Saturday, December 16, 2017

Porky Post … Godless Rock

Jesus Christ's Dad
It’s always struck me as something of an anomaly that the two most observed western religious festivals of the modern age – Christmas and Easter – are dressed up in such fancy threads, we’re in danger of forgetting entirely what each one is supposed to represent. I mean, Christmas has about as much to do with a grey-bearded fat guy in a red suit, and rabid consumerism, as Easter has to do with bunnies and chocolate eggs. It’s just plain weird. Could it be that without the dressing, or the requisite holidays, each festival would prove too much of a hard sell? Whatever the case, it turns out our good friend Porky has been giving religion some thought this week, specifically as it relates to music. He decided to share some of those thoughts with everythingsgonegreen.

Thanks Porky, you’re the bacon to my EGG. Or something …

Music has always contained a highly religious element – it goes back to choral music through the centuries I guess. Gospel was born in American churches, while country and western has upheld good ol’ fashioned Godliness. Rock and pop has had its fair share of religious fervour too, notably Creed and Cliff Richard, and roots reggae music hasn’t been ashamed to show its allegiance and love of Jah, albeit as an assertion of their Rastafarian culture. And on these shores an annual religious musical festival, Parachute, attracted good crowds.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the above, there’s contrarily been a reasonable amount of music exposing religious activities or outright attacking it.
As you will see this has resulted in some excellently-written lyrics about religion’s less healthy influences. I have kept a distance from anything that could be conceived as purely dismissing religion just for the sake of it (hello death metal), or anything purporting to support Satan. The opposite side of the coin is not always the cleaner side.
My first find was a surprising one, George Gershwin’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ from his and bro’ Ira’s play Porgy and Bess, which premiered in 1935. In it a drug dealer laments some of what is written in the Bible.
“The things you’re liable/ To read in a bible/ Ain’t necessarily so (repeat).”
It was later covered by gay liberation new romantics Bronski Beat, and Aretha Franklin, and butchered by Cher and Larry Adler.
Also in the 1980s, XTC released ‘Dear God’ as a one-off single. Andy Partridge wonders what it’s all about.
“Dear god, hope you get the letter and…/ I pray you can make it better down here/ I don’t mean a big reduction in the price of beer/ But all the people that you made in your image/ See them starving in the street/ ‘Cause they don’t get enough to eat from God/ I can’t believe in you.”

Bigger than Christ
The Arcade Fire sang “Working for the church/ While your family dies,” on ‘Intervention’, and John Lennon famously wrote “Imagine there’s no Heaven/ It’s easy if you try/ No hell below us/ Above us only sky ….  Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too/ Imagine all the people/ Living life in peace.”
That wasn’t Lennon’s sole take on faith and its believers, and his fame and respect meant he could escape the venom often reserved for such critics. Sample lyric: "God is a concept . . . I don't believe in Jesus."

Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote a worthy critique, on ‘Shallow Be Thy Game’ …
“Shallow be thy game/ 2000 years look in the mirror/ You play the game of shame/ And tell your people live in fear/ A rival to the way you see/ The bible let him be/ I’m a threat to your survival/ And your control company.”
And would you God-damn-well-disbelieve it, Stevie Wonder was doubtful about all this deity stuff too: "When you believe in things you don't understand/ Then you suffer / Superstition ain't the way."
Away from the lyrical writing critics, Scottish indie-dance outfit The Shamen once faced down religion with a loaded statement that implied that Christianity was built on deceit and deception.
In 1988, an evangelist bookseller from Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, paid the British Post Office tens of thousands of pounds for a postmark that would be franked onto millions of letters in the run-up to Easter. The postmark featured the words “Jesus Is Alive” in bold capital letters, with a cross.

 
In stepped The Shamen, who called their national tour the Jesus Is A Lie tour. The slogan was a simple but evocative re-working of the postmark, with an inverted cross as part of the promotional material. It was a blatant call-to-arms for those who found the postmark and the ideology of certain elements of religion offensive.
“ … we certainly don’t go along with the hypocrites who peddle this form of organised religion,” said The Shamen’s singer Colin Angus, stoking a stoush with the Jesus Army. Angus branded the cult’s members as “fascist paramilitary Christians” and the Army burned Shamen records in return.
The Jesus Is A Lie tour came on the back of The Shamen’s single ‘Jesus Loves Amerika’, which nailed their distrust of religion quite succinctly …
“These are the men who break the right in righteous/ Such hypocrisy, stupidity is out of sight, yes/ Jesus loves Amerika but I don’t love neither.”
The Shamen went on to sell millions of records, Christianity in Britain has been dwindling in influence and numbers for decades.
Then there is the cuddly act called Christian Death, whose entire raison d’etre would appear to be to stoke controversy. Their 1988 goth-metal album Sex and Drugs and Jesus Christ seemed to be conceived as a deliberate act of provocation.
In a recent interview the band’s frontman Valor Kand explained: “Drugs are the battleground for all of the problems people have. The picture of Jesus taking drugs is a conflict of righteousness. It was quite a symbolic record cover. I wanted to reach a few people and let them explore the inner depths of meaning that has been accumulated for over 1700 years. That doesn't disrespect anyone's religious beliefs whatsoever. It is not meant to insult belief because people need belief. It just drew attention that there is maybe more to this than we have ever allowed ourselves to consider.”
Which seems to contradict my previous statement, but there’s little doubt that Christians would not have taken kindly to a cover of Jesus as a druggie.
Want more Porky? … go here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Albums of 2017

2017 has been a fairly quiet year for everythingsgonegreen. That’s not the result of some great master plan, or of any conscious decision to wind things down, it’s just the way life’s been. And while I’ve blogged a lot less than in previous years - managing around a post per week - I’ve still been listening to a lot of music, reading about music, and attending gigs. I’ve just been less inclined to write about that stuff. It’s not like I haven’t had the time to blog, and I even had a spell mid-year when I was more or less living alone for a month, so there’s no real excuse. The flip-side to that has been a mentally demanding year for the day job, and an early summer overseas break, which robbed me of some momentum just as I was starting to ramp things up a little.

