Less means more…a certain idea of music: Bill Callahan, 5th May 2017, Hoxton Hall – Brad Mehldau Trio, 19th May 2017, Barbican

Quite often, I realised afterwards that there had been a certain trend in a few gigs I attended in a row. Purely coincidental I guess…but good to fight writer’s block and get a new approach to concerts’ reviews!

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Bill Callahan and Brad Mehldau do not play exactly in the same musical field as the former could be described as an indie-folk songwriter, guitar player and singer whereas the latter is more associated with the jazz scene and is probably the most talented piano player of his generation. However, this would be too easy and lazy a shortcut. Bill Callahan’s music has always been something very personal which would not have the same weight if held by another singer. His music has evolved throughout the years towards more warmth and optimism than in the past whilst still keeping this intriguing and sometimes frightening aspect.

Brad Mehldau on his side is a supreme talented and gifted piano player but his musical tastes and his personality have always made him more than a jazz performing monkey as is unfortunately often the case in this music scene. He is famous in particular by his superb and very personal covers chosen in the pop and rock scene, The Beatles and Radiohead being good examples.

The main thing that made me think to link both musicians and concerts was their use of silence either in their songs…but also in the way they once in a while communicate shyly with the audience! I would recommend my beloved readers to read the article by clicking on this Sydney Morning Herald article which says it all on the relationship between Bill Callahan and silence. Same kind of thing for Brad Mehldau either in his capacity in playing just a few notes only, even during his songs à la Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour or when he collects his thoughts while patiently listening to his musicians during their solos.

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These two concerts were also quite similar in their stage nakedness. Bill Callahan was sharing his small space on stage with long-time collaborator Matt Kinsey on electric guitar. The latter is also responsible to the excellence of Bill Callahan’s concerts in the last years as his playing can go very quickly from a very sensitive ballad to repetitive loops and drones. Brad Mehldau was playing with his regular trio, i.e. Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums whom I both had the pleasure to see live with Pat Metheny in Brasil in 1999. This rhythm section is probably one of the best ever but once again Brad Mehldau’s strength is to make them play in the same spirit as his’.

Two great gigs then for two musicians whose stage presence equals beauty and subtlety. Highly recommended. Please click for Bill Callahan’s setlist. I did not find Brad Mehldau’s set list but recognised his ending the show with the wonderful “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon.

P.S. No photos allowed at the Barbican so this Brad Mehldau Trio’s picture is not mine.

April 2017 Album of the month: Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.”

April was a very good month in terms of diversity and I listened in particular to a few very good metal/doom records. They were not in the final choice but that was just to illustrate that there are so many good releases on a monthly basis…and hip-hop is back to the top this month.

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Album of the month: Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.” – Hip Hop – I hesitated a lot this month between Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$ and Father John Misty as these three Americans all released splendid records that may be considered as masterpieces when/if time confirms it. I did not find Kendrick’s new LP as great as the previous ones after a couple of listening but this album is a real grower and on par with his best material when you take the time to do so. What puts Kendrick aside from the rest of the competition today is probably the fact that he has the best balance between sound creativity, quality of songwriting and subtlety in words. To put it differently, today’s fight against the powers that be is to me more powerful if done this way rather than stating the obvious. One should note as well that Kendrick reminds everyone here of his excellence as a MC…and that the collaboration with U2 (“XXX.”) is actually very good!

  • Runner-up: Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy” – Pop/Rock – Quite difficult to summarize this record how complex and demanding it is. In terms of music style, Joshua Tillman digs the 70’s Elton John sound he started to play with his excellent former 2015 “I Love You, Honeybear” album. But the texts are amazing here and not easy to put in boxes. These are the words of a man in the middle of a weird and wide political and emotional world. Best way to understand what I am talking about is to listen to the 13-minute song “Leaving LA“.
  • Also recommended:
    • Timber Timbre “Sincerely, Future Pollution” – Synth Folk
    • Joey Bada$$– “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$” – Hip Hop – An extraordinary record as well; it would have been record of the month if no such competition.
    • Splashh “Waiting A Lifetime” – Indie Rock
    • Gorillaz “Humanz” – Damon & friends playing all kinds of music
    • Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm “s/t” – Soul Blues
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month  Spoon – “Hot Thoughts”

 

Econo gigs: Grandaddy at Rough Trade East, 4th April 2017 / Alejandro Escovedo at the Bush Hall, 5th April 2017

“We Jam Econo”. This motto may ring a bell to those familiar with late 80’s US rock bands and The Minutemen in particular. Well, London is for sure an expensive place but there are plenty of ways to attend gigs without spending too much money if you are curious, if you have the time to do so…and if your idea of a good night out does not mean seeing a Drake’s concert (I swear not to mention again Drake throughout this post).

