Wednesday, December 04, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Nineteen "Outside"

"OUTSIDE" (1995)

COVER: Modern Art Is Rubbish.

Doctor Who.  Formula 1.  David Bowie.  All long-running obsessions for me, and all marked by eras with a single figurehead - actor, champion, persona.  Different people fill these roles at different times.  Broadly speaking, the one that leaves the biggest scar on an impressionable mind will forever be enshrined in it as The Real Deal.

Before the release of "Outside", I had no real conception of David Bowie, no fixed idea of who he might be.  My parents had some of his records and tapes, which I listened to quite often, and occasionally old footage would be on the television, but it was all once removed; lacking in the cultural proximity required to resonate more totally.

In 1995, there was finally a definitive collision between Bowie and myself.  "Outside" was nothing if not well promoted, with all the major music magazines, talk shows and even the burgeoning Internet carrying interviews and live performances - not to mention the recently-installed cable box bringing the dear departed MTV Europe to our living room.  That channel was playing the holy bejesus out of the first single from the album, "The Heart's Filthy Lesson".

Ah, that single - it got them talking.  Whilst several pop gems can be found amongst the spoken word pieces and the creeping dread, this was not one of them, with Mike Garson doing his skeleton dance across the piano, Reeves Gabrels shattering the solid backbeat with salvoes of jagged noise, and David pleading with his invented antagonist - "Oh, Ramona...  If there were only some kind of future..."

What's happened, then?  How did we get here from "Buddha Of Suburbia"?  Two words: Brian Eno.  With the madman and his deck of Oblique Strategy cards behind the desk, and a group of virtuoso outsider musicians for them to corral, Bowie was back to his frustrating, unpigeonholeable best.  Together they served up "Outside": a 75-minute album with a storyline that spanned several decades, about a ritualistic murder and the odd characters that had been caught in its web. 

Most controversially, the album had a mid-nineties sound, showing the influence of modern dance music, industrial noise and cut-up sound collages on Bowie.  Others have said this shows a sad continuation of his fall into imitation from innovation, but I see this as a logical extension of his ever-present instinct to co-opt the forms of the time and regurgitate them, shot through with this own slant.

This album couldn't be made in any year other than 1995.  Pre-millennial excitement was really kicking in, but with it came the desire to pack up the 20th century, to sort it neatly, put it away and label the box for future generations; a seeming need amongst contemporary humanity to sum up 100 years of conflict, progress, love, loss, evolution and revolution in 20 words or less.  From Blur to Prince to McAlmont and Butler (sort of), everyone had jumped on the once in a lifetime millennium music bandwagon.

"Outside" was meant to be the start of a several-album project - three, maybe five, depending on who's counting - documenting the end of the century.  Having allegedly recorded 24 hours of material for this first instalment, it seems that Bowie was crushed by the weight of his own idea, and nothing else emerged.  So we may never know who killed Baby Grace, and whether or not it was art - but this album certainly IS art, and is ignored at one's peril.

The aforementioned pop gems are in there, albeit in slightly skewed form.  "Strangers When We Meet" is presented in completed form, feeling like the full painting to the roughly sketched version on "Buddha Of Suburbia", and "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town" and "Thru These Architect's Eyes" are excellent packages with substantial potential for wider appeal.  "No Control" is right on the button of the times, "Outside" almost a musical counterpoint to "Heroes" - but this is only half of the story.

For once you're hooked, the macabre ringmasters will snap you right back to something like "Wishful Beginnings", which sounds like fetid decay, the horrible beginnings of ill feelings in the back of your mind; or "The Motel" finds our narrator reporting from a slow purgatory, slowly building to the proclamation that "there is no hell like an old hell"; or the utterly inhuman "I Am With Name".

Witness also the astounding relentless pounding of "Hallo Spaceboy", later remixed for a spirited attack on the charts by the Pet Shop Boys.  Having heard a rumour from Ground Control, he turned this into the third Major Tom song, but I wonder if he's not the extra-terrestrial we're waving goodbye to here - perhaps Bowie was packing his 20th century away too, and the Ziggy Stardust character with it, trying to claim a last chance to escape from its long shadow.

Look: I've gone on too long here.  Every other entry in this series is about seven paragraphs, and this one's already eleven; that should tell you something.  Let it be this - you have got to hear this album.  If just one of you goes and listens to this and finds something of worth, all of this pointless bloody writing, which distracts me from useful things I could be doing and brings me nothing but self-imposed disgust at my inability to keep a decent schedule, will be worth it. 

But please: do it right.  Do it 1995-style.  Read the damn short story.  Get your headphones on.  Immerse yourself.  Give it a chance.  And if you like it, tell your friends.  Tell them this album is Garreth Hirons' David Bowie at work, and it is awesome.

And that - all of that I've just battered out on my terrible keyboard, all of the above - is why "A Godawful Small Affair" was nearly called "The Heart's Filthy Lessons", why I wound up buying and listening to every other Bowie album, why I'm still coming up with new takes on the murder mystery - The Minotaur did it, but who was The Minotaur?  ALL OF THEM! - and why other Bowie fans regard me as some sad mutant who's clearly got it all wrong because I prefer this album to "Hunky Dory".

In conclusion: Peter Davison is The Doctor.  Nelson Piquet Snr is the greatest Formula One world champion.  And David Bowie is a middle-aged industrial musician in bad eyeliner, who sings near-future detective stories.  These things are clear to me, and I would not ask for them to change.

Join us next time as we neck some Mick Mills and get down in a field in the middle of the night - or not, for legal reasons - it's "rave granddad" time!

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Eighteen "The Buddha of Suburbia"


COVER: Well, really it should be this one...

But that'd break the run of all-artist-centric covers, so here's the 2007 re-release...

Ah.  That's better.

I'd like to pretend that the reason it took so long to write this piece was my reservations about whether this should be counted as an actual entry, or one of the ever-expanding "Extra Credit" series that has so far encompassed Iggy, Tin Machine and a soundtrack (but not "Labyrinth" - oh, lord, anything but "Labyrinth").

For this purports to be the original soundtrack album for the BBC adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's extremely well thought of and quite probably reasonably autobiographical novel "The Bud - you know what, I think we all know the title by now.  It's been on screen three times for heaven's sake.  I'm not here to spoonfeed you.  I'm barely here at all.

In the end, given that it seems little if any of the album wound up on the titular show, I'm going the whole hog and calling it a David Bowie Album.  Not that there's any shame in being a soundtrack, unless you're written by Murray Gold - it's just that this isn't one, instead being an expansion of some of the ideas he used in doing said project.

It's also really quite good.  It has a playful experimentation and a willingness to jump between styles, even including a return to more ambient instrumentals, yet despite its willingness to meander and stray, it's still pound for pound a more consistently good album than "Black Tie White Noise". 

More future oriented than the false start of its predecessor - "Sex And The Church" may be hard to love, but it's inorganic qualities are beckoning us towards our next entry - yet similarly stocked with more standard pop fare like the title track and "Strangers When We Meet".  They intersect on the indescribable (bah! Lazy journalism, Hirons) "Bleed Like A Craze, Dad", a robust, funky and above all else, bloody weird little gem that always raises a smile with this lazy journalist.

Featuring Bowie mainstays Mike Garson, Erdal Kizilcay and Len...  Lenny Kravitz?  Must be a typo...  This is well worth a listen.  But anyone who knows me will know where we are know, and that I'm just getting this one out of the way.  Come ye back soon, friend, for what may be a Giant-Sized A Godawful Small Affair - it's time to defend MY David Bowie, industrial art rocker and rave granddad, as he takes us Outside one last time.

Join us next time as we fail to find out who's been wearing Miranda's clothes.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Engine Blood: Special "Mindbending Driver Merry-Go-Round" Edition

* Bloody hell - we take our eyes off the ball for two minutes (er...  Or about three months, to be more realistic) and the whole blummin' thing goes ape crazy.  Let's take a look at the driver moves in medium depth - the only depth we do!

