Saturday, 24 February 2018

Marc Bolan and T.Rex - Remixes

Here we go - time for another (almost annual!!!) post. And this one will be fun - trust me!

So, around September last year (that's 2017, just in case you're reading this in the future!) there was A LOT of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth because, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Marc Bolan's passing, Edsel had commissioned a number of remixes of some of Marc's biggest (and, it must be said, not so biggest!) hits. This, apparently, was considered a venal sin by many of the Marc Bolan / T.Rex officionados, but I was willing to at least give it the once over.

It did take a VERY LONG TIME for this to arrive from the UK, I must admit. No fault of or any other third party logistics service, but more a case of severe procrastination on the part of my skin-and-blister back over in dear ol' Blighty! Any-hoo, by the time I did get my grubby paws on it - early January 2018!!! - much of the 40th anniversary hullabaloo had dissipated into the usual background buzz, and I was more than happy to give the CD a whirl to see if the nay-sayers were justified in their gloomy prognostications, or, as I was hoping, these 21st century re-works of the 20th Century Boy's masterworks were every bit as listenable and enjoyable as they had been way, way back in the early 1970's.
And the verdict is...
In the main, I am blown away and delighted with the music and the way it has been refreshed to bring it into the modern arena. The majority of the tracks are actually AWESOME, and more than a few bring a lump of pleasure to the throat as they re-portray the fantastic and timeless work of the King of Glam Rock! I say "in the main" because I have to be honest and say that not every track works, and some could easily have been replaced with one of Marc's more popular or accessible songs. And, it does have to be said, repeats of the same song reworked numerous times - Children of the Revolution 3 times! 20th Century Boy twice! - begs the question, "Couldn't they have included more?"
Paradoxically, so that you don't get me wrong, I actually love all three versions of Children of the Revolution and the two versions of 20th Century Boy, and would have not liked to have missed them all - but would I have known?  And there are the misses - 2 versions of Light Of Love - never my fave Marc single - along with Precious Star, Cadilac, Born To Boogie and a dubious version of New York City that all could have made way for better (in my humble opinion) tracks such as Think Zinc, Dreamy Lady, Dandy In The Underworld or any of dozens of others. In fact, the very size of the Bolan catalog leaves me wondering why they chose the few they did, even being limited, as they obviously were, to the T.Rex Wax Co catalog.
Anyway, for the majority of the tracks, I was thrilled to listen to them, see the changes the crews had made, and enjoy them anew as further examples of Marc's brilliance. The DJ Sae One remix of Solid Gold Easy Action and the X. Ert remix of 20th Century Boy are foot-stomping phenomenal, while Castleman's treatment of Teenage Dream is thoughtful and emotive, and the Infuze edition of Calling All Destroyers could easily have graced the soundtrack of Black Panther! And the remix versions of Metal Guru (Book) and Telegram Sam (Kent Rockafeller) hold their own amidst the more powerful reworkings they are nestled amidst.
All-in-all, I think this is an album definitely worth listening to. I honestly believe Marc would have been very happy with all of the results, as he was always looking for new ways to present his songs - just ask Steve Harley about their last conversation - and if he had still been alive, I firmly believe the work he'd be producing would have included a lot of these tricks and renderings.
So give your ears a treat and listen to the new Bolan. Given these as examples, who knows what he would have achieved! link here: T.Rex Remixes

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Return to Ommadawn - Mike Oldfield - The Music that Dreams are made of!

One of the most interesting and thoughtful gifts I received from my wife for Valentine's Day was Mike Oldfield's long-awaited sequel to his 1975 album Ommadawn, titled Return to Ommadawn
I have to admit, I have been listening to a lot of great music by some of my favourite artists over the last few months, much of that new releases of original albums, with some new works thrown in, which have produced some very emotional responses, and this album certainly produced some "lump in the throat" moments.
Like the original, Return to Ommadawn has only 2 tracks, Return to Ommadawn Part 1 and Return to Ommadawn Part 2, each of which is over 20 minutes long, making the new album somewhat longer than the original. Like the original, the tracks are made up of various segments of mainly instrumental pieces that reflect both Celtic and African musical influences, along with a strong touch of New Age folk woven throughout.  Like many - if not most - of Mike Oldfield's albums, the long duration of each track makes them ideal for zoning out to, or meditating on a theme, or whatever your pastimes involve.  I like to think of these as the Music That Dreams Are Made Of, because I certainly have created innumerable dreams and scenes while listening to Oldfield albums, and Return to Ommadawn is no exception when it comes to inspiration generation. 
There is enough similarity between the original Ommadawn and Return to Ommadawn, with the Ommadawn theme motif occurring throughout. And I definitely had a lump in the throat at the reprise of On Horseback, even though it was a more fragmented version than the original.  I do have to be honest, though, and say there were some musical treatments in the original that I missed in the new album, such as the Uilleann pipes of Paddy Moloney, which was always one of my favourite pieces of the original. 