  • Grandaddy, Rough Trade East, 4th April 2017

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Once more, another great set at one of my favourite record stores from an excellent band I had not seen for a long time. As usual for this kind of events, the show was free and open to all, subject to have the precious wristband showing that one had bought the record at Rough Trade.

Grandaddy made a comeback album recently with “Last Place” and this album was actually in our selection of the best albums of March 2017. The band is more than ever under the leadership of Jason Lytle but the funny thing is that a Grandaddy song does not sound as one of his solo songs. For those who have never heard one of their songs, the best lazy description would be to say that this is a mix between The Beach Boys and Pavement, with a touch of 80’s British synthesizers. I know it sounds weird as such but the results are much better than my comments.

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These Rough Trade events are indeed shorter than proper concerts but with generally a 40-minutes setlist, they are not that different from those one can listen to at a festival for instance. The band were as professional I guess as the proper concert they played in London the previous day. Quite funny also to see five big guys on such a tiny stage! I also increased my collection of signed LP covers and I had a bit of a chat with the band. Last but not least, their super cool producer DJ Danger Mouse (The Grey Album, Gnars Barkley and producer of basically everyone) was hanging around with a few friends in the store so that was a nice moment!

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  • Alejandro Escovedo, Bush Hall, 5th of April 2017

Direction to the Bush Hall the following night to attend my first ever gig of Alejandro Escovedo, a musician whose records I like and who has an amazing reputation of being a great live performer. I would be happy to find a better deal as Bush Hall tickets are around £17…

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Born and raised in Texas with Mexican origins, Alejandro Escovedo is one of these guys very famous amongst his peers but who never got the fame he could have deserved. I guess he does not give a s*** as the 66-year old guy is to me the epitome of a rock’n’roll singer and guitarist who has lived and worked throughout his life for and by his passion. For the record, he is the uncle of Sheila E., the great percussionist who played with Prince. He used to be a member of the 80’s US band The Rank and File before going solo. I would describe his music by saying this is a mix of Texan punk with a Bruce Springsteen sensitivity. I did not mention the Americana style on purpose as he did a few jokes about it!

The gig started with a very interesting Italian band called Don Antonio. After having been blessed by their funny leader, they played a kind of Sicilian cowboy music with great skills and a nice desert groove. They came back for the show as they were actually Alejandro’s live band…and probably the happiest band on earth to do so.

The show was extremely good and I must say I had not experienced such a strong interaction between a band and their audience for a long time. Don Antonio in particular is an amazing guitar player and I was also particularly impressed by the energy and beautiful gravel voice of Escovedo. He is everything I like about this music when played as such: fun, skills, authenticity and emotion. His version of Leonard Cohen‘s “A Thousand Kisses Deep” was particularly beautiful (thanks to my Juillac gig partner for the spot by the way…). Catch Alejandro Escovedo live if you can and you will spend a great and friendly evening.

Rising ambition!: how I recently read “Byrds – Requiem For The Timeless Volume 1” by Johnny Rogan and “Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles” by Geoff Emerick

Those closed to the shareholders of this blog know that the editorial team got a bit more time recently to focus on the musical side of things, hence the reason of this post. I had these two books in my library for quite a long time but I did not dare starting them before. I knew these two books would be fascinating but because they are very long to read I was afraid in not succeeding in enjoying them as much as I should have. So here you go now for your pleasure a review of these two music bibles.

  • Johnny Rogan – “Byrds – Requiem For The Timeless – Volume 1”

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The author of this book is one of the best music writers and has worked on other bands such as Roxy Music or The Smiths for example. However, his main obsession by far has always been The Byrds, one of the best bands from the 60’s and the 70’s. On my side, they did not make the cut when I had to choose my top 100 of best artists of all times but they were just behind and they always have been one of my key bands.