All of that said, 2017 has been a bumper year for new music, and albums in particular, despite continual assertions from naysayers that the album format itself is a dying art-form. The following list refers to my “most played” albums of the year, which, by extension might be interpreted as “the best” albums of the year, but I’ve doubtlessly missed many others that perhaps should have made the cut. The only prerequisite for the list is that I own a copy (in any format other than Spotify, which remains a mystery to me):

10. Peter Perrett – How The West Was Won

Without question, How The West Was Won is the blog’s comeback album of the year. It couldn’t really be any other way. I suspect even Perrett himself could scarcely have anticipated the hugely positive response his solo debut has attracted. It’s a heartfelt, intimate body of work, which marks Perrett’s card as one of rock’s ultimate survivors. My review can be found here.

9. Aldous Harding – Party

Speaking of barely anticipated success stories, Aldous Harding will forever recall 2017 as the year she went global. The year she went stratospheric, even. And rightly so. Party is just nine songs in length but they’re all immaculately crafted dark hypnotic gems. Challenging, unsettling, and ultimately very rewarding. The real test for Aldous Harding will be to better it next time out. My review is here.
 
8. Bonobo – Migration

Every year, there’s always one album that reveals itself a lot more slowly than the rest, and this year, Bonobo’s Migration wins the highly coveted EGG gong for “creeper” of the year. As uncomplimentary as that label may seem, Migration is an album that just keeps on giving, with each and every listen revealing something new and previously unheard – be it a small or otherwise undecipherable bleep, a nagging loop, a flurry of keys, or perhaps something more obvious like an additional layer of bass. Because this album has a lot of bass. Whatever the case, it’s not an album to be absorbed entirely over the course of one listen. It requires patience and a keen ear, and since it was released as long ago as January, I’ve given this one a fair amount of ear time during 2017. Despite not actually getting around to giving it a full review on the blog. Just a quick summary then: aside from compilations, collaborations, and remix efforts, Migration is album number six for LA-based Englishman Simon Green as Bonobo, all of which are released on Ninja Tune, and it brings together a multitude of influences and instrumentation, from strong North African flavours, to jazzy hip hop vibes, to glitchy electronica, and all manner of bass-driven world music textures. Beautifully produced, and just over an hour in length, the two best tracks on the album involve elements of collaboration – ‘Break Apart’, featuring Rhye, and ‘No Reason’, featuring the vocals of Nick Murphy (aka Chet Faker). The way things are going, the way this one is continually rising in my estimation, by this time next year, Migration could well be this year’s number one. Or something like that.

7. Coldcut & On-U Sound – Outside The Echo Chamber

Regular blog readers and friends (which, let’s face it, is pretty much the same person) will have picked this one. They’ll know of my obsession with all things On-U Sound. The label could release an album of (producer) Adrian Sherwood passing wind and I’d probably still include it on my year-end list. Providing he applied some echo and other marvellous FX, of course. This one is different though, because it’s not actually an On-U label release, and it includes stalwart Ninja Tune duo Coldcut, plus a host of other rather terrific collaborators. My review is here.

6. Lord Echo – Harmonies

I’m not sure why this album doesn’t feature more prominently on other local year-end lists. I can’t help but wonder whether it would have gained more traction had it been made by a more high profile R’nB or funk producer … an overseas-based artist, say? Which is madness. My review can be found here.
 
5. Slowdive – Slowdive

This is another album that didn’t get a full review on the blog. And another one that arrived as far back as January. It’s also the runner-up in the comeback of the year poll (I polled myself, okay?). It could all have been so different. It could all have gone so horribly wrong. A quarter of a century ago, Slowdive were at the very heart of this thing, or genre, we call “shoegaze”. A band for its time, very much of its time. Yet, after years of inactivity the band returned in 2017 with this self-titled pearler of an album. And how. In fact, if you compiled a playlist of the ten most essential Slowdive tunes since the band first started releasing music back in 1990, then at least four of them could be lifted from the eight tracks found on this, the fourth album of four, and the Reading band’s first for 22 years. Main protagonists, vocalists Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, are key to its success, their chemistry being front and centre on the tracks with lyrics or those that include vocals. Not that those vocals are particularly orthodox, and if I have a slight criticism, it’s that too often their voices are a little muddy or buried too deeply within the mix. There’s obligatory walls of driving guitar, multiple layers of purposeful noise, and during lighter moments, ethereal keys and ambient interludes to die for. Production comes courtesy of Halstead himself. Ultimately it’s a wonderful concoction of dreamy pop, and an album full of lovely surprises. Check out: ‘Star Roving’, ‘Sugar for the Pill’, and ‘Falling Ashes’.

4. Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

In my original review (go here), I beat myself up just a little for loving the music of Cigarettes After Sex. What, with the album being so unrepentantly emo and pubescent ‘n all. I figure I really should know better, or at least, I really should be over all of that angst and nonsense by now, at my advanced age. Etc. Well, it turns out I’m not, and just between us … (*whispers, looks around anxiously*) … I’m really looking forward to the band’s Auckland gig next month.

