Playlist: Remembering Bob Marley at Seventy-Four

FEATURE:

 

 

One Love: The Ultimate Playlist

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IN THIS IMAGE: Bob Marley/ART CREDIT: Naydene Gonnella  

Remembering Bob Marley at Seventy-Four

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THE iconic Bob Marley would have been seventy-four today...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Marley captured in 1980/PHOTO CREDIT: © Lynn Goldsmith

and, whilst he died tragically young (only thirty-six), his impact on music is obvious. There have been few artists able to make such an impression in such a short life – I can only think of John Lennon off the top of my head! Marley’s distinct and powerful sound helped bring Reggae to the masses and his voice is eternal. You only need hear a few seconds of a Bob Marley song and know you will be seduced, amazed and educated. Whether solo or playing with his Wailers, there is a huge catalogue of material out there. I only discovered Bob Marley when I was in middle school and, whilst that may sound young, there are those who were exposed to his music even earlier. I think the first track of his that sticks in the mind is Iron Lion Zion. I love its energy and how catchy it is but, years later, I went back and explored its messages and symbolism. Marley was not an artist who wrote songs and simply wanted them to be chart hits that people could bop to: his words were like political and religious sermons; a chance to unite people and raise awareness. Not only were there political intents but religious and spiritual ones. Whilst I am not an aficionado when it comes to Reggae and aware of a lot of the racial tensions that Marley speaks of; I could easily emphasise and attach myself to his music.

1977’s Exodus is one of my favourite albums and songs such as Jamming, Waiting in Vain and Three Little Birds are classics. That album was the ninth from Bob Marley and the Wailers and followed an association attempt. Marley fled Jamaica and arrived in London; the album was recorded after one of the most stressful and frightening experiences of Marley’s life yet there is so much peace, love and togetherness. This album especially resonated with the critics. If Marley had strayed more away from specific political messages and a focused vision; more towards a more general vibe of love and togetherness, that did not make the music any less spectacular – as AllMusic state in this review:

Thematically, Exodus represented a subtle but significant shift for Marley; while he continued to speak out against political corruption and for freedom and equality for Third World people, his lyrics dealt less with specifics and more with generalities and the need for peace and love (though "So Much Things to Say," "Guiltiness," and "The Heathen" demonstrate the bullets had taken only so much sting out of Marley's lyrics). And while songs like "Exodus" and "One Love/People Get Ready" were anthemic, they also had less to say than the more pointed material from Marley's earlier albums...

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

However, if Marley had become more wary in his point of view (and not without good cause), his skill as a songwriter was as strong as ever, and Exodus boasted more than a few classics, including the title song, "Three Little Birds," "Waiting in Vain," and "Turn Your Lights Down Low," tunes that defined Marley's gift for sounding laid-back and incisive at once. His gifts as a vocalist were near their peak on these sessions, bringing a broad range of emotional color to his performances, and this lineup of the Wailers -- anchored by bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett, drummer Carlton Barrett, and guitarist Julian "Junior" Murvin -- is superb, effortlessly in the pocket throughout. Exodus was recorded at a time when Bob Marley was learning about the unexpected costs of international stardom, but it hadn't yet sapped his creative strengths, and this is one of the finest albums in his stellar catalog”.

The music and legacy of Bob Marley means a lot of different things to different people. It is clear Marley made a huge impact on the world and certainly changed it for the better. As I said earlier, we often jump to Bob Marley when defining what Reggae is and the power it holds. This article from The Conversation explains in more detail:

If there is anything that is to be associated with reggae music, the Afrocentric religion of Rastafari, or the Caribbean island of Jamaica, the first name that comes to mind is Bob Marley. Despite this, the reality that the world often tends to associate Marley with is far different from the one he grew up in more than 70 years ago...

 

Marley lived in a Jamaica that had experienced more than 200 years of slavery and colonialism. This would have a great impact on him, considering that he was born from a white father and a black mother. The key to understanding Marley was not merely the music but the life experiences that played a part in shaping the individual and, ultimately, the music that the world would come to know”.

The article explores his background but also makes a good point regarding the depth of the music. Marley was not merely about getting the sound right and making a song chime on one level. His music was a way of conveying vital messages and he helped fight for causes, speak of religion and the need to come together. The Conversation article touches on this:

Marley’s influence was not limited to simply making music for the sake of entertainment. He was most noted for using his music to spread the message of Rastafari. Rastafari is a phenomenon that began in the 1930s in response to a message given by Jamaican nationalist Marcus Garvey, who proclaimed that African people in the diaspora should look to Africa, where a black king would be crowned. It was here that they would find their redemption.

There are very few musicians in this present day that may claim to use their music to fight for causes that Marley may have fought for. Marley did not only speak about love and unity among all mankind as seen in his 1977 song One Love. He also spoke about the sufferings of the world in his songs. These include So Much Trouble in the WorldBurnin’ and Lootin’Johnny Was and War. This is what has made Marley not just relevant to his time but to ours as well”.

We all have our list of favourite Bob Marley/Wailers tracks and I have ended with a playlist – I hope I have covered the bases! Whilst Marley did die young, he made this enormous impression on music and, throughout his career, he was making music that reflected the violence and division around him. This piece talks about the legendary One Love Peace Concert in 1978:

On April 22 1978 at The National Stadium in Kingston, the One Love Peace Concert, or 'Third World Woodstock' as it was known, took place in front of 32,000 spectators.

The violence was so out-of-control in Kingston at the time that there was a ban on the sale of oranges at the festival. Authorities feared they'd be used as weapons.

During the concert, under a full moon, Marley improvised while performing his song Jammin' and spontaneously summoned the Prime Minister, Manley, and the opposing leader, Seaga, to join him on stage.

"I'm not so good at talking but I hope you understand what I'm trying to say.

"Well, I'm trying to say, could we have, could we have, up here onstage here the presence of Mr. Michael Manley and Mr. Edward Seaga. I just want to shake hands and show the people that we're gonna make it right, we're gonna unite, we're gonna make it right, we've got to unite.

"The moon is right over my head, and I give my love instead. The moon was right above my head, and I give my love instead," Marley said”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

I can’t think of that many artists who have done so much to progress music and advance certain genres/spiritual movements. I wonder what Marley would make of the modern world and whether he would still be making music. I’d like to think the man would be, in his seventies, jamming away and putting the world to rights! He would be attacking Donald Trump and the hate in the world and I wonder whether Trump would have even been elected had Marley lived longer and written more! We need a figure like Bob Marley now more than ever and, whilst there are some potent songwriters who can unite us, nobody was able to project the same power as Marley! His songs are timeless and his themes of peace, love and acceptance will never die. We need to hold onto his music and use it to help inform the world and make it a better place. That may sound sappy but that is all Marley wanted; he wanted to highlight tensions and discrimination but help bring about change and understanding through peaceful means. Bob Marley was a political leader and god-like icon; a true hero that made us all smile and feel better. As we remember him on his seventy-fourth birthday, have a listen to the playlist below and realise what a hugely important figure...

BOB Marley is.