Johnny Hallyday, Céline Dion, Adele: a few thoughts and reflexions about good and bad taste in music

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that“. I could easily adapt Bill Shankly’s legendary quote by replacing football by music. I had in mind never to write bad things in this blog, whose aim was to share my enthusiasm and love of music and make friends or readers discover new sounds and records. However, writing about things one does not like can also be an interesting exercise.

As a French citizen and considering myself as attached to my country for what I am and to the UK for my pop culture tastes (music, movies, literature and football between others), I have weirdly faced difficult times recently. I will try to explain these feelings below and write a few thoughts about it…

  • Johnny Hallyday’s recent passing

“Le Rock est mort” (eg “Rock is dead”) is one of the things you could find in magazines a few weeks ago in France. For those not familiar with the guy, Johnny Hallyday (real name Jean-Philippe Smet) was a superstar in France and considered as THE French rocker. He acted in a few movies as well and was overall a celebrity everyone was aware of in France. He passed away in early December from lung cancer at the age of 74 and the whole nation mourned for a few days. It looks there was more than 1 million people in the streets of Paris to celebrate and give him a last farewell.

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Although I had nothing against the man who had his flaws but no more no less than all of us, I felt really not at ease with what happened after his death. Once again, I do respect people mourning his leaving this Earth and to be more precise, there is nothing more sad than seeing all these people dying from cancer. The issue was not there: to make it short, Johnny Hallyday’s music is for me the enemy and I remember having put his name on the black list given to the DJ of my wedding’s party twenty years ago… I guess his music is everything I do not like in music: no subtlety in words which are piling up layers after layers of clichés, strong and “in your face” voice which does not give room from compromise (hate or love it), very poor music which is neither rock nor pure French chanson. I do recognize his importance in giving a bit of blues and rock culture in France in the early 60’s and this is amazing to realise that The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix opened shows for him or that Jimmy Page played on a few of his records, knowing that this was during his pre-Led Zeppelin golden age and that he was basically playing with everyone. But having said this, Johnny Hallyday is to me the epitome of what is not cool in music especially when I was younger: how could you love The Jesus and Mary Chain, Marvin Gaye, John Coltrane or again The Clash and find a drop of interest in Johnny Hallyday’s music? With age, and having learnt to have a different view of what is cool or uncool (cf. my recent gig’s review of Daryl Hall & John Oates), I still think his music remains very poor in a world where one could listen to thousands of good records. And to me having a Harley Davidson bike and wearing a perfecto does not mean you have a “rock’n’roll attitude”… Eric Cantona is certainly much more rock’n’roll in his behaviour.

I guess I made my point here. In a nutshell: can we respect such a national event whilst having a different opinion as well? The madness felt on social networks was really symbolic of our current age and to me did not allow any different views…

  • Adele: good or bad?

Once again, not sure if a) I can give a clear answer to such a reply b) my contribution will an impact bigger than that of a micro fly… Anyway, let’s give it a try. Adele has been seen as the saviour of the music industry in the last ten years as she has been selling millions of records, especially in the UK and the USA. I do not want to be snobbish but I had never heard one of her songs (maybe portions of a song called “Hello” on the radio a few months ago) so I thought it was the right moment to use my streaming service and listen to her records without prejudice. One of my closest music buddies with excellent taste is a fan of hers so I thought that it could not be that bad a moment to spare.

However, I must say I was quite disappointed overall. I quite enjoyed her first record (“19” – released in 2008) as I found a certain freshness and originality in songs and musical structure. A bit boring sometimes but a great voice indeed and not a cliché in sight. Rating of 6.5/10.

This is on the second album (“21” -released in 2011) that things started to be a bit more difficult for me as a listener. One can feel in this record a certain lack of innocence, probably coming from the huge success of her first record and the pressure on her artistic and social life. There are a few good songs (“I’ll be waiting“), a few boring ones (“LovesongThe Cure cover, really?) and a few awful ones (“Don’t you remember“) in the atrocious Celine Dion / Whitney Houston style. Rating of 5/10.

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The least one could talk about her latest album (“25” released in 2015), the better. There is no musical personality in this record anymore and she sings as if she would like to prove us she has deep lungs. A few songs are really atrocious (“Hello“, “I Miss You” and “Sweetest Devotion“) and a rating a 4/10 is quite generous.

…but once again, who am I to judge? Her music is considered complex and full of soul by many and I can recognize this. This is just that I personally do not like singers and musicians who overstate so I guess this is not for me.

  • Celine Dion: can a singer be less cool?

..well, I guess not but once again all this is relative. Johnny Hallyday was a good and generous guy, Adele is probably a good person and mother and Celine Dion is a very good person.

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At least, this is what this book reveals and what a shocker for an indie rock / deep soul / hip-hop / free jazz fan! “Let’s talk about love” by Carl Wilson is part of the great 33 1/3 series (cf. a post done a few years ago about this fantastic book series).

Carl Wilson is the kind of person who has similar taste as mine I guess and in particular a found adoration for the late great Elliott Smith. The starting point of the book comes from the infamous Oscar ceremony of 1998 when a very awkward Elliott Smith played on stage his beautiful song “Miss Misery” from Gus Van Sant‘s movie “Good Will Hunting“. What made this performance difficult to watch was the unbalance between  Elliott in a weird and too large white suit, alone on stage, very frail, in front of all these very rich and successful Hollywood moguls who were thinking “What the heck?…”. As expected, bad taste and power won that night and Celine Dion was the winner with the “Titanic” horrendous song.

