Monday, 20 June 2016

Jon Anderson's work post Yes (with a little on Yes)



I

Historic


In 2008 Jon Anderson suffered an acute respiratory attack that took him perilously close to death. In the years previous to this touring had become problematic due to his respiratory problems. Rick Wakeman had rejoined Yes, while they toured extensively they had not made a new album since 2001s Magnification. Magnification was an album that Jon was proud of but disappointed by in that it sold poorly and so didn't reinvigorate the band as he may have hoped. I like the album, it features imaginative orchestral composition and arrangement by Larry Groupe that filled the place of the departed keyboard player Igor Khoroshev who was featured on the Ladder.


Yes' discography can easily be described as tortured, bewildering. It does not mark a slow progression and decline, there might be something of a linear progression from their debut album to Tormato, but even within that sequence there are disjunctions as members came and went and each album really carved out different territory from the one before. Throughout this "Classic" album sequence, the strange art and driving force of Jon Anderson was very present. Both through his belief in the band and his insistence in pushing them to strange musical places. His art was abstract, positive with cryptic but spiritual lyrics, that often bemuse listeners and of course his unique alto tenor voice.

Jon and Rick Wakeman left Yes after Tormato when the band failed to complete a follow up album. Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White decided to team up with the Buggles which conveniently comprised a singer and a keyboard player: Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. This line-up created the Album "Drama" before splitting again and it's next rebirth was when Trevor Rabin a completely new member was the main creative driving force for a very different album and band that surfaced with 90125, which was a massive commercial success. More albums would be made with Trevor Rabin and a very Yesish album Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe was released by those members and eventually Rabin would leave the band and Steve Howe come back. The story of the discography is certainly hard to follow, but I have actually come to think it more a virtue than a curse as many think. As it has meant that under the banner of Yes there is a wide variety of music that is challenging, distinctive and strange.

The band couldn't wait for Anderson to get well and they got in a replacement singer Benoit David that they had seen on a youtube clip singing in a Yes tribute band. Rick's place on keyboards was taken by his son Oliver Wakeman. However when they came to record they decided to go with their old friend and acclaimed producer Trevor Horn, who replaced Oliver with his old Buggle bandmate Geoff Downes. They dusted off some old songs he'd written a few decades ago with Yes in mind making them the centre pieces for the album "Fly from Here". This was something of a sequel to Drama and it was a competent enough album.

Meanwhile Jon Anderson was slowly recovering and he managed to put out two albums. One with Rick Wakeman "the Living Tree" which they supported with an intimate tour. Jon's voice was understandably raspy and the quality of the vocal recording was also not high, yet these weren't entirely drawbacks, it created an intimate and naked music, drawing out some of Rick's most beautiful playing creating a nurturing setting for Jon Anderson's idiosyncratic vision. While it didn't sell well I found it compelling and have played it often since its release. The title track is a beautiful abstract fairytale. "Forever" is also one of the most beautiful songs of divine love/devotion which mingles the love of his wife Jane and love of God, making it deeply personal and immanent.




His other album at the time was kind of a compilation of tracks that he collaborated with people remotely from an internet invitation. This was called "Survival and Other stories" surprisingly this was a more professional sounding album than his one with Wakeman. I find it likeable, it has some good songs and sounds surprisingly unified but I admit I don't feel it has the heart that Living Tree has.

Yes went on, Benoit David started to suffer from the rigours of touring through singing a above his natural register, he was replaced by another singer, strangely another Jon (Davison) who had also sung in Yes tribute bands as well as the small prog band Glass Hammer. His register seems more suited to the material. The band recorded another album "Heaven and Earth" this time with Roy thomas Baker producing and with Jon Davison contributing to most of the songs on the album. This album is really the only Yes album that I think it simply a bad album, it is unfocused lacks energy and direction. A sad recorded finale for Chris Squire who  died shortly after, it is better to regard his collaboration with Steve Hackett "A Life within a Day" as his final testament as he poured more of his creative energies into this and it's a likeable album.

Whether Yes now with Billy Sherwood replacing Chris on Bass and backing vocals can rise up from this we shall see, Billy at least has a lot of drive.

Meanwhile Jon Anderson has made a nice artistic recovery. Jon worked with Stefan Podell on “Open” a largely orchestral 21 minute piece that he released digitally, with it’s simple one word title and it’s fluid movement and rich colourings.