3. Fazerdaze – Morningside

With all of the fuss being made over Lorde, Aldous Harding, and Nadia Reid during 2017, Amelia Murray (aka Fazerdaze) may feel a touch hard-done-by in the local-girl-done-good stakes. But she shouldn’t, she has talent to burn, and Morningside is its own reward. It’s the best thing to emerge from these shores all year. My review can be found here.
 
2. Robert Plant – Carry Fire

Where to start with the phenomenon that is Robert Plant? In truth, I probably don’t need to add anything, his career speaks for itself. More specifically, the five albums he’s released over the past dozen years or so - starting with Mighty Rearranger in 2005 - have made a mockery of any ill-conceived (yet common) notion that he’s just another crusty old rocker going through the motions. Carry Fire is the eleventh Robert Plant “solo” album, a second successive outing with the Sensational Space Shifters, and what once worked for him way back at the dawn of time, still works for him today. More or less. Only now, there’s quite a lot more variation on that much loved formula. Plant is essentially the consummate roots artist, only for him, roots means everything from country, folk, and blues, to orthodox pop, Celtic rock, and African rhythms. Carry Fire presents a veritable potpourri of all of the above. His customary Rock God howl is no longer as prominent as it once was, but with that change comes a seasoned voice full of subtlety and nuance. A voice that remains a weapon, an instrument in itself, even, but one that’s evolved into a weapon of a very different nature. These days it’s seduction by one thousand soft kisses, as opposed to the full on “wham bam” approach of his rather enviable youth. There’s some great stuff on Carry Fire; the past-referencing opener ‘The May Queen’. The intoxicating duet with Chrissie Hynde, ‘Bluebirds over the Mountain’. The closer, ‘Heaven Sent’. And the title track itself. See? … all of that, without once mentioning Led Zeppelin. Oh, darn.

1. The National – Sleep Well Beast

A lot of people love to hate this band, but you’ll know I’m a big fan of The National. And if an ordinary effort like 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me could make that year’s year-end ten for the blog, then you’ll sure as hell know that this year’s monstrous Sleep Well Beast is going to cane it. My typically fawning review can be found here.

Five honourable mentions and other everythingsgonegreen year-end gongs (“the EGGs”):

The Horrors – V … I used to think the Horrors was a try-hard goth-wannabe novelty cartoon band. A pale imitation of that, even. Without ever really listening to the music. This year’s release helped me see the error of my ways and the folly of my ill-informed prejudice. V was a good mix of psychedelia, nostalgia, and synthpop: see the Numan-esque album opener, ‘Hologram’ (“are we Hologram, are we vision?”), for evidence of the latter.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding … following on from the huge promise of Lost in the Dream (2014), this one felt a tad disappointing at first. Which only goes to show how high the bar had been raised, and it’s probably unfair, because A Deeper Understanding is a thoroughly decent album in its own right.

Ryan Adams – The Prisoner … a sixteenth studio album from the prolific American singer/songwriter. This one was all about not ever really being able to escape from that pesky broken relationship. Hence the title, I suppose. By the way, is there ever any other type of relationship? It’s all about degrees of “broken”, I guess.

Alt-J – Relaxer … or technically, alt-J, but that makes me cringe a little. My teenage kids have mentioned this band in passing, separately, more than once. Which must mean they’re hugely popular. I had no idea just how weird and whacky Relaxer would turn out to be when I picked it up on the strength of early single, ‘3WW’, which features Wolf Alice chanteuse Ellie Rowsell. This week's Wellington show is a sell out.

The Trainspotting 2 soundtrack wins the EGG for compilation album of the year. Thanks mainly to the fact that I enjoyed the movie so much. And because I didn’t really hold onto many of the other compilation albums I picked up during the year. Reviewed here.

Five more … close but no cigar: Depeche Mode – Spirit, LCD Soundsystem – American Dream, Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Soul of a Woman, Zola Jesus – Okovi. Each of these albums had an extended run of pod time during the year.

Speaking of movies, the local festival “hit”, Swagger of Thieves, Julian Boshier’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about the trials and tribulations of Wellington rockers Head Like A Hole just shades Lion as EGG’s film of the year. Yes, there’s a huge amount of local bias and personal connection in that selection. Reviewed here.

The short album or EP of the year bauble goes to Wellington masters of the dark arts, Dreams Are Like Water, with A Sea-Spell, a striking debut, featuring a handful of tunes packed full of texture and depth. My love for this was instant. My review is here.
 
2017 was a big year for re-releases, deluxe versions, and anniversary reissues, with the EGG going to Radiohead’s 20th birthday celebration of OK Computer, OKNOTOK, which included not only the band’s original masterpiece, but the added value of an entire new album of unreleased, previously discarded material from the same period. The “throwaway” material was superb, and proof, if it was needed, that Radiohead remain one of rock’s most important bands of the past 25 years. I had a real soft spot for Bob Marley’s ridiculously good Exodus reissue (40th anniversary), and thought R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People (25th anniversary deluxe) had a nice mix of live material and early demos to supplement the original. So good, you can trace the album’s evolution from start to finish when listening to those demos.

My gig of the year was Lord Echo's funk-fest at Wellington’s San Fran in early November, on the occasion of his Harmonies album release tour. With so many co-conspirators involved in the making of the album, I was curious as to how it might translate in a live environment, but he pulled it off with some aplomb. Ensuring that vocalists Lisa Tomlins and Mara TK were a big part of the show was key, obviously, but props to the entire band, which was sensational all night. As was support act Julien Dyne, who offered a virtuoso live drumming performance. That Saturday night gig just shaded the two Wellington Fazerdaze gigs I caught during 2017, the first at Caroline (reviewed here), right at the start of the year, and then much later on, in September, at Meow, which turned out to be even better. At each gig, Amelia Murray fronted an entirely different band. No mean feat in itself.
 