STAYING: Sebastian Vettel
IN: Daniel Ricciardo (from Toro Rosso)
OUT: Mark Webber (to sportscar obscurity)

Insert final Canberra Milk Kid joke here.  Yes, we can no longer lazily post that video from YouTube in lieu of any jokes or anything to say - we'll actually have to come up with some material for once.  They've replaced him with Ricciardo, a younger Australian who stands as an important symbol of Red Bull's commitment to its driver development program, having come through the lower formulae and Toro Rosso to get his chance.

All upside for the team then, but for us the end of an era, as there's clearly no way that we can mine this deserving and talented gentleman for cheap, The Unfortunate Vitaly Petrov-style laughs.  We'll merely publish this photograph of him and offer our respectful congratulations.

On the other hand, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship...

STAYING: Fernando Alonso
IN: Kimi Raikkonen (from the poorhouse, apparently)
OUT: Felipe Massa (to Williams)

We've covered this one before, so we'll be mercifully brief.  In notable developments since then we've had a tantrum from the Finn, who hasn't been paid for his graft this season and therefore decided to have a back operation early.  On the plus side for his new employers, this would have needed sorting anyway and at least he should be fully recovered by the dawn of the new season, ready to hound out the increasingly marginalised Alonso.

STAYING: the drivers, unfortunately
OUT: Ross Brawn

Speaking of marginalisation, the tactical genius that brought you the Schumacher Decade has been pushed out of the team he rescued from major manufacturer inertia and turned into championship winners in one year.  It's a cruel world.

STAYING: Jenson Button
IN: Kevin Magnusson (from Formula Renault 3.5, apparently)
OUT: Sergio Perez (rumours suggest Force India)

It's official - Perez is the new Heikki Kovalainen, cruelly sacrificed during one of McLaren's occasional off-seasons.  Perez hasn't set the world alight and managed to upset teammate Button by scrapping a little too mercilessly with him, but looked to have done enough to secure a second season.  Magnusson, whose father Jan was spotted by Engine Blood winning the British F3 title at Silverstone some considerable time ago, must be something special to upset the continuity...

STAYING: Romain Grosjean
IN: Pastor Maldonado (from Williams)
OUT: Kimi Raikkonen (to paid employment)

Whither the talent?  Admittedly Grosjean has looked increasingly mature since taking over as de facto team leader for the end of the season, but Moneynado's millions can't mask his appalling attitude at Williams since both parties tired of each other.  It's a real shame that the Enstone team can't find better finances given their impeccable pedigree - not least for Nico Hulkenberg, who was nailed on for the drive had the money been in place.

We're going to be talking about Hulkenberg quite a lot now, as he's the missing piece of the puzzle in a lot of the remaining moves, so buckle up for a wild ride!!!!!  (Note: not a guarantee)

STAYING: Possibly Esteban Gutierrez; outside chance, Nico Hulkenberg
IN: Sergei Sirotkin (fresh from the womb); Adrian Sutil (from Force India, rumours only)
OUT: All, some, or none of the above

Sauber are also in financial strife, and hence also unlikely to keep Hulkenberg on if they can find someone with money.  Gutierrez helps maintain the links with Mexican finance, and step forward Sirotkin - barely out of the Russian equivalent of short trousers, and he's getting the call-up to F1, in a move seemingly designed to make us all feel very old indeed.   He may yet be denied the required superlicence, but Sauber have already run off with the roubles so it's all smiles for them.  Just to muddy the waters further, Slasher Sutil is rumoured to be joining up, but whether this is conditional on Sirotkin's status is currently unknown.

STAYING: Apparently no-one
IN: Sergio Perez (from McLaren, rumours only), Nico Hulkenberg (from Sauber, rumours only)
OUT: Paul DiResta (to Indycar), Adrian Sutil (to Sauber, rumours only)

The driver market has turned on a few key moves, and McLaren's lunge for Magnusson is definitely up there - if Perez wasn't on the market, cheap to a Mercedes-engined team, then Engine Blood believes we'd be seeing a Hulkenberg-Sutil pairing confirmed here by now.  Whilst it's not set in stone yet, it seems F1 will be waving a cheery goodbye to stereotypical grumbling Scotsman DiResta, whose attitude and performances left much to be desired this year.  It appears he will sulk off to Indycar, banging on interminably about gear ratios as he goes.

STAYING: Valtteri Bottas
IN: Felipe Massa (from Ferrari)
OUT: Pastor Maldonado (to pay Romain Grosjean's wages)

In our last post, we had this message for Felipe Massa: "A little tip: anything Williams or below does not count."  Ignoring our sage advice, he's plumped for the route his good friend Rubinho took, straight down the grid to Williams.  Sigh.  If they get a decent car under him he can still perform (Christ, it seems like only yesterday we were saying this about Barrichello - how time flies), whilst Bottas has looked ever more impressive as the season has wound on, and no-one who remembers the early nineties is likely to entirely count Williams out.


We feel a little unfair lumping TORO ROSSO in here, but we covered Ricciardo elsewhere and Jean-Eric Vergne is staying put, so we need only mention that another young Russian named Daniil Kyvat will be taking the second seat.  After a very impressive first season at MARUSSIA, promising Frenchman Jules Bianchi will get a second crack at it, not least due to securing a Ferrari engine deal for the frankly rubbish team.  Finally, CATERHAM have both spots free, largely due to no-one in their right mind wanting them.  Heikki Kovalainen may come back, Giedo van der Garde may stay - and deserves to, after a respectable first season - and Charles Pic may not.

However the remaining cards may fall, Engine Blood will be there periodically throughout the season, probably more at the start before tailing off a bit towards the end of the year.  So remember to make us about your fourth stop for Formula One news, views and reactions, largely because we can't offer anything over and above what the more well-financed sites do.  Yay?  Yay.

* Oh, go on then:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Engine Blood: Special "Christ On A Bike, What's Going On Here?" Edition

During our brief (long) break, there were a couple of huge stories in terms of driver moves that we really wish we could have reported on.  So we're going to do it now, several months out of date, because we're just that awesome.
* STOP PRESS - Red Bull crowns a new Canberra Milk Kid!
Yes, as Mark Whinger carefully restocks his pram with toys and pushes it off to Porsche to retire into obscurity, Daniel Ricciardo is the man handing him his coat and saying "you'll be off, then".
Talk about trading him in for a younger model; Ricciardo is a fellow Aussie with a robust defensive style, an eye for a spectacular overtake and plenty of testicular fortitude.  He brings with him the quality of not being psychologically shot after several years in the shadow of Seb Vettel, though the upcoming draconian weight limits may prove difficult for the Moai-faced youngster.
In a situation reminiscent of the one Sergio Perez found himself in after signing for McLaren last season, he has reacted to his promotion by largely spending his time facing the wrong way on the track, whilst Jean-Eric Vergne looks on pointedly.  Oh well: maybe he's getting it out of his system while he still can.
* In a decision that even we would have to say is just about verging on acceptable, Ferrari have finally put Felipe Massa out of his sometimes literal misery and left him free to rebuild his reputation elsewhere, unfettered by accusations of certain teammates being faster when all evidence is to the contrary.

I think said teammate put it best when he said (and we paraphrase here, out of laziness) that Massa was the World Champion when he crossed the line at Interlagos in 2008 - a feeling that lasted all of one minute, but nonetheless, here is a man who knows what it takes to be a champion, because to all intents and purposes he was one; had Ferrari not had a lamentable flirtation with pitlane traffic lights some three years before they worked properly, he would most likely have scored points in Singapore and wrapped that sucker up good.

The horrendous head injury he suffered in 2009, whilst driving out of his skin and again trouncing a teammate considered to be one of the best three drivers in F1 in the least competitive Ferrari since 1993, needs no further introduction, but it was Hockenheim 2010 and "Fernando is faster", whilst Alonso showed his usual frustrating inability to overtake under pressure (see Vitaly Petrov, Abu Dhabi 2010) that really broke the man.  