Building from this he developed a very long cherished collaboration with Jean Luc Ponty, a very talented violinist, who had played on some of my favourite albums, particularly, Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Visions of the emerald Beyond" and Frank Zappa's "Hot Rats". Ponty also had a fairly successful solo career, I have only got to know this work recently. Ponty is a good player and his albums are good works, although I wouldn't put his solo work in the top rank of artists as he doesn't map out a distinctive imaginative territory.

Jon and Jean Luc decided to record a live album together and tour, Jon recorded vocal parts against existing Ponty tracks and they also did light jazz versions of certain Yes tracks. They rehearsed for a short time, did a concert which they recorded then did a significant amount of post production recording that paid off. I am amazed by how cohesive the album is. Part of this synergy Jon and Jean Luc have explained is due to how the violin approaches the expressiveness of the human voice. They make the most of the warm lyrical compliment that gives real  humanity to the music. For me it is a very rich pleasure to hear these artists both in their 70s express themselves so easily, Jon here has a great setting for his creative spontaneity. His voice sounds fantastic.


Jon has also created an album with Roine Stolt a neo prog star and leader of The Flower Kings.  Jon and Rick Wakeman have also teamed up with Trevor Rabin to do a tour, initially it was also to make a new album. I certainly hope they do manage to make that album. All this activity and music show that Jon is creatively alive. I am amazed at the way Jon has returned from the brink of death to make such significant new musical artistic contributions.

II

Mythic


So far I have focused on the outward events now I want to turn my focus to the inner nature of Jon’s art. We can describe the externals of music but the real value lies in the internal qualities, vision, imagination and how it effects our consciousness. Music and poetry gives pleasure, but that statement  significantly under plays what it does. This pleasure is by moving our consciousness from one state of consciousness to another, this is a mythic process.

Jon Anderson work functions as poet, visionary and Shaman. These are really names for the same thing. Shelley described the poets as“the unacknowledged legislators of our time”. The poet is not simply a versifier. The poetic power of the ancients is often acknowledged but seldom explained. Ancient consciousness  was mythic, the divine,  the physical world, internal, external and group souls were fused. The words they used were mythic containing amalgamations of the modern words that emerged from them. Words came to have more specific or fragmented meanings better suited to intellectual destinations, word and phrase orders solidified. Yet the mythic was the father to the rational like Saturn to Jupiter. The mythic nature of words is still there but this process of classification of word and phrase blinds us to this and end uses states of boredom. Owen Barfield has explored these ideas extensively in his book "a History in English Words" & "Poetic Diction" The Poet then allows our subjective modern individualised consciousness to integrate and see the mythic in which it exists. It does this obviously through myth and metaphor but also by disturbing accepted word orders allowing a great fluidity and vitality of meaning.

Jon Anderson's later work is much more explicate and immediate in its intent to waken us to the divine. Jon is expressing more immediately than any other modern artist I can think of a great sense of ontological surprise. That fundamental religious experience of the recognition of Being. We see this through emphasis on the words "Real", "Truth", "Is" and the recognition of them with "Know"

"In The Presence of" from 2001’s Magnification Jon sings:

I get amazed like a true beginner 
I get amazed like a true believer 
I get amazed when I see you there 
And I come alive

This is a fantastic childlike expression of ontological surprise. This song Jon described as being about how God is all around us.

Increasingly with Jon Anderson’s recent work, his expression has become more open, homely, childlike and direct. In his aptly titled work Open there is this line:

Echo in the rhythm of the circle of the sign of how you're standing here

The “the sign of how you're standing here” has a prose, even a prosaic diction that's common place-ness makes it more present, this is almost shocking in such a mature artist. This is a shift from the dense and more distant, abstract imagery of great works like Close to the Edge:

A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace
And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace
And achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar
And taste the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour

Jon has shifted from this more romantic style although even this had startling syntactical disjunctions. He is now being more direct but no less startling. I am arguing that it is wrong to think of his recent lyrics as being less poetic or worse. He has moved to a different mode that is more insistent, it is like he is grabbing us by the collar and saying “listen” :

Straight for the deeper love given
Straight for the very song
(Forever - from the Living Tree)

In "Open" he tells us that we are born of Myth, it is our nature “sun it sings you”.

