With hindsight, the synthesizer has sins aplenty to atone for, but as the ’80s dawned it was embraced as the future of all things shiny and cool. Young men with shocking haircuts stood behind it, swearing allegiance to Aryan aesthetics and red leather blousons. Among these: Spandau cutting long stories short, Gary Numan and Ultravox. Soft Cell’s “Torch” remembered to incorporate emotion; Japan’s “Quiet Life” raised the bar, nudged the sublime. Cred-again (who’d have thought?) Tears For Fears warned us it was a mad world. From the mouths of knob-twiddlers…
Told often enough that his sex-tastic rhythms and lavish strings had inspired this new-fangled “disco” thang, a confused Hayes hurled his gleaming frame into that movement with this overlooked ’76 opus, which is nothing if not accurately titled. Written and recorded in eight sleepless days (in tandem with instrumental LP Disco Connection), a financially-motivated Hayes doesn’t scale his own peaks here, but his so-so funk shudders are mightier than the meatiest of most. And the ballads?”Wish You Were Here”, “Make A Little Love”?burn.
Lonnie Donegan was Britain’s first home-grown, guitar-wielding, charismatic pop star. Exploding out of our toothless jazz scene, he fused blues, country, gospel and nascent US rock’n’roll to create skiffle, the first uniquely English rock style. This three-CD set pulls together all of his A-and B-sides from ’55 to ’67, and includes over 30 hits. Scheduled long before his death in November 2002, this collection should serve to establish Donegan as one of the cornerstones of early English rock.
Satirical humour in music often dates, but not in the case of 10cc. The secret lies in the care with which their surreal squibs were assembled. Although the individual elements of their songs were often derivative (frequently deliberately), the way they were designed and performed displayed a classic pop sensibility allied to a continuous inventiveness.
10cc, their debut album from 1973, had modest ambitions but remains a winner, while its follow-up, Sheet Music (1974), shows the beginnings of their mature style: witty, quickfire, literate music-making.
With Springsteen currently enjoying a dramatic reinvention, it’s not a bad time to reassess this iron-pumping 1986 live set. Released in the aftermath of Born In The USA, it drew disproportionately from Springsteen’s then-recent stadium concerts, while offering exasperating glimpses of what a great historical document it could have been.
Disc One opens with a gorgeous version of “Thunder Road”?just voice, piano and glockenspiel?recorded at The Roxy in 1975. But that’s the only track from those shows, and though there’s a chunk of material from ’78-’81, the collection is slanted too much towards Rambo Bruce to be a convincing reflection of the shape of his career. Plenty of good stuff, even so.
Thankfully shorn of all cabaret cover versions, herein is everything interesting Chairmen Of The Board ever did. Delve beyond the superior post-Motown pop of their early hits and you’ll find unexpected adventures like their 1972 Bittersweet album (here represented practically in full) which ranges from swamp rock via tormented gospel to psychedelic soul meets Broadway.
Better still, and in its entirety, there’s 1974’s proto-P Funk avant-masterpiece Skin I’m In (with several of Clinton’s men on board), with its demented climactic suite built around Sly’s “Life And Death”. Stylistically chaotic but brilliant.
This differs from previous post-’75 Fleetwood Mac compilations in that it pays only lip service to the Peter Green era (just three tracks). But the barely suppressed grief evident in “Man Of The World” demonstrably belongs to a different band than the one which produced the exquisite neurosis of “Rhiannon” and “Go Your Own Way.”
Again we are reminded of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ domination of latterday Mac; Nicks losing herself in her own aqueous fantasies (“Sara”, “Gypsy”), Buckingham becoming ever more subtly adventurous in his production, such as the bizarre “Tusk” and the post-ZTT touches on the tracks from 1987’s Tango In The Night.
Erstwhile ‘greboes’ Pop Will Eat Itself grasped the burgeoning hegemony of hip hop quicker than most guitar bands. Initially a scratchy C-86-type outfit, with the John Peel-banned “Beaver Patrol” in 1987 they remodelled themselves as a Black Country Beastie Boys. But for all their endearing self-deprecation and energy, PWEI’s sample-rock more often lacked conviction and finesse. “Def.Con.One” was a lasting indiedisco hit, but now their cyber gimmickry and wonky raps have dated enormously.
Ryan Adams/Jesse Malin
Royal Festival Hall, London
MONDAY NOVEMBER 11 2002
Not since H
There’s something satisfyingly appropriate in the fact that Dan Bern should choose to live in a town called Truth Or Consequences. Appropriate partly because a small New Mexico town is just where you expect a restless troubadour such as Bern to temporarily station themselves, but mostly because you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better distillation of Dan Bern’s lyrical preoccupations than to say he is interested in truth or its consequences.
His most recent album?New American Language?is among the year’s finest, and this gig at a sweaty Saturday-night Borderline was his third London appearance of the year. He lopes onto stage in cut-off shirt and combat trousers with his guitar slung low like a six-string Kalashnikov. An almost indecently prolific songwriter, Bern’s songs fall into one of two categories: thought-provoking intelligent ones, and rambling flights of comedic imagination?although sometimes, of course, the most thoughtful songs turn out to be the funniest.