What is more interesting is what happened backstage. The only natural, warm and friendly person of all with Elliott was actually Celine Dion. This simple fact gave to Carl Wilson the envy to go further and discover more about Celine Dion, her past, her family stories, what made her songs so successful, etc… At the end of the day, this is probably one of the best music books I read and I must say I would not have envisaged it while reluctantly buying it.

  • What next?

Well,…nothing I guess and these few thoughts probably did not add anything to this debate. But as The Byrds once said, I’ll probably feel better after writing this post.

See you soon to talk about (hopefully) good music!

Best albums of 2017 – Top 25.

Another year goes by and the more it goes, the less it seems to make sense … but not more or less than in the previous 3,000 years I guess. On these philosophical words, let’s focus on what this blog’s editor knows best, i.e. build nice end of the year lists!

Thanks to the nice suggestion of a friend, I started at the beginning of 2017 reviews of the best albums of the month. Quite a nice story and overall it meant that I listened to even more music thanks the intensive use of the streaming service I am subscribed to but also to regular visits to my local favourite stores, Rough Trade in particular. I tried to listen to all styles of music (folk, jazz, metal, pop, world, indie, soul, hip-hop,…) and hopefully without any prejudice. I can therefore proudly claim and make official that indeed big sellers such as Katie Perry, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus or again Sam Smith have all released completely boring, uninteresting or sometimes atrocious records. Not a question of snobbishness but these records are produced without any invention, emotion or soul. The below list is of course subjective but as every year is a mix of newcomers, mature bands, artist I discovered on stage or people who had an impact in 2017. I could have easily select 100 albums I can come back to on a regular basis but that was not the point.

Top 25 this year and without further due, let’s start with our Album of the Year which is a masterpiece! For the sake of clarity, you can click this year on two links: the first one will take you to the monthly review when this album went out and the second one to a potential live review if any.

Pure Comedy

#1 Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy”. Out in: April 2017Live review What makes a record one’s album of the year. Beautiful music in the way Elton John could do in his peak in the 70’s with a touch of indie rock attitude? Angry and beautiful words against the state of the world ? Sensitive songs about the difficulty in being in love and making a relationship work ? Poetry ? Amazing presence on stage ? Probably all of this but to me what made it album of the year was the constant companionship and pure rough emotion I found in this album since it went out. Joshua Tillman is definitely increasing his game with every release. Stream it, buy it, read the words, catch him live; Father John Misty has made by far the RECORD OF THE YEAR!

Yesterday's Gone #2 Loyle Carner – “Yesterday’s Gone”. Out in: January 2017. This is the amazing debut album of the young London rapper Coyle Larner. His artist name is Loyle Carner as this is the way he used to pronounce his name when he was a kid due to dyslexia. He was also diagnosed as having behaviour trouble at that age but the young man found an escape in theatre and music. After the devastating death of his father in law, he went back to his music and released this very personal album full of great soul and jazz samples. Welcome to the club of great artists young man and keep on bringing a Man Utd Eric Cantona on stage.

DAMN. #3 Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.” Out in: April 2017. Kendrick Lamar does not need this blog to be more famous or more critically appreciated as it looks the whole world loves him now.. and other artists too as he appeared this year on many other tracks (U2, Miguel or again N.E.R.D amongst many others). This is an extraordinary album again and the young man is definitely the current most talented artist. Every new album is an exciting event so let’s hope it will last for a few more extra years.

Aromanticism #4 Moses Sumney– “Aromanticism”. Out in: September 2017. Live review. Those who are familiar with this blog may remember the emotion and positive shock I had whilst catching this young American artist live at End of the Road festival. His debut album is as amazing as he is on stage. He has the voice of an angel servicing very personal, melodic and original-sounding songs. If Bjork was a Black American young man in his 20’s, she would probably sound like him. To discover without further due.

The Loved Ones #5 Flyte – “The Loved Ones”. Out in: August 2017. A real grower that one as it was not in my August 2017 selection. This record made me young again as I discovered them after catching the cover of the record in a billboard in London (as used to be the case in ancient times). This young band from London made what I consider a classic in terms of melody and freshness of the sounds while respecting the grand tradition of great bands from the past such as Prefab Sprout, The Bluebells, Aztec Camera or again The Dream Academy. If such influences do not make you want to discover it, English pop rock bands must not be your taste!

Hot Thoughts #6 Spoon  “Hot Thoughts”. Out in: March 2017. Live review. Another great LP by this truly exceptional band. The difficulty with bands like Spoon (or The National for instance) is that one is so used to quality with each release that one has to favour more glamorous things or new ones. Let’s not fall into this easy trap and celebrate one of the most inventive bands of our times. The more they go, the better they are it seems…

Moonshine Freeze #7 This Is The Kit- “Moonshine Freeze”. Out in: July 2017. Live review. This is the second time that Kate Sable’s band ends up in our best of the year ranking after 2015 excellent “Bashed Out”. Her music is also getting more mature and accomplished and her peers start to recognize such a talent. Folk music for those who do not like it.

Lotta Sea Lice #8 Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile  “Lotta Sea Love”. Out in: October 2017. This is typically the kind of collaboration which should have been interesting at best as very often two great artists playing together do not produce something amazing. This is totally untrue here between the young Australian singer and her male American counterpart. They built a friendship while meeting on tour, experienced a few songs and then ended making a proper LP. Very refreshing Velvet Underground-sounding music and nice words relating the troubles for those travelling a lot for their work (I guess not only musicians could relate to this!).