Post 2008 Jon has shown the abundance in his creativity, he has  expressed a unified vision across a wide variety of expression. This helps us to be unattached to the form of the work and enter a “New new world”.

Jon's words and his delivery of them, always has very definite felt metrical feet, you hear his steps and it anchors the music, he enters the centre of the music to conduct it with his dance. This is particularly notable in "Invention of Knowledge" where the steps of his often irregular prose meters allow the music to twist and turn and yet always feel sure footed.


III

In the Present


"The Invention of Knowledge" arrived while I was writing this blog and the comments I made in the later part of this blog apply to it in spades. The album was obviously a great labour of love, Roine Stolt's joy in collaborating with Jon shines through. They allowed the pieces time to develop with the work taking over a year. Roine was amazingly receptive to Jon's ideas and this humility actually increased his level of creativity on the project. This is an amazingly life giving work of art and I'm looking forward to building my relationship with it.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Prince



Prince, yet another significant modern artist dies.

We invest so much in our artists, we put our hope fears and visions onto them, they become our religion. When they die their life story and work becomes their immortality.

I, like so many others, have been galvanised by Prince's death, I hadn't been listening to his music much and I hadn't even got CD versions of those albums of his that I used to love so much: 1999, Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge. I just have his triple CD Emancipation, which I'm discovering anew. But now he has died I realise there is a hole in my heart that I will have to fill again with those albums. I will also have to get his final album to see the trajectory he was on when he left this world.

The man released about 36 studio albums and he produced a lot more music than he released. His was a life of music, he reminds me of Frank Zappa in that regards, retreating to his utility muffin research kitchen and making LOTS of music, I really admire that. But also listening to emancipation I'm struck with what a sure touch he had, the music is sharp and accomplished. He not only played lots of instruments but he played them really well.

I have to admit Prince's over the top eroticism did end up putting me off as does Zappa's scatological humour. But he was also a spiritual man.

Emancipation isn't regarded as his best album, but I also have one DVD of Prince and that's Graffiti Bridge which is regarded as a terrible movie and I have to say i wasn't that impressed with it when I saw it, but I got it out and watched it again and while I won't say I thought it was a fantastic movie I was impressed by a couple of things, one is that Prince wrote and directed it, so it has a personal somewhat quirky quality to it that I like. I'll also say I don't really get what it is doing and what Prince is trying to say with this movie, but it does seem he is trying to say something and I'm a bit caught by that, I will definitely watch it again to see if i can tease out a bit more just what that is.

So, I'm sorry Prince that it has taken your death to make me focus upon your work, you have always intrigued me and I want to thank you for being one of those rare popular musicians who was individualistic and truly inspired.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

On the passing of Keith Emerson



It's sad that the death of a Rock Star is so often the occasion to write about them.

Keith Emerson has just died aged 71, but died by his own hand after suffering depression. His girl friend framed it in terms of Keith having suffered nerve damage in one of his hands and no longer being able to play as he had and not wanting to disappoint his fans. I am sure this was part of it. But Greg Lake has come out and said that Keith had started to suffer from depression in the late seventies, indicating that the depression preceded his physical problems.

In a way then it is something of a triumph that he made it through for as long as he did. I suspect if he'd been more open about it he may have been able to battle it more effectively. Brian Wilson's mental health issues are very well known and he is a much loved figure, certainly is by me.

I am not an unequivocal lover of Emerson Lake and Palmer, but I do have some respect for them. There is no doubt in my mind that from their debut album to Works Volume 1 they made audacious music, full of energy and well worth paying attention to. The 20 minute title track Tarkus is my favourite. It has everything that made them great. Keith was the driving force behind their musical vision. He was able to make Keyboards sound as daring and exciting as any guitar player, I think he is unmatched among keyboard players in this regard.

I admit that I haven't heard Keith's solo albums, I would love to know that there are some gems amongst them. But I did listen to Black Moon the later ELP album and was disappointed. It seems as though Keith could neither continue expressing that rock n roll aggression or find a music of quieter joy within him. Although his piano Concerto on the Work album could have been the start of a new direction.

In the end though, I do think we need to recognise his life as a success. It is something to make a music as distinctive as those early ELP albums are. They may not be tasteful and they certainly came to be regarded with disdain by the rock press. But I think more highly of Keith's work than I do generally of the rock press and tastefulness is not the quality I regard most highly in art. So I have been listening again to those albums thinking of Keith and I thank him for the colours that he added to my life.