On the other hand, I was surprised at the inclusion of musical motifs from other Oldfield albums and songs, such as that from The Voyager, from the album of the same name, as well as a semblance of the motif from First Steps, from the Light + Shade album. While it is interesting that Oldfield apparently has a penchant for recycling riffs and melodies from album to album - a trend I have noticed on more than one occasion - one tends to hope that this is more in oversight than intention, or, even more alarmingly, a lack of creativity.
All-in-all, I am very taken by the album, and will definitely be listening to it repeatedly for a long time.  The original was one of my favourite Oldfield albums, along with Incantations, and Return to Ommadawn brings back all of those memories, as well as setting up a whole set of new Dreams and Inspirations! And the 5.1 surround sound DVD is an awesome musical experience in and of its own right!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Marillion - F.E.A.R.

Chris, my wonderful wife - let's face it, she puts up with MOI! - as part of my Christmas 2016 gift haul, indulged my memories of years gone by, by buying me a copy of Marillion's latest album, F.E.A.R., or, more prosaically, Fuck Everyone And Run.  And I have to say - it's awesome, and almost everything I would have expected, but for one debatable flaw.  Or not - depending on your point of view.
I have many fond memories of Marillion "back in the day", from their first album, the still unfathomably brilliant and wonderful Script for a Jester's Tear, and throughout their 1980's into 1990's career. Of course, and even now, I still hanker after the plaintive, angst-ridden vulnerability of Fish's vocals, but more of that later! ;)
F.E.A.R. is an admirable addition to the Marillion pantheon of progressive rock, better, in my humble opinion, than their last offering, Sounds That Can't Be Made. F.E.A.R. returns us to those early days of Marillion's musical supremacy, recreating the sounds of Script, Fugazi and Misplaced Childhood that drew the group a strong following in the 1980s. In fact, there were times, as I listened, I could almost hear, and even feel, that wistful wall of Mark Kelly's keyboard sound that fills one's heart with powerful emotion, and those soul-rending riffs from Steve Rothery's guitar. Almost, I was back in The Smoke, wandering the streets around Hampstead Heath, imbibing the odd V&T in the Hollybush. Definitely worth the investment if you're looking for something new and yet nostalgic to brighten your life.
And yet, for the old-fart purist like me, it just misses that mark of perfection, because I am still left waiting for that sweetly-pitched warble of Fish's lonely tone - his inspiring timbre of lamentation that provides that final, soul-destroying satisfaction. And yet, oddly, I found myself thinking, at various moments in the album, that particular tonality that Steve Hogarth delivers could not have been delivered equally as well by Fish. But there were times - many times - where Steve was stretching to reach that perceptible pitch of humble perfection that only Fish could deliver. Ah - if only...
However, and all-in-all, the album is very listenable, and I still find it hard to understand why Marillion aren't perceived as a much bigger rock act than they are. Always worth the listen, and the investment of time and money to hear the work of a true group of artists.  

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Diving Board - Elton John

My first Elton album was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which my folks bought me for Christmas way back in 1973. It's a phenomenal album, as I am sure most people who know it will agree, and it sparked quite a strong admiration for Elton and his works at that time.  I have to say, I could not be classed as a Number 1 Elton fan, as I do find there are albums of his that I've found difficult to get into, while others have become firm favourites and candidates for constant revisitation ever since.

His latest offering, The Diving Board, has become, gladly, one of the latter, and I find myself falling easily into reminiscence as I listen to it.  The sound overall is very reminiscent of his very early albums - I'm thinking Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection here - with a lot of tunes that bring up that nostalgia for those days of our youth.

And, let's be honest, this album is all about nostalgia and reminiscence. Songs like Home Again and Oceans Away are classic tales of looking back at how things used to be - or seemed to be? - and there is no one song on the album that talks to the future or to moving forward.  They are all about evaluating the value of what we have learned so far and how far we have come, and who or what we need to thank or reflect upon for getting us there. Of course, there are the ubiquitous tales of strange yet influential characters - Blind Tom, Oscar Wilde - that add that traditional storyteller atmosphere that Elton and Bernie assume so well, but, in the main, the album reeks of reflection.