Which just about covers it. Obligatory year-end wrap completed. All in less than 2,500 words (yawn). Well done for making it this far. I nearly didn’t. If you don’t catch me here again before the silly season, dear reader, have a great festive period.
 
 
 
 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Album Review: Peter Perrett - How The West Was Won (2017)

The miracle isn’t that Peter Perrett has made a comeback album. The miracle isn’t that he’s making music. The miracle is that Peter Perrett is still alive. And functioning.

Nearly four decades on from ‘Another Girl Another Planet’, the minor hit record that defined his career as the frontman for the Only Ones, Perrett returns with How The West Was Won, a rather fascinating album that defies all odds.

I say ‘Another Girl Another Planet’ was a “minor” hit, only because that’s how it started out, in the relative infancy of its first couple of years. But as the decades passed, long after Perrett disappeared from public view, the track grew legs, and it is now universally recognised as one of its era’s seminal “new wave” tunes. 

The Only Ones made just three albums, over three years, from 1978 to 1980, before Perrett slid into a pit of serious drug addiction and self-imposed isolation. He briefly emerged from seclusion in the mid Nineties to make a new album with a band called The One (see what he did there?), which mostly went unnoticed, before he again disappeared from view.

Somewhere along that journey, Perrett managed to become a father, and it’s with the help of two sons – Jamie (guitar, keys) and Peter junior (bass, ex-Babyshambles) – that the now 65-year-old rocker has returned with this debut “solo” release.

So it’s probably fair to say that How The West Was Won is one of this year’s biggest surprises. For all of the reasons noted above, and because it’s actually a bloody good album.

Perrett possesses a voice that could be best described as “lived-in”. Unspectacular, overly nasal, cracked, and somewhat grizzled. But it works. It works because – aside from the obvious Lou Reed comparison – it’s perfect for the songs he’s written. Songs about his struggle with addiction, songs about celebrity and fame (or infamy), songs that veer into the realm of politics, and songs about his relationship with long-time partner, Zena … just look at some of the song titles: ‘An Epic Story’, ‘Hard To Say No’, ‘Living In My Head’, ‘Man of Extremes’, and ‘Something In My Brain’ … you get the picture.

And the album works because, first and foremost, Perrett is completely honest about his journey. Which is a sure sign he’s getting beyond the addiction issues that have plagued his story. The song-writing is raw and at times, quite brutal. There is also the odd morsel of humour, most of it self-deprecating, but some of it at the expense of Kim Kardashian (who he mock-claims to be in love with, without ever wanting to see her from the front).

Musically, Perrett keeps things simple and relatively uncomplicated – two guitars (he plays rhythm himself), bass, keyboards, and drums (courtesy of Jake Woodward). It’s an ethos completely aligned with the production. The message seems to be that, often, the most precious diamonds are those left unpolished.

Flaws and all, this feels like a very complete album, one that only Perrett could have made, and I for one, am thankful that he did.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Classic Album Review: U2 - October (1981)

This is perhaps yet another one of those "classic" albums that isn’t really all that much of a classic. But in relative terms, when you ponder the sheer loathing the band tends to attract today, this one might be worth revisiting …

U2 were big news in 1981. Not quite the sort of big news they were to become over the course of the next quarter of a century, but big news nonetheless. Following the success of the band’s debut album, Boy, in 1980, expectations were high for the Dublin band’s second album, October, one year later.

Despite the excitement further generated by the lead-off single ‘Gloria’, which is all wailing and edgy guitar (yes, appalling pun intended), and something of a mini epic, the album itself is a largely disappointing body of work – coming across as slightly rushed, a little sparse in places, and it generally lacks the pure adrenalin rush of the band’s debut.

There were, of course, a few mitigating circumstances; from all accounts the band were left ill-prepared due to a series of unfortunate circumstances – short on studio time, short on a full set of lyrics, and still very much feeling their way as a unit.

All of the future stock standard U2 trademarks are present and accounted for on October however – impressive vocals, that familiar chiming guitar, tight rhythms, and loads of echo-infused atmospheric percussion. It’s just that none of the tracks are all that memorable – certainly not relative to the rest of the U2 catalogue – and beyond ‘Gloria’, nothing really reaches out to grab you by the scruff.
Themes are similar to those found on Boy – boredom, rebellion, isolation, and oppression. The most predominant theme though, is one that U2 would continually return to over the years – faith/religion.
The band earn full marks for the raw energy levels evident on October, and you can still detect the prevailing sense of hunger, plus a determination to get some kind of message across. In that context, October does at least match its predecessor. Steve Lillywhite again offers a deft hand with production.
‘Gloria’ is quite rightly the album’s flag-bearer, but ‘Rejoice’, ‘Fire’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’, and the dreamy near instrumental ‘Scarlet’, are all at the very least half decent album tracks.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: Goneville, a memoir, by Nick Bollinger

Goneville: "it's a place you could almost find on a map, but not quite" ...

In Nick Bollinger's preface for Goneville, the author describes the two New Zealands he grew up in – the one where males worshipped rugby and beer, and a rather more free-spirited bohemian one, where art and music was at the centre of everything. No prizes for guessing which version Bollinger found himself more comfortable in. In fact, Bollinger embraced the latter with such ease, he'd eventually go on to become not only an accomplished musician, but something of a highly influential tastemaker in his role as an arts critic, columnist, and music reviewer for the NZ Listener, and more recently, with Radio NZ.
 