All - Amerikkkan Bada$$ #9 Joey Bada$$  “All – Amerikkkan Bada$$”. Out in: April 2017. Firstly for those of you who follow with the same intensity as I did “Mr. Robot”, let me precise that this is indeed the same Joey who plays Leon in the series. Having said that, Joey Bada$$ is first and foremost a great MC. This is the third hip-hop album in this selection and although I have been listening to tens of them, nothing moves me more than rappers talking about the state of the world on great soul and jazz beats and samples. Am I really that old-school?

Sleep Well Beast #10 The National  “Sleep Well Beast”. Out in: September 2017. Live review. …and here they are in this selection as well. Not a surprise for regular readers of this blog as I guess they probably have been my favourite band of the current decade. Great album as usual but this time with a leap forward in terms of electronic sounds and songs structure. In other words, they keep on being more inventive while staying what they are. One of the greatest bands of our times.

Painted Ruins #11 Grizzly Bear  “Painted Ruins”. Out in: August 2017. Live reviewGrizzly Bear have once more delivered the goods and this album is probably that where you will find the most beautiful voices of them all. This band keeps on going forward in their own very singular way and every new listen brings extra discoveries and entertainment. A great album to enter their world and potentially go backwards to their previous LP’s.

A Deeper Understanding #12 The War On Drugs  “A Deeper Understanding”. Out in: August 2017. His 2014 album “Lost In A Dream” was a masterpiece although for some reason it did not end in my end of the year list at the time; not sure why… I write “his” as the band is really the brainchild of Adam Granduciel. This new opus is as good as the previous one and the way to describe it best is to associate it with the early 80’s Bruce Springsteen records (“Born In The USA” or “Tunnel Of Love”) with an indie attitude. Play it on and you will dance to it!

Songs of Experience #13 U2  “Songs Of Experience”. Out in: December 2017. A very recent release so once again quite difficult to judge as a record very often needs time to reveal if it is a good one, a classic…or a a fake! My gut feeling is that this is one of U2’s best and a few songs already sound like stadium classics. After the fantastic “Joshua Tree” tour this year, I am looking forward to catching them… backstage for their next tour!

I See You #14 The Xx  “I See You”. Out in: January 2017. This record is on the opposite side vs. the previous one in terms of date as it was released very early in January. I had already forgotten its beauty and I had to listen to it again to get it right. The song “On Hold” is particularly very moving for this blog’s writer ; the reason being probably the great use of a Hall & Oates sample…

American Dream #15 LCD Soundsystem  “American Dream”.  Out in: September 2017. Live review. So it was not really the end of LCD Soundsystem when its leader James Murphy decided to end it all in 2011 at the Madison Square Garden… Well, I guess we should be delighted then as their comeback record is as good as their previous ones, keeping the New York Grooooove Thang sound. One of the best dance machine ever is back!

Slowdive #16 Slowdive -“Slowdive”. Out in: May 2017. Live review. Excellent shoegazing band comeback #1.

Weather Diaries #17 Ride – “Weather Diaries”. Out in: June 2017. Live review. Excellent shoe gazing band comeback #2.

Mental Illness #18 Aimee Mann – “Mental Illness”. Out in: March 2017. Live review. One of the most beautiful and singular female voices.

Masseduction #19 St. Vincent – “Masseduction”. Out in: October 2017. Perfect and moving pop music from a young woman #1.

Melodrama #20 Lorde – “Melodrama”. Out in: June 2017. Perfect and moving pop music from a young woman #2.

Villains #21 Queens Of The Stone Age – “Villains”. Out in: August 2017. No Villains, only Heroes!    

Dark Days and Canapés #22 Ghostpoet – “Dark Days + Canapés”. Out in: August 2017. Former call center British employee ; all roads lead to Rome!      

Witness #23 Benjamin Booker – “Witness”. Out in: June 2017. Blues Soul Punk Rock young master.      

In Spades #24 The Afghan Whigs – “In Spades”. Out in: May 2017. Live review. Second excellent album since they reformed.

Drunk #25 Thundercat – “Drunk”. Out in: February 2017. Soul and hip hop bass player gets solo.

So it looks the power of Anglo-Saxon music is over if you read a few magazines…but my selection is made out of artists and bands from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland only. I guess this is what moves me the most. The more it goes, the more this selection is well balanced between men and women…although I must recognize that this is still dominated by male US rock.

Other voices’ (websites, magazines, records stores, etc…) Top 10.

You will find below a selection of other lists but there are so many of them that you may also want to go to the albumoftheyear.org website to get an aggregation of them all (© JG from Garidech). Kendrick Lamar being the definite winner it seems…