As a perennial favourite round these parts, we at Engine Blood sincerely hope he can get a seat worthy of his undoubted talent and try to get his head back in the game.  A little tip: anything Williams or below does not count.  We won't tempt fate by doing a career retrospective just yet...
* The reason for dropping Massa?  Consistency, or lack thereof.  So obviously, Ferrari have dug deep and looked for a consistent driver; a solid but unspectacular natural support driver, who can nick the odd win and help secure the title for Alonso, without bruising his fragile little ego. 
(Now we think about it, isn't Rubinho free next year?  At least he already knows where the factory is.)
This is clearly an important decision, and from the many fantastic candidates that fit the bill exactly, Ferrari went for this quiet, unassuming fellow:

Oh dear.

* Yes!  Kimi Raikkonen will be moving from apparently not getting paid by Lotus to being barely tolerated by Ferrari again.  On the plus side, he has settled well into his role at Lotus, and has in fact finished in the points in nearly every race since his return last year, including a couple of wins.  On paper, he's a great buy, not least for thinning out the competition.

However, let's look at the "cons" column for a second: he was a PR disaster at Ferrari last time out, with his lapdancing exploits and unwillingness to deal with the hype machine, personal appearances and the sponsors.  This may seem like a small concern for a world champion, but rightly or wrongly this is the modern face of F1, and of the recent champions, Raikkonen and Hamilton did not excel in these departments compared to Button and Vettel.

On top of this, hello?  Alonso?  He has got to be fuming.  He's already essentially blamed his inability to win a title for Ferrari on the team itself - including that little incident with Petrov that we can't stop mentioning - and this seems to be a move that would further marginalise him.  Alonso expected the full Schumacher package of dominance, title after title and a willing patsy as a teammate, so employing one of the very few drivers who is a) considered as talented and b) seems unlikely to take any team orders on board would likely unsettle him.

There's all kinds of names linked with Ferrari, and one feels a heavy-hitter like the oldest and grandest team in F1 history will not exactly go begging for talent - and nor will Alonso have to look far for a drive.  We predict this situation will end explosively, but as this whole entry has hopefully proved, there's plenty of intrigue to be had when the top teams have a reshuffle.

And THAT'S all the blood that was fit to drain a couple of months ago!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One From The Vaults (Not As Such But We're Counting It)

The best intentions of armchair journalists and internet storytellers everywhere are often skittled by life's more pressing concerns. 

Your dear author has recently suffered an unfortunate spate of health problems whilst working at a furious pace and studying for professional qualifications.  This also put paid to the Engine Blood team - it's one of those times where a hive mind is a disadvantage.

In terms of time management, there isn't any; everything's had to binned, excepting the odd Transpennine pub crawl and unheralded appearance at the Liverpool Music Awards Nominee Announcement Happening (brief review: one free glass of wine and a truly atrocious ukulele combo).

We hope to restore normal service for a brief while in a bit.  Until then, a friend of mine has been kind enough to republish an article I did about an obscure infomercial prevalent on certain satellite channels a few years ago.

Read it thence:  Lose yourself in a world of soft metal, a time before bloody Glee bloody ruined bloody everything.  And remember: REO Speedwagon are the best band ever.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Seventeen "Black Tie White Noise"


COVER: Alone again, naturally.

He's BACK!  Out of nowhere, an unexpected solo album drops, and he's definitely not touring - sound familiar? - but at least we've got him back.  No more Tin Machine, save for the track "You've Been Around", which has all trace of the band's personnel scoured from it.  No more fannying about.  Let's get our chin-striking hands ready for another multi-layered classic!

For all the spirit of renewal, we're saying some quite poignant goodbyes on this album, and given the circumstances let's get them out of the way early: number one, the figurative laying to rest of Terry Burns, David Bowie's half brother, whose unfortunate psychiatric illness had given rise to many a lyric in the past, and here inspires a cover of Cream's "I Feel Free" and the original track "Jump They Say".  Burns had passed away in 1985, but this seems to be the first album since which decisively deals with his legacy.

We also bid a tearful farewell to Mick Ronson.  If you can remember back a few months to when we discussed him, Ronno was the alpha Spider From Mars, considered as much an architect of that period's sound as the man himself, and plays with Bowie for the last time on "I Feel Free".  Hatchets buried, it would seem, but too late for a Martian arachnid resurgence; Ronson was dead a scant four weeks after the album's release.

I know I built this one up like it's the second coming of Schumacher or something, but it's actually a tepid affair, aside from one or two tracks which show he's still capable of putting all the pieces together in an utterly compelling order, of which "Jump They Say" is first and foremost.  The lead single from the album sounds like he's writing the future again and won Bowie plaudits from all sides.  See also the fantastic double header of "Pallas Athena" and "Miracle Goodnight", which serves well to prepare us for a more challenging journey in the near future.

There's also disappointments and missed opportunities.  An arch cover of Morrissey's "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday", which confusingly was Morrissey's attempt to sound like Bowie, falls short of the artistic intention by some way.  "Black Tie White Noise", his reaction to the Los Angeles riots, is just plain boring, and also sketches close to the whole Tin Machinian ideals of social conscience.

But the main problem here is that the album has one core sound that is never deviated from - a slick, politely funky and largely unobtrusive feel with bizarre interventions of skronking saxophone, one that immediately sounds compelling and different compared to our recent forays but takes a massive toll by the end of the album, so whereas I felt vaguely excited by "The Wedding", I was verging on homicidal by "Looking For Lester".

So it's not quite job done, but it's a positive step in a more compelling direction than has been taken since the last time Nile Rodgers was on board.  Where this all winds up is somewhere entirely different, but hey - it is the Nineties, and there is time for Klax!

Join us next time for an album with "Strangers When We Meet" on.  HA!  Can't tell which one, can you?  You'll just have to tune in then, won't you?  Eh?  Yeah, you're coming back.  I got you.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Extra Credit 5 "Tin Machine II"

Tin Machine: "TIN MACHINE II" (1991)

COVER: A bunch of knobs (YES!!!  The knob gags are back!)

(If you're seeing another man's junk on this cover for the first time, then let me give you a hearty "YEEEEE-HA!"  Hello, America!)
I don't own "Tin Machine II", but decided to borrow a copy from a friend for several reasons.  Number one, I wanted an excuse to meet him for several drinks, which inevitably ended with me stumbling home early in the morning, waving a sandwich of dubious origins (not a euphemism, I must add) at my recently-sleeping wife.  Also, I did those Iggy Pop albums on a much more tenuous link than this, given it's a Bowie-fronted project, so in the end I felt I had made my own bed on this one.
If you've more than a passing interest in our protagonist, you hear a lot about how bad this particular offering is, and this was my first ever listen to the article.  As such perhaps I was feeling less condemnatory than others who had lived with it for longer, but this actually starts out alright.  There's even some very pleasing squalls of guitar terror from Reeves Gabrels, which point the way towards some of the things we'll be discussing from the mid-nineties.
In fact it was all going uncannily well, when an unfamiliar sound shocked me out of my reverie: an alien voice, not like Bowie's at all.  A chameleon he may be, but this was something quite different; and then I remembered the words of my friend, as he furtively passed me the disk in the manner that one may attempt to downplay the exchange of pre-internet pornography, or Arctic Monkeys albums:
"You do know the drummer sings on this?"
Oh, he does alright.  He really, really does.  He sings in a big, huge, scenery-chewing, Joe-Cocker-asking-for-A-Little-Help-From-His-Friends style - and it's awful.  I cannot stress enough how pedestrian it renders everything.  And that's when you remember: I wouldn't be listening to this if Bowie wasn't involved.  And the illusion is shattered, never to return.
It doesn't help that the song immediately after Mr Sales' unforgettable vocal debut is "Shopping For Girls", a track purportedly about child prostitution, which is a very serious subject and all of course.  However the lyrics' tales of mattresses in rat-infested hovels and drug dependency only served to remind me of what I hated on the first album: post-Live Aid, U2-evoking, we-gotta-sort-this-out arena rock.
So goodnight, Tin Machine.  There will be no encore.  I'm not doing "Oy Vey Baby", I get away with that one on a technicality since I didn't do "David Live" or "Stage".  Next time, it's back to the solo career, and back to the fun, as Nile Rodgers comes back on board and we get "Let's Dance 2: Electric Boogaloo"! 
Except, as per usual, it didn't quite work out like that.
Join us next time for "Real Cool World"!  Yeah, that's not happening either.  Instead, get ready for one wedding and two funerals.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Engine Blood: Hungarian GP


