The Smiths : “Complete” Box Set. A great band to (re)discover

All The Smiths ‘ albums have recently been compiled in a box set called “Complete“. We are talking here about 8 CD’s, perfect replicas of original LP’s, including all the albums that went out when the band was alive: 4 studio albums (“The Smiths” (8/10), “Meat Is Murder” (9/10), “The Queen Is Dead” (10/10), “Strangeways, Here We Come” (9/10)), 3 compilations and 1 live album, all for a very cheap price, therefore a perfect gift to request to your old aunt or your father-in-law for Xmas!

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I recently bought it and it made me going back to this fantastic music, which I am not listening to enough now. For those who do not know, The Smiths formed in 1982 and disbanded in 1987. In these five short years, at a time when UK music was split between awful Adult Oriented Rock of the 80’s and fantastic anti-Thacher post punk bands, they brought poetry, dreams, a sense of purpose and overall great guitar-based music. Without diminishing the quality of a very powerful and straightforward rhythm section with Andy Rourke on bass and Mike Joyce on drums (“The Drums” as written in the LP’s notes and whose name influenced current US band “The Drums”), the strength of the band was based on the partnership of Morrissey on vocals and words and Johnny Marr on guitar and music. The “Morrissey-Marr” signature is for me on par with other legendary ones such as “Lennon-McCartney” or “Jagger-Richards”. Morrissey was 23 when the young Johnny Marr then 19 met him and told him that he was sure they would make history together.

Even if a bit cliché to say that Morrissey was the poet and Johnny Marr the musical creator, both took advantage perfectly of the other one’s skills: Morrissey used to be the “New York Dolls” fan-club British president and was very often writing columns in the New Musical Express, thus having a great sense of rock’n’roll knowledge whereas Johnny Marr was a true music fan , spending hours practising on his guitar and listening all day long to Tamla Motown records and past rock bands (The Byrds for instance can be found out in his guitar playing style). Apart from the music, they had a specific attention to their live shows (daffodils anyone?) and to their LP covers (40’s to 60’s movies and music icons such as Sandie Shaw, Alain Delon, James Dean or Jean Marais).

And the songs, wouahhh! : “This Charming Man”, “How Soon is Now”, “The Queen is Dead”, “Heaven knows I’m Miserable now”, “Barbarism begins at home”, “Panic”, etc, etc… Basically all the songs from this box set are good, very good or gorgeous.

After the split of the band, Morrissey went on doing great, interesting or average LP’s whereas Johnny Marr played with everybody in the music business (Bryan Ferry, Talking Heads, The The, Electronic with Barney from New Order, The Cribs, etc..) but both of them never found their soul mates again, thus becoming good instead of great. There are other ways to start with The Smiths and I would recommend the compilation “The Sound of the Smiths” but this box set is so affordable in terms of price that you could start with it directly.

Go there, (re)discover The Smiths and enjoy hours of happiness!

David Bowie, news from outer space: “Station to Station” reissue + “Starman” by Paul Trynka

The only way to talk and write about David Bowie in the times in which we live is to count on new products from the past as he has been living in semi-retirement since 2004 when he had a stroke and maybe realized that troubles were to come if living the same life he had for the forty past years. Our loss but probably a survival issue here…

Anyway, I warmly recommend Paul Trynka’s book “Starman”, an unauthorized biography by this Mojo magazine journalist , full of interviews and fantastic research work on Ziggy Stardust, the Dame, David Jones, the Thin White Duke,…call him whatever you want. As far as I am concerned, David Bowie is my favorite artist of all times and even if I thought to know almost everything, I knew nothing actually compared to the information one can read in this great book. All his phases are described, from his childhood, his family traumas, his first bands to the love and hate relationships he had with Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson, Mike Garson, Tony Visconti, Brian Eno or Reeves Gabrels, all these amazing musicians that very often acted the role of their life when playing with the great man himself. Read it even if not a David Bowie or music fan and you will discover a great personality in our blank times. And if a Bowie fan, you will enjoy every page of it!