Travel well.

Adenda: Michelle suggested that I listen to Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla.  The CD arrived today and although it takes me sometime to absorb new music, I will say that this is highly credible music. It had space to develop and their were some very interesting music. So happily I retract some of my previous comments, Keith did find other things to say after the initial break up of ELP they just weren't within the confines of that group. I have since listened to samples of his album Three Fates Project, which also sounds like it explores other territory even if it does revisit some ELP pieces.

Friday, 15 January 2016

David Bowie and the land of the Dead


There is something impressive about an artist who times the release of his final album Black Star to coincide with his death. David Bowie is a significant artist who has been a part of my life and big part of the cultural landscape since I was young.

You were a black star, a prince of darkness who blazed with dark light. You brought "songs of darkness and disgrace" from the fringes of society into the lives of millions of middle class teenagers. You consumed too much cocaine and shared your dreams of psychosis and apocalypse.

You wanted to be a star, your fame was a part of your art. You were an actor who will probably be best remembered as Jareth the Goblin King in the warm hearted Jim Henson film Labyrinth.

It has often been said Bowie started off as a one hit wonder with Space oddity, but I do remember the Laughing Gnome got quite heavy rotation on New Zealand radio when I was young, but Space Oddity was something different, it had fear and adventure a song for the space age. I also remember dancing to Jean Genie at a primary school dance, that was a sharp song.

I became a fan of Bowie around the time of Scary Monsters, a point that I think marks an important divide in his career, after this point he floundered somewhat.

You have an impressive set of albums and you didn't repeat yourself.

Hunky Dory - the Man who sold the world was a good album but this was really his first  great album. The production values are great, fantastic playing a wide variety of excellent songs (Life on Mars and Queen Bitch) and it is by far the most humane album. but the album didn't break him into the big time.

Bowie's friend Marc Bolan of T Rex ruled, he was king of glam, he was cool Brittania. But Bowie moved into the glam space when he conceived a work of rock n roll indulgence the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders from Mars. Bowie slid into the role of Ziggy, hiring a limo & he rode into the big time. This was one very cool album Mick Ronson's guitar riffing is just perfect, the production is perfect, the songs are little dramatic masterpieces. It was an iconic rock n roll story of fame ego style & cool. There was sympathy but not emotional warmth.

Diamond Dogs deeply pessimistic distopian and apocalyptic is probably for me his richest work of imagination:

And in the death,
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy
Thoroughfare,
The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building,
High on Poacher's Hill.
And red, mutant, eyes gaze down on Hunger City.
No more big wheels.

Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats,
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes,
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers,
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue.
Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now leg-warmers.
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald.
Any day now,
The year of the Diamond Dogs.

"This ain't Rock'n'Roll,
This is Genocide.

Bowie played most of the instruments, creating weird sound tapestries, it is full of drama and dark dreams as well as fantastic singing with some sections dense in layered vocals, It was a massive piece of work, incredibly original, imaginative and to this day deeply strange.

Low and Heroes were created almost as therapy an escape from the US and the bad habits that had been accumulating around him to Berlin, doing his own shopping hanging out with Iggy Pop, recording with Brian Eno and an aesthetic diet of German Kraut rock austerity Neu, Kraftwerk, Can. Low was stripped right back if still deeply stylish some crashing in the same car with J G Ballard he came full stop into the stillness of Japanese gardens and those sobering realisations that 6 million jews had died close by under the influence of fervid patriotism. Heroes seemed to fit Bowie's artistry better and listening to it again today I am astonished at what a perfectly constructed album it is. Ultravox's Systems of Romance from the following year must owe it a debt of gratitude and truly I love them both.

Scary Monsters showed that he didn't need Brian Eno as a crutch although Robert Fripp's angular manic guitar cut with Japanese singer singing japanese lyrics worked with precision across the startling title track. Major Tom was reprised and he hadn't been doing too well.

Let's Dance allowed more casual fans in it was outwardly friendly, even if it did contain tales of vampires and Iggy Pop covers. An appealing light 50s-ish style. Following this up proved to give him some artistic problems although I admit to having a soft spot for his critical nadir album Never Let Me Down. It reminds me a Little of Bolan Nadir albums Zip Gun Boogie and Futuristic Dragon.