  • Mojo (music mag): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. Nadia Reid Preservation 3. Queens Of The Stone Age Villains 4. A Tribe Called Quest We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service 5. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 6. St. Vincent Masseduction 7. Kendrick Lamar DAMN 8. Hurray For The Riff Raff The Navigator 9. Sleaford Mods English Tapas 10. Aldous Harding Party
  • Uncut (music mag): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN 4. The Weather Station The Weather Station 5. Joan Shelley Joan Shelley 6. Richard Dawson Peasant 7. The National Sleep Well Beast 8. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 9. St. Vincent Masseduction 10. Hurray For The Riff Raff The Navigator
  • NME (not as great as it used to be…): 1. Lorde Melodrama 2. Wolfe Alice Visions Of A Life 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. LCD Soundsytem American Dream 6. J Hus Common Sense 7. SZA CTRL 8. Lana Del Rey Lust For Life 9. Wiley The Godfather 10. Liam Gallagher As You Were
  • Rough Trade (London, Nottingham, Bristol and Brooklyn stores): 1. Aldous Harding Post Party 2. Ryan Adams Prisoner 3. Bjork Utopia 4. Big Thief Capacity 5. Colter Wall Colter Wall 6. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex 7. The Big Moon Love In The 4th Dimension 8. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 9. Thundercat Drunk 10. Here Lies Man Here Lies Man
  • Fopp (UK stores): 1. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 2. The Xx I See You 3. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. Richard Dawson Peasant 6. Fleet Foxes Crack-Up 7. Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit The Nashville Sound 8. Tinariwen Elwan 9. The National Sleep Well Beast 10. Grizzly Bear Painted Ruins
  • HMV (UK stores): 1. St. Vincent Masseduction 2. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 3. The National Sleep Well Beast 4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 5. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex 6. Alvvays Antisocialites 7. Aldous Harding Party 8. Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology 9. Slowdive Slowdive 10. The Horrors V
  • Greg Kot (Sound Opinions radio DJ #1): 1. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 3 2. Ted Leo The Hanged Man 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Sir the Baptist Saint Or Sinner 5. Downtown Boys Cost Of Living 6. Protomartyr Relatives In Descent 7. Vic Mensa The Autobiography 8. Mavis Staples If All I Was Was Black 9. Moses Sumney Aromanticism 10. Priests Nothing Feels Natural
  • Jim Derogatis (Sound Opinions radio DJ #2): 1. The Regrettes Fell Your Feelings Fool! 2. Downtown Boys Cost Of Living 3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 4. Priests Nothing Feels Natural 5. Rips Rips 6. Aimee Mann Mental Illness 7. Vic Mensa The Autobiography 8. The Feelies In Between 9. Wire Silver/Lead 10. Courtney Barnett And Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice
  • Pitchfork (music website): 1. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2. SZA Ctrl 3. King Krule The OOZ 4. Kelela Take Me Apart 5. Lorde Melodrama 6. Moses Sumney Aromanticism 7. Vince Staples Big Fish Theory 8. Tyler, The Creator Flower Boy 9. Fever Ray Plunge 10. Jlin Black Origami
  • Paste (music website): 1. Jay Som Everybody Works 2. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 3. Father John Misty Pure Comedy 4. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 3 5. Courtney Barnett And Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice 6. Sheer Mag Need To Feel Your Love 7. Alvvays Antisocialites 8. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 9. Mount Eerie A Crow Looked At Me 10. Sampha Process
  • Les Inrocks (French mag): 1. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2. King Krule The OOZ 3. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 4. Migos Culture 5. Alex Cameron Forced Witness 6. Juliette Armanet Petite Amie 7. Mac DeMarco This Old Dog 8. Orelsan La Fête Est Finie 9. Damso Ipséité 10. Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex
  • The Guardian (UK daily newspaper) : 1. St. Vincent Masseduction 2. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 3. SZA Ctrl 4. Lorde Melodrama 5. Perfume Genius No Shape  6. LCD Soundsystem American Dream 7. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding 8. Thundercat Drunk 9. Kelela Take Me Apart 10. Richard Dawson Peasant
  • The Independent (UK website) : 1. Loyle Carner Yesterday’s Gone 2. Lorde Melodrama 3. Rapsody Laila’s Wisdom 4. Perfume Genius No Shape 5. SZA Ctrl 6. Ghostpoet Dark Days + Canapes 7. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 8. Syd Fin 9. Jessie Ware Glasshouse 10. Trampolene Swansea To Hornsey
  • Magic rpm (French bimonthly magazine, back in 2017…but already over in 2018?) : 1. Grizzly Bear Painted Ruins 2. Aldous Harding Party 3. Midget! Ferme Tes Jolis Cieux 4. Slowdive Slowdive 5. Kadjha Bonet The Visitor 6. Charlotte Gainsbourg Rest 7. Flotation Toy Warning The Machine That Made Us 8. Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 9. Forever Pavot La Pantoufle 10. Big Thief Capacity
  • Noise Magazine (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Quicksand Interiors 2. Blut Aus Nord Deus Salutis Meae 3. Jessica93 Guilty Species 4. Slowdive Slowdive 5. Dead Cross Dead Cross 6. Algiers The Underside Of Power 7. Oxbow Thin Black Duke 8. Crystal Fairy Crystal Fairy 9. Sleaford Mods English Tapas 10. At The Drive-In In.ter a.lia

December 2017 Album of the month: U2 “Songs of Experience”

…and here we are with the last month of the year. Crazy how time flies…and how I enjoyed doing this monthly review. It has sure has been a lot of time spent listening to hundreds of records but worth the effort. December as usual is not the month with the highest number of releases and this month’s big names were a bit of a downer (Van Morrison, Miguel, N.E.R.D or Eminem to name but a few). However, the below selection remains very good and worth listening to

Album of the month: U2“Songs Of Experience” – Pop Rock – Always difficult to judge a new album from a very famous group as either you want to slag all their new records since… the last one you love or you love everything, meaning your voice may not be credible. I tried to be as objective as possible, knowing U2 is one of my favourite bands ever. Of course, expecting them to be as powerful as during their peak years of the late 80’s / early 90’s may be wishful thinking but the fact that they are still around with important things to say … and good songs is something remarkable. So, I think… this is a good U2 album. A few songs may be judged too Coldplayish and made for stadiums but there are at least 5 or 6 great songs, with very personal words this time. Let’s see if this LP stands the test of time but for the time being I really enjoy it.