Cover (Station to Station:David Bowie)

Station to Station“, written and produced in 1975 but out in 1976, is one of his best records, in a cocaine-mad-transitional word for Bowie between his soul NY “Young Americans” record and his so-called Berlin trilogy from 1997-1979. Bowie was at his thinnest period and notion of sleep was more a concept than a reality. However, this 6-track LP is still fascinating now as it was then, mixing post industrial and epic sounds (“Station to Station”), commercial hit (“Golden Years”), soul-funk influences (“Stay”) or a sumptuous ballad (“Wild is the Wind”). This reissue comes with the 2-CD  Nassau Coliseum ’76 concert: amazing show and please listen to the live “Stay” version if you want to know what “Virgins and Philistines” blog is all about… (10/10)

The Velvet Underground: the most influential band ever? A great book + Lou Reed in Paris (Grand Rex, 5th of July) + Velvet Revisited (Cité de la Musique, 7th of July)

I will not be the first and last one to use Brian Eno’s famous quote on the Velvet Underground but this is so true : “the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band”.

Here is a short summary: young man from NY named Lou Reed (chain-composing songs for others and already subject to electro-shock treatments by his parents) meets young man from Wales named John Cale (avant-garde trained musician) in the mid-60’s to create different music. They create a band with Sterling Morrison on guitar and the boy-looking Maureen Tucker on drums (ancestor of Meg White from the White Stripes), hang around the Factory led by Andy Warhol who proposes to produce their 1st album (meaning doing nothing musically speaking but creating the buzz) and imposes German model/actress Nico on three tracks. The band did only four studio albums in their short career from 1967 to 1970, John Cale leaving after two LP’s and being replaced by Doug Yule.

Cover (The Velvet Underground & Nico:The Velvet Underground) Cover (White Light/White Heat:The Velvet Underground) Cover (The Velvet Underground:The Velvet Underground) Cover (Loaded:The Velvet Underground)

These four LP’s are indispensable for anyone with an interest in the so-called “indie-rock” scene but more generally in songs, music and art I would say. I will not make any comment on them, except that they all deserve a 10/10 (please click on the covers to know more about them and see the incredible amazing songs available on each one). I would recommend a great book that went out in 2009, giving the chance for those who lived this fantastic period of time in NY to talk about their Velvet Underground memories with tremendous pictures too. Apart from the fact that I could hear a “Sunday Morning” or “Sweet Jane” 1,000 times and being as excited and enthusiastic as the first time, The Velvet Underground gives us all contemporary pop and rock music lovers a sense of purpose and history. Remember that this is band that was basically unsuccessful at their period but that went on influencing so many great musicians, like painters did in the past, virtually getting success and recognition much after death.

The Velvet Underground

Last week was a special week in Paris as there were two Velvet related concerts:

  • First one took place in “Le Grand Rex” where Lou Reed played in Paris for the first time since 2007 for an entire performance of his “Berlin” album. Now 69, I found him not in physical good shape, as he seemed to have difficulty to walk on stage. However, after a first hesitating track, he and his band (led by the amazing Tony “Thunder” Smith on drums) began little by little to deliver the goods and that was a great show. Excellent setlist as well mixing classic Velvet Underground tracks and solo Reed ones. I felt a particular emotion when he faded out “Small Town” (from “Songs for Drella” on the story of Andy Warhol) and began playing “Mother” from John Lennon Plastic Ono Band. Here is a beautiful and cooled down version of “Sunday Morning”, the first song on the first Velvet Underground album.
  • The second one was part of the Days Off festival at la Villette and was a kind of pop/rock fan’s dream. A specific band had been indeed created for this event with the following musicians: Gaz Combes and Danny Goffey (Supergrass), Nicolas Godin (Air), Colin Greenwood (Radiohead), Nigel Godrich (fantastic producer) and Joey Warronker (from R.EM. and Beck fame), whaoouhhh! Two days of rehearsals as Danny told us and here we are, as if 40 years ago. The band played first “The Velvet Underground and Nico” in its entirety and then went on playing other great tracks for the other albums. Two female singers went on helping them playing former Nico songs (Feist from Canada and Soap and Skin from Austria). One has to admit that the show was straight with no major change vs. original songs but were played with such intensity and joy by Gaz in particular that that was a hell of a moment. Great initiative from the festival..to be done again next year. Here is another video and a few pictures from both shows.