Goneville, nowhere near Wanganui
Goneville works on a couple of different levels. Firstly, it’s Bollinger's memoir, his account of growing up in Wellington during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Secondly, it’s a detailed – if not quite complete – history of the capital’s music scene throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, as seen through the eyes of a man who was very much at the heart of that particular scene. There’s also a natural crossover into all things social and political, and it provides a genuine snapshot of a world – or of a fledgling nation – that we’ve, for better or for worse, long since left behind.

Things jump around a little bit to begin with, but much of the early part of the book deals with Bollinger's childhood – with stories about growing up in 1960s Wellington, attending Onslow College, discovering music, and an acknowledgement of the hugely positive role his free-thinking, academic father (who died while Bollinger was still in his teens) had in shaping his own worldview.

From there we move into the core of the book, covering off Bollinger’s formative musical experiences; sneaking into gigs whilst still underage, playing wild-west-type gigs with school friends in the Hutt Valley, and being inspired by bands like Mammal, Blerta, Space Waltz, and early Split Enz (Split Ends), to name just a few. 

During his time at university, Bollinger was recruited as the bass player for Rick Bryant’s blues and soul-based collective, Rough Justice, and much of the book deals with his weed-ravaged experiences on the road, something of a hand-to-mouth existence, travelling in what might loosely be described as a “hippy bus”, as the band traversed the nether regions of New Zealand’s live music circuit.

Bryant features heavily throughout, along with local promoter-come-Dragon manager Graeme Nesbitt, plus there’s a fair bit about the late great Bruno Lawrence. Bollinger writes passionately and at length about each man. He clearly reserves a special affection for Bryant in particular, and the much-travelled rocker is the key protagonist in several of the more humorous anecdotes on offer.  

“He (Bryant, whilst driving the bus) starts telling me about the soul singer Joe Tex. This leads into an analysis of Tolstoy and winds up with the history of the New Zealand labour movement. It feels as though I have stayed at university, although it's hard to say what paper I have enrolled in.”

Onetime Lion Breweries promoter Richard Holden also features prominently, and there’s real insight into just how difficult it was for local bands to find the right balance between being able to earn a living, and fulfilling a wider ambition to produce original work. 

Richard Holden, on bands looking for work in brewery-owned establishments: “There has been some good original music but a lot of original rubbish. They will have to realise that we're not in the musical genius business. We're in the entertainment business.”

There’s also some interesting stuff around the breweries' attempts to control or monopolise nightlife and the live music circuit, with nepotism and licensing restrictions making it near impossible for venues like Wellington's Last Resort and Charley Gray's Auckland club, Island of Real (just two examples of many), to become fully licensed. Bands and promoters were forced to play a game imposed upon them by the beer barons if they wanted any level of exposure – beyond, by dint of some miracle, landing a “hit record”.
 
Rough Justice, 1978, Bollinger - bottom right
Later in the book, Bollinger deals with the demise of Rough Justice and writes extensively on just how much the landscape had changed by 1980, due in part to the arrival of punk on these shores. Near the conclusion, coinciding roughly with Bollinger travelling overseas to expand his musical horizons, he looks at the hugely divisive Springbok rugby tour of 1981, and his own involvement with the protest movement.
 
In some respects, Bollinger completes a full circle by the end. The counter-culture that took him under its wing in the early-to-mid 1970s had, according to all other accounts, supposedly died by the early 1980s. Yet in the form of punk and the protest movement, here it was again, reinventing or manifesting itself in a remarkably similar way.

Writing about the ultra-conservative Robert Muldoon gaining a third term in office as Prime Minister in 1981: “He (Muldoon) often talked about ‘the ordinary bloke’, a notional person on whose behalf he was fighting. The ordinary bloke seemed to be a New Zealand male who just wanted to be able to do a day’s work, go home, drink beer, and watch rugby. Anyone with progressive views on education, environment, or equality, was the Prime Minister’s natural enemy.”

Which is pretty much where we came in.

There’s a generous helping of black and white photos scattered throughout the book, all meticulously documented in the closing pages, multiple sources (of quotes and other content) are noted and acknowledged in great detail, and as you’d expect from someone of Bollinger’s pedigree, there’s even an extensive “selected discography” referencing the work of many of the bands covered in the book.

It’s an important book. Not just for fans of the Wellington music scene of yester-year, but for anyone keen on the social history of New Zealand. You simply won’t find anyone else more qualified to write about this stuff. Recommended.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Classic Album Review: Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist (2007)

I note there is a brand new 2017 album out by one William Patrick Corgan. It’s called Ogilala, and it’s produced by Rick Rubin … past master of the unlikely belated comeback album (see Cash, Johnny, and others).

William Patrick is, of course, better known as Billy, frontman of the once brilliant, now largely irrelevant, Smashing Pumpkins. I’m not going to review the new album, which surely amounts to little more than yet another doomed comeback attempt. I don’t really have the stomach for that. But its arrival did remind me that it’s been ten years since the release of Zeitgeist, an album I reviewed (for another site) shortly after it was released. I thought I’d share that review here, and if I’ve incorrectly classified Zeitgeist as a “classic album”, then I’ll ask you to think beyond the square, and consider it a classic example of the “classic” failed comeback album:

***
There was once a time when Billy Corgan was considered a tortured genius. Now many just consider him a tortured … *insert expletive of choice here*. Which is all a little bit unfortunate, because you’re nothing in popular music if you’re not erm, popular.
For the past, *insert the number of years since Corgan was last relevant*, if not actually a bit longer, Billy Corgan appears to have been intent on destroying any goodwill he’d slowly compiled over the course of the previous decade – using up his popularity credits, if you like. Making outrageous statements, distancing himself from his fanbase with bizarre antics, acting like a prize w*nk on stage, and generally trying to be a wee bit too clever for his own good. Basically pulling off one cunning stunt too many and ending up looking like an anagram of that.

