The Pop Group - We Are Time
Freaks R Us
Released: 20th October 2014
When the newly reformed Pop Group set off on their first ever UK tour this year, it was ostensibly to promote the reissue of the record that was the last thing the band released before their distintegration in 1981. We Are Time first saw light of day a mere three months after the band had released their second album For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? in March 1980 and therefore was not a new studio outing but, in keeping with the band's musical approach, a cobbling together of disparate elements to make an envigorating whole. Thus, we have live tracks from The Electric Ballroom, Brussels and Glastonbury ('Thief Of Fire', 'Genius Or Lunatic' and 'We Are Time' respectively), a John Peel Session track from 1978 ('Kiss The Book'), demo versions of 'Trap', 'Colour Blind' and 'Sense Of Purpose', a different version of 1979 b-side 'Amnesty Report' recorded at Foel Studios along with the second album, an apparent live take of 'Spanish Inquisition', and the unreleased 'Springer'. The current reissue, on the back of a successful pledge campaign, has seen the tracks remastered from the original tapes and made available on CD for the first time. A limited package was also released housing the album in a box along with the new compilation Cabinet Of Curiosities (below). For those of us who were a little on the young
side to afford these releases at the time and then found trying to get hold of them nearly impossible in the 1980s, it is great finally to have them freely available. Bands such as The Pop Group are few and far between and it is important they are heard as they were one of the first experimental post punk bands, one of the first to discover the effectiveness of deconstructed sound, and one of very few to make people sit down and think how music really should be defined. They may have failed in their attempt to fuse glam, punk, funk, soul and classical music into a coherent sound, but the disjointed mayhem they produced, underlined by an angry political message, was potent in the extreme and bewilderingly influential. This has more cuts and thrusts than a pirate on speed and is probably more entertaining. A great record, and even better in the company of its twin ...
The Pop Group - Cabinet Of Curiosities
Freaks R Us
Released: 20th October 2014
A new compilation released as a companion to the We Are Time collection, remastered and made available on both vinyl and CD. Again, this is a real mixture of tracks with 'Words Disobey Me' and 'We Are Time' taken from John Peel Sessions, 'Colour Blind', 'Don't Sell Your Dreams', 'Abstract Heart' and 'Karen's Car' recorded live, 'Amnesty Report' and 'She Is Beyond Good And Evil' re-mixed, and 1980 single a-side 'Where's There's A Will There's Got To Be A Way' in all its original glory. It's the latter that steals the show, of course, being the closest the band ever got to becoming Funkadelic, but with such torn edges it almost scratches the speakers as it plays. Dan Catsis and Bruce Smith lay down the funkiest of backdrops but the real glory is in Mark Stewart's ragged falsetto fighting Gareth Sager's shrieking saxophone and the unity of the repeated refrain being enhanced by the chaos playing out around it. Try and sit still while this one plays out and try not to punch the air while you sing along; this is truly anthemic and surely one of the most off-kilter anthems in musical history. If that wasn't good enough 'She Is Beyond Good And Evil' is another post punk classic, breaking on through to the other side in all its disjointed beauty, riven with confusion, passion and pain. There's seven other less well know tracks here, all gloriously fractured and absorbing, not the least the stuttering 'Don't Sell Your Dreams' and 'We Are Time' where a more classical guitar riff breaks apart so fantastically. Lovely, lovely stuff. Don't be without it.