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Everyone should own Roxy Music first five records / Roxy Music Rock en Seine Festival, August 2010, Saint Cloud / Bryan Ferry, 13th June 2011, Olympia, Paris.

Ladies and Gents, I envy you. Why? Because you either do not know at all Roxy Music or have a vague idea of tracks such as “More Than This” or “Dance Away” and will now enter a new music world! Early Roxy Music is to rock music what “Lost” or “Twin Peaks” are to series, that is to say a source of constant and never-ending joy.

It all began in the late 60’s/early 70’s where a young art student/music fan formed a band with the ambition of doing something traditional and new at the same time. There have been many different musicians in the band (what about the bass players that made them go away regularly?) but the legendary core members are : Andy Mackay (saxophone), Phil Manzanera (guitar), Paul Thompson (drums), Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, more commonly known as Brian Eno (keyboards) and of course Bryan Ferry as singer and leader.

The history of Roxy Music is quite simple to decipher: five A-MA-ZING records from 1972 to 1975, a three-year break that most fans thought as definite at the time and then three polished but nice to hear adult dance rock records from 1979 to 1982, a definite split in 1983 and a few reunion shows since the start of the 21st century.

Cover (Roxy Music:Roxy Music) Cover (For Your Pleasure:Roxy Music) Cover (Stranded:Roxy Music) Cover (Country Life:Roxy Music) Cover (Siren:Roxy Music) 

What makes these five 1972-1975 records so great?

  • The songs: Re-Make/Re-Model, Ladytron, Sea Breezes from “Roxy Music” (1972), Do The Strand, In Every Dream Home A Heartache, The Bogus Man from “For Your Pleasure” (1973), Just Like You, A Song For Europe, Mother of Pearl from “Stranded” (1973), The Thrill Of It All, All I Want Is You, Out Of The Blue from “Country Life” (1974) and Love Is The Drug, Both Ends Burning, Just Another High from “Siren” (1975). But believe me, it could be all of them as every song is a killer. 10/10 for the first three LP’s and 9.5/10 for the next two ones.
  • The musicians: with Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, Andy Mackay is for me the only other saxophone player able to integrate the instrument as a real component of a rock band like for instance guitar and the drums and not like an awful Adult Oriented Rock kind of thing. Phil Manzanera is a very inventive guitar player too but the real strength of the band has been the creation and tension between Bryan Ferry on voice and lyrics and Brian Eno on noise and keyboards. Brian Eno has always said that people put too much importance about his period in Roxy Music, that he only stayed for a couple of years (the first two LP’s) and that this was Bryan Ferry’s band overall. Probably but he brought to them and to the world of music in his subsequent role as producer a weirdness with sounds that was really new at the time (and still is…). And what a leader Bryan Ferry was: fantastic lyrics and such a voice, quite different from the crooner’s voice  described later by lazy critics.
  • The clothes, the looks, the glamorous side of the covers! I bought back in vinyls all LP’s to get these great ladies covers (Amanda Lear, Jerry Hall,…). For more about all these clothes, covers stories and the intense Roxy Music story, I strongly recommend the “More than this” DVD.

As all things eventually come for those who wait, I had the immense pleasure of seeing Roxy Music last year in Rock en Seine festival near Paris. Even though I had read good reviews of previous shows, I was of course a bit scary to see how they would play all these great songs live (and would they play them and not concentrate on the more famous late period for the French audience?). I must say that even with a few more wrinkles, Ferry/Manzanera/Mackay were on top form and on stage with younger musicians, therefore giving a great energy to the show.