 

  • Runner-up: Nabihah Iqbal“Weighing Of The Heart” – Electronica – First effort under her own name from young British electro artist. Very fresh sounds and interesting words coming from someone who knows what trying to be integrated in a society means.
  • Also recommended:
    • QTY “QTY” – Rock – NY female/male duo, produced by Bernard Butler.
    • Neil Young + Promise of the Real – “The Visitor” – Rock – Another release from the wise man, who is as angry as ever.
    • Hans Chew “Open Sea ” – Psychedelic Country – The genre says it all…
    • Cindy Wilson “Change” – Electro Pop – Unexpected very good album from The B52’s‘ former singer.
    • Chris Thile “Thanks For Listening” – Mandolin Pop – The second time the mandolin virtuoso is in this review after his dual album with Brad Mehldau in January. Almost as good as Sufjan Stevens.
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – OCS – “Memory Of A Cut Off Head

 

Robert Forster and The Go-Betweens: a beautiful story. Live @ Rough Trade East on 6th September and review of his book “Grant & I”

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The story of The Go-Betweens is a very moving and beautiful one. They were a band from Brisbane, Australia that appeared in the late 70’s and that are probably associated with the London 80’s indie scene. They first published 6 albums from 1981 to 1988 before disbanding in 1989. They then reformed and published 3 records from 2000 to 2005. The core nucleus of the band was its two singer-songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster who both released beautiful solo albums as well. The band actually ended in 2006 with the sad and sudden death of Grant McLennan in 2006 at the young age of 48. Here it is for the cold-blooded facts…and now let’s hear what was really behind it all.

On a personal side, The Go-Betweens are a very important band for me as they were there when I started to develop a real passion for music. The first record I bought was the fantastic “Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express” (1986) LP which I listened to umpteenth of times and whose songs are part of those I cherished the most, in particular those blessed by the great voice of Everything But The Girl‘s Tracey Thorn. We were in the middle of the 80’s and what strikes and annoys me the most now is the short cut done by most, associating the 80’s with Kaja Googoo, Rick Springfield, Phil Collins or one of those synthetic bass sounding artists. But the 80’s were also the moment when bands such as The Smiths, R.E.M., Primal Scream, The Weather Prophets or Easterhouse to name but a few brought their Velvet Underground influences and produced records which sound today out of time. Beware of clichés my friends…

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The Go-Betweens were amongst these bands and although I did saw them only once on stage (opening for R.E.M.), I have always considered them as a precious band. They also probably are one of the few bands whose post-reforming records are as good or sometimes even better than those done during mark I. So here I was again catching the tall Robert Forster a few months after the Bush Hall gig, talking about his new book and playing a few songs on his acoustic guitar in the warm and friendly atmosphere of the Rough Trade East store.

What struck me once again by reading the book and also listening to Robert Forster talk about it is the gap that existed between what fans like me were thinking at the time (“These guys are amazing and should be on a pedestal”) and the cruel material reality faced by the band: a different record company every year not helping in terms of promotion, excellent review but poor sales, miserable living conditions, and so on. Reading that Robert went back living in the late 80’s at his parents’ place in Australia, starting from scratch was really funny and depressing at the same time…

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Of course, the most moving and beautiful pages of the book are about his relationship with his music partner and how Grant McLennan’s leaving the earth was perceived at the same time as a shock but also as a kind of natural consequence on the way the latter lived his life. The style of the book is very concise and precise and without any pathos. I felt I could literally hear Robert Forster’s very singular voice whilst reading the book. Great definition as well of their bound, explaining that writing with a partner in a band is probably the most romantic notion that could exist between two heterosexual males.

The acoustic show and the songs he played were amazing. The way he explained how he was finding chords’ sequences for a few of his classic songs was great and I enjoyed in particular when he described how he stole a few ideas from Aztec Camera‘s Roddy Frame. I had a bit of a chat during book signing time and the man was as usual humble and funny. I will probably do a “record by record” post about the Go-Betweens and Grant and Robert’s solo albums in 2018 so stay tuned!

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November 2017 Album of the month: OCS “Memory of a Cut Off Head”

We are already reaching the 11th month of the year and I hope you enjoyed these regular reviews as much as I liked doing them. November was probably not the best month of the year but with still enough material to find seven records to enjoy. Stay tuned for next month as you will get two for the price of one: December Album of the month but also the usual Best of the Year list!

Album of the month: OCS“Memory of a Cut Off Head” – Pop Rock – I was actually quite happy to be able to promote this album as the best of the month as a kind of reward to its main creator. John Dwyer is an incredible talent and his energy is limitless. He leads at least three different bands (OCS, Thee Oh Sees and Damaged Bug) and releases in average two records per year. This is actually his third record of 2017 and with OCS you will discover his soft side whereas he is dedicated to psychedelic rock with Thee Oh Sees and to German-influenced repetitive rock with Damaged Bug. What makes this record probably different from his other works is that there is a real sensitivity and female voices… which to my mind is a great thing as I am a huge fan of women in rock.