Tin Machine and Black Tie white noise might be seen as recovery albums but I think they are pretty bad. Outside saw the return of Brian Eno but it's theme of murder as art is beyond the circle of my comfort.

Earthling sounded fantastic, once again Bowie was getting an excellent production, none of the later albums though have captured my heart, but Hours I do like it is almost human if still rather cold.

I had to buy Black Star the coda of his career and i may even like it, first couple of listens and I am pleasantly surprised.

Well David you have now crossed the river to the land of the dead, I imagine you meeting the Egyptian God Horus in judgement. I think you are ready.













Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Ritual of Music



In my last post discussing Roxy Music I wrote about not being able to articulate what i wanted to say.  That made me focus a bit more on what I'm doing writing these appreciations and inspired me to write this post.

Currently I am reading a book: Re-make/Re-model: Becoming Roxy Music by Michael Bracewell which is very academic, it's interesting it's not so much a history of Roxy as an extended essay on the Art ideas that surrounded Roxy Music. If I get to the end of it I'll see if has brought Roxy into better perspective. But negatively this book made me think of Art developing within the environment of a University or Art school as an academic discipline. I so seldom get inspired by contemporary art and I think it's academic roots are one of the main causes, but possibly this reflects the wider cultural environment. I think an apprenticeship, technical institute or entirely amateur model is better and a spiritual environment would be best.

The reason I am averse to the University model for fostering art can be illustrated through an online video I recently watched, as Universities are very left brain centric and art for me is about connectivity intuition which are very right brain:

http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight

Bolte Taylor speaks about having a stroke which basically shut down her left brain functionality, the logical, task oriented language side of the brain and left her with her right brain which lives in a rich present without worries emotional baggage and a deep sense of connectiveness, she felt vast unable to be contained within her body of which she could no longer recognise it's demarcations as it was all part of one great web of energy. I recommend watching the video it is emotional  funny and intelligent. Bolte came back feeling that we all need to be able to make the choice to step into that right brain consciousness for the sake of peace and our well being.

The reason I'm talking about Bolte is that music is one of those ways where we can still our busy planning intellectual minds and open up to a sense of connection, intuition and beauty, all of the albums I have featured on my blog are ones that when I listen to them gives me this kind of experience. There is a ceremonial/ritualistic aspect to music. Pop music often gives us information about fashion, style, vocabulary and social sets, but it is the religious or spiritual function that I think gives us the most.

The Doors and Yes are two pop rock groups that seem to deliberately and succesfully evoke a sense of ritual, the Doors is rather a dark evocation which in the main I prefer not to subject myself to. For both groups the evocation centres around their singers who serve as conduits like shamans through which that connecting energy flows. Both singers use words for their evocative power rather than through left brain linear development:

The Doors:

And the rain falls gently on the town
And over the heads of all of us
And in the labyrinth of streams
Beneath, the quiet unearthly presence of
gentle hill dwellers, in the gentle hills around
Reptiles abounding
Fossils, caves, cool air heights

Yes:

A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace
And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace
And achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar
And taste the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour

The Yes lyrics particularly are an assault upon our rational compartmentalising mind if we give it up for the time that the music plays we can enter into a relationship with the music.

I think Ritual is universally important for humanity. The Australian Aborigines through their rituals would enter into the Dreaming a zone where creation, their mythology, the landscape they were in was vividly alive and present, where the universal beginning (Creation) is happening NOW, where our distinctions of past, present and future melt, where meaning lives in and around us, where we are connected with God / the Gods.

In modern Westernised societies we still have the echoes and the driving force behind these rituals, upon reaching adulthood how many among us don't partake in the ritual of binge drinking and becoming totally wasted? In traditional societies this need ritual was chanelled into ecstatic ceremonies that would fulfill our urge for connection and would link us to shared group meanings that would live with us outside the time/space of the ritual and give value to it. Whereas our poor inarticulate version does not, there is little that links our everyday consciousness to these ecstatic states.

Art then is much like a drug, in that it can be used to alter our state of consciousness, personally I think it's better, although Terrence McKenna and Graham Hancock make good cases drugs and there may well be astute use that could be beneficial socially. There are many Shamanistic traditions that use drugs in genuinely spiritual ways, but I think there are many beneficial ways we can make deliberate choices to access right brain /mythological states of consciousness that can be explored without recourse to drugs and emersion in music is one of those. I think as a society we need to become more aware of left brain consciousness, value it, celebrate it and integrate it into our lives, then we will find more peace in ourselves and only then can their be peace around us.