To make it short, The Byrds were a Beatles-influenced US band, beknown for their sense of melody and use of the famous 12-string Rickenbacker sound. The classic line-up was made out of Gene Clark (voice and guitar), Roger McGuinn (voice and guitar), David Crosby (voice and guitar), Chris Hillman (voice and bass) and Michael Clarke (drums) but did not last long as such and the group were to change musicians throughout their careers. They did a few great records…but maybe not as great as other seminal bands (The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, etc…) and were as much influenced by psychedelic sounds as by country music. They are actually supposed to be the inventors of country-rock music, thanks to the influence of one-album member and Keith Richards’ buddy Gram Parsons.

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Reading these comments, one may think that the book is an usual 350/400 page biography…but this is a mistake. This book has 1,200 pages…and this is only Volume 1! (Volume 2 should be released in the summer of 2017 and focused on the solo career of former Byrds members). So how to read such a big and heavy book as I read it in its physical format? Easy, I decided to read one chapter a day, come hell or high water, which was really great as I felt like meeting people I knew on a daily basis, reading their story from the 40’s to nowadays. This biography is for me very close to history books that one could read first in the sense of details but also on the fact that rock musicians are probably the last remaining ones to have such an incredible life. David Crosby’s life in particular is completely surreal as the guy should be dead for ages but keeps on surviving..and surprising everyone with new chapters in his life: conflict with fellow Byrds members, girlfriend dying from a road accident, new life with Crosby, Stills and Nash, heavy drug usage which led him to jail, heart attack, discovered paternity, help in making pregnant his lesbian best friends, etc… the list is endless!

If you like The Byrds or music biographies, read this book on holidays. If you do not have the time to read it, listen to a compilation or box set of The Byrds and you will feel you live in a better place than the day before.

  • Geoff Emerick – “Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles”

How many books about The Beatles did I already read? Probably too many.. but this one gives a totally different perspective (..and is “only” 485 pages!). This is actually not a book about The Beatles but the memoirs of Geoff Emerick, the sound engineer in many of their recordings at Abbey Road studios.

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This is a fascinating reading for all Beatles fans but also for those interested about  what was London in the 60’s as it gives a fantastic historical perspective written and narrated through precise anecdotes and stories. Geoff Emerick looks quite straight to the point and objective on many topics although it would be great to have the point of view of other key people who were there at the same time.

I thought I knew everything about The Beatles but I must admit I discovered new things on almost every page. The most incredible thing is to realise how sounds and specific gimmicks were created on songs or albums I have listened to hundred of times. I thought everything was very much created with a clear plan…but that was very rarely the case, hence the important of a position such as that of the sound engineer. Many of the marvels that the Beatles created in the second phase of their careers were actually experimentations made by sound craftsmen and mastered/arranged with scissors and glue on tapes!

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Very interesting to read as well for the subtle analysis on John, Paul, Ringo and George’s respective personalities, behaviours with others and actual music talents. Not a surprise as far as I am concerned but one of them was really above the others in terms of music skills…and gentleness with others. A must-read for all Beatles fans.

 

 

March 2017 Album of the month: Spoon “Hot Thoughts”

…one more month…and what a month it was in terms of quantity and quality of records. This blog’s writer is a pro so he went until listening to music he would never listened otherwise. Lots of records in March, a few regular favourites, a few big names (Bob Dylan), youngsters, veterans, a few deceptions (IAM, Jamiroquai), etc… So for the record: 1) Drake’s new LP is ok but no more 2) If you like Ed Sheeran’s atrocious new album, you probably are very sick and this blog is your cure!

Album of the month: Spoon “Hot Thoughts” – Pop/Rock – Spoon is one of my favourite bands ever and they are actually part of my Top 100. Describing them is difficult as their music sounds so simple and direct that they do not really impress at first. Their strength is probably to be found in this easiness they have in creating punchy and very rhythmic songs with a beautiful sense of melody. This new album is no exception and every new listen brings more pleasure and subtlety. Album of the first quarter by far!