Ian Hunter - Live In The UK 2010
Released: 20th October 2014
Hot on the heels of the Mott reissues comes a new live release from former Hoople singer Ian Hunter, who continues to tour relentlessly despite now having passed his seventieth year. Indeed, the frontman has lost little (if any) of his youthful vigour as shown by his incredible performances in the recent Mott Reunion tour as well as in the hundreds of dates he has played across Europe, the US and the UK over the past few years to promote his own records. This live collection has been compiled from a variety of Hunter's UK dates in 2010. Why it has taken four years to release it is unknown but obviously the recordings do not feature any tracks from 2012's When I'm President album, concentrating more on 2007's Shrunken Heads and 2009's Man Overboard. Add to that a couple of classics from earlier solo releases as well as four Mott The Hoople classics and this is a pretty decent selection of songs from across the man's long career. The Rant Band, featuring former Wings drummer Steve Holley, has largely been together since the 2001 Rant album that appeared to rejuvenate Hunter following the massive blow of the death of his friend and musical partner Mick Ronson and it is pretty obvious there is a bond between the musicians as the playing is excellent though there is still room for larks as nothing is taken too seriously. Most of the arrangements are pretty much as on the records, though the brilliant 'Ships' is given the full strings treatment; nothing is ever set in stone with Hunter and there is always a 'latest way' of doing things – there are no museum pieces or sacred cows for this man which is great to see. The recordings are decent and there's nothing here to complain about. If you love Hunter you will enjoy this album; if you are new to his music then this probably isn't the place to start, so pretty much one for the fans. And we are fans so it will get plenty of spins from us.
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Through The Looking Glass
Released: 27th October 2014
The remastering and repackaging of the Banshees' albums appeared as though it had ground to a halt with the release of Tinderbox in 2009. Now, however, we are presented with the band's last four albums and they have all emerged in the same format, as single discs in digipak format with bonus tracks included. Produced less than a year after the really rather good Tinderbox, March 1987's Through The Looking Glass is a collection of cover versions of songs that helped shape the Banshees' sound. Sadly, it is an unwritten rule that any band's Pin-Ups moment is one of the nadirs of their career. Let's face it, Bowie's album of covers is the only moment of his in the 1970s that you could quite easily flush down the toilet without detracting at all from the the quality of his output. It may be understandable that artists need an occasional break from the creative process in order to recharge their batteries and even that playing the odd cover version or two can help get the juices flowing again, but the constant desire to foist these efforts off on the paying public goes a little bit beyond the pale. This was the Banshees' last outing as a four piece, including guitarist John Valentine Carruthers who had already disappeared by the time of the album's release, and the artists covered include Sparks, Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, The Doors, Iggy Pop, Television, Bob Dylan, John Cale and Billie Holliday, as well as one track taken from the soundtrack of Disney animated film The Jungle Book. As is usually the case, these work to greater or lesser effect. Bottom of the table come 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us' where Siouxsie has no hope of improving on the vocal dynamics of Russell Mael, and 'Lost Little Girl' which is awful beyond measure, while at the top of the list come 'The Passenger', infused with sparkle, and 'Sea Breezes' which just seems to work. Most of the other offerings are neither here nor there and must represent the least essential offerings of the band's career. The bonus tracks include The Modern Lovers' 'She Cracked', The Banshees' own 'Song from the Edge of the World' single and two mixes from the 12" versions of 'This Wheel's On Fire' and 'The Passenger'. Much as we love the Banshees, this is not an album that will get played a lot and quite frankly we wouldn't lose sleep if we never heard it again.
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Peepshow
Released: 27th October 2014
Happily, if Through The Looking Glass was a chance for the band to recharge their batteries, it had the desired effect as the follow-up album, September 1988's Peepshow, was a quite startling return to form. With multi-instrumentalist Martin McCarrick, who featured as a guest on the covers album, now firmly cemented in as an authentic Banshee and serving up cello, keyboards and accordion, the vacant guitarist position was filled by Jon Klein and the new band certainly brought a vigour to the Banshees' sound as they produced a complex, dislocated and at times quite beautiful record that appeared to come out of nowhere. Lead single 'Peek A Boo' was astonishing and must surely take its place amongst the truly great British singles, sounding like a middle European gothic horror tale on ecstasy, popping and spitting and tipping a rakishly angled top hat before dragging you past swirling wooden carousel horses into a dark house where an all-night rave drains your soul. 'Scarecrow' is another beautiful mélange of sound and texture, 'Turn To Stone' pulses darkly, lit by a gentle organ and a fine vocal, while 'The Last Beat Of My Heart' is a beautiful ballad, dripping sorrow and tenderness. Peepshow is a thrilling album, one that opened doors and hinted that there really were no limits for the newly configured Banshees and it was almost universally lauded, achieving the band's best ever showing in the Billboard charts and becoming the ninth consecutive album from the band to go top twenty in the UK. This repackaged collection offers three bonus tracks, two taken from the 12-inch single releases from the album, along with a completely unnecessary live take of 'The Last Beat Of My Heart' recorded in Seattle in 1991. Peepshow ranks among the best Banshees' albums and among the best sounding. Less then ten years on from The Scream they had shown themselves to be enduring, innovative and still capable of thrilling.