Music is a salvation, Elton says, and this album is a balm with which to sooth a savaged soul, and a welcome return to form for Captain Fantastic.


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Pandora's Box - Original Sin

Yes - it's me - again! LOL

You know, I talk a lot about good - no - GREAT music on this blog and elsewhere, but I have to admit, nothing pisses me off more than others taking either the credit, or unwonted success, from the work of others. To me, one of the best albums Jim Steinman ever wrote and produced, is Original Sin by Pandora's Box.  This was a concept album, like most of Steinman's work, built around a solid collection of very powerful songs, and the incredible, powerhouse vocals of the four females who made up the group - Ellen Foley, Elaine Caswell, Gina Taylor and Deliria Wilde.  The sad thing is, while these ladies deliver stellar, iconic, DEFINITIVE performances on this album, many of the songs are remembered more for the sub-standard cover versions by artists that should both have known and done better. 

What really saddens me about this is that those artists didn't need to rip off this album just to feed their over-bloated bank accounts even more. Yes, I am talking about Malt - sorry - Meat Loaf and Celine Dion - amongst others - artists who were already so popular and successful, they didn't need to spit out the sub-standard versions of these master works that they did.  But then, Celine Dion has a habit of robbing other artists of the credit they earned - just look at The Power of Love by Jennifer Rush!
And, let's be honest about it, those other versions are substandard when compared to the Pandora's Box originals.  Dion might be a super star with an amazing vocal range, but her technical perfection robs her work of feeling and emotion - and a quivering bottom lip just doesn't replace that rawness.  And the Malt Loaf versions are sad parodies that don't add anything to his body of work, and which still need female vocalists to bring out the passion and compassion of the songs anyway.
This is all a roundabout way of saying - this album is phenomenal, and deserved better, and deserves your attention now. Get on Youtube - as that's probably the only place you will find these wonders nowadays - and play the shit outta these. Search for the original videos - like those above and below - and enjoy the full experience.  Amazing vocals, phenomenal songs, seminal perfomances, and hot, raunchy videos!

 What more could you ask for?
Original Sin by Pandora's Box
Track Listing
1) The Invocation
2) Original Sin (The Natives Are Restless Tonight)
3) Twentieth Century Fox
4) Safe Sex
5) Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)
6) Requiem Metal
7) I've Been Dreaming Up A Storm Lately
8) It's All Coming Back To Me Now
9) The Opening Of The Box
10) The Want Ad
11) My Little Red Book
12) It Just Won't Quit
13) Pray Lewd
14) The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Songs of Distant Earth - Mike Oldfield

Like any true, blue-blooded Englishman of a certain age, I have long been a fan of the music of the amazing Mike Oldfield. On this side of the "Big Divide" - i.e. the North American side of the Atlantic Ocean - Oldfield is most well known as the writer of the theme tune for The Exorcist. The fact that the theme tune for The Exorcist is actually the first movement of Oldfield's first album, Tubular Bells, is largely overlooked over here. I will have more to say about Tubular Bells and its many incarnations in a later post - my quarry in this write-up is one of Mike`s later albums - The Songs of Distant Earth.
I would suspect a lot of people have heard of Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer whose most famous work is 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Songs of Distant Earth is one of Clarke`s later novels, developed from a short story of the same name, and published in 1986. At the suggestion of his record company, Oldfield wrote an album based on the book, and in consultation with Clarke himself. The result is a collection of amazing music that ties closely to the scenes and the storyline of the book, and which Clarke was very pleased with.
I bought this album when it first came out in 1994, and found it to be one of Mike`s most accessible and coherent albums. Although I read in the album notes about the novel by Clarke, I did not read it until much, much later (like - 19 years later!), and developed a deep appreciation of the music in the absence of the story it was designed to represent.
The way the music is broken up follows a process similar to that Oldfield employs on many of his albums, like Tubular Bells, Ommadawn, Incantations, etc, with a continuous theme running through a number of tempo and instrumental variations, but this time delivered in smaller, named packets, each representing part of the book's storyline. Listening to the album the way I did, it is easy to follow the progression of the music as a story in its own right, leading you through to its mighty climax and the new beginning it represents. The music mapped easily to my own stories and imaginings, like all of Mike's best works, and fulfils at the artistic and inspirational levels. Even though I did not have the background of Clarke's story to work with, Mike's compositions are rich and satisfying in their own right - music for the spirit to conjure with.  It is an album I return to periodically, when I am either looking for inspiration, or merely for peace and tranquility. As with the Tubular Bells albums and Mike's other long works (see above), The Songs of Distant Earth works as a complete rock symphony that is a musical masterpiece in its own right.
But this album achieves a greater meaning and success when it is tied back to the book by Arthur C. Clarke. Then you begin to see what the subsections of each piece of music represent, and when you read the book then listen to the tunes, you begin to feel the underlying emotion and hear the wonderous beauty that Oldfield is describing. It can be an incredibly moving experience, relating tracks like Supernova back to what it represents - book spoiler here - that the Supernova in question is our own Sun, and the explosions within the music represent the planets of our Solar System as they succumb to the exploding star. Or the vision and hope represented by Magellan - the massive Quantum-drive powered Starship, as it rides out the cosmic tsunami with the selected remnants of humankind. Or the Ascension at the culmination of the album and the book as they set out for Sagan 2 to restablish human civilization.
If you love science fiction, and love wonderful, transcendental, soul-inspiring music, you cannot do better than Mike Oldfield's The Songs of Distant Earth.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Children of the Grave