  • Runner-up: The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Damage and Joy” – Rock – A not so unexpected come back from the Reid brothers 20 years after their last album. Very close to their 1994 “Stoned and Dethroned” album in tems of sound, they remain a fantastic force in the industry with their Velvet Underground meets the Ronettes style.
  • Also recommended:
    • Depeche Mode “Spirit” – Synth Blues
    • Aimee Mann – “Mental Illness” – Pop/Rock
    • Sleaford Mods “English Tapas” – Lad’s Laptop Punk
    • Grandaddy “Last Place” – Pop/Rock
    • Thomas de Pourquery/Supersonic “Sons of Love” – Space Jazz
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month Aquaserge – “laisse ça être”

 

A Charming Man, really… Johnny Marr’s “Set The Boy Free” autobiography

Johnny Marr recently published his long-expected autobiography and the least I could say is that I was eager to read it. More precisely, I really wanted to get his side of the story in regards to the excellent and funny book written by Morrissey, his partner in seminal band The Smiths. So how good is it? Verdict below

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In terms of style, I guess Johnny Marr’s writing is probably the opposite of how Morrissey wrote his book: straight to the point, no bullshit and the story written factually as things occurred, no more, no less. It probably means this is not the kind of book one would read if one does not have any interest at all in British music from the 80’s and 90’s as the real jewel of the book is the story and the anecdotes, rather than the style. For instance, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” would be different as one not interested in music could find great reward in reading that book and its values.

On the other side, for those who grew during this period and would like to know more about what happened behind the scenes, this is a fantastic book. For French guys not necessarily at ease with reading books in English, this is the one for you as I cannot see you getting any difficulties in understanding it all. Not the way I would describe Morrissey’s book for instance…

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So what do we learn?

  • Confirmation that the Smiths broke up for no real reason apart probably from the fact they did not have any proper manager and that Johnny Marr was fed up to do it all by himself
  • Johnny Marr is really a good guy for whom friendship and solidarity are not concepts. Description of his pact with The The’s Matt Johnson or the way he helped Oasis‘ Noel Gallagher by giving him his own guitars are a must to read. I have read also in detail all the pages where he writes about Morrissey and it is amazing how he keeps on saying nice things about his former partner
  • Johnny Marr is first and foremost a musician, like Bernard Butler for instance. It means that sometimes you lead great bands, that sometimes you are privileged to play with the greats like Keith Richards or Paul McCartney and that sometimes you collaborate on other bands’ projects…and that’s it really
  • Guys who run are great but those you know me already knew that
  • Nothing beats summer holidays in Wales near the beach
  • Oasis’ Liam Gallagher real nickname is Mr. Fish!
  • An amazing event occurred in September 2008
  • Quote of the book when Johnny Marr was interviewed after Michael Jackon’s death about what were “Thriller”‘s favourite songs of his: ” I didn’t like “Thriller”, I was in The Smiths

“Still life”… after Suede. Bernard Butler with Ben Watt (Field Day Festival, June 2016) and Mark Eitzel (Bush Hall, March 2017)

Bernad Butler, Bush Hall 2017

It looks like Bernard Butler wanted me to write about him as I was lucky enough to attend recently two gigs where he was playing. For those not familiar with the name, Bernard Butler was Brett Anderson’s alter ago in Suede mark I. For many, the band had never been better than in this first incarnation and Anderson/Butler musical heights were not far from Morrissey/Marr’s best moments. However, a bit like Johnny Marr in The Smiths, Bernard Butler left the band quite early in their career and only played on the first two albums. Suede went on having a very solid career with an excellent new guitarist but things were never to be the same. A bit samey for Bernard Butler who has been since then more interested in collaborations than in leading his own band. Quite a remarkable choice if I may as many musicians struggle with fame and everything that is around it and prefer to follow their musical path.

A bit frustrating though as Bernard Butler is such a magnificent and original guitarist that it was a pity not to be able to follow him on a more regular basis. It looks though that things changed in the last months as he helped two fantastic musicians to put back their career on track through the excellent production work he provided to them.

Ben Watt, Field Day Festival 2016

The first very good surprise occurred a few years ago when Ben Watt (Everything But The Girl) announced his being back in the rock world after many years curing his very rare disease and then regularly DJing on the dance circuit. I am still hoping for him and his spouse Tracey Thorn to reform their common band but getting him back was already excellent news… and even better when the news were that Bernard Butler was very much involved in his band.

I saw the two great men on stage at the Field Day Festival in June 2016 and there is no other word than magic to describe the mood and the quality of the gig that day. I was personally facing a quite difficult phase and watching these guys on stage playing and singing their beautiful songs gave me back my confidence. The only slight frustration is that the show was a bit short due to festival constraints but apart from this that was probably one of the highlights of the year for me in 2016… just behind Iggy Pop at the Royal Albert Hall!