Martin Carr - The Breaks
Released: 29th October 2014
The word genius is flung round far too often in the music word, but there is a good argument for the term being applied without hyperbole to Martin Carr. As the songwriter and guitarist of The Boo Radleys, he produced albums of remarkable quality, breadth and charm throughout the 1990s with impressive consistency. It appeared that at the drop of a hat he could come up with a commercial gem of a pop song that would bury itself eternally in your conciousness, or alternatively look the other way and compose music of such complexity and density it would take you a lifetime to fathom it out. He was a remarkable performer, falling only at the last hurdle when 1998's faltering Kingsize failed to measure up to previous achievements, heralding the end of the road for his band. After that date, Carr undertook a solo career, whether under the Bravecaptain name or his own, taking over the vocals duties and leaning more towards electronica than he had with the guitar-orientated Boo Radleys. His work never achieved much in the way of recognition and his hopes of a solo career had apparently been set aside until the singer was given the opportunity to record a new album by German label Tapete with no pressure put upon him for a completion date. The result is a forty-minute, ten track collection of songs that in places certainly contains elements of Carr's trademark sound. Indeed, the opener (and single) 'Santa Fe Highway' could have been plucked from any Boo Radleys' album, a light and pleasant guitar-driven pop song, beefed up with mild bursts of psychedelic noise and a funky guitar break. It's certainly uplifting to hear such a record again, throwing up glorious shadows of past, but sadly it's a rarity here as on the whole The Breaks is a pretty straightforward collection of songs, pleasant, thoughtful, but rarely challenging the senses. 'Mandy Get Your Mello On' is a keyboard drenched stomper and 'Senseless Apprentice' has some drive, but in the main the songs here echo the mood of 'Mountains' in being preposterously pretty and meticulously arranged. This is the music Carr is being driven to record but the album itself appears to debate whether he is happy with this situation for in the smooth ballad 'Mainstream' the singer appears to question his place in the world, "I tell my friends I subverted from within. Here I am drowning in the mainstream. I kid myself I'm happy as I am". There is not much subversion going on in Carr's first album in five years and though it is good to have him back, a dose of the old fire and awkwardness would have lifted The Breaks considerably.
Wings - Venus And Mars
Released: 3rd November 2014
Though you can’t deny their social impact, most people today would probably agree that The Beatles were hideously overrated as a band. It is true they helped develop the concept of an album as a work of art rather than a mere collection of singles and filler, but in doing this for rock music they were only following in the footsteps of Sinatra and Riddle who had done the same thing for jazz records over ten years earlier. We don’t deny they produced some great songs, but really how innovative were they? They were still proclaiming that "we can work it out" after The Who had unleashed the brutal youth anthem 'My Generation' and the alienating 'Substitute' – astonishing records – while The Kinks had provided the ambiguously psychedelic 'See My Friends', and the Stones had bemoaned their lack of 'Satisfaction' and predicted a '19th Nervous Breakdown'. The Beatles were cuddly in comparison and their music only hardened after their peers had led the way far more forcefully. After the Beatles' split, while John Lennon lost himself in art school pranks, it was Paul McCartney who, more impressively, went about restarting his career by forming a new band and playing live gigs again in small venues. Starting off by writing simply, he soon began to expand his horizons and quickly reached a peak of creativity that manifested itself in the Wings' albums Band On The Run
(December 1973) and, best of all, Venus And Mars
Though the former album received, and continues to garner, the critics’ plaudits, it does contain its share of dull moments, whereas the latter, newly remastered and re-released in a variety of formats, remains the most solid, varied and interesting performer. Having been down to a three-piece while recording Band On The Run, McCartney recruited guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton to the band, though the pair’s inability to get on led to sticksman Joe English being quickly brought in to finish off the album which was largely recorded in New Orleans after the first three tracks were laid down at London's Abbey Road. And they were three terrific songs: 'Letting Go', a psychotic and dark love song as good as anything McCartney produced for The Beatles; 'Medicine Jar', a real biting rocker; and 'Love In Song', slow, innovative and not unmoving. Add to the mix the two neat versions of the title track, the powerhouse 'Rock Show', the comic book tale of 'Magneto and Titanium Man' and the swaying 'Call Me Back Again' and you have a pretty impressive collection here with many tracks approached from a variety of interesting angles. Of course, being McCartney, there are spoonfuls of sugar that are a little unpalatable, but the Edwardian 'You Gave Me The Answer' and the sickly sentimental 'Lonely Old People' are forgivable given their surroundings, as is the massive hit single 'Listen To What The Man Said' which is pop gold, but a little too slick for our tastes.