Is it any wonder critics (and many fans) wrote Zeitgeist off from practically the moment it was released?
Then there’s the bit about whether or not Zeitgeist is a genuine Smashing Pumpkins album on account of two missing band members, not the least of whom was key guitarist James Iha. Allow me to clear this one up. Billy Corgan is the Smashing Pumpkins, always has been, and with regular drummer Jimmy Chamberlin back on board, we’d have to err on the side of a quorum even if you don’t accept Corgan’s presence is standalone evidence in itself.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how Corgan might have conceived this album, or to understand what he was endeavouring to achieve. The title (“zeitgeist” being the moment which captures the “spirit of its time”), its cover sleeve (iconic imagery), its arrangement and structure (complete with the long-winded ‘United States’ centrepiece), its main themes (file loosely under US foreign policy), and most of all Corgan’s massive ego (well documented) all point to the same thing – Zeitgeist, quite clearly, was supposed to be an epic, a triumphant return, a political statement, and perhaps even, gulp, a career defining moment.
Everything about it screams … “take me seriously!” … alas, it tries just a little too hard, and merely succeeds in coming across as too desperate in the end. Billy also forgot the bit about consistency, quality control, and filler. Not only in terms of the music itself; Zeitgeist also falls a long way short of Corgan’s previous standards when it comes to lyrical content.
But, I have to say, even though I do have to keep reminding myself of this, it isn’t all bad.
The opener ‘Doomsday Clock’, and the single ‘Tarantula’ are decent enough. ‘Tarantula’ actually hints at a return to top form, and each track would probably hold its own on any previous Pumpkins album.
The aforementioned ‘United States’ is not without its moments either – with Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming very much to the fore. ‘United States’ demands a bit of listening and effort, but ultimately it proves a worthwhile exercise.
Sadly, those successes are undermined by Corgan’s worst excesses and indulgences. ‘Starz’ is just plain awful. ‘For God And Country’ is a promising tune ruined by lazy songwriting and dreadful Eighties production, and not for the first time on the album we get a pretty ugly Brian May-esque guitar sound on the closer ‘Pomp And Circumstance’. In fact, it is almost fitting when the album finishes with the sort of solo that would have even Queen fans cringing.
That’s the best and the worst of it, the remainder of the tracks are just ordinary. No more, no less.
Ditto the bland production. No attempts are made to enhance, disguise, or vary Corgan’s whiney nasally voice, with diversity being a key element to the vocals and a past feature on the band’s best output. As for the trademark guitar sound (post-Iha) … well, at times the earnest riffing feels fat and bloated, at other times it's just plain tinny.
The rhythm section – if it can be called that – deserves credit for relentlessly driving each song to conclusion, but again, at times the bass sounds muddy, and despite Chamberlin’s occasional heroics, the lightweight production hardly helps matters. 
Overall, a big disappointment, yes, but perhaps not the career-ending disaster some would have you believe. There are glimpses of promise on Zeitgeist, and if Corgan can channel some of the criticism in a positive way, as opposed to taking it as badly and as personally as he usually does, then he, and the Smashing Pumpkins (sic), are capable of bouncing back.
In the meantime, this one is for a particularly hardy breed of fan only.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lost In (Bird) Soul

It’s a fairly frequent Pitch Black party trick; fusing together tunes from different albums to produce something dynamic and new in a live setting. The local dub merchants were at it again at this year’s Ozora Festival in Hungary, producing ‘Lost In (Bird) Soul’, by blending ‘Lost In Translation’ (from Ape To Angel, 2004) with ‘Bird Soul’ (from Rude Mechanicals, 2007). The end result is something unique yet naggingly familiar, and they’ve released the 13-minute epic as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp. Treat yourself.

By the way, this is a milestone everythingsgonegreen blogpost, number 500, so it seems appropriate that it combines three of my all-time favourite things – some electro-dubby shit, something from Nu Zild, albeit via a circuitous route, and something downloadable. Thanks for reading.



Monday, October 23, 2017

Album Review: The National - Sleep Well Beast (2017)

I have to admit, I feared the worst. There had been a couple of fairly recent unsettling developments. Signs or little hints that we'd already seen and heard the best of The National. That, as a band, they were yesterday's men, condemned to merely go through the motions until they collectively reached the inevitable bitter end. On account of having nothing better to do. Or at least, having nothing better to offer us.

The band's previous full-length release, the (in retrospect) mostly watercolour Trouble Will Find Me (2013), was enjoyable enough at first, but it grew stale relatively quickly, and it seldom warrants a mention whenever The National’s very best work is being discussed. That album was followed by a couple of rather ordinary hit-and-miss standalone releases, and when I saw the band's name included as a headliner on this summer's (local) winery circuit, well, that would usually amount to something akin to the kiss of death. The sort of gig a band struggling to retain any degree of relevance might take. And, gasp, the sort of gig frequented by nostalgia act devotees only.