Back to the future for a few months with Bernard Butler now producing Mark Eitzel’s latest LP and playing with him live. Mark Eitzel is also the leader of the band American Music Club but honestly there is no major differences between his two aliases. Originally from San Francisco, California, he relocated to London to record his latest LP “Hey Mr. Ferryman” and one must admit this is probably one of his best.

Mark Eitzel & Band, Bush Hall 2017

After a warm-up a few weeks earlier at the Rough Trade East store for a short set, I went to see Mark Eitzel and his band at the Bush Hall theatre…which is literally 400 metres from home! I remember having attended an American Music Club gig in 1994 in France for the Inrocks Festival and being amazed by the intensity of the guy. He was singing as if his life depended on it. Did he change so much 23 years later? Well, not so much except that like all of us he has aged a bit and takes things probably with a cooler and more detached attitude. It has been a long time as well that I did not attend a concert when the singer was talking so much between songs. I guess it comes as much from the place which looks a bit like a big living room as from the man whose song very often require long and funny explanations, especially when they involve ménage a trois!

Mark Eitzel, Bush Hall 2017

Bernard Butler was there also with his great balance of presence without taking too much all the spotlights from his partners. His playing remains exceptional not only in terms of pure technique but also on the way he arranges songs and creates beautiful weird songs. Looking forward to seeing you Bernard with another great singer!

 

Record of the month – February 2017 – Aquaserge “laisse ça être”

Second edition of our new regular review. Once again, there is a bit of frustration as there are a few albums I did not have the time to listen to at all or not enough but I guess it will be the case all year-long hence the importance of the full year best-of list! This month, my choice was made after listening to…48 new records released in February. We are living in strange times when life as a musician is tougher than it used to be and at the same time there has never been so much music available. Lots of great records in all styles this month and I am happy to say that the album of the month is an amazing record!

  • Album of the month: Aquaserge“Laisse ça être” – Pop/Rock –  I often had the reputation amongst my blog followers to be a anti-French music snob and this despite my constant support to great artists such as Phoenix, Air, Benjamin Biolay, Mellow, Daft Punk, Serge Gainsbourg, Dominique A., etc… Anyway, this month’s best record comes from a French band from Toulouse…which by the way took much more risks and played with more inventive gimmicks than their football team. This album is a never-ending pleasure, mixing male and female voices, psychedelic and krautrock influences, incredible horns’ sounds and an overall dreamy pop feeling. Can meets Stereolab meets The Cocteau Twins meets Mellow…. Difficult to describe but the kind of records that deserves to be massive. Discover it!
  • Runner-up: Jesca Hoop – “Memories are now” – Folk/Rock – A beautiful record where Jesca Hoop has clearly upgraded her game either by the melodic simplicity of her songs or by the power of her words.
  • Also recommended:
    • Shannon Wright “Division” – Rock
    • Tinariwen– “Elwan” – Malian Blues
    • Dutch Uncles“Big Balloon” – Pop/Rock
    • Thundercat“Drunk” – Jazz/Funk
    • Stormzy “Gang Signs and Prayer” – Hip Hop/Grime
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month The XX“I See You”

 

 

Drake vs. Nick Drake: the fight!

Not really planned but the accidents of life made me attend two very different gigs in the last weeks. The first one was a tribute to Nick Drake (fragile folk/rock singer dead in the early 70’s) and the second one was a show held by the biggest music act today (click on the link and you will realise this is official), namely Canadian hip-hop/pop singer Drake. So who won the fight? Answers below!

  • First round: catalogue and discography

Only 3 studio albums for Nick Drake but I would really die to defend them to anyone. His music is a true gem, he is one of the best guitarists ever heard and his voice is magic.

Drake has made 5 albums if one counts his mixtape of 2016 and they all are…quite ok to listen to. The thing that I do not understand (and I listened to them all before the show) is that there is nothing particularly inventive or shocking or different. Everything is quite smooth and his DJ is the real talented guy as he sometimes has very interesting samples. But Drake is neither a very good rapper nor a good singer…

Drake: 5/10 vs. Nick Drake 9.5/10

  • Second round: popularity

Of course, this round is easily won by Drake as he is probably one of the most famous artists…sorry celebrities today and I guess no youngster below 30-years old has not heard about him. However, although he was virtually unknown when he died in 1974, Nick Drake has built through time a new reputation in the music lovers community. And many people have heard his music in this famous VW advertising clip (click here).