Bryan Ferry did a very good solo album last year as well with many former Roxy Music partners, “Olympia” (8/10) and played the Olympia in Paris tonight amongst nine other musicians (including his son as one of the two drummers). Excellent show, with a good balance between “Olympia” tracks (You can dance, Alphaville), his elegant and classy late-night music (Slave to love, Boys and Girls, Don’t Stop the Dance), great covers (Like a Hurricane, I put a spell on you, What goes on) and rewarding us with a few Roxy Music songs (If there is a something, Love is the Drug). Here are a few pictures of both shows:

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Stevie Wonder’s five LP’s from 1972 to 1976; the best recording artist ever?

Listen without prejudice. If you are a pure drone/metal/psychedelic/indie rock lover and are only aware of “I just called to say I love you”, you will probably despise this site and never come back. Please don’t! As the most open-minded and fan of all types of music ever (well almost…), I can swear to you that there is almost no better period in music than these five years for Stevie Wonder.

Stevie had been a product of the great Tamla Motown family since a very young kid and was one of the Singles providers of this label on a par side with Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes and so on… But he had bigger plans and negociated toughly with the label owner (Berry Gordy) a new contract when reaching 21 and not being a minor anymore. This contract allowed him to get complete control and freedom on his music and Stevie started a range of five amazing records: Music of my mind-1972 (9/10), Talking book-1972 (9/10) , Innervisions-1973 (10.5/10), Fulfillingness’ first finale (9.5/10) and Songs in the key of life (10/10).

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Why so?

a) the sound: completely new, mixing soul, funk but also progressive rock and latin. Stevie was very curious about sound texture and one of the first to work on synthetizers, working with a Toronto band and experimenting a lot;

b) the themes and passion: as Marvin Gaye did on his side, Stevie went a bit away from the usual love songs and focused on every topics of interest and very often the state of the world in the 70’s and what it meant to be a black man in the US at that time. “Living (just enough) for the City” on” Innervisions” is a fantastic example of this;

c) the man: Stevie was very often playing all instruments (keyboards of course but also drums, bass, guitar, etc…) and had years in frustration behind him. One must not forget that Stevie is a blind man too and that he even lost his sense of smell for a few months after a car accident and therefore his musical sense is extraordinary;

d) the songs: “Superwoman”, “Superstition”, “Higher Ground”, “Too High”, “Smile Please”, “Sir Duke”, “As”, “I Wish”, etc… The list could be endless.

Here is a video of Stevie Wonder at his top:

As all great artists, he went away of this creative peak little by little and went on doing good and not so good records but who cares after the amazing quality of what he did in the 70’s. Oh and by the way, 10.5/10 for Innervisions as this is my favorite record EVER…

Gang of Four: “Entertainment!” (1979) / Trabendo, Paris 18th, March 2011

If you are a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, please go on reading as they are the most devoted fans of this band! Formed in the late 70’s by Jon King and Andy Gill, Gang of Four have been one of the most influental bands ever though they have never been that well known. This is probably due to the fact that their music has always been without any compromise, mixing intelligent political lyrics with sharp bass/drums/guitar sounds. Andy Gill is probably one of the most influential guitar players in the rock world probably not from the fact that his technical skills are flawless but mainly because his sound is so revolutionary and without any fat as could testify Franz Ferdinand, the best example of a band popularizing Gang of Four’s sound.

To know more about Gang of Four : http://www.allmusic.com/artist/gang-of-four-p4337/biography

Their discography is quite thin but 1st LP “Entertainment” (1979) is a pure classic mixing white funk tracks with industrial post-punk anthems from the North of England with classics such as “Damaged Goods”, “At Home He’s a Tourist” and “I Found that Essence Rare”  (9.5/10).

