Friday, 24 August 2012

Music - Part 8 - Depeche Mode

All I ever wanted, all I ever needed…..

In 1990, Depeche Mode released what many consider to be their finest album to date.  Whether or not it is, is purely subjective, but, what cannot be argued with is its enduring popularity to this day.

Spawning 4 UK Top 20 singles and grossing over 15 million sales, Violator, is a timeless album often regarded as a classic, and, frequently referenced in ‘greatest album’ listings.   The album was the follow-up to the USA-breaking Music For The Masses, three years in the making and a new approach to recording by the band.

For the uninitiated, Violator sounds like a singles album, track after track of competent song-writing courtesy of Martin Gore – probably his finest period, and a clinical production by the band with Flood.  Recorded at Logic Studios (Milan) and Puk Studios (Denmark) the album consisted of 11 tracks (two uncreditted).

Opener World In My Eyes, the fourth single from the album, immediately sets the quality of the tracks to follow.  Perfect pop, a sound well ahead of the digital age, racing along with clinical perfection, tight beats and a terrific hook.  The pace drops immediately with the slow, scatter drum intro to Sweetest Perfection, the first of two tracks with fronted by Gore.  Characteristically with his lead-vocal attempts, the song starts slowly and builds and builds to a sudden end after looped vocals and extended echoes.  A grower of a track.

Single from the previous year - Personal Jesus - follows, and is still one of their most popular tracks date.  One of many DM songs that has been covered over the years, most notably by Marilyn Manson, and, Johnny Cash (who performed the acoustic version on his stunning The Man Comes Around album).  Represented on the album by a slightly extended version, the song was later remixed by Stargate as a 2011 single and a taster for DM’s final release album with EMI, Remixes 81-04.

The thundering Halo, again a track well worthy of a single release, follows.  Further indication of the rich vein of songwriting that Gore was in at this time.  Side 1 (if you’re a vinyl fan) comes to a close with the haunting Waiting For The Night.  Dave Gahan’s sometimes whispered vocal a perfect accompaniment to Gore’s silenced, almost shouted backing vocal on the fade-out.

Enter Side 2, and arguably one of the greatest pop-songs of modern times.  It’s hard to imagine that Enjoy The Silence began life as a harmonium demo and was only changed to an up-beat version at the suggestion of Alan Wilder.  The groups highest UK single since 1984’s People Are People, Enjoy The Silence reached number 6 and stayed there for 3 weeks.  It is also their only Billboard top 10 success.  Hardly surprising that it was voted Best British Single at the 1991 Brit Awards (a ceremony that has otherwise ignored the group in over three decades).  As with Personal Jesus, a remixed version was also released as a single - in 2004, Enjoy The Silence–Reinterpreted, a remix by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda.  The first of two ‘uncreditted’ tracks on the album, Crucified, is tagged on to the end and features Gahan on guitar.

Policy Of Truth, their 25th single release is still the only one to be a bigger success in the USA than the UK.  Remixed by Francois Kevorkian for single release, it continued the loud, sharp drum, effect  carried though the album.  Strangely omitted from the bands Best Of album released in 2006.

Gore returns to lead vocal on Blue Dress.  A low key affair about watching a girl dress in her (his?) favourite attire.  “Can you believe something so simple, something so trivial, makes me a happy man.  Can’t you understand? Say you believe just how easy it is to please me”.  The second ‘hidden’, unnamed track follows.

The album ends with Clean featuring Wilder on bass and drums, and, one of Gahan’s best DM performances.   A slow starter again, building and building as a fitting conclusion to an album which, over 20 years after its original release still sounds as fresh as the day it was released.  What is also impressive, is that a further six tracks appeared on single b-sides, with at least two (Happiest Girl and Sea Of Sin) well worthy of inclusion on the album.

There is no doubt that Violator is a landmark album, its sales and successes confirming that it will continue to be so for a long long time to come.

Published on Louder Than War 25/08/12 - 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Music - Part 7 - Adrian Sherwood

Disturbing the comfortable, comforting the disturbed.....

I’ve waited months for this album.  And months.  And months.

It’s been 6 years since Adrian Sherwood’s last album, Becoming A Cliché, and with the arrival of 2012’s Survival & Resistance, it’s been well worth the wait.

I first became aware of Sherwood when I heard Bop Bop by Fats Comet in 1985.  Fats were then made up of Skip McDonald (Little Axe), Keith LeBlanc and Doug Wimbush  with Adrian, and, a certain Daniel Miller on Synclavier, and, were the ‘flip’ to the mighty Tackhead.  To borrow from Steve Barker of BBC Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire – ‘Tackhead would take dub/funk on a journey to the unknown, and, Fats Comet would return you safely with sounds you recognised without ever being heard before.’  And that, really starts to explain what Adrian’s label, On-U Sound does for me.  It was on the same radio show that I first heard Adrian interviewed, and, I became an instant follower.

If you’re unfamiliar with his work, there are many artists who aren’t.  He’s worked with Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Primal Scream and Reverend & The Makers to name a few.  On-U has been the launch-pad for New Aged Steppers, Mark Stewart, Dub Syndicate and Gary Clail.  His work with Lee Perry has been some of ‘Scratch’s best.

Many On-U recordings from the 80s still sound as fresh as the day they were released, probably why, 30 years on, they are still releasing music of quite astonishing quality.   They have always had that sharp, clean, precise sound – and Survival & Resistance is no exception.  I’m listening to it (again!) as I write this article.  The sound of the album is just made for the digital age, with dubs and repeat-echoes all over  the place, it’s a delight.