Drake : 9/10 vs. Nick Drake 5/10

  • Third round: authenticity

Here also, really no question… On one side, one guy whose only ambition in life is to be famous (and whining about it in his albums) and who indirectly sells clothes and beverages in his concerts. On the other side, a young depressed lad who literally died for his music and did not compromise with the music business for one second…

Drake: 2/10 vs. Nick Drake 10/10

  • Fourth round: the shows

The Color Bars Experience - Eric Pulido

Nick Drake’s tribute was an initiative coming from the Color Bars Experience and their French leader Yann Debiak. They did a first tribute a couple of years ago based on Elliott Smith’s songs interpreted by Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Troy Von Balthazar (Chokebore) and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies). This time, the tribute was based on Nick Drake’s songs and they did a few dates in the UK and in Continental Europe.

The Color Bars Experience - Mark Gardener

This time, the classical band (no amplified instruments) was as usual made out of musicians coming from all around the world and the new singers were all great: Eric Pulido (Midlake), Brian Lopez (Giant Sand) and Mark Gardener from Ride to give a bit of English favour as he put it nicely. Very moving show either in terms of delicacy and craftsmanship coming from the musicians but also regarding the respect and joy felt through the singers’ voices and serenity.

Drake’s show was…weird. First I was really impressed by the audience as the 20,000 fans were standing up and singing… bit and pieces of non-music as if the guy was a real inspiration to them. Then, you have a drummer, a keyboard player and a DJ on stage but they remain in the shadow as if they did not exist. I have nothing against not seeing real instruments live (hello Sleaford Mods or many other hip-hop crews) but here it looks Drake is between a rock and a hard place and does not really know what to do.

Drake - O2 Arena - 2017

The stage also was supposed to be amazingly impressive…and it was not the case at all. I have still not made what this giant ball held up at the end of the show was standing for. Last but not least, I did not really enjoyed Drake’s performance as he merely sings or (badly) raps bit and pieces of his songs in the middle of slogans or megalomaniac appreciation messages to the crowd. The only interesting moments were when he twice invited young British rappers as they put a bit of energy in the show.

Drake: 4/10 vs. Nick Drake 8.5/10

  • The Verdict: Drake 20/40 vs. Nick Drake 33/40

Easy unexpected win for Nick Drake. Talent-and-beauty-bigger-than-money-and-fame shock! Do not lose your time with Drake really… You may hear and enjoy him in a few songs of his or other singers’ once in a while but there are literally hundreds of bands or solo artists to discover…

and the first in line should be Nick Drake. Listen to his records and I can tell you his music will be with you forever.

The Cure: studio albums review and Wembley live show 01/12/16

I decided recently to try whenever possible to listen to the discography of the bands I am about to see live a) not to look ridiculous when the people beside you sing by heart all the words of the most famous songs of that group b) to have a bit of perspective and enjoy in due respect the set list I am going to hear.

I did it for Wilco (cf. show review) but also for The Cure who were playing in London Wembley Arena as part of the current world tour. But first let’s focus on their studio discography.

 Three Imaginary Boys (1979): A bit like the first U2 LP, I would recommend to listen to this record on its own, i.e. not anticipating any future evolution or sign of greatness for the band. And a good record it is! One can find in this first LP the influences of the times in a post-punk vein to make it short. But the pink lamp/fridge/hoover cover and also the way songs are structured show that this band is different from their peers. There is nothing goth or any other ludicrous label associated with this band but one can already feel a singularity in these stories, associated with a very lean trio dynamic. You will also find in this album probably the less groovy ever Jimi Hendrix cover (“Foxy Lady”)…but as well one of the best. A very promising debut, still great to listen to after all these years. Best tracks: “10:15 Saturday Night”, “Meathook” and “Three Imaginary Boys”. 8/10