Sunday, 28 September 2014

Roxy Music

This is an appreciation rather than a review, as the music I feature here as per the title of my page has worked it's way under my skin and I am not really judging it, how can I when there is love between us? I hope you have heard these albums already, just from the point of view of the history of rock / pop music these albums are significant.

I came to Roxy Music in the 80s I think around the time they released their final album Avalon. So whereas I listened to Close to the Edge within a couple of years of it's release I listened to Roxy music within the context of a music scene upon which they had been highly influential. I can't imagine that Ultravox, Echo and the Bunnymen or any number of New Romantics would have created the music they did but for Roxy Music.

I'll focus on 3 albums that seem particularly significant to me their debut album: Roxy Music,  Stranded and their final studio album Avalon.

Their debut album was released in 1972 10 days after David Bowie's Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, T Rex had released Electric Warrior the year before and would release the Slider the following month, Yes had released The Yes Album and Fragile and Close to the Edge was 3 months away, King Crimson had produced 4 albums and Bryan Ferry Roxy's singer and songwriter had auditioned to replace Greg Lake and was turned down (thankfully) but certain connections were made with Crimson's lyricist Pete Sinfield produced Roxy's first album. Fripp of course would have quite a long standing musical relationship with Roxy member Brian Eno.

Roxy Music has a lot of the musical and imaginative intensity of Progressive rock bands, having excellent characteristic players of Andy MacKay on Sax and Oboe, Phil Manzanera on guitar, Paul Thompson on drums, Brian Eno on Synthesisers and treatments on the first two albums and Eddie Jobson on Keyboards and violin on albums 3 to 5 as well as some very good bass playing from a succession of different players. Crimson and Yes and shares a romanticism and joy in synthesising diverse musical styles, but Roxy Music their content and vision centred around glamour and romantic love, religious imagery could be used to adorn that vision whereas for Yes the Spiritual vision was at the centre of their art. Also unlike the Progressive Rock bands Roxy Music are sexy.

The debut album opens with the sounds of a cocktail party before it fires into a futuristic rock n roll stomper Re Make / Re Model fusing 50's rock n roll and sci fi panache into something very cutting edge 70's.

I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away
Next time is the best we all know
But if there is no next time where to go?
She's the sweetest queen I've ever seen
(CPL593H)
See here she comes, see what I mean?
(CPL593H)
I could talk talk talk, talk myself to death
But I believe I would only waste my breath
Ooh show me

There is chaos, intensity and romanticism all merged into a heady new brew. More sincere than what we know Bowie but at least equally mannered, not perhaps as approachable as Marc Bolan. The seduction has begun.

Song titles like Ladytron, Chance Meeting, Sea Breezes & Bitters End give a good indication of the flavour of the album.

I've been thinking now for a long time
How to go my own separate way
It's a shame to think about yesterday
It's a shame, a shame, a shame, a shame

We've been running round in our present state
Hoping help will come from above
But even angels there make the same mistakes
In love, in love, in love, in love

Now that we are lonely
Life seems to get hard
Alone, what a world lonely
Alone, it makes me cry

Thought-train set in motion
Wheels in and around
Express our emotion
Tracks up then it cracks down, down, down, down

There are styles and influences flowing through this album that I don't recognise, how did they come to make such an accomplished album with a fully realised vision first off? There is always a freshness to a first work that introduces something new, perhaps this is why this album captivates me more than For Your Pleasure. Roxy creates a rich imaginative space, where the heart the imagination and the mind are all engaged. I'm no great lover, but I've wished I was, so it is a true delight to be able through the imaginative medium of music to enter a space in my heart where a flame is burning.


After the first two Roxy albums Brian Eno left and went on to be a highly influential pop musician, producer, conceptualist and intellectual. I would like to feature a blog post for his album Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy sometime in the future as it is a fantastic album and worthy to stand both in connection to and in contrast to the work of Roxy Music.

Eno was replaced by Eddie Jobson, a better musician than Eno if a lesser conceptual stylistic presence.