Opener, Balance, features Adamski (long time, no hear?) with some trademark synth work.  Track 2 features African Head Charge’s Ghetto Priest on vocals to the haunting Trapped.  Sound bytes of American psychologist Dr Timothy Leary grace U.R. Sound, and, so the album contnues.  It's an incredible journey, largely instrumental, but who needs words when the music sounds this good?!  

To my knowledge, it's also the first time that Adrian has used all of his 'own' sounds on an album, something that predecessors, Never Trust A Hippy and Becoming a Cliche didn't.  Piano, harp and violin used to great effect embroiled in a swirl of reggae,dub and trance beats.  It's also the first of his albums on On-U, with the others being released through Peter Gabriel's RealWorld.

What I always find particularly amazing about Adrian is his ability to always come up with something sounding new.  Different ways of presenting something old.  For instance, dub is hardly a new thing, but when it's intermingled with a cello, as it is on Effective, it makes a sound so haunting and provocative that you could almost be listening to a 'new' instrument.  Given the Sherwood recording/mixing/production touch, it becomes and album unparalleled.

With still a third of the year remaining, Survivial & Resistance is already the main contender for my album of the year.  Listen to this album through headphones and admire the pure quality of Mr Sherwood.


PS  If you're reading this Adrian, get yourself Oop North, do a session for Mr Barker, and, book some live dates in the North West!!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Music - Part 6 - Martin Stephenson Live

Fill up both my lungs with oxygen.....

I recently met up with Clive, an old friend that I hadn’t seen for around 13 years.  One of the first things he said to me was “Have you been throwing stones at my greyhoonds”.  Why?  It’s a line from Louis by Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, and, we had arranged to go and see Martin as part of his solo tour at Darwen Library Theatre in July of this year.

The last time I had seen Martin and The Daintees perform was at Burnley Mechanics Theatre in 1989 as a run up to the release of the Salutation Road album – it was a thrill with the town being my birthplace, and, one of the very first music concerts to be held there (I had been badgering the Events Manager for some time that the venue was perfect – thankfully, he eventually listened to me!) .  It started as a very formal affair – a bank of sloping seats which could be rolled out for that ‘theatre feel’.  The support artist was one Paul Handyside.  Clive and I had seen Paul as part of Hurrah! who were another act on the same label as The Daintees, Kitchenware, they were another of those ‘nearly’ acts who really deserved much more success than they had.  Paul did a solo acoustic set in front of the stage, and, gave a beaming smile in our direction when I shouted for him to perform How Many Rivers from Hurrah!’s massively underrated debut album Tell God I’m Here.

Martin and The Daintees were then on top form.  The set went on for ages, and, after the first encore, Martin returned alone, jumped down from the stage, sat on the floor, and asked the audience to join him!  Obviously, they did, not everyone, but enough to make a huge circle, which included Martin, in front of the audience.  “Don’t you have any f*cking homes to go to?” he smiled.  He then performed several acoustic songs whilst one member of the circle lit up a dubious looking cigarette and passed it round!  I passed.

I had seen Martin and The Daintees perform twice before that night, once in 1987 after they had started to attract attention following the release of the classic debut album, Boat To Bolivia.  I saw them at the International in Manchester where they were supported by Gypsy Dave Smith who had also performed on the album.  They were incredible live, and even then, you felt  as though you’d known Martin for years.

The second time I saw them was again in Manchester, at the International 2, a venue that you could easily drive past (as we did!) as it the entrance was only visible by a single door in the middle of a row of shops.  The supports that night were Love Train, signed to Siren, and promoting the brilliant Rags To Riches To Rags, and, the then unknown Melissa Etheridge promoting her eponymously named debut.  She performed an amazing set – a real shame the UK never took to her, but, in later years, she became a big name in her native USA.  I seem to remember Martin had given himself a reputation for hitting his forehead against the microphone and sure this is where we witnessed the very same act.  Ouch.

So, this leads me back to Darwen.

I have to admit, Martin had long gone off my radar in terms of releasing new material, but, after booking front row tickets for the Library Theatre, I bought three cds albums by way of a little catching up.  The support was the Eliza P, satirical Mancunian Songstress, who played six or seven great tracks which make me wanting more from her forthcoming Martin-produced debut album.  Since the show, I’ve bought another three cds and will continue to hunt out others (Martin, you’re costing me a fortune!)

He was in the bar before the gig chatting and being, well, himself.  What struck me during the performance, is that he is a very likeable bloke.  A real comedian.  A serious storyteller.  A lovely man.  He played a set of material much of which I wasn’t familiar with, quite a few covers I think.  He asked Eliza back on to the stage to sing Wholly Humble Heart.  He chatted with us and many others after the show in between drinking Coke and eating his Worcester Sauce crisps.  I asked for a photo and he hugged me like a Brother.

If you’ve never listened to Martin’s stuff, then I suggest you do.  Maybe start with the undoubted quality of Boat To Bolivia.  Wheel Of Fortune.  Gladsome Humour & Blue.  Lilac Tree.  Yogi In My House.  Salutation Road.  They’re all crackers.  But, don’t dwell on his past material. California Star, his latest release is superb.  And if he’s at a venue near you, go and see him perform.

In my opinion, Martin is genuinely one of the UK’s finest ever songwriters.  And a mighty nice chap.

Published on Louder Than War 19/08/12 -