 Seventeen Seconds (1980): The first record of the so-called gloomy trilogy but in reality there are as many similarities with the first record than with those to come later. The band and their leader Robert Smith are not reaching greatness yet…but it does not mean this record does not stay on its own. One can feel the start of a very personal atmosphere in music but never at the expense of a sense of melody and commercial potential. There are a few standards that will stay forever in all The Cure’s sets and this is probably the first album where one can hear Robert Smith’s very original guitar sound. By the way, I have never understood why he is regularly forgotten when one mentions guitar’s main innovators… Best tracks: “Play for Today” , “A Forest” and “Seventeen Seconds”. 8.5/10

 Faith (1981): Faith could be considered as the first The Cure album where one can find their very personal atmosphere and overall themes. This is the place where Robert Smith starts to be a really singular voice and the moment when people realised that there was more than a standard post-punk band. It is very difficult to distinguish a track above the rest as this album is very much a moody one. Having said this, “Primary” remains one of the best songs ever. Another very singular factor is the use of a 6-string bass, which gives this scary and warm sound throughout the record. Not a bad place for those who want to start with a record by The Cure. Best tracks: “Primary”, “Other Voices” and “Faith”. 9/10

 Pornography (1982): This LP is a peak in The Cure’s discography but also one of the best of all times in rock history, period. This is not the kind of music one would play at a dinner’s party unless your friends are goth or unless you want to part ways with not so good friends as each one of the eight tracks here is very intense and deserves to be listened to with concentration and almost worship. The quick and easy thing to say is that this is the final step in the Seventeen Seconds/Faith/Pornography trilogy but the reality is more complex. Robert Smith had to take a step backwards after this album as he was touching a kind of limit in his commitment. This is what he did by touring as a guitarist with Siouxsie and the Banshees and by working with Steve Severin on their side project The Glove before returning to something less heavy with The Cure. Best tracks: “One Hundred Years”, “The Hanging Garden” and “Pornography”. 10/10

 The Top (1984): “The Top” is probably my preferred album by The Cure and I admit I must be one of the few here. It is commonly agreed amongst rock critics that this is a transitional album and that it was more a Robert Smith/ Lol Tolhurst record than anything else. It came also after the pop/jazz singles period favoured by the band with tracks such as “Let’s Go to Bed”, “The Lovecats” or “The Walk” (all collected on the excellent compilation “Japanese Whispers”). However, for me, this album is close to a perfect balance between Robert Smith’s pop sensitivities, a tough atmosphere inherited from the trilogy described above but also new sounds (Spanish guitar, middle-eastern moods, etc…). Close to perfect and as fresh now as when it went out. Best tracks: “Shake Dog Shake”, “Birdmad Girl” and “The Caterpillar”. 10/10

 The Head On The Door (1985): For you French readers, if you were interested by rock and pop music at that time, it probably brings back memories. This was indeed the album with which The Cure became famous there. It was due in particular to the song “In Between Days” and its accompanying clip which could be seen in heavy rotation on tv but also for those facts always difficult to analyse when a so-called underground band becomes massive: right timing, more mature sound, one radio hit (hello R.E.M….). Quite a good album but not my favourite of theirs as to me the sound is indeed too polished and perfect. Difficult to explain really…knowing that there are a few songs in this album which are amongst their best. Best tracks: “Close To Me”, “A Night Like This” and “Sinking”. 8/10

 Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987): This record was probably the most expected one of The Cure’s discography as it came two years after the huge global success of “The Head of the Door”. Would Robert Smith and his band become a pop band far from the underground beginnings or would The Cure go back to their original sound? My feeling by listening to this record again is that the band came back with a sort of gentle middle finger, meaning let’s go back with a 18-track double album where we will play whatever style of music we enjoy. But let’s be clear here: this is not a vibe/jam sort of album as the 18 songs stand on their own and can still be played and enjoyed today in live gigs. Of course, there are a few moments of relative weakness but the overall quality and diversity is amazing. Take the first two songs as an example: you have first the deep and demanding “The Kiss” with its 3.52 seconds wah-wah guitar solo intro and then the beautiful pop song “Catch”. The album goes on like this throughout all the tracks and deserves to be listened again in one go to get an immense rewarding pleasure. Best tracks: “The Kiss”, “How Beautiful You Are…” and “Just Like Heaven”. 9.5/10