Sadly, Venus And Mars was the be the peak of McCartney's achievements with Wings, the follow-up, Wings At The Speed Of Sound actually travelling at the speed of the average barn door. Of course, there were some fine individual songs recorded until the band's demise in 1981 but few signs that McCartney was ever stretching himself as he did with this album and it is certainly worth a listen.
Hookworms - The Hum
Released: 10th November 2014
Last year's live act of the year, Hookworms, have taken twenty months to follow up their debut long player Pearl Mystic, a swirling morass of a record with such a weighty psychedelic edge that more often than not listening to it left you with minor concussion. The Hum is a more evolved beast, not quiet in any sense of the word, but less inclined to hold its head in its hands in shock. The six tracks and three bridges here (numbered iv, v and vi and thus continuing from the last album) have a focus about them that prevents the whole from being sucked down into a sea of clawing sound effects and gives the music a power and purpose that we have not seen from Hookworms in the past; this is a warning smack in the face rather than the wail of self-loathing minds in meltdown. Yes, the sixties are still big in here, but The Hum gathers more from the primal punk rock of the Stooges than the darker fantasies of the acid heads. Driven on by the relentless drumming of new man JN, no prisoners are taken from the explosive entrance into 'The Impasse' which doesn't sound like an impasse to the farewell of 'Retreat' which doesn't sound like a retreat. MJ's howling vocals are given major treatment in the album's opener, but as the pace calms a little the masks slip away and Hookworms stand as naked in the spotlight as you are ever going to hear them, mildly psychedelic rock music playing out to swirling organs, harmonic backing vocals and smoothly crashing guitars. A mightily sustained guitar note leads the way into the single 'Radio Tokyo', released last year by the Too Pure Singles Club, a stomping fairground adventure, before side two begins with 'Beginners' (nice), all one armed drumming and warring guitars. 'Off Screen' opens dreamily and soothes you into semi-consciousness before you finally realise your leg is being sawn off, and The Hum is played out to another screamer, made all the more effective by the sheer control of the guitars which are held in place by a restraining order from the rhythm section. MJ offers soothing keyboards while his vocals sway between the gentle and the passionate, undoubtedly proclaiming that with Hookworms you can have it both ways – light and dark, control and passion, beauty and pain. New improved Hookworms. How can you not?