With the Dutch not having hosted a race since 1985, which is odd since the excellently-named Zandvoort was a pretty regular fixture from the dawn of Formula One, this is our first encounter with the classic Aquafresh design of flag, albeit with a green stripe instead.  Maybe it's a knock-off brand.  Don't much fancy its whitening chances if so.
* Hungary has a knack of presenting races that are either total carnage and hugely absorbing or extremely boring processions.  Guess which today's was?
* L'il Lewis takes a win for Mercedes, meaning he now has exactly half the races wins that his cheaper colleague has managed this year.  Vettel appeared to be nursing some issues that put him out of serious contention for the win and also dropped him behind Raikkonen, and Rosberg was the only high-profile DNF.
* Elsewhere, not great news for Ricciardo, the heir apparent to the Canberra Milk Kid's number two Red Bull drive; from a promising eighth in qualifying, he finished thirteenth, one place behind his teammate.  Red Bull must know something we don't, as Vergne is apparently not even slightly in the running for promotion, despite outperforming Ricciardo this season to date and also having beaten him last season.
* Listening to races on Radio 5 is not going to catch on around here, no sir.
* Now we go into the summer break; next up it's Spa-Francorchamps, king of circuits.  The season's been a bit sketchy thus far, and whilst Vettel is leading it's still pretty open - so stay tuned to Engine Blood for all the hot pix 'n' goss!

A Godawful Small Affair: Extra Credit 4 "Tin Machine"

Tin Machine: "TIN MACHINE" (1989)

COVER: Your uncles at any given childhood wedding.

With "Tonight" and "Never Let Me Down" behind us, it's tempting to ignore what Bowie did for the rest of the eighties, as it involves two words that strike fear into the heart of even the most stalwart follower of the Dame: "Machine" and "Tin", not necessarily in that order.  This legendary band were made up of guitarist Reeves Gabrels, a rhythm section comprising brothers Hunt and Tony Sales, and one David Bowie. 

Wanting to make a drastic break from the bloated, ever-so-eighties stadium fodder that his name had latterly become synonymous with, he had decided to retreat into the relative obscurity of being a member of a band, albeit as the lead singer, so not really taking that much of a back seat.  Cue legions of disappointed journalists, as the band also split their media duties in four, meaning three people drew short straws and had to interview a less obviously compelling member of the group.

The project fails on two separate counts.  Firstly, being a product of democracy, it lacks identity, with all the music being easily described as 'general rock'.  It's hard to pick out any songs; other than the title track, which I have previous with involving Christmas dinner and wine-soaked roast potatoes and will therefore literally not be forgotten, however hard I try, and "Baby Can Dance", the arrival of which means you're about to be able to put a different album on.

Secondly, there's a general sense of them wanting to highlight social issues that they have no real insight into; admittedly, Bowie was most likely several miles ahead of the rest of the band in terms of income, but it's to be guessed that the others were no financial slouches either, so hearing them bemoan inner city living conditions or speak of a "Working Class Hero" (also ridiculous in Lennon's hands, but you take the point) rings an empty note, particularly since their general solution seems to be the rather sixties-influenced "everyone's gotta get together, man, and just kinda sort it out, 'cause it's wrong.  Wrong, I tells ya.  And I should know: I'm incredibly rich."

This is, to be fair, a departure in the canon - just not a good one, being an attempt at the kind of earnest, big-money rock 'n' roll that grunge would all but obliterate a few years later.  It also seems to have reviewed well on release, but time and perspective have not been kind to late eighties rock in general and Tin Machine more specifically.

How lucky we are that Bowie recognised this project for the creative dead end it was, and didn't do something odd like announcing he would never play his solo back catalogue again and record a second album with Tin Machine!

Hang on a minute...

Join us next time, when that stuff we just described happens.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Sixteen "Never Let Me Down"


COVER: In his defence, it WAS the eighties.

Three years have passed since The Album That Shall Not Be Named, and it's finally time for a big comeback.  So after this decade's version of "Pin-Ups" must surely follow another triumphant "Diamond Dogs", another masterpiece of creativity.  Ah, but this is Bowie, and nothing is ever straightforward with that guy.  In this case, that's actually a bad thing...

Including one track that Bowie hated so much I have never heard it ("Too Dizzy", removed from the reissue I have at the man's behest; personally I don't see why he stopped the cull there, as "Tonight" would have made an acceptable EP), "Never Let Me Down" is usually held up as the worst Bowie album.  But it isn't - "Tonight" is, as I told you last time.  However, this is an uninspired, glossy yet ultimately empty offering, a triumph of style over substance, which is a phrase I've been wanting to use ever since I started journalisting.

There's the odd OK track, with the disarmingly sweet title track, the scarily focused "Time Will Crawl",  and even the much-lambasted "Glass Spider" providing solid entertainment, along with "Day-In Day-Out", but you really need to see that with the video, wherein Bowie uses clumsy metaphor to demonstrate a social conscience.  Others are just loathesome; "Zeroes" in particular is so bad it gave me a chest infection.

To put this on the Godzilla scale, where an album like "Station To Station" may compare to a masterpiece like "Terror Of Mechagodzilla", and "Tonight" comes in as the execrable "Godzilla, Minilla, Gabara: All Monsters Attack", this album equates to a low-ranking film from the Showa era, probably a "vs. Gigan" or a "vs. Megalon" - it's good enough, if you absolutely cannot get your hands on something better by the same artist that very second.

If one felt kind, one could probably make a decent argument that some of the criticism this album comes in for should be directed at the Glass Spider Tour rather than the album that inspired.  Full of visual trickery and a dance troupe - including, as promised, "conceptual" crutch-wielder Spazz Attack - that sadly couldn't be seen from the cheap seats, and often accused of having muggy sound, it's considered to be a grand failure. 

From the surviving video evidence, its main problem seems to be an attempt to strike an unsteady balance between big spectacle for the newer fans and artistic endeavour for the more established followers.  That's not to say it's rubbish per se, of course, but the concept doesn't resolve itself in any satisfying sense, which definitely suggests that if you took out all the daftness the shows wouldn't have been hurt, and may arguably have been improved by the greater clarity.

And so we bid adieu to David Bowie, Singer Songwriter and Rock Star.  Unhappy with his direction, and with a hoodlum named Reeves Gabrels in his ear, Our Dave will now attempt to take a step out of the limelight and lose himself in a rock band.  I'll tell you how that worked out soon enough...

Join us next time for - actually I haven't listened to it in a few years, so this bit isn't going to work this time.  To make up for this oversight, we present a picture of a weasel:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

One From The Vaults: Our Price/"Odelay"

Had I been moved to examine music in the mid-nineties a couple of years earlier, I might have remarked that there were only a few larger record shop brands left.  The rate of decay in the high street is now so large that attrition has taken care of every single instantly recognisable brand in that bracket but for HMV, and who knows how long that will limp on? 

This startling demise has been blamed, variously, on the rush to embrace the sale of electronic doo-dads, the supply chain problems caused by Woolworths' collapse, the rise of online retailers (arrogantly dismissed by former HMV chiefs, with disastrous results) and supermarkets increasingly offering the goods at prices so low that the high street can't afford to undercut it.  The upshot of this is that I'm sure most musically-minded people of my age who lived in a small town has tales of a chain sorely missed.