In his deployment of acoustic guitar and harmonica, in his marshalling of intelligence and wit and in his nasal delivery, comparisons with Dylan are inevitable and justified. And yet Bern arguably owes as much to Lenny Bruce as he does to Hibbing’s finest. He has the predatory stage presence of the hungry stand-up searching the audience for the next laugh; when he sings he gnaws at the mic like a dog attacking a hunk of meat. His lyrics, too, seem sometimes to be more comic monologues than actual songs. On “Jerusalem”, he imagines how the world would react if he revealed himself as the Messiah, and on a raucous “Marilyn” he flirts with how different Monroe’s life would have been had she married Henry Miller and not Arthur Miller.
The new LP was well represented; highlights included an incendiary “Black Tornado” and a haunting “God Said No”, where Bern imagines asking God for the power to alter history so that Kurt Cobain doesn’t commit suicide and Hitler dies before he can launch World War II.
The audience seemed familiar not only with songs from the latest LP but older songs such as the movingly personal “Lithuania”. But the biggest reaction came for an as yet unrecorded song. “Talkin’ Al-Kida Blues” updates the ’60s’ protest folk of Dylan’s “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” with the preoccupations of today; communism then, terrorism now. It was undoubtedly political, but the audience were laughing as well as thinking. Proof that wit can reach places polemics can’t, and a reminder Bern is not only one of the finest songwriters around but one of the few with something useful to say.
Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, California
SATURDAY & SUNDAY OCTOBER 26 & 27 2002
“All these great guests come down here to play for us… blows my mind, I can tell you,” Neil cackles beneath the brim of his straw Stetson. “Some people say that happened a long time ago… Heheheh… Just so long as it still blows, that’s OK.”
For 16 years, guests have been gathering at the Bridge School benefits to blow old Neil’s mind. At his behest they perform, as Foo Fighter Dave Grohl puts it, “mostly acoustical” out here at The Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View, near San Jos
Poor boy chases rich girl in John Hughes’ 1987 teen romance. Essentially, the story’s gender roles are reversed from his previous hit, Pretty In Pink, but without the fresh conviction. Still, the period charm and feelgood manner makes for mindlessly enjoyable viewing, while enough solid performances keep things ticking over.
The Weitz brother’s adaptation of Nick Hornby’s bestseller can’t help falling into the sugary-sweet Notting Hill trap. Hugh Grant’s genuinely impressive as responsibility-free Will, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with weird 12-year-old Marcus and his troubled hippie mum. It’s crucial that the brat isn’t annoying: but boy, he is. Hornby’s jokes and Badly Drawn Boy’s songs add some edge.
John Carpenter’s 1998 Vampires was a triumph of gonzo monster-mashing with James Woods in full kick-ass mode. The sequel replaces Woods with Jon Bon Jovi, which may explain why Carpenter describes his exec-producer role as “me picking up a cheque”. Nevertheless, we get a stake in the mouth, a chest slash, a tongue biting, various beheadings, a punched-off head and two heads bashed together.
The celebrated 1960 black comedy/horror that inspired the hit Broadway musical. Dim-witted flower shop assistant Seymour (Jonathan Haze) develops an intelligent plant who demands and receives human flesh for sustenance. Directed by Roger Corman in just two days, it’s enjoyably trashy with a notable Jack Nicholson cameo.
Not as bad as they said, until you hit the magic realism. Lasse Hallstr
Influenced by Spinal Tap as much as it is by cannabis, this 1985 mockumentary was the last thing the duo wrote as a team. Supposedly following them as they record their last album, the best parts are the on-the-couch interviews in which Cheech improvises pretentious answers while Chong tries not to laugh. The songs themselves aren’t too funny unless you’re baked, but then that’s the point.
Troublesome teens? Round them up at random, dump them on a deserted island, armed to the teeth, and force them to fight each other to death. It works brilliantly in Kinji Fukasaku’s relentlessly violent and cheerfully tasteless satire, and is surely a public order initiative David Blunkett would approve of.
DVD EXTRAS: Loads, including additional footage and alternative ending, Takeshi Kitano interview, filmographies and director interview.
Wesley Snipes returns as Blade the Daywalker, scourge of vampires despite being half-vampire himself. This time he’s recruited by the Vampire Nation to lead a crack assault team (including the wonderful Ron Perlman) against a new breed of bloodsucker that menaces vampires as well as humans. As stylish as the first flick, but not quite as much fun.
They don’t make films like this any more. Except modern-day auteur Wes (Rushmore) Anderson does with his best movie to date?a dysfunctional family comedy which recalls the quirky ’70s prime of Nichols, Altman or Ashby. A deliciously devilish Gene Hackman plays Royal Tenenbaum, the estranged patriarch of a shabby-genteel Upper Manhattan dynasty whose early promise crumbled following Dad’s untimely departure. Weaseling his way back into the family home, Royal attempts to make peace with his embittered ex-wife (Anjelica Huston) and majestically fucked-up offspring (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson).
Framed as a bogus literary adaptation and peppered with novelistic touches, Anderson’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece boasts a spiffing Stones-to-Ramones soundtrack and inhabits an offbeat, washed-out, parallel universe New York of the imagination. Featuring Bill Murray, Danny Glover and co-writer Owen Wilson among its first-division ensemble cast, The Royal Tenenbaums is melancholic yet life-affirming, gloriously pointless but richly intoxicating.