 

  • Runner-up: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds“Who Built the Moon?” – Pop Rock – …good question indeed Mr G…. While Liam G. has recently released a quite boring LP, his big brother keeps on being more adventurous and his latest work is by far the most interesting of all post-Oasis productions. A mix of psychedelic rock with a few dance sounds whilst keeping the melodic sense of their leader. In other words, a record that should please Oasis fans as much as less traditional music fans.
  • Also recommended:
    • Shamir “Revelations” – Pop Funk – Post depression blues album for the young transgender man. Not always easy to listen to but a few tracks are very moving and beautiful.
    • Eera – “Reflection of Youth” – Pop Folk – Latest opus from the UK-based Norwegian young woman; very much PJ Harvey and Joni Mitchell-influenced.
    • Charlotte Gainsbourg “Rest ” – Pop Rock – Probably not the masterpiece defended in the French media but there are a few very good tracks. I guess it may be a grower in the months to come.
    • Morrissey “Low in High School” – Pop Rock – Morrissey did not become a nazi as read here and there but this is true that his words are sometimes ambiguous… There are a few very bad tracks in this album but also a few great ones so this is definitely a record to discover.
    • Mavis Staples “If all I was was Black” – Soul Rock – Another great collaboration between Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and the amazing 78-year old Mavis Staples. She is one of the truly greats of all times and I consider myself honoured to see her in 2011 at Austin City Limits. Beautiful music and important words in today’s America…
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – “Lotta Sea Lice

 

Oktober Fest! Part Six: Daryl Hall & John Oates, O2 Arena, 28th October 2017.

Do not worry ; this is the final part of these series and I will stop mentioning this Oktober Fest after this final post. Third day in a row and what better way to end up this mini-festival than to see two of the best songwriters of all times?

Chris Isaak, London O2 Arena, 2017

But first things first. As part of this so-called London Bluefest festival (weird name indeed…), I was delighted to see the excellent Chris Isaak act as the opener before the main gig. Chris Isaak arrived on the music scene in the mid-80’s and although he did not change completely the face of music, he brought something very interesting mixing classic old American rock in the tradition of Roy Orbison while having his own fresh attitude. This is no coincidence that his music has been used a lot by David Lynch in his movies and “Wicked Games” remains one of the greatest songs ever. That night’s set was close to what one could expect and although Chris Isaak ages like everyone else, he keeps his good looks, friendly behaviour towards his musicians and audience… and an amazing taste in suits!

Daryl Hall & John Oates, London O2 Arena, October 2017

After this nice moment, I had great hopes for Daryl Hall & John Oates…but a bit worried as well. Although I have no trouble affirming that their music is amazing and being over this notion of guilty pleasures, I wanted to believe that their shows were as good. There are plenty of examples of formerly great artists (Dionne Warwick, Rod Stewart or Sly Stone for instance) whose gigs in recent years have been embarrassing and I wanted to believe it would not be the case that night.

Daryl Hall & John Oates, London O2 Arena, October 2017

Rest insured, it has not been so and on the contrary, it was one of the most buoyant shows I had ever seen. How could it be differently with so many amazing songs? John Oates remains to Daryl Hall a bit what Art Garfunkel was to Paul Simon, i.e. a great lieutenant but the leader remains for sure Daryl Hall. Although his haircut has been kept artificially blonde and in waves, his voice did not lose anything with years. For those totally unfamiliar with pop music, Hall & Oates have been considered one of the best blue-eyed soul performers of the genre, which means to make it short soul music written and played by white Californian guys. Their music was at their peak in the 70’s and 80’s but they remained active these latest years through collaborations and tours. I was particularly impressed by their musicianship and by the way these two guys were so talented as musicians.

Daryl Hall & John Oates, London O2 Arena, October 2017

Please click on the setlist to get a better picture and the quality of it and of how these songs are part of our lives. Apart maybe from Paul McCartney, I am not sure to have experienced a concert where I knew the words of all tracks. The fact also that a song like “I Can’t Go For That” has been sampled by the hip hop band De La Soul in 1989 in “Say No Go” or recently by the young English band The Xx with “On Hold says it all as far as their influence is concerned. Find a way to catch them live as soon as possible if you want to spend a very happy and joyful evening.

 

The Rolling Stones discography : Part One – The 60’s

Five years ago, I started an ambitious task: review and rate all The Rolling Stones‘ studio LP’s. Not that huge a burden actually as there are not so many of them despite a career above fifty-five years now. I started with the 70’s… but forgot a bit about this review for the other decades. Their recent excellent gig in Paris and a special issue of les Inrocks 2 on their complete discography made me want to resume this task again so let’s ignite our time machine and travel back to the 60’s.

Complete review: Part II (the 70’s) – Part III (the 80’s) – Part IV (the 90’s until today)

Let’s start this review with something important to mention first. It may appear weird in our current age but until “Between The Buttons” included, there were different versions between UK and US albums. In other words, there are actually more US albums and those were including singles, meaning these versions may appear superior sometimes. It has been decided here to stick to the UK versions as a)…well, this is a UK band b) the UK versions reflect much better the evolution of the band. It will mean for instance that “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is not reviewed here as absent in the UK version of “Out Of Our Heads“. The “Singles Collection: The London Years” boxset is therefore very much recommended to get all these amazing singles in one place.