I don't think my town of Bedford was alone in having a branch of Our Price as its major music-specific outlet.  The retail chain with the iconic red logo started up in the seventies but really took hold in the eighties, with spin-offs including specific stores for VHS sales, eventually numbering hundreds of locations and sometimes several in the same area.

When I reached my teenaged years, there was a certain stigma about buying records at Woolworths or WH Smiths, as if you were somehow circumventing the music industry - I suppose that's a bit like buying a CD at Tesco these days - so Our Price was the place for more widely-available CDs, favourable over the less predictable stocking and incorrect alphabetising of Andy's Records.  This was an argument that paid no mind to WH Smith actually owning the Our Price brand, but hey - we were young, and it was the nineties.

The Bedford store was a triumph of function over space, as the thin store was crammed with stock.  Not so the Milton Keynes branch - that was a two-floor monster, seeming to showcase every major-label release and a good deal of smaller ones.  Jobs, when they came up, were the holy grail for to a certain section of young adults, with empty pockets largely from the purchase of records, who recognised the chance to kill two birds with one stone.  I was unable to get a job there, as it's not like they were short of choice.

The rot set in in the late nineties, not just for the chain at large but for the Bedford branch in particular.  On the same street, a newly-opened MVC with a comparatively huge size was battling for sales, whilst WH Smith sold the stores and the Virgin Megastore chain to the Virgin group in 1998, who set about a vicious rebranding.  Hence one day we had a "VShop" instead, which eventually turned into a mobile phone shop.  With Andy's in similarly bad shape, and collectors' favourite Sounds Good To Me Too also gone, young pretender MVC was the last high street record store standing - and even that focused almost entirely on DVDs.

Our Price were by no means the last chain to get the plug pulled on them, but are probably the one I miss the most.  For records you could get outside of specialist shops, Our Price was my default destination, unless a trip to London and their sprawling HMV and Tower Records stores was in my near future.  The high street has seemed somehow less colourful without it - though Vodafone's colours are exactly the same, so...  Erm... (Quick, cut to the review!)

BECK "Odelay" (Geffen, 1996)

FOUND: Through super-cool single "Where It's At" on MTV Europe and the radio.  Purchased in a controversial "cash-for-voucher" deal involving Wolf People frontman Jack Sharp, whereby an unwanted Our Price voucher was purchased from said gent and used to procure the album.  I was buying it anyway so everyone was happy.

THE SELL: Beck was catapulted to fame with the track "Loser", which struck a sympathetic chord with the fashionably-jaded MTV Generation, though to be honest I'm still not too keen on the track myself.  Signed to Geffen, who had a proven track record of giving more alternative artists the freedom to express themselves and a half-decent wage, he was given an excellent platform to present himself.

This album helped cast off his mantle of one-hit wonder, spawning about twenty singles and establishing him as a household name (in relative terms, anyway).  He was also tokenised as one of the few American acts who were 'allowed' to be saluted during the Britpop era, as an example of a US act offering something a bit different from the post-grunge malaise.

THREE KINGS: Without wishing to be predictable, super-cool single "Where It's At" and the dynamic and unusual "The New Pollution" have to be in the top three.  The album is eclectic enough that most people would probably be able to choose different favourites, but I'd have to plump for the schizophrenic barn-burner "Novocaine" myself.

WORST TRACK: The comparatively uninteresting "Sissyneck" was a properly odd choice for a single, even it was about the eighth released from the album.  However, this writer doesn't listen to "Ramshackle" much, as it was the first song he heard after getting the news that his grandfather was dead.

ALSO TRY: The next album proper ("Mutations" doesn't count, as it is rubbish) "Midnite Vultures" is a cod soul experiment that largely hits the mark, and later on "Guero" is almost the spiritual successor to "Odelay", mixing excellent pop tunes with more eclectic fare.

BUT AVOID: I hear "Mutations" is rubbish!  Perhaps a little harsh, as it has a few decent tunes, but the while thing is so mumbly and plucky that it's hard to make it out through the fog.  The albums before "Odelay" are also hit and miss, to put it very kindly, and "Sea Change" is immensely depressing.

MAGIC MOMENT: At Glastonbury 1997, in unbelievably boggy conditions, Beck encores with "High 5", clad in a white rhinestone suit.  Unlike every other band that weekend, he does not get mud thrown at him.

Engine Blood: German GP

* Welcome back to the column that's controversial, so stinging, such a thorn in the side of the established motorsport press that it now has to operate on a court-mandated one week delay, which explains plausibly why this is a week late going up and that's definitely why, so there, ENGINE BLOOD!


One of the classics here, and we like the bold use of black, an underrated and under-used hue in the banners business.  Of course the really interesting thing about the flag, and this is utterly fascinating, is tha...
-------------------------URGENT PAUL DI RESTA UPDATE------------------------------
We interrupt this magnificently memorable story with the news that there has been a change in Paul Di Resta's nationality!
Yes, after an unassuming eleventh place characterised only by his usual combination of childish petulance and generation of all-encompassing ennui, his mood may have been brightened to hear that he has officially, if indirectly, been taken the heart of the larger UK populace.  For it has come to pass that:
Paul Di Resta is BRITISH, as all Scotsmen are now temporarily British to allow the whole country to benefit from Andy Murray's Wimbledon win, during which he played exactly one good player.
A quite extraordinary situation developing here, we're sure you'll agree.  We now return you to this quite excellent and never to be repeated anecdote, already in progress.
...ere we get the phrase "Sleeping Policeman" from!
* Vettel finally won on home soil, and despite the late pitstops adding some intrigue to proceedings there wasn't much doubt about the result.  A Mercedes pole on a track that allows overtaking has increasingly been shown to spell victory for someone else, with the Silver Arrows having an embarrassingly bad race pace for a front running team at present.
Elsewhere, Williams' sizable woes continue as the team failed to take any points in their 600th race.  And Massa - that guy just can't catch a break.  It was a bad day to be an onlooker as well, as a brave journo got absolutely flattened by an errant wheel from Mark Webber, who has obviously had his Dick Dastardly weaponry from Bahrain 2010 reinstalled.  "Drat, and double drat!  I was aiming for Seb", is a quote our lawyers advise us we should not in any attribute to Mr Webber.
* It's little while until the next race, but in the meantime we have the "Young Driver" test at Silverstone.  The quote marks should show that something's up, and indeed it is, for this year it is a misnomer - with Raikkonen being the first name announced (the real one, not a son or nephew), it's become clear that the tyre situation has persuaded the FIA to allow an experienced driver for each team to take part.
This has raised the ire of Mercedes, who have been banned from the test as a fall-out from the infinitely boring and inadequately reported "Tyregate" scandal of a couple of months ago.  To which the only logical answer is: shouldn't have cheated, then.
And THAT's all the blood that's fit to drain!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Engine Blood: British GP


Ah, the Union Jack.  Representing the blending of the nations in good ol' Blighty by not even slightly representing Wales - unless that's what the white is?  It could be what the white is - it's a great flag for a great nation.  (Hums "Land Of Hope And Glory", wipes tear from eye)

* In what may be a key turning point in the championship, what looks to be a gearbox issue has robbed Sebastian Vettel of a victory, handing the top step of the podium to nobody's favourite driver, Nico Rosberg.  Ross Brawn may well be kicking himself for backing the wrong horse earlier in the season.

The Canberra Milk Kid himself recovered well to take second, after apparently being Grosjeanned on lap one, whilst Daniel Ricciardo made a good case for replacing his countryman, despite being hung out to dry after the last safety car with bad tyres.  And speaking of bad tyres...

* The tyres were really bad, with them exploding left right and centre.  Ham-Ham, Massa, Perez, Gutierrez and Vergne all suffered horrendous incidents, and it really shows the deeper problems with these issues that Hamilton and Massa recovered from halfway round the track to score points, whereas Vergne was forced to retire despite a much shorter trip back.