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness - Dust
Released: 10th November 2014
ILYBICD are a band we thought we would never hear of again, seeing as they released their debut album, Fear Is On Our Side, way back in 2006 and remained resolutely silent ever since. It was somewhat of a surprise when Secret Canadian announced the release of a new offering in August last year, and the album saw light of day in Europe three months later through Monopsone. As with their original collection, this album has been produced by Ministry bassist Paul Barker, has a classic feel with ten tracks stretching just over forty minutes, and it could have been recorded the day after the debut as it varies very little in style or purpose. Available only in vinyl or as a download, this is a prettily clothed thing which moves with a measured pace, lighting a path with candles through only gentle shade. Though it bursts into life with the pulsing 'Faust', Dust seldom reaches above walking pace, though ironically the searching 'Walk Out' manages to break into a trot. On the whole, the songs are gently performed, at times even daintily, though the album never loses its deeply embedded mood of melancholy or allows its soul to be exposed to the light. Guitars chime and purr without abrasion, layers glide over layers, and when everything comes together, as on the soporific 'Safely', the result is a song of considerable beauty. But nothing is transparent here and we see through a glass darkly. When insistent guitar breaks push themselves slowly to the front it is always a surprise, as it is when they submerge themselves again. And when vocalist Christian Goyer throws some passion into his voice on 'The Sun Burns Out', the emotion is smothered with distinctly unflustered guitar melodies. So Dust won't rip apart your soul, but remains content to tickle at its edges, knowing that some things are better left unsaid. This makes it the perfect accompaniment to a very late night or the morning after, especially if you wake up with doubts.
Keith Levene - CZ2014 (Backers' Issue)
Released: 23rd November 2014
Let's face it, Public Image Limited were pretty much a disaster area, a band who couldn't keep a drummer for twenty minutes, who lost their inspirational bassist after two albums, and their innovative guitarist after three. Four random elements pulling in different directions or, as Jah Wobble would have it, four different people doing different drugs at different times. The remarkable thing is that this internally combusting four-three-two-one piece not only managed to produce two of the greatest singles of all time in 'Public Image' and 'Death Disco', but in Metal Box
they released one of the finest albums – if not the
finest album – in musical history. Perhaps it was the dislocation at their very heart that pushed them to go where others feared to tread, but Public Image were genuine innovators and though John Lydon released some impressive material after the core of the band fell apart, all of it is pretty much straightforward rock music; the desire and perhaps the will to push boundaries apparently fading away.
After the disappointment that the 2009 PiL reunion would not be featuring Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene, some consolation was found in the fact that the duo began to work together once again, playing some Metal Box shows and then collaborating on 2012's Yin & Yang album. Whether working with his former colleague once again turned Levene's mind back to PiL matters, or whether the controversy of the band's lost fourth album, Commercial Zone, had haunted him over the years, Levene found himself launching a pledge campaign to get himself back into the studio finally to lay the ghost of albums not quite past. Commercial Zone was the record Levene believed would break Public Image into the big time, an album that retained a vital edge but which would also dip its toes into commerciality, producing a record that would prove to be irresistable after the blank reaction to near impenetrable darkness of its predecessor The Flowers Of Romance. His apparent disappointment with his bandmates' desire to fully commit to the project led to his departure from the band and the self-releasing of Commercial Zone in 1983. PiL's own stab at the record, This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get followed on the next year. Despite spawning a number five hit single in 'This Is Not A Love Song' which justified the belief in the music's commercial appeal, neither collection was ultimately satisfying, leaving Levene with the belief there was unfinished PiL business still to be undertaken.
the pledge campaign doubling its target, Levene stationed himself in Prague where Commercial Zone 2014 took shape, the digital version of which dropped into the inboxes of subscribers on the 35th anniversary of the release of Metal Box, 23rd November 2014. Where from the first announcements it could have been thought that Levene was looking to rework the original recordings of Commercial Zone and present them in a beefed-up form, the project evolved into a collection of new works; Commercial Zone as it was originally conceived, in a myriad of colours, shades and styles. And as a do-it-yourself project, it is indeed a gem. Twenty digital files to untangle with no running order and titles which include the addition of comments such as 'very ruff', 'L stage mix' and 'fin'; it is like having free rein at the Pick and Mix counter at Christmas. Dip in, look at the wrappers, see what you like, and enjoy a variety of flavours. The next task is to spend time arranging the order into how you like it best (Metal Box also had no running order) and then simply to sit back and enjoy the feast until the physical copy finally arrives and you can start all over again.