But I need not have been too concerned. As it turns out, Sleep Well Beast was/is a lovely surprise, and it presents The National right back at the top of its game, with the album showcasing all of the constituent parts that formed a truly magnificent whole on the band's previous high watermark releases – on key albums like The Boxer (2007), and High Violet (2010). Obviously, we'll have to see how it ages before we'll know where it will ultimately sit within the wider pantheon of the band's near two-decade long career, but a few months on since its release, the seventh National album feels like a genuine keeper.

I know nothing of lyricist and vocalist Matt Berninger’s past or current relationship status, but it’s not difficult to conclude that someone, somewhere along the way, has broken his heart, quite badly, and much of Sleep Well Beast – interludes of barely disguised political commentary aside – deals with heartbreak and an implied acceptance that love never ends well. And given that love can only ever end in break-up, or death, then that last part is hard to argue with.

There’s an intimacy and an understated beauty about the arrangement and production, and a sense of melodrama lurks beneath, or within, almost every track. A certain tension that the unfiltered fragility of Berninger’s seductive baritone frequently brings right to the front and centre.

With a set of a dozen high calibre songs, strong melodies, and music that is rich in depth, texture, and variety, Sleep Well Beast offers up a far wider stylistic palette than we found on Trouble Will Find Me. From gentle keys-based tunes (‘Born To Beg’, ‘Carin At The Liquor Store’) to full-blown psychedelia (‘Turtleneck’), and a little bit of most things in between.

In simple terms, as returns to form go, this effort has to be considered one of 2017’s best statements of intent. It would seem any thoughts of the band’s impending demise are premature, to say the least, and clearly The National aren’t quite ready to join the greybeards of the nostalgia circuit quite just yet.

Album highlights include the first couple of singles, ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’, which has grown steadily in stature since its initial low-key unveiling months ago, and ‘Guilty Party’ (clip below), which works as a gentle tearjerker, a heartfelt break-up post-mortem. Plus, ‘Carin At The Liquor Store’, ‘Day I Die’, and ‘I'll Still Destroy You’.



Saturday, October 21, 2017

Magazines of my time Part 5: The 1990s and beyond ... M8, Select, and Mojo

This is the fifth and final instalment in the series of blogposts on magazines. I’ve looked at the 1970s (here), the 1980s (here and here), and tried to provide some personal context around those days. In this part I’ll take a look at the 1990s and beyond, fast-forwarding to a virtually magazine-free present day …

The early 1990s was a period of huge transition and upheaval for me. Between 1990 and the (NZ) summer of 1992/1993, when I left New Zealand to move to Scotland, I lived in a total of seven different flats or houses, some shared, and some solo – moving from Hataitai at the start of 1990, to Aro Valley, to Seatoun, back to Aro Valley, to Mt Victoria (two separate abodes - Majoribanks St and Duke St), and finally to an inner city Dixon St locale for a few months before making what would ultimately turn out to be the life-changing move overseas. During that same period, I changed job at least three times, had some um, serious “interaction” with local law enforcement, and lost quite a lot of money on a failed nightclub-related venture. It’s fair to say I was very unsettled, and the move to Scotland – on a one way ticket – couldn’t happen soon enough. I can still recall Mum’s words on the eve of my departure … “you can’t run away from yourself” …

Part of the process of getting the airfare together, plus the tiny amount of cash I had pocketed for my arrival (from memory, about $400 NZD), involved selling a lot of the personal items I’d been collecting in prior years – most of my music collection (*wipes tear*) and a relatively large collection of magazines. I got very little cash for that stuff, but I had nowhere to store it all, and every dollar mattered at that stage. I kept some of the more precious items, but most of it went to a second-hand shop on Wellington’s Cuba Street.

I had family in Scotland, in Coatbridge (“Little Ireland”), and had little choice but to allow them to “adopt” me when I first arrived, while I settled and found a job – which I did with relative ease; I was soon back working all-nighters at a large accommodation hotel in the centre of Glasgow. Within a couple of months I’d found my own bedsit accommodation right in the heart of the city – in Sauchiehall Street, which was more or less party central, and it fitted perfectly with the lifestyle I’d become accustomed to, which was essentially that of a nocturnal insomniac-come-nightclub dweller, depending on what night of the week it was. Mum was right, I hadn’t changed a thing, I’d simply relocated, and I’d spend the best part of the next two years following that dark – and rather unhealthy – path.

I think during the five years or so before the internet arrived in earnest, let’s say 1990 through to 1995, the magazine market must have hit some kind of peak, and in the UK there were publications for practically anything and everything. I can recall being super impressed that most of the music magazines on offer came with freebies – usually a cassette tape or a CD, but occasionally a book – and the sheer variety available was mind-boggling. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store, and with few friends (at that point), I had all the time in the world to read as much as I wanted.
 
That said, aside from the Celtic View, the compulsory must-have weekly magazine covering all things Celtic FC, there wasn’t one single publication I felt more inclined to collect over any of the others. I was a regular reader of The List, which was Scotland’s equivalent of Time Out, the NME, Q, Select, Vox, and M8 magazine. The latter specialised in covering nightlife in Scotland – dance music, reviews, club events, and an especially vibrant “rave” scene. It was one of my favourites, along with Select, which was a mainstream music glossy that frequently came with high quality cassette tapes.

M8 became an essential tool in helping me plan my weekends. It was named after the stretch of motorway that runs between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but focused on nightlife happenings right across Scotland (and beyond). Having been established in 1988 by David Faulds, who was also active as a dance music promoter, the magazine was in its prime by the early-to-mid 1990s, a period surely now regarded as something of a golden era for the dance music/rave scene in Scotland. It seemed as though every weekend there was something relatively huge happening, even outside of the main centres, at venues like the Fubar in Stirling, the Metro in Saltcoats, or the ill-fated and controversial Hanger 13 in Ayr, which was forced to close in 1995 after several drug-related deaths.