* So, tyres, then.  L'il Lewis' toys are resolutely out of the pram at this point, and why wouldn't he be angry, particularly when he had recently put on a plain black helmet to conduct a secret tyre test in his 2013 car, an act which was deemed to be against this rules and spirit of the sport.  I mean, of all people, it should have been everyone else who had the failures!

Pirelli are in a dubious position here; having been asked to make fragile tyres that would degrade in the name of entertainment - as Engine Blood has previously pointed out, this is a pretty uncomfortable concept - they seem to have gone a bit too far with the concept.  For Formula One though, it's a much more uncomfortable predicament.  If Pirelli decide the negative publicity is too much and pull out, there doesn't appear to be anyone who wants to step up and handle the hot potato...

And THAT'S all the blood that's fit to drain this week!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Engine Blood: Special "Holy Cow, Something's Actually Happened" Edition

Engine Blood presents- "Mark Webber: We Hardly Knew Ye (And We Barely Cared)"

Yes, another long-running Engine Blood joke will bite the dust along with the career of Formula One's only Canberra Milk Kid at the end of the season, leaving us to ask the only remaining question: why now? 

Why not last season?

* Let's be fair though: Mark did more than enough to merit inclusion in the elite class of open-wheeled racing.  Through the well trodden path of karting > get the hell out of Australia and over to Europe > Formula 3 > Le Mans, he was rewarded some F1 testing and, more dubiously but definitely advantageously, a management contract with Flavio Briatore, F1's answer to Silvio Berlusconi.

Being parachuted into Minardi during their partially Ecclestone-funded years of propping up the grid, Mark achieved that rarely seen feat of scoring in his first ever Grand Prix, sweetened further by it being in his home country of New Zealand [CITATION NEEDED].  After a predictably pointless rest of the year - not his fault, the Minardis of that time were exceedingly rubbish - he jumped to a big name manufacturer at the end of the year!

* Sadly that big name was Jaguar, perhaps the floppiest of the floppy manufacturer team, and could only take consolation from his domination of his team-mates Antonio Pizzonia, Justin Wilson and Christian Klien - three names I don't think any of us have heard in a fair while, but establishing yourself as number one in your team is still a crucial step for a young driver.  We will be pointedly re-examining this assertion in a short while.

From 2005 he called Williams home, and this is where his hard racing (read: unwillingness to give an inch) started getting him noticed by the wider public (read: got him a reputation as a shunter).  In his first year he did just pip his team-mate Nick Heidfeld, but it was Heidfeld who got the more eye-catching results, with a pole position and a pair of second places, and also missed the last three races through injury.  Mark was partnered with a debuting Nico Rosberg in 2006, but it was a bit of miserable year for the team and Mark was soon moving on to pastures...

* ...old.  For you see, in his final team move ever by the looks of it, he went to Red Bull, who had bought out Jaguar not long after Webber had moved to Williams.  To the surprise of most, they had not been terrible, but lacked a second driver talented enough to challenge the by-then decidedly mediocre David Coulthard.  Webber was a good fit and could seemingly inherit the number one status once Red Bull got themselves sorted out.

Mark was doing a good job with the technology he was given, but two things changed in short order: number one, Sebastian Vettel won the 2008 Italian GP for Red Bull's sister team, Toro Rosso (who, just to bring things full circle, were once Minardi), and therefore earned a call-up to Red Bull in 2009 when Coulthard shuffled off to the commentary box.

Then we had 2009: the crazy season.  2008 ended with Ferrari's Felipe Massa and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in a pitched battle for the title, but due to a raft of rule changes the order was given its biggest shake-up for years, and Red Bull suddenly found themselves as the only team able to get near to the dominant Brawn GP.  Webber took his first two wins, but Vettel doubled that and finished two places ahead of him in the championship.  Red Bull claim not to play favourites, but that very much smacks of the kind of dominance that establishes a number one driver.

For those of you snoozing at the back: this would be a good time to pointedly re-examine the assertion that establishing yourself as number one in your team is a crucial step for a young driver.

* And so we come to both the greatest high and dowdiest low of Webbo's career - the 2010 season.  Never in living memory had there been such a platform for a driver to be viewed upon, and with the generally held opinion that four teams and as many as nine drivers would be battling for the top honours, along with the extra interest generated by Michael Schumacher's return (oh shut up - you know it's true), this was a big deal.

In all the hubbub, it's probably fair to say that Webber (along perhaps with Rosberg) was the one of that elite group of whom the least was expected, but with three races to go it looked to be his to lose - which he duly did.  Poor results let not just the ever-present Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari back into the picture, but also Hamilton and, most disastrously for Webber, his own team-mate, who only went and won the bloody thing at the last race, whilst Alonso and Webber stared disconsolately at the back of slower cars that they just could not overtake on the potential-free Yas Marina circuit.

* Having finished third for two seasons in a row, last season saw Mark hit only 6th place, again in the same team that produced the World Drivers' Champion.  Despite rumours that Ferrari were again planning to show Massa the door, he stayed at Red Bull, and with fresh evidence that Vettel rules that team with an iron fist, he's off to the FIA World Endurance Championship next year.

He will leave behind him an odd little legacy, reminiscent of Rubens Barrichello, Riccardo Patrese or Gerhard Berger - always capable of a win, and good at abetting a world champion, but never having been able to put their stamp on a season of their own.  We won't yet speculate about a replacement - seriously, Raikkonen?  What could go RIGHT with that one? - as we're too busy trying to find another clip of a driver humiliating himself for profit that we can trot out when we've run out of jokes.  That'll be every week, then.

A Godawful Small Affair: Fifteen "Tonight"

Right.  Time to bite the bullet...

"TONIGHT" (1984)

COVER: Doctor Manhattan in a syrup.

Whilst I seem to be one of the few defenders of "Let's Dance" amongst my peers, it would be so much easier if I didn't like it.  My admiration for that album makes my contempt for this one seem like a jarring fall from a reasonably great height; at least if I'd given up after "Scary Monsters", this would feel more like the result of an incremental drop in quality, or simply an established artist edging away from the genre I preferred them in.

But no - as my colleagues are fond of saying, "we are where we are", and where I am is slap bang at the start, which to my mind is actually the total lowest point, of the worst period in Bowie's musical development.  I think it; you, most probably, think it; even he seems to agree, which at least means I don't have to worry too much about expressing my disappointment.  So roll up your sleeves - we're going in.

Let's start, controversially, on a positive note; "Blue Jean" is an excellent pop song, and the accompanying short film "Jazzin' For Blue Jean" is a hoot, albeit for pretty much all the wrong reasons.  Similarly, opening track "Loving The Alien" is hooky enough to defy its seven minute running time, despite incorporating the theme from "Red Dwarf" as a pre-chorus section (yes, I know that came out afterwards; no, I will not stop cracking that joke, damn it).

And that's it.  Two lone diamonds in the roughest of the rough, two twinkling points of light in the middle of the dense fog.  Almost the entire rest of the album consists of painfully bad renditions of songs either newly or latterly co-written (and in some cases sung) with Iggy Pop, who is, of course, great - as you'll know, since you've read about him in our Extra Credit entries. 

Somehow, at no stage does this ever, ever work.  The paranoid brilliance of "Don't Look Down" is performed as a lazy reggae snoozefest.  "Tonight" is presented here also in chilled-out form, shorn of its dramatic introduction and any emphasis and inflicted with a Tina Turner vocal.  "Neighbourhood Threat" is...  Just awful.  Just so, so awful.

Then we have yet more covers, with terrible and pointless versions of "God Only Knows" and "I Keep Forgettin'" helping to ram home the unpleasant comparisons to "Pin-Ups", which before this was probably the only album he'd produced that could be described as uninteresting.  The final slap in the face is "Dancing With The Big Boys", which at the very least is just a big old mess rather than the almost malicious tracks that have preceded it.  And there we have it: you've just survived what I have no hesitation in naming The Worst David Bowie Album.  Give yourself a pat on the back and have a lie down.