RS64.jpg The Rolling Stones (1964) : Is there a better way to introduce The Rolling Stones to the world that spend a few minutes analysing this cover? These guys are indeed a bit menacing, dedicated, rough and away from the light in real life as they are shot on this great picture. This first album is basically a testimony of what the band were at this early stage, i.e. young UK lads playing American blues as if their life depended on it. All songs are covers apart from one Jagger/Richards track and a few of them are a bit clumsy but overall no better way to say to the world: “Hi, we’re The Rolling Stones and we’re here to stay”. (7.5/10). Key tracks : “Route 66“, “I’m A King Bee” & “Walking The Dog“.

TheRollingStonesNumber2.jpg The Rolling Stones #2 (1965) : Nothing much to add vs. the review of their first album as this is basically the same formula: young UK band covering US blues numbers with a tremendous energy. The boys were still in their learning phase and would have plenty of time to write classic songs in the future. (7/10). Key tracks : “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love“, “Time Is On My Side” & “Off The Hook”.

Out+of+Our+Heads+-UK-.jpg Out Of Our Heads (1965) : Their 3rd album was a bit disappointing as one would have expected a real evolution of the formula, which was not the case at all. The three Jagger/Richards tracks are solid and promising but the majority of the covers are not as good as those from the previous two albums. Time to change the formula then for the upcoming fourth LP? (7/10). Key tracks : “Mercy, Mercy”, Heart Of Stone” & “I’m Free“.

RSAftermathUK.jpg Aftermath (1966) : …and the answer is yes, of course! No more covers here but fourteen original Jagger/Richards songs. The band were still searching and trying a few things, which may appear incredible now when one thinks as how controlled famous bands have been by their record company in the following years. There is in particular a blues/drone number called “Goin’ Home” which lasts more than eleven minutes and stills sound as fresh now as fifty years ago. (8/10). Key tracks : “Mother’s Little Helper”, “Under My Thumb” & “Out Of Time”.

BetweenthebuttonsUK.jpg Between The Buttons (1967) : Another famous cover which is self-explanatory. The boys appear tired and slightly under the influence whereas Brian Jones in particular looks to lose the plot… Not far from the reality as the genius founder of the band was feeling more and more that he was losing the control of his band…and this despite his tremendous sense of arrangements. Not a big step forward overall vs. their previous album but still a very good one (8/10). Key tracks : “She Smiled Sweetly”, “Cool, Calm & Collected” & “Complicated”.

Rolling Stones - Their Satanic Majesties Request - 1967 Decca Album cover.jpg Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) : This would finally be the end of this stupid US vs. UK policy and one could enjoy the same album all over the world. This is probably their least beloved album…and to me one of their best! Let’s have in mind that 1967 was the year of The Beatles‘ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and indeed it looks The Rolling Stones had in mind to enter the so-called psychedelic music whatever the consequences. Many critics and fans consider it as a flawed piece but this is not the case at all when one listens without prejudice. A few songs are very interesting in their sound texture in particular. Above all, there are also a few songs which to me are amongst the best ever written by Jagger/Richards. …And this is the only album with a song credited to Bill Wyman… and this is the last LP on which Brian Jones was really involved. Re-discover it! (8.5/10). Key tracks : “Sing This All Together”, “She’s A Rainbow” & “2000 Light Years From Home“.

BeggarsBanquetLP.jpg Beggars Banquet (1968) : I did not put the “toilet” cover although it is that which is available now and which was originally intended by The Rolling Stones. But no revisionism in this blog: the record was released with its white cover and that is the way it was. This is the first record of The Rolling Stones golden era of four immense masterpieces in a row and no better way to start this era than with the bongo introduction of “Sympathy For The Devil“. Their best album so far although to my mind it does not deserve the perfect rating as a couple of tracks are only very good… and not sublime (9.5/10). Key tracks : “Sympathy For The Devil”, “No Expectations” & “Street Fighting Man“. 

LetitbleedRS.jpg Let It Bleed (1969) : This is to me their absolute best record, hence the very rare rating I gave as for all albums everyone should have. Strange also that this fantastic album was actually their first release after firing Brian Jones in the summer of ’69. We all know the story about the way poor Brian Jones would not survive for a long time and be found dead in his swimming pool in July of that year. Enter the young and very gifted Mick Taylor on guitar but also key collaborators such as Nick Hopkins on piano or Bobby Keyes on saxophone. The rule to select three tracks is a bit ludicrous here as it means “You Got The Silver“, “Love In Vain” or “Midnight Rambler” for instance have to be eliminated! I defy anyone not to have shivers down their spines while listening to the first guitar notes of the record and the first words …”Oh, a storm is threatening my very life today…” (10.5/10). Key tracks : “Gimme Shelter”, “Live With Me” & “You Can’t Always Get What You Want“.

Stay tuned for Part III and the 80’s ; I promise it will be done before 2022!

Oktober Fest! Part Five: Tears For Fears, Royal Albert Hall, 27th October 2017. “Funny how….time…flies…”

Almost a mini festival as after Aimee Mann the previous day and before another band (soon revealed!) the day after, I attended my 2nd gig in a row at the great Royal Albert Hall venue.

Tears For Fears, Royal Albert Hall 2017

Tears For Fears is probably THE band I had never seen in my life which I was dreaming to catch up on stage and I was closely following their moves since they reformed a few years ago and especially since their summer gig in the not-so-nice Hyde Park festival (not so nice because much too crowded and with a poor sound system…). They actually decided just a few weeks ago to play this one-shot concert to promote their best of album to come and a more traditional tour in 2018.