 Disintegration (1989): Their last album from the 80’s…and their best ever? Although The Cure started in the 70’s and are still well alive, especially on stage, they will forever be considered as a typical 80’s band. …and what better way than ending that decade than with such a masterpiece? This record is probably that where Robert Smith and his band perfected at best the art of creating amazing songs without losing their pop side. All twelve tracks (with an average length of 6 minutes!) are beautiful and fascinating and the three tracks I kept below could change on a daily basis depending on the mood of the day. As mentioned in South Park, is “Disintegration” the best album ever? Best tracks: “Lovesong”, “Fascination Street” and “Disintegration”. 10.5/10

 Wish (1992): I remember being slightly disappointed when this album came out as I felt there was not the same balance as for “Disintegration” but this is an album that has aged very well with time. I know late-style The Cure (long intros, heavy usage of the wah-wah guitar pedal, screaming voice) is not everyone’s cup of tea but I personally think that this is actually what kept on making the band still very relevant. There are also a few very radio-friendly songs in this album so a kind of ideal record to re-discover. Best tracks: “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” “Friday I’m In Love” and “Cut”. 8.5/10

 Wild Mood Swings (1996): The beauty of this review is that it made me listen again to records not heard for ages. I had basically no real memories about this album despite it being a very good one. Not really different from “The Head on the Door” in terms of balance between long moody songs and short pop ones. Robert Smith would start a sort of cycle here, meaning he would take his time between albums but would focus on quality…and quantity as The Cure’s albums will keep on being quite long and often over 1 hour-time. Best tracks: “Want”, “Mint Car” and “Numb”. 8/10

 Bloodflowers (2000): Robert is now on a “one-album-every-four-years” mode as indeed there is probably no real need for constant new material in a career full of many gems. The band and their leader took a huge amount of time to finalize this album which Robert Smith consider as part III of a trilogy including “Pornography” and “Disintegration”. They actually played the three albums in a row, as can be seen in the “Trilogy” DVD. However, considering this album as good as the other two would probably not be a fair statement. “Bloodflowers” is indeed a very good album by The Cure with all the great things one likes to find in their albums (long songs, dark themes, great guitar playing) but something is missing probably on the melody side. Still better though than 90% of all music production. Best tracks: “Out Of This World”, “Watching Me Fall” and “39”. 7.5/10

 The Cure (2004): A self-titled album produced by the infamous Ross Robinson responsible for crimes against humanity such as Korn or Limp Bizkit? No, please do not run out as this is actually a pretty solid album. Of course, the more it goes, the less innovator Robert Smith and his band will be but this is an album where the musicians play on their strength, with a probably edgier sound that their last efforts. Maybe not the record I will spontaneously listen to very frequently but I really enjoyed (re)discovering it again. Best tracks: “Lost” , “The End Of The World” and “Us Or Them”. 7.5/10

 4:13 Dream (2008): …and here we go for the latest (and last?) The Cure album. This, their thirteenth album, did not bring any musical revolution in 2008 and I am pretty sure that many of you forgot that this LP actually existed. A quite good one I must say although it sounds as if Robert Smith did not really decide if he wanted to make a gloomy and heavy record or a light and poppy one. The band are at the top of their game but melodies are not really memorable and a couple of songs a bit weak. A nice record overall but not the one I would recommend for newcomers. Best tracks: “Underneath The Stars”, “The Hungry Ghost” and “Sleep When I’m Dead”. 7/10

And that’s it really. There are of course many compilations, live or rarities albums or boxsets to discover for die-hard fans but this review was focused on the studio albums.

  • Wembley Arena, London, 1st of December 2016

Let me first recognize that my mission to listen to all The Cure records (including live, compilations, etc…) miserably failed as I am finishing this post more than two months after the gig. However, I must say that I realised again how strong The Cure’s discography was and how creative Robert Smith is. So time well spent!

The Cure, Wembley Arena

The show in itself was not that surprising as the band was the same as the one I enjoyed seeing late 2014 at the Hammersmith Apollo. However, I was again flabbergasted by the quality and dedication of the band after so many years. There is to me a constant freshness in their music that makes it as if it was conceived yesterday.

The Cure, Wembley Arena, Simon Gallup

I found however the concert not as extraordinary as the previous one first because The Wembley Arena is not really a friendly theatre and secondly because the setlist was a bit expected and focused on the most famous songs. But these are tiny caveats really as I went home once again delighted and impressed to spend a wonderful evening with such an amazing band. Long live The Cure!