Of course we start with 'The Voice Of Punk Rock' where Levene lays down his manifesto for the project, proclaiming, "All kinds of music has been stolen by the corporate companies who steal everything and spoil it and sell it back to us sanitised and watered down and ruined ... I came here to destroy corporate culture." There are no middle men here, just honest recordings from the heart aimed at those who shy away from pastel shades and neat packages. One glimpse at the artwork Levene has produced to accompany the record and his book on his early life in The Clash show a boldness and an assertiveness with no smoothed edges, the boldness Levene has always produced in his music, the reason why he is the most important guitarist of his generation. It doesn't take long to find what we were thirsting for as Levene lets rip at the six strings. There are a few decent, innovative guitarists around today, though many rely on rafts of effects pedals to create a novel sound. Levene appears above this; when he plays he simply dips into the well of his inner being and torrents of sound pour out in breathtaking cascades that leave you utterly astonished. 'Air Mobile' opens like one of Bowie's oriental instrumentals, interrupted by some ska drumbeats and some buried bass before being lifted into the stratosphere by the most amazing burst of sound you will ever hear. Having done its job, the track fades soon after four minutes but it should really have gone on forever. The guitar screams again on 'What's My Name 2014', a stomping punk blast originally written for The Clash, and rare vocals on the similar 'I Think I'll Call It A Day' and (our closer) 'I Didn't Call It A Day' are pleasingly effective.
The Commercial Zone is not just full of guitar tornadoes, however delightful they may be, as Levene offers up a huge variety of sounds. 'Behind The Law' is a beautifully dreamy mixture of keyboards and guitar, as is 'After Over' with its strolling bass, with the pulsing 'Proto Teen' almost entering techno territory, 'Sunshine Days' a hurtle round space, and '2051 Is Now' a droning menace from a future sci fi epic. The Mediterranean romantic plucking of 'True Romance' is as far away from The Flowers Of Romance as you are ever likely to hear, Levene demonstrating there are no boundaries in this epic, and his trip around Europe gathers a more uncomfortable edge in the brooding 'Bits Of Prague'. There's much, much more ... every strand pulling in a different direction with surprises at every turn.
There's little doubt Keith Levene has been away too long and it is exciting to see him back enthused with music. He demonstrates on CZ2014 that there is little he cannot turn his hand to stylistically, but most importantly it is a record that once again underlines that as a guitarist the man is untouchable. The world should be knocking on his door to get him to work with them and it is fascinating to see what lies next in line. It is too late to get hold of the Backers' Issue of CZ2014 but an Afterburners' Edition is now up for grabs here and a condensed version here, so get it while you can. Stick two fingers up at the corporations and encourage totally independent productions. The bonus here is that it is also a fucking great one.
Roy Wood - Original Album Series
Released: 24th November 2014
Another interesting release in the Original Album Series
highlights five albums by Roy Wood under various guises, including The Move's Message From The Country
(1971), the debut eponymous offering from the Electric Light Orchestra (1971), Wizzard's Wizzard Brew
(1973), and the man's own solo albums Boulder
(1973) and On The Road Again
(1979). If you don't know the series, these albums are housed in cardboard sleeves in a slip case only a little larger than a standard CD album case. The latest remasters of the albums are not always used and they come with no bonus tracks nor booklets. On the positive side the sets retail for about ten quid, so you are getting five albums for two quid each and you can't say fairer than that. This allows you plenty of scope to experiment, gain instant collections of bands whose albums you have never quite got round to buying, or get digital copies of stuff you have previously only owned on vinyl. We like them a lot and this one is a real corker. If you only know Roy Wood for the classic singles he composed – 'Fire Brigade', 'Blackberry Way', 'Flowers In The Rain', 'Angel Fingers', 'See My Baby Jive' et al – then it must be clear that the man stands among the very best singles artists in UK musical history. His albums, however, are a different kettle of fish. Believing that he had served his time with the seven-inchers, Wood felt himself free to do exactly what he wanted on the long players and consequently most of them are madder than a box of frogs on the Jeremy Kyle Show
The first two albums here, The Move's Message From The Country and The Electric Light Orchestra were recorded at the same time by the same trio: Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne. Eager to explore the possibilities of using classical instruments to make pop music, Lynne had agreed to join The Move only if the ELO project could be moved along at the same time. A final Move album was recorded in order to finance that project and though Message From The Country is far from the best thing the band produced, there are still sublime moments infused with the band's trademark sound and when the chaff is dumped: Bevan's awful 'Don't Mess Me Up', the cod-country 'Ben Crawley Steel Company' and the atrocious 'My Marge', you are left with a pretty decent collection. During the recording sessions, everything with guitars and horns was put on the Move record, while everything with strings was saved for TELO. And we are not talking here of any 'Horace Wimp' type shenanigans. Wood, who played virtually all of the strings, ensured the record was as leftfield as possible and thus it remains the least favourite release by the band from those who rejoice in their later commercially successful period. Wood's tracks 'Look At Me Now', 'First Movement' and 'Whisper In The Night' really do sound as if he is carrying on The Beatles' legacy in a new way (which he stated was his intention), but it is Lynne's '10538 Overture' that steals the show with Wood's grating cello infusing it with a vibrancy that makes it undoubtedly light years (ahem) ahead of anything else that conglomerate produced.