I must say I was not one hundred percent sure that the original duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were back together again but that was so, to mine and the audience’s pleasure that night. Although they were not as sharp when they started to make still good records on their own, one must recognize that their first three LP’s are amongst the best of any genre or era. Assimilating Tears For Fears as part of a nostalgic 80’s act is pure laziness because these songs are really amazing, moving and inventive and this has nothing to do with listening to them at a certain age in one’s life.

Tears For Fears, Royal Albert Hall 2017

I guess I am lying a bit here as the crowd were mainly in their forties and fifties and one could find a sense of nostalgia in the air… Anyway, the band were on top form and despite dramatic family events faced recently by Roland Orzabal, they were both singing and playing like young guys. Their band was also excellent with a particular mention to their backup singer who was singing “Woman in Chains” as if he were Oleta Adams!

Tears For Fears, Royal Albert Hall 2017

The playlist was extraordinary and almost every song is a classic. I was personally surprised to get as early in the concert a song like “Sowing the Seeds of Love” (one of my favourites ever). The end of the show however was perfect, finishing with “Head Over Heels” and “Shout“. Ever wanted to feel like being part of a giant karaoke? Well go and see Tears For Fears playing “Shout” on stage in the UK!

My favourite concert of the year? Well, close to it probably…

Oktober Fest! Part Four: Aimee Mann, London Palladium, 26th October 2017

..and here we are, back again on the other side of the Channel and this time in the very heart of the city at the nice Palladium theatre. This venue is full of history…including mine as this is the place where I have attented gigs from Brian Wilson, Bryan Ferry or Elvis Costello for instance.

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Aimee Mann is probably one of my favourite female singers of all times and although I do recognize her skills in composing songs, her humour, the bitterness and tenderness of her words and her sense of melodies, what moves me the most with her is actually her voice. Like many other people, I discovered her through Paul Thomas Anderson‘s fantastic movie “Magnolia” and her subsequent amazing album “Bachelor #2 or, the last remains of the dodo“. She has always had lots of affiliations with the movie industry: she used to be married to the great musician Michael Penn (brother of Sean) and was a key nihilist member in the Coen brothers’ classic movie “The Big Lebowski“!

Her current musical partner is Jonathan Coulton and those familiar with the series “Braindead” know his voice as he sings a summary of previous episodes at the start of each new one. He was the opening act but also very much present during Aimee’s set as he co-wrote many songs of her last album “Mental Illness” (one of our March albums of the month).

I was delighted to see her again and was really expecting this gig. No disappointment as she is on stage as one expects her to be as in real life, i.e. charming, communicative, funny…and very tall! Her voice is a beautiful on stage as it is on records and her setlist was a great mix of songs from all her career. Catching Aimee Mann on stage or listening to her records is a bit like drinking hot milk with honey, it means times are tough overall but you feel much better during and after her set.

Oktober Fest! Part Three: The Rolling Stones, 22nd October, U Arena, Paris

…well this arena is in Nanterre actually but it does not look so good as Paris on paper. Actually, it may sound as exotic for non-French people as Weston-super-Mare looks to me so I guess this is a question of referential… So I left my beloved readers last time in a tiny venue with the excellent Chad VanGaaalen and here we are now on the other side of the Channel to catch the Rolling Stones in this new arena which was inaugurated for their first show a few days before. The band decided to finish this short European tour with three dates in Paris and as Mick Jagger mentioned during that night it was their 32nd show in Paris.

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It is true that a cynical person could state that they are only here to beat records but to me this is not the only reason. It is true that their longevity is impressive and now that everyone more or less agrees that they do not keep on playing just for money (they are already very rich…), there must be something else. This something else is an easy one; it is called love of music and also loving being on stage and partying in front of thousands of people.

The Rolling Stones  @ U Arena, Nanterre, 22 Oct 2017

I was not thrilled to go back catching them in Paris as I must admit that when you are used to going to gigs in the UK you tend to find people’s behaviour not that great in your own country. Things were a bit different in the U Arena as it looked like the kind of shows for people…who never go to concerts. The Rolling Stones were an event to attend and to share in Facebook. I am pretty sure 80% of the audience would have been in trouble if asked which were their Rolling Stones Top 5 albums… A bit like those wearing Ramones tee-shirts : I would be surprised if the majority of them could mention three songs… Anyway, let’s stop being snobbish and review the show.

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One word: great! It was my third Rolling Stones gig after Paris in 1990 and Rio do Janeiro in 1999 (I know…) and I must say it was the best by far. The four remaining original members have an average age of 73 (!) years and they play like hell, despite Charlie Watts on drums looking a bit like a zombie… Mick Jagger jumps like a guy in his thirties, Ron Wood is really sharp now after being sober for many years and Keith… is Keith! I even caught him getting a cigarette on stage!

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What was more important was the fact that I felt catching these guys in a small blues club, with Mick Jagger playing very often the harmonica and Keith and Ronnie playing their sometimes not-so-perfect riffs with a smile and a real human touch I had not seen in ages. The setlist was almost the same every night with only a few changes on the blues covers (taken from their latest fantastic album “Blue & Lonesome“). Great stage show as well ; very simple but straight to the point with excellent giant screens. Catch them if you can.

Next episode of the Oktober Fest: back to London with the beautiful Aimee Mann; stay tuned!

Note: photos are not mine, meaning I attended the gig the old-fashioned way!