Monday, 25 January 2010

Song of the Week #4: "Say That Again" by Crowded House

Neil Finn is a deity of the highest order, so any decision he makes is likely to be a good one. Like, reforming Crowded House after a decade apart. In the meantime, he'd put out a couple of fantastic solo albums and an even better one with brother Tim, so creatively speaking it's not as though he needed to kickstart the old band. But he did, and 2007's Time On Earth was a masterpiece. My personal favourite track isn't one that got a lot of love in reviews, and it's not one you often hear even hardcore fans discussing, but to me, Say That Again is one of his finest moments yet. It's taut, it's claustrophobic, god only knows what it's about, but it sounds utterly amazing.

I think one reason why musically it works for me is that the chugging guitars remind me of a childhood favourite, Icehouse's 'Great Southern Land'. Now that's a tune and a half.

Fingers crossed Neil will come up with the goods again in the near future, as the new Crowded House album nears release.

MP3: Crowded House - Say That Again

Spotify: Time On Earth

Monday, 18 January 2010

Song of the Week #3: "Maybe After He's Gone" by The Zombies

Obviously, phrases like 'lost classic' and 'underrated masterpiece' are batted around like confetti nowadays (and I guiltily hold my hand up as quickly as anyone), but the fact that the Zombies' Odessey & Oracle isn't as revered as work by contemporaries like the Beatles really is baffling. The story behind its recording and release is a good one (the wikipedia account is well worth reading) and points to reasons why it wasn't the success it might have been, but to me, it might have something to do with the fact the record is so, well, odd. Not musically of course - musically it's of its time while still being hugely inventive, and the melodies flow like they've been beamed in from another planet. But lyrically, it's something else. You have to admire any band who start an album off with a song where the guy is writing to his girl who's in jail, writing pleasantries that we assume probably don't go down too well:

"Saved you the room you used to stay in every Sunday /
The one that is warmed by sunshine every day /
And we'll get to know each other for a second time /
And then you can tell me about your prison stay."

It's such a perky song on the surface, but hugely unsettling if you dig a bit deeper.

Then you've got the sombre organ-led Butcher's Tale, a tale of front-line combat nestled snugly next to Friends Of Mine, an ode to couples in loving relationships: "It feels so good to know two people so in love, so in love!"

In amongst the odd lyrical concerns and baroque beauty is this week's chosen selection, the magnificent Maybe After He's Gone. But even that diverts from any kind of male bravado - "Maybe after he's gone, she'll come back and love me again." You reckon? Typical British restraint and all that, but come on! Then again, this level of coyness makes its appearance elsewhere in their catalogue; Goin' Out Of My Head, which appears as a bonus track on some versions of the album, includes the killer line: "There's no reason why my being shy should keep us apart." Hmmm... Wishful thinking perhaps.

The Zombies then - masculinity issues, but fortunately able to set them against devastatingly wonderful songs.

MP3: The Zombies - Maybe After He's Gone

Spotify: Odessey & Oracle

Monday, 11 January 2010

Song of the Week #2 - "1972" by Josh Rouse

If I had to pick one artist who stood head and shoulders above everyone else in the last decade, it would probably be Josh Rouse. Not only did he release a heck of a lot of records (by my reckoning there were 6 albums and a handful of EPs), but at least four of those were truly magnificent. The four in question are the run started by 2003's epic '1972', through 'Nashville', 'Subtitulo' and 'Country Mouse City House'. Each of those contains life-affirming pop songs, but '1972' edges it. In fact, if I were making a list of my absolutely favourite albums of the decade, it would probably be right up there at number 1. I bought it on a whim, having read a good review (possibly in Q) and having liked what I'd heard of his previous record, Under Cold Blue Stars. 1972 is very different from its predecessor, from the warmth of the production to the 70s singer/songwriter stylings and arrangements. What really sets it apart though is the tunes, and while Come Back is the perfect pop song, my pick for this week is the title track. So sad and with such longing, but musically so uplifting:

"Spanish girl with a tattoo
Working nights at the drive-through
And she asks herself, could this be all?
Screwing in a motel room
Watching news on channel two
Victoria tell me, where is your dream?

We're going through some changes
Hoping for replacement
Until we find a way out of this hole"

MP3: Josh Rouse - 1972

Here's a live version from Germany:


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Song of the Week #1: "Painkillers" by Candy Butchers

Okay, so I'm going to make a valiant attempt to blog more regularly (although I've said that on various occasions previously and failed miserably to keep to it). Decided to start a Song of the Week series, writing a few words about something that's had some impact on me. Not a revolutionary concept by any means, but hopefully other people can find something new or interesting from some of these posts...

So, first up is a key track from one of my absolute favourite albums from the last decade, if not ever. Painkillers is a beautiful but harrowing track that appears halfway through the Candy Butchers album Hang On Mike, and tells the real-life story of singer/songwriter Mike Viola's grief over his wife's death from cancer, and how his new partner was helping him come to terms with it. Summarising it as simply as that feels wrong though, and you really need to hear the song for the full effect (and if you have any soul, you can't help but be affected by it):

MP3: Candy Butchers - Painkillers

"To wake up with Kim again
She's as beautiful as I remember
Spying on me through her long brown hair
Walking beside me without a wheelchair
Somehow I think she returns
To show there's nothing to fear any more..."

I get a lump in my throat listening to it even now, after playing the song hundreds of times since its release at the start of 2004.

The parent album is, quite frankly, a masterpiece. Essentially an autobiographical song-cycle, it takes us through Mike's life from his time as a child prodigy up to the mind-numbing mundanities of touring in a rock band, stopping along the way to discuss names for potential children and an ode to his mother. Again, putting it like that doesn't do the album justice, and it really needs to be heard to be believed.