Wood quit ELO after this one album to form Wizzard, enthused by the new direction he could see pop music taking. He had already lifted that band into the top ten with 'Ballpark Incident' and was about to hit the number one spot with follow-up 'See My Baby Jive' when debut album Wizzard Brew was released in March 1973. As with his albums with The Move, Wood took the opportunity to experiment, with the album featuring some hard rock with plenty of distortion as well as mad bouts of improvisation. It's a dense mixture, replete with horns and strings, and Wood's starting point is always classic rock and roll, but you won't find any hits here or any nods to commerciality; the man is completely bonkers and this is obviously his latest set of case notes. Six tracks and over forty minutes long, it is an engrossing listen. There were no doubt many disgrunted teenies who helped take Wizzard Brew into the top thirty and they well have preferred Wood's solo album, Boulders, released just five months later, peaking at number fifteen in the charts, but recorded pretty much at the time the ELO album was being worked on. This is a far gentler beast, featuring largely lighter pop songs and including the terrific single 'Dear Elaine' which went top twenty in the UK singles chart. Far too talented for his own good, Wood played all the instruments, arranged and produced the record as he did on its follow-up, 1975's Mustard, though some guest appearances were made on the third album, 1979's On The Road Again, the fifth album included here, and one that was never released in this country but saw the light of day in Germany and the States on the strict orders of Warner Bros label boss Mo Ostin. Again, this is a more straightforward pop record with a nod towards the jazz-funk sound Wood was moving towards in his later days with Wizzard.
Five very different records here, then, with much to treasure, much to confuse and some only fit for the dumper. This is always the case with those who take risks and Wood is certainly one of those, an undoubted British great, never sitting still, always experimenting and pushing forward to achieve something new. All the evidence you will ever need is here and applause is due for it.
Trash Kit - Confidence
Upset The Rhythm
Released: 1st December 2014
London three-piece Trash Kit have been around the underground scene for some six years now, and it is nearly five since they released their self-titled debut in May 2010. Featuring bassist Ros Murray, formerly of the pretty decent Electrelane, it may have been that band's temporary reformation in 2011 that delayed any further Trash Kit releases, but the pleasing thing is that the wait appears to have been well worthwhile as Confidence is a sparkling record, and though its eleven songs fail to even hit the half hour mark, that only means you can play it twice every sixty minutes. There are obvious comparison to The Slits to be drawn here and while Trash Kit are less animalistic and desperate in their approach, the clattering drums of Rachel Horwood trample all over Murray's solid basslines in a familiar style, while Rachel Aggs's guitar patterns dance on top, throwing out hints of Africa and the Caribbean. The two Rachels offer up the vocals in overlapping narrative style (with plenty of 'who'oohs'), while horns blast (courtesy of Electrelane's Verity Susman), and the whole concoction is both damned effective and pleasingly uplifting. The songs are most impressive at their most disjointed, with the pummelling 'Skin' nicely abrasive while the whirlwind 'Boredom' knocks everything out of its path with reckless abandon. 'Hair' jumps to grinding rhythms, 'Leaves' is adorned with stunning pick your own guitars, and 'Shyness' squeaks, bubbles and howls. With a lyrical focus on miscommunication, it appears a problem the trio don't suffer from themselves as they wrap their disparate musical styles into an intriguing, cohesive whole. This is an impressive record, though how on earth the band got away with stealing 'Echo Beach' on 'Big Feeling' we will never know. Perhaps they are more subversive than we thought? Still, Babylonian won't lose much.