This was the commercial experiment rumbling on - an attempt to maintain the much larger, and likely more casual, audience built up with "Let's Dance" and the Serious Moonlight tour.  Annoyingly, it's not like he wasn't capable of a good tune around the time either, as highlighted by an expanded reissue from the Nineties which contained "Absolute Beginners" and "This Is Not America".  Blame the circumstances of recording, blame the decade, blame the slapdash song choices - whatever it comes down to, this was a big, big miss.

Perhaps tellingly, it would be three years before another Bowie album came out, and that in itself would be an attempt to get back to basics and repair some of the damage done here.  But the Eighties were a harsh mistress, and 'basic' was never on the cards for established recording artists...

Join us next time as we develop a social conscience, invent a new species and meet a dancer named Spazz Attack.  Surely you can't miss that!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

One From The Vaults: Compilation Albums/"New Wave"

When I was a lot younger, and we're talking single figures here, I had a scattergun approach to music.  I liked the pop I heard on Radio 1, your Kylie Minogues, Michael Jacksons and what have you, plus sundry things from my parents' record and tape collections, so there's your Bowie putting in an early appearance, alongside such diverse delights as Erasure, Led Zeppelin, Alexander O'Neal and Guns And Roses.

Sometime towards the end of the Eighties, I seem to remember making a conscious decision to get more music; I could be wrong, as I often am when recollecting things from that far back, but that's how my brain has chosen to represent this process to me today so I'm sticking with it.  Ergo, I went to the go-to purveyors of compilation albums at the time, that being the good folks at Now That's What I Call Music.

There are much better websites around that chronicle that particular series, so I won't go too far into it; only to note that I had entries 13 through 17, though not 15, for reasons that entirely escape me.  Looking back at the tracklistings, it seems that Side B of Now 17 probably comprises my first exposure to weapons-grade indie, being a largely Madchester-derived selection - interesting what you can find out when you put your mind to it.

My memory does not record why I didn't go any further with any of the artists on these tapes, but I think a combination of a child's low budget and miniscule attention span probably accounts for me not having Redhead Kingpin And The FBI's album, if indeed there is such a thing, despite "Do The Right Thing" clearly being fantastic - ditto Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" and The Rebel MC's magnum opus, "Street Tuff" - but let's move on before this turns into a list of pop rap gems I quite liked in 1990.

Despite being the catalyst for my full blown love of music, Nirvana - we'll get to them, oh yes we will - actually contracted my musical range for a year or so, with me quickly turning from someone who would eagerly consume anything musical regardless of genre, to someone who listened to Nirvana, and maybe some bands that sounded like Nirvana, and ideally were on the same label as Nirvana.  Funnily enough, most of these acceptable alternatives were culled from the legendary and much coveted compilation "Sub Pop 200", or the cut-down vinyl version "Sub Pop Rock City" - two of the best finds me and my friends unearthed.

I mentioned "Loaded", a perfectly innocent Virgin Records rock and indie compilation, named for the Primal Scream song that was included therein, in my last post, and I think that one tape deserves a lot of credit for unlocking some interesting directions for me to pursue.  By the time I got it, I had managed to crawl away from Nirvana at least as far as Suede, who had "Animal Nitrate" on the collection, and having no further musical direction at that point it made sense to get a set of songs by bands whom, I was forced to assume, were probably a bit like Suede.

In that sense I was totally wrong, but here's a fact for you: of the eighteen bands on that album, there are only five that I don't now have albums by ( - answers on a postcard, no prizes will be given), so we can definitely say this had a big effect on young Master Hirons' development.

There's still a goodly amount of compilation albums being released, more often it seems along various themes, but I'm not sure if they really serve that much of a purpose in the Internet age, when a program like Spotify seems to occupy a similar niche.  But consider this a tip of the hat to anyone still taking the plunge - it broadened my horizons, and it could do the same for you.

THE AUTEURS "New Wave" (Hut, 1993)

FOUND: Represented by "Showgirl" on the Virgin compilation "Loaded".  We return to this again so soon!  However, to my eternal shame, I was not responsible for bringing the album into our household; rather, it was my father who spotted the potential, whilst I was still saving up for a Lemonheads album on the strength of bloody "Mrs Robinson".

THE SELL: Songwriter, singer and guitarist Luke Haines did a much better job of describing his career in his excellent book "Bad Vibes" and its disappointing follow-up "Post-Everything", so anything I say here seems somewhat empty.  But for the record, a potted history: Mr Haines plied his trade with an ill-fated band called The Servants before unleashing his full talents upon the world.

"New Wave" seems to have been one last stab at putting at an album he could be proud of, and The Auteurs themselves were him, his girlfriend and Some Bloke on drums - a pattern that would repeat, with added cello, throughout the group's existence.

THREE KINGS: "Showgirl" has everything a song needs: catchy hooks, great lyrics, gaps and an excellent middle eight.  On Side B, as we used to call it, "Valet Parking" is just a superb offering; few songs are as well put together as that.  But if it's tender melancholy you seek, look no further than the sheer heartbreak of "Junk Shop Clothes".

WORST TRACK: I'm sure most people who are familiar with this album will be shouting "Don't Trust The Stars" at their screens right now, but I've a soft spot for that one.  If I had to pick, I'd probably go with "Idiot Brother", which goes on a bit.

ALSO TRY: "After Murder Park".  Again, Haines himself describes the torrid gestation of The Auteurs' third album better than I ever could, so I'll just say two things: Steve Albini produces it, and "Married To A Lazy Lover" is the second best song of the 1990s.  Case closed.

BUT AVOID: Hmm.  Cheating a bit I suppose, but some of the artistic excesses of his later solo work are worth missing out on.  If I've got to stay on The Auteurs though - and I like a challenge, so I think I will - there was a later album, "How I Learned To Love The Bootboys", that slinked out around 1999 with little fanfare.  Now, me, I love it - "School" and "Lights Out" are right up there with the best of anyone's songs - but if you had to leave one out, I wouldn't blame you for picking that one.

 MAGIC MOMENT: Live at the ICA in 2001 (couldn't pinpoint the exact date), Luke Haines is promoting his recently-released soundtrack for the execrable film of "Christy Malry's Own Double Entry".  "And now for some film music of a different kind", he says, and the band launch into "Showgirl".

A Godawful Small Affair: Fourteen "Let's Dance"

"LET'S DANCE" (1983)

COVER: Does this one need a joke?  Seriously.  It's him, doing a thing you wouldn't expect!  Ain't it ker-azy?  Isn't that enough?  WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT?

(Is anyone disappointed I'm not doing the "Baal" EP?  If so, feel free to send me a copy and I'll happily give it a whirl.  Hey - you don't ask, you don't get.)

And lo!  For it is told that David did look fondly upon the success brought by "Scary Monsters", and He saw that it was good.  And pleased with his higher profile, it is told that He decided He would make A Hit Album.  And He brought to within His orbit That Fellow Who Wrote "Le Freak".  And, well, long story short, it worked - possibly too well...

With a zippy, none-more-Eighties sound and loooooong ol' tracks, ready for the 12" single format that I understand was big news at the time, this was the album that blasted Bowie into the decade proper; I think of "Scary Monsters" as a full stop on his late Seventies output, everything from "Station To Station" onwards, and this as the start of the next phase. 

Now, a lot of people will say that "Scary Monsters" was the last great Bowie album, but that's doing this one down; it might not be 'our' Bowie, the boundary-pushing chameleon, but it's a fantastic pop album for the time.  Overblown and pompous perhaps, but it wears the grandeur well, with each of its eight tracks bringing something slightly different to the table.