You often hear rock stars of the 60's, 70's and 80's being asked which of their songs means the most to them and why, or do they have a particular favourite out of their entire catalogue.  Interviewers and reviewers don't seem to be particularly interested in that aspect of a group or an era's catalogue from the listeners' perspective, but, you know, it was US that bought those albums and songs all those years ago, and us that interpreted those songs into the meaningful (or lack thereof) messages that were supposedly hidden deep within the - often rambling and discontiguous - lyrics and sounds the artists had recorded.
So, taking the liberty to answer that particular question for myself, here is my little ramble on the catalogue of Black Sabbath, from the eponymous first album, to Volume 4!
Question: Which song of the 60's and 70's do you feel had the greatest meaning for your generation - that expressed most clearly why your generation acted the way they did?
Answer: For me, the song that most closely expressed how we felt at that time, and which most accurately portrayed our perception of the reality that faced us growing up in the environment we had to deal with, was Children of the Grave by Black Sabbath.
Sure - I know a lot of people will pick out something they find more meaning in, from a plethora of groups like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Doors, and on and on, and, for themselves, they have every right to their favourites and their choices.  For me, the most apt selection is Children of the Grave.
Growing up at that time, we were at the height of the Cold War, and the paranoia of western governments against the great Red Threat was ubiquitous.  Television and cinema were constantly filled with images of the war against communism, whether it was newsreels from Vietnam, James Bond smashing Smersh, or The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s continuous struggle against THRUSH (no - not the disease), as well as continuous governmental rhetoric surrounding the tenuous relationships between the powers on both sides of the Iron Curtain.  We were brought up - and taught - to expect the worst possible outcome to any of the many diplomatic incidents that seemed to occur at regular intervals, and always with the constant expectation of Nuclear Annihilation!
The small efforts of the hippies and other discontent youth movements were the only counteraction we had to those over-arching effects.  Being taught at an early age to "duck-and-cover" in the event of a nuclear attack - what a useless activity - as well as the continuous conditioning schools meted out through studies of works like 1984, Animal Farm and Brave New World, is it any wonder we sought refuge in the escapist works of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, or the music of the age?
Children of the Grave captures all of these experiences within it's doleful yet exciting exposition of our situation at that time.  Sure, Black Sabbath were known for their dark world view, but Children expresses what we actually felt at that time. It explained our belief that, unless we could find the way to make the World and its super powers understand the direction they were taking could lead to only one result, we were doomed, and expresses why we were so fond of the potential for a Revolution of Peace (yes - we were Children of the Revolution, too!) The failure to achieve those significant objectives could have only one outcome.
Revolution in their minds - the children start to march
Against the world in which they have to live
and all the hate that's in their hearts
They're tired of being pushed around
and told just what to do
They'll fight the world until they've won
and love comes flowing through

Children of tomorrow live in the tears that fall today
Will the sun rise up tomorrow bring in peace in any way?
Must the world live in the shadow of atomic fear?
Can they win the fight for peace or will they disappear?

So you children of the world,
listen to what I say
If you want a better place to live in
spread the words today
Show the world that love is still alive
you must be brave
Or you children of today are
Children of the Grave, Yeah!
Phenomenal stuff!  Enjoy!