The Popguns - Pop Fiction
Released: 2rd December 2014
With half the bands under the sun having reformed over the past few years with varying degrees of success, one of the resurrections that particularly pleased us was that of The Popguns, perhaps the best ever band to emerge from Sussex. In 1989 and 1990 the Brighton five-piece produced three EPs of such breathtaking quality that many of us found it quite difficult to believe they were not perpetually cemented to the very summit of the charts. Wrongly dismissed as 'cute' by those who never listened properly, The Popguns' music may have jangled with the best of them, but their lyrics lifted them way above their peers, managing to be both desperately sad and sadly desperate at the same time. Though written by a man and sung by a woman, their tales of heartbreak and failure resonated with either sex, singer Wendy Morgan (now Pickles) breaking hearts with every sorry tale and every cracking note while the music soared and sparkled around her, the sheer contrast bringing into harsh focus the blackness and despair playing out at its very heart.
Reborn as a six-piece, with additional vocalist Kate Mander joining the throng, the band's recent reformation has led quickly to the release of a new album on Matinee Recordings and it is delightful to discover that this recording is exactly what we would have hoped: intelligent, melodic and drowning in the melancholy they harvest so well and which was perhaps lacking in some of their later material. Twenty-five years down the line, The Popguns were never going to explode in cascades of youthful emotion as they had in their first EP's lead track 'Landslide', but they remain splendidly self-obsessed, opening the album with the desolate farewell of 'City Lights' with its almost mocking guitar chime building into something a more powerful and bitter as the blackness overwhelms. It's great. As is the fact the band reference former singles 'Waiting For The Winter' and 'Still A World Away' in the stunning 'Still Waiting For The Winter' which opens, "Friday night outside The Grand, a wedding disco band plays 'Boogie Wonderland'. In the darkness by the sea, the guys are smoking weed, huddled from the breeze," a beautifully evocative picture of a Brighton night in a song that remains relentlessly bleak and utterly captivating. As the backing vocals burst into the chorus of 1990's 'Waiting For The Winter' it is clear The Popguns may have grown up but they have not moved on, as rooted in their environment as they are in their emotional instability: always in Brighton and always in tears as the rest of the world passes them by at its own pace. This maudlin charm underwrites the whole of Pop Fiction; fiction it may be but it is all-embracing, convincing as hell and you cannot help but empathise. We all remember the saddest moments in our life and The Popguns help you drag them all back to the surface and then pretend you learn from your mistakes. In truth, if anyone had been as disappointed as many times as they had in their songs they would have long dropped themselves off the end of the pier, and more than likely as the streetlights on the shore flickered into life in the gathering dusk of the afternoon while a taxi took the love of their lives off to another land. We love The Popguns.
Happy Accidents - Not Yet Jaded
Following on from their self-recorded Demos
CD, Happy Accidents release their first EP proper with the brilliantly titled five-track Not Yet Jaded
available for download from Bandcamp
or on a limited-to-50 cassette from Don't Ask Records. One glance at the track counter on our iTunes reveals that we have played this record over one hundred times and that is, quite frankly, bloody amazing. For us, the young punk three-piece from Southampton and East London capture the very essence of the bands who sprang up in the late seventies and offer up some truly outstanding songs full of crashing guitars, glorious backing vocals and astute lyrics with a verve that is so sadly lacking from many groups these days. There is such an easy grasp of melody here and such a fantastic delivery of nicely wordy lyrics that it's quite frightening; trying to pick a favourite track out of the five is virtually impossible. As is not playing this record over and over and over. And over. This is quite brilliant. So bloody buy it.