Highlights include the title track, the catchy pop of "Modern Love" and the sheer insanity of "Cat People (Putting Out Fires)".  The lowlight, if I may be controversial for a second (and I may; who's going to stop me?  You?  Pah!) is "China Girl", presented here in a less harrowing format than Iggy's version but now with added mild racism.  This is one that could have done with being shorter, and the radio edit deals with this problem to some extent.  It sold approximately twenty bajillion copies as a single and is still one of Bowie's most well known tracks, so apparently the joke is on me.

If I may digress for a minute (again, it's entirely up to me if I do or not so I'm not sure why I'm asking), I cannot discuss this album without mentioning that "Let's Dance" itself was the first dance at my wedding.  I loved my wife very much and this was our song.  That's all I wanted to say about that.

Such sentiments duly delivered, let's get back to our storyline: in terms of commercial success, this is The Daddy - the one that woke up an America that had been turned off by Bowie's wilderness years of electronic experimentation.  Stadia beckoned, and the creative genius delivered the "Serious Moonlight" tour - an entire tour based on one of the oddest bits of lyric ever written.  At this stage one would be tempted to wonder how he keeps getting away with things like that, but I know what happens next...

Join us next time - if there is a next time - for the horror.  THE HORROR.

One From The Vaults: Introduction/"Copper Blue"

 Hello, my international chums!  You may notice there's been more activity than usual here in the last few weeks, as an odd set of conditions have allowed for some more publishing.  Here's a slight departure from our usual strands, established to look largely at the albums of this writer's youth.  Given that "Engine Blood" and "A Godawful Small Affair" aren't even getting done on time, and "We Game To Please" has all but disappeared, we may not see too many of these; still, I'm game for a try.  So: 1, 2, a-1, 2, 3...

These days I don't buy that many albums, and if I do, they're by an established act that I am unlikely to be disappointed by, either because they are likely to continue evolving (Bowie, Bobby Conn) or reliably deliver in their chosen furrow (Guitar Wolf, Billy Childish).  Either way, it's a familiar name on the label that draws my ever-greying pound these days.

In some cases, the name is so familiar that I already own it; yes, I speak of the new church of the "remaster", ever more omnipresent in these days where bands refuse to die.  Despite my usual world-weariness, I am inevitably tempted to part with a second wedge of cash for a very slightly expanded selection of tracks that even I can't really justify.

I think it's a symptom of reaching a certain age that one is doomed to attempt to recapture the feeling of their youth by re-embracing its popular culture, since the places you used to go are less accessible or affordable now, and the people you used to go there with are often more distant.  Either that or I'm a sap who clearly doesn't like money very much, as I keep seeming to fling it over counters for things I technically already own.

I always think I'm not going to fall for it as well; I generally couldn't care less about the accompanying book, which often sheds no new light on anything, and invariably features some washed-up old NME hacks rewriting history.  The album I already have, and my cloth ears (they're gingham, folks!) mean any changes in audio quality are entirely lost on me. 

But there's always some curate's egg, some obscure doodad that appeals to the collector in me; the need to complete something kicks in, and suddenly I've spent the housekeeping on a shiny new old thing.  At least I can sell the old copy, right?  No.  Just...  No.  And it goes on like this, with no signs of stopping.

It's also utterly pointless as, other than a temporary shunning of my grunge albums during Britpop, I like to think I've kept a reasonably open channel to my past at most times, whereas some of my peers seem more embarrassed by their youthful pop splurges - and whilst I will have to recognise that for every "Nevermind" there's a "Nuisance", and even more sadly as some bands began to desperately consume themselves, for every "Dog Man Star" there's an "A New Morning", I'll always feel an affection for a certain period in my musical development. 

So let's see if I can impart that to you, dear reader, as we tackle first what even was at the time was considered an old, familiar face suddenly breathing new life.

SUGAR "Copper Blue" (Creation, 1992)

FOUND: Represented by "If I Can't Change Your Mind" on the Virgin compilation "Loaded".  We may return to this again, containing as it did my first tracks by (deep breath) The Auteurs, The Cult, Dinosaur Jr, Belly, Morrissey, Faith No More and The Frank And Walters.  First AND last, in the case of the latter.  After acquiring a second track, "Changes", on the "Greetings From Uncle Sam" compilation, the album was bought on cassette from an indoor market in Aberystwyth.

THE SELL: Husker Du were pretty big news in the eighties hardcore scene (the punk one, not the dance one, obviously), powered by the volatile creative partnership between Bob Mould and Grant Hart.  After their inevitably poisonous split, Bob fell on hard times commercially, only to rally with this and become an unlikely cult icon for a second successive decade.

However, this is more than a Bob Mould solo album, and had he not been so ably abetted by...  Er...  Thingy and Whosits on the other instruments, it wouldn't have been a viable project.  The sound is so full and dominant that it utterly absorbs the listener in a way few albums can, and whilst it is best played at a volume that makes a mockery of the human senses, there's some real pop gems amongst the noisier offerings.

THREE KINGS: Skull-crushing opener "The Act We Act", howling lament "The Slim" and stone cold pop-rock classic "If I Can't Change Your Mind".  In the case of the latter, seek ye also the BBC session version, which is a snarling wolverine compared to the fuzzy kitty of the album version.  You won't have to look far; it's on the remaster.  Hey, I'll lend it to you if you want?

WORST TRACK: "Fortune Teller".  I don't even know why if I'm honest; it's not bad or anything.  If there is a criticism of it, then maybe we can say it lacks hooks compared to the others.

ALSO TRY: The "Beaster" EP was made up with tracks recorded at the same time as "Copper Blue", but by no means are they rejects - largely a more harrowing affair than the poppier selection on the album, but no less worth your time.  And as luck would have it, it's just been remastered!

BUT AVOID: "File Under Easy Listening", Sugar's second album proper.  Hamstrung by an on-again, off-again recording pattern, this never got close to their previous heights.  Would it surprise you by now to know that it's been - wait for it - remastered?  Even I'm not falling for that one...

Hang on - second disk with exclusive live recordings, you say?  To Amazon, post haste!

MAGIC MOMENT: The Flaming Lips, Cambridge Junction, July 9th 2002 - Bob Mould plays a very odd solo multimedia show which is lost on most of the crowd, then redeems himself and wins back the audience with "Man On The Moon".  Sadly, but appropriately, it is the last song.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Extra Credit 3 "Christiane F"


COVER SHOT: Now THAT is a jacket.

I'm not going to be covering all of the soundtracks, compilations and associated projects, but I've always found this particular one an interesting artefact, tying together as it does the Berlin period whilst soundtracking a German film.  Of course, as we've recently heard (or you should have done - even if I take time off from writing, as an audience you are still expected to check back twice daily), "Scary Monsters" did that quite well itself, but there's a few white elephants here worth listening to.

First things first - the film, which somewhat embarrassingly I must admit I haven't got around to watching, is an adaptation of the titular book taken from the recollections of the eponymous person, whose youthful drug abuse and revelations of the squalor of the Berlin heroin scene scandalized a continent in the very late seventies.  The film appears to be a teensy bit on the depressing side, but also features a trip to a Bowie concert - hence the connection, and hence the collection.

And what a collection it is!!!  It's not exactly a greatest hits, but the quality is undeniable, culled not just from the big rock/pop hits but also the instrumentals, evidently more suited to background status in a moving picture.  Whilst there isn't technically a single track on this offering that isn't available elsewhere, there are some less usual versions on show here, including an edit of "Stay" that might as well be subtitled "(Disappointment Mix)", such a let-down is the early fade.

One alternative version that squarely hits the mark is "Heroes/Helden", and if YOU guessed it lapses into German halfway through, well congratulations, Sir!  (Or - infinitely less likely, but just in case - Madam.)  The effect is pretty spectacular, with the natural brutality of the Teutonic tongue adding to the drama.

Couple this with a pretty good live version of "Station To Station", as featured in the aforementioned concert in the aforementioned film of the aforementioned book, and we've got the bare bones of a good little nine-tracker.  Worth getting if you can find it cheap, or as a sampler of the era if you're already familiar with the singles.

Join us next time for the Baal EP!  Or not, as the case may be.