I used to have a large collection of vinyl, I've only got a little of it now and I'm buying some of it again on CD. I just recently got Stranded again, how could I have left it so long? Playing it again I was so captivated, music can be like a drug it enhances our perceptions and opens up our inner vision, or at least those albums that are precious to us do so. Stranded is an album that has more space than any other Roxy album with the possible exception of Avalon. Each side (of the original album) opens with a rocker Street Life and Serenade before entering gorgeously spacious yearningly romantic mood music to die for: Just like You & Song for Europe, The two final tracks Psalm and Sunset to me are heartfelt hymns to the very spirit of Romanticism even if wonderfully wordy.





Finally, I'll just mention their last album Avalon. Roxy Music seems to follow a trajectory from their first album very artful, daring, futuristic rock roll to their last album's pure romantic crooning. This album to me seems to be the place where Bryan Ferry wanted to live and where he took up residence.

Always at the end of these write ups I feel the centre I am trying to express has been missed, but I feel that if we try to be too complete it gives the false impression that we have achieved what we set out to do, so it's time to sign off. Thanks for reading to the end.








Sunday, 1 June 2014

5 Favourite Split Enz Albums

My friend Dan suggested to me that i do a blog on my 5 favourite Split Enz albums, it's a good idea, I've listened to their music for a long time and it'll be the first New Zealand group featured in this blog. Split Enz weren't really part of any musical movement in NZ, they were pre punk there are hints of prog rock about their debut and classic pop in their later albums. I also don't think you could described them as cool, they are nerdy and a bit odd.

Mental Notes

Their debut album recorded in Australia where like many other places they were loved and hated. The cover art was painted by Phil Judd and is kind of surrealist, a lot of the images coming from caste away photos he collected of other peoples lives, it's kind of gothic and disturbing and completely fits with the music inside. I have seen the original painting of this in our National museum Te Papa and it is almost exactly the size of a fold out LP cover, the main difference being that the image has been reversed for the album and Phil had subsequently painted away his hair.

Walking down a Road - a seemingly straight forward title that begins with a murky fade in maybe treated synthiser some distinctive bass playing and amazing piano trills from their very talented keyboard player Eddie Raynor, Tim Finn starts his great delivery of the lyrics of dislocation, anxiety and imagination. There are fade outs and fade in with what sounds like a mandolin.

I turned to my guide
but just as I feared
he disappeared

there are elements of dark nursery rhyme, vaudville and circus. The band on stage wore thick make up and costumes designed and sewn by their percussionist Noel Crombie they looked weird and many must have thought they were on drugs but like Frank Zappa they show that you don't need drugs to be weird. At this stage their main song writer was Phil Judd the songs either being credited to him or co-written with Tim Finn their main singer. Phil's weirdness might have been helped along by some mental health issues which in more recent times have taken him to rather dark places and not always made him the most likeable person.

Under the Wheel - features Phil on lead vocals and they show what a gifted created artist he was. This is music of shadows. this is another song with a spooky fade in, again strange gothic vibe and this music is truly original. Green and black seem to be colours associated archetypically with New Zealand painting and this album has that ambience that mixes what we get in a few Colin McCahon paintings, Janet Frame and Ronald Hugh Morrieson novels.

After the brooding spirit of the first two songs it's a great relief to have the rather funny perky jaunty tune Amy, which makes you want to break out into a country dance.

I won't go over the rest of the tracks but I'll conclude by saying this album is richly imaginative it takes you to a place no other album does and it also seems to tap into something essential to New Zealand art, it has to be one of our giants, it's quirky, funny, creative, dark and kind of beautiful. A monument.

Funnily enough the band were disappointed with what had emerged from the studio with Mental Notes and they re recorded a lot of songs with their next album which was produced by Phil Manzanera in England where it was there released as Mental Notes in Oz and NZ as the aptly titled Second Thoughts. It's a good album but does not have the intense brooding atmosphere of their debut it was a strange and unnecessary step sideways.

Dizrythmia

Phil Judd has now left the band, he had found touring very hard, he did not respond well to the sometimes hostile reception this group of weirdos received in some parts of the US and Australia and as a musician he had become unreliable. He was replaced by Tim's younger and at this stage still pretty young brother Neil. Neil didn't have a large role on this album but that would change on subsequent albums where he became a key elemnt in the bands later popularity.