Massive dance parties in small towns frequented by multiple bus-loads of bug-eyed out-of-towners. It helped that Scotland had its very own live rave act of the era, The Time Frequency (or TTF), who often headlined such events. In these (current) times of a much more highly regulated dance music scene, it’s almost impossible to imagine now just how loose things once were.

My own ability (and willingness) to travel beyond Glasgow was often compromised however, mainly by a lack of funds, and I tended to stick to inner city clubs within staggering distance of my abode – clubs like the Tunnel, the Arches, or the retro-flavoured Fury Murrys, which was as unhip and underground as these places get, and very much a guilty secret … and yes, ‘80s retro/new wave nights were already a thing as early as 1994.

In its infancy, M8 magazine had a fanzine-like quality, but it eventually became a journalistic stepping stone, with the likes of early-period editor Mickey McGonagle becoming established at the Daily Record (is that a step forward?), and late-90s editor Lesley Wright going on to land the top gig at the renowned DJ magazine. In later years it became far more global in scope and reach, very active in event promotions, and these days operates online as Tillate.
 
Select was a far less niche publication, and it had a widescreen, if a little UK-centric, approach to pop culture. For me it was the most viable alternative to the likes of Rolling Stone or Q, each of which lacked any real appeal for reasons many, varied, and too long-winded to go into here. Select had all I really needed beyond the realm of dance music coverage – the occasional compelling feature, gig and album reviews, and most importantly for someone seeking to rebuild a music collection on a limited budget – sampler cassette tapes (and later, CDs) ... at least nine tapes between 1990 and 1996, and at least six CD releases thereafter, through to the magazine’s demise in early 2001.

Select became most famous, perhaps, for its detailed and almost obsessive coverage of the rise and fall of Britpop. It seems no coincidence that the magazine’s own popularity mirrored the career trajectories enjoyed by the likes of Oasis and Blur (among others), and it’s notable that one of its mid-period editors, John Harris, went on to become a leading Britpop authority, and author of ‘The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock’ (2003). Other leading or high-profile contributors to the magazine during its decade-long existence include award-winning Guardian writer Alexis Petridis (the mag’s final editor), and Blur biographer, Stuart Maconie.  

I still have several of those Select tapes, and maybe even a CD or two, but I stopped buying Select with any regularity around 1996-ish, not long after returning to New Zealand, because its content fell away rather badly, quite quickly. Perhaps it was just me, perhaps I just grew out of it, because one day I decided the (then) latest issue was all a bit too tabloid-esque and it no longer offered enough serious commentary. I’d more or less moved on.

In fact, the whole world was moving on. Within a year of moving back to New Zealand – newly married with a whole new set of adult responsibilities (see the “life-changing” reference above), which is a long story in itself, and one for another time/post – this crazy phenomenon called the Worldwide Web – aka the internet – was starting to take hold, and the slow steady demise of the print medium was already well underway.

It certainly changed my own reading habits, and magazines held significantly less appeal once I became suitably equipped with my own ever-faster connection with the outside world. I still covet the format, the physical “thing”, the feel, shape, form, and smell, of a printed magazine. Not to mention the excitement of a “free CD” … however obsolete that format itself has become. Because sometimes convenience can feel a little overrated, and logging into a website is not quite the same thing as picking up a magazine and flicking through its pages at leisure. Long live GP waiting rooms and hairdressing salons … 1985 issues of The Face? … I will hunt you down and find you.

Which brings me to what is more or less my current – and only remaining – poison of choice when it comes to printed matter of the periodical variety; the distinctly retro Mojo magazine, which has been in circulation since 1993.
 
I’m not a regular consumer of Mojo by any stretch but it’s something my children often buy for me on those pesky occasions when I’m forced to celebrate a birthday and it’s the only remotely affordable thing on my wish-list. I do enjoy the magazine for the historical angle it adopts, the quality of the writing, and the seemingly endless vast back catalogue of quality photos. And um, the themed CD – again, usually retro – it offers.

The fact that it has survived as long as it has – coming up for a quarter of a century – in a rapidly changing market, against all odds, says all there is to say about Mojo. 

I’ll leave it here. I’ve rambled on long enough, and I’ve dealt all of the publications that meant something to me over the course of my lifetime. Except perhaps a couple of fly-by-night gems. Which is what I set out to do, five long-winded blogposts ago.

I was a little taken aback a few weeks ago when a daughter told me she’d learned a lot about me just by reading this series of posts. Up until that point, I hadn’t realised she was even reading the blog. But it’s also fair to say I was touched by the fact that she was checking in, and that these blogposts were of some interest to her. It led to a conversation about these specific posts (on magazines) and why I felt compelled to share my thoughts on what might otherwise be considered a rather niche or frivolous thing. I explained that as much as they are a personal indulgence, they also sought to highlight, or at least document, how different life used to be.

I wanted her to fully grasp that for her generation, facts, information, and everything-you-ever-need-to-know-about-everything-and-more, is only ever a few keywords, clicks, or swipes away. Yet for my own generation, there was much less in the way of options when it came to sourcing information – we had television, radio, books, newspapers, and magazines.

That was more or less it, beyond the stuff that got handed down by default via our parents and teachers, naturally. And of course, the generation of my parents had even less choice. I think my point was that because we had to work hard at becoming informed, it somehow made that information all the more valuable. I coveted magazines because of what they offered and the amount of effort it took to collect them. I hope that makes some sense.