King and Gill recently reformed with a young rhythm section and just released a nice LP called “Content” (2011) (7.5/10). They were playing the Trabendo in Paris on March, the 18th and they went on showing passion and energy on stage for such fantastic songs (for more on the show, please find following link  that will make you practise your German!http://meinzuhausemeinblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/gang-of-four-paris-180311.html).

Here are a few picture and a video from the show which I took:

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Joy Division “Unknown Pleasures” (1979) – Peter Hook and the Light (Paris Trabendo, 10th March 2011)

It would be pretentious on my side to try to write something smart and new about Joy Division. I would therefore recommend to read their story in the link below. To summarize, four lads on the dole meet in Manchester in the 70’s heavily influenced by many artists and enthusiastic about the Punk bands of the era, realize two fantastic records of amazing music, singer Ian Curtis dies hanging himself whereas the other three (Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris) welcome keyboard player Gillian Gilbert to be another great band (New Order).

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/joy-division-p71273/biography

Both records are quite different in their sounds: whereas 2nd LP (“Closer” – 1980) sounds like one of the saddest record ever (8,5/10), “Unknown Pleasures” sounds like nothing on earth (post-punk album with claustrophobic effects and Stooges energy). Once again, go on discovering or (re)discovering it as this is one of the few records I could hear 1 million times without being “blasé” (10/10).

Joy Division and later New Order bass player Peter Hook is currently paying hommage to his formed band by playing “Unknown Pleasures” in its entirety + selected Joy Division songs with his band the Light made of old friends and new talents (including his son on bass and an amazing young guitarist named Nat Wason). He plays and sings with the enthusiasm on a young man and I would say this is an honour to hear these songs live as they have been conceived more than thirty years ago. Below a few pictures of the show and a few ones backstage where your host has been invited thanks to David Sultan, THE Joy Division/New Order world specialist!

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One of Joy Division greatest singles : “Transmission” as played by Peter Hook & the Light.

Queens of the Stone Age: Rated R (2000) – deluxe edition Reissue (2010)

Who : Queens of the Stone Age / Where: USA / Genre: stoner rock / 5 studio albums from 1998 to 2007

Related Bands & Artists : Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl), The Eagles of Death Metal, Kyuss, The Desert Sessions, Them Crooked Vultures, Scream (Mark Lanegan).

Queens of the Stone Age is without any doubt one of the great bands of the 00’s. Leaded by Josh Homme, and created on the ashes of the band Kyuss, they have built a musical environment which is at the same time powerful and melodic with a distinctive guitar sound. The famous “stoner rock” tag does not mean anything per se, except the feeling you may have when playing and listening to powerful music in a detached way (that’s my interpretation anyway when you put aside the drugs stuff…). All five albums are highly recommended and more especially “Songs for the Deaf” (2002) with Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) on drums all through the LP and the fantastic song “No One Knows” but I chose to focus on the 2nd LP which was the one that made them go higher musically speaking and that has just been reissued with lots of extra-tracks. Here are a few pictures of QOTSA at Rock en Seine 2010:

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The original LP was blue and the reissue is now red (very important nerdy detail). Beginning with “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and listing all imaginable drugs in an enthusiastic way, it goes on with one of my favorite tracks ever “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” : great lyrics, Josh Homme sings better than ever, amazing bass and this amazing strength they often have in being at the same time “powerfully relaxed”. This is a pure classic album with at least three other amazing songs (“Better Living through Chemistry”, “Monsters in the Parasol” and “I think I lost my Headache” finishing the LP with.. horns!). The former crazy-bald-goatte wearing-on stage nude playing-bass player Nick Oliveri is even given the right to sing a kind of hardcore song which is great too. Overall, one of the 10 best LPs of the 00’s (9/10). The bonus tracks are excellent too and in particular the 2000 Reading Festival concert (7.5/10).

To read more stuff on Rated R:

– English reading: http://www.allmusic.com/album/rated-r-r479243/review ; http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/14515-rated-r-deluxe-edition/

– French reading: http://www.w-fenec.org/rock/queens-of-the-stone-age.html