This album is more poppy than Mental Notes, but it's still an odd album, Tim Finn was now the main songwriter and it is a good selection of songs, it has more bubble than Mental Notes and more of a Circus atmosphere it kind of takes off where the Beatles song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite left off. 

Bold as Brass - This was a single the lyrics are deliberately full of cliches and it's very humable and dancable. but still has some great percussion bubble and pop.

My Mistake - Tim Finn insecurity in Love Song, lovely changes lovely singing

Parrot Fashion love - more love insecurities, also nice tune.

Sugar and Spice - written by Phil Judd but fits nicely into the rest of the album.

Without a Doubt - a longer track and more brooding, maybe the first beautiful ballad from the band, there is pathos and longing here, shows off Tim's voice, plenty of space in the music, maybe a bit slow for some but I really like it, also some nice changes at

Like a fly in the ointment
Love makes my flesh creep

Crosswords - a bit of a play on words, well produced and again pretty catchy and quirky.

Charlie - Neil has had rather harsh words about Tim's vocal performance on this tune. But I find it spooky this tale of Love and death. Some great piano touches from Eddie Raynor. Maybe a classic.

Nice to Know - very cool bass line, pretty good song well delivered.

Jamboree - A good finale starts slow takes it's time and slowly builds ties in well to their earlier work.

So a very accomplished album maybe not as important as Mental Notes, but it moves on from there to a deliver a very credible album lead by Tim Finn who shows he has enough talent to carry the bands songwriting, he does have help from other members.

True Colours

Between this and Dizrythmia was a set of session tapes now released as the Rootin Tootin Luton Tapes and the album Frenzy each of which have their merit but one was never meant to be an album and the other suffered somewhat from poor production and focus. Not so with True Colours this is their Pop opus where Neil Finn emerges as a major force threatening to eclipse his older brother Tim.

That's an amazing thing another major songwriter emerging from the band.

So this time the sound was paired down with a strong pop focus and with a strong producer with David Tickle. It opens with the frenetic Shark Attack which was a really energetic live song, I saw the band when they toured this album and they were smoking hot, great energy, great songs and really committed performances. This song tries to draw on the zeitgeist of the time created by the movie Jaws.

I got You - Neil's huge single, this one was just everywhere in Oz and NZ hitting number 1 and i suspect staying there for a while it's a great 60's style pop tune so catchy so well delivered, perfectly performed and produced. we still hear it on the radio to this day. If you like good pop tunes you have to like this track.

What's the Matter with You - Another 60's style gem from Neil but with Tim singing. very cool keyboard solo.

There are two instrumentals by Eddie Raynor on this album which are very nice filler Double Happy and the Choral Sea.

There is a romantic ballad from Tim with I hope I never which apparently was written after an attempt to ring Phil Judd and his refusal to speak with Tim. A nice change in tempo and mood.

What else can I say all the songs are good, they're nice pop by a band inspired by the Beatles and the Kinks, just a really well focused pop album, this album held out Pink Floyd's the Wall from the number one spot in both Australia and New Zealand where it was a giant album that everybody loved and bought. this made us feel very good about ourselves and it is still a joy to listen to.


Time and Tide

This to me is the last great Enz album, they had had their pop success they followed that up with an album called Waiata which i think stuck a bit to close to the mould they had created with True Colours, it still has good songs but it just doesn't feel quite as fresh the second time around.

Time and Tide however they stretched themselves and wrote songs that were personal and introspective, Noel Crombie took over the drums and he does nice things with them. There is a bit more of the proggy feel to this album but it is no look back but rather a look inside. These songs seem to mean tsomething to the writers and for that they touch me more deeply.

I love Dirty Creature a song about internal demons, but also with a very cool groove and some great changes and nice textures from Eddie Raynors synth and guitar hook from Neil. excellent singing from Tim.

A really cohesive album that fuses the personal with great collaboration everyone is pulling in the same direction, only a great band could create so many excellent albums.

The Beginning of the Enz

When i was thinking about which 5 albums to feature I easily came up with the 4 above but couldn't think what would be the fifth until I remembered this album.

The material on this album was recorded in New Zealand prior to Mental Notes, it even has some of the same songs, but they atmosphere here is joyful and just doesn't brood or disturb like Mental Notes but yet it so fresh and for a collection of singles it all works nicely together. great fun.

There you have it my homage to a great New Zealand band.