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

Image result for set the boy free

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…

Johnny Marr, Rock en Seine 2013 (4)

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!

Record of the month – January 2017 – The XX “I See You”

Due to a global and very pushy demand, here is a new category to start the year with! The principle is simple: I will listen to as many new records as possible each month and give my beloved readers a few listening advises. There is obviously one caveat which is related to a timing issue as a record needs sometimes a bit of time to be digested but I guess this is part of the game. I thought January was a good month to initiate such posts as a) this is the start of a new year b) this is generally a slow month. Actually I was not really right on the second part as I listened to a total of…37 new records this month!

  • Album of the month: The XX“I See You” – Pop – The return of one of the most original British bands with their third album. After a few difficult times and a self-confidence crisis, these three school friends decided to go back to their original friendship to produce one of the most moving and original LP’s of the year. For fans of intelligent pop music and those who consider that Young Marble Giants or Everything But The Girl are both great influences.
  • Runner-up: Michael Chapman“50” – Rock – Excellent album from the folk guitar master veteran who sounds like a 20-year old guy. Steve Gunn and Kurt Vile guest on this album.
  • Also recommended:
    • Piano Magic “Closure” – Pop
    • Loyle Carner – “Yesterday’s Gone” – Hip Hop
    • Cloud Nothings“Life Without Sound” – Rock
    • Mark Eitzel“Hey Mr. Ferryman” – Rock
    • Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau“Thile/Mehldau” – Jazz

Brian Wilson: “I am Brian Wilson” biography and Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds live, London Palladium, 20th May 2016

Another post on a music giant who is very much alive despite what one could have guessed thirty or forty years ago. I had already wrote something on the movie “Love and Mercy” released in 2015 and about two phases in the life of the leader of The Beach Boys but 2016 has also been rich in Brian Wilson’s events.

  • Brian Wilson present Pet Sounds, London Palladium, 20th May 2016

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, full band

I had fantastic memories of the way Brian Wilson and his great band of (mainly) youngsters played live his doomed SMiLE masterpiece in March 2004 and did not want to miss the same concept for The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”. There are three categories of people in life: those who have never heard about The Beach Boys (no, they do not live in a cave and I have a few of them in my family), those who know a few tracks and consider this is a minor band singing about surf and nice pop songs… and the others who know that digging into The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s records is a never-ending reward, especially the period going from 1965 to 1975. “Pet Sounds” is by no way an obscure or underground record as it is regularly ranked amongst the best records of all times by magazines or websites, the most recent being for instance Uncut 200 best records of all times late 2015. This is for sure very personal but really if you love music, you must buy (buy, not stream) this record and at least give it a try.

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, with Al Jardine

Having said that, how was the 74-old man doing on stage when one is aware about his life and the constant fights he had against mental illness. Well, if one were to concentrate solely on Brian Wilson, the show would definitely be weird as he does not sing as beautifully as he used to do and as he stays sat down the whole show pretending to play his keyboard once in a while. However, when one looks at the overall picture and the excellence of the band in playing with beauty and fidelity these immense songs, one can only agree that it was a fantastic show. I must say that this is the feedback I had from our prestigious guests from New York, NY who traveled over the Atlantic to experience this show and were delighted.

Brian Wilson, London Palladium, 20th May 2016, greetings

The band was amazing, first because they played all these traditional but also weird instruments with grace but also because there were two former Beach Boys, namely the legendary Al Jardine but also the amazing South African Blondie Chaplin who played as much in his career with the Beach Boys as with the Rolling Stones…and Brian Wilson was there also with a good presence, introducing his beautiful songs with a mix a humility and naivety (“I was very happy to use a bike bell on that song”). A special reward for Al Jardine’s son Matthew for the way he backed up Brian Wilson and sang the high-pitched voices’ parts. The setlist was tremendous as on top of playing Pet Sounds in its entirety the band also played lots of great other Beach Boys tracks.

  • “I am Brian Wilson” written with Ben Greenman

Interviews of Brian Wilson are often a burden for journalists as he rarely says things out of pure material ones, such as “Paul McCartney really liked “God Only Knows”” or “I have a good band and am very happy to play in London” …but who cares to be honest? Having Brian Wilson alive with us today is quite a miracle when one thinks about all his life and his struggles with mental illness and poor health. This is why I was not expecting anything from this book…and I was wrong.

Image result for i am brian wilson

All credit goes to Ben Greenman who succeeded in having Brian Wilson talk simply and openly about everything with no taboo at all and with method and order. I had already read his collaboration with Questlove of the Roots called “Mo’ Meta Blues” and I must say he did again an excellent job with Brian Wilson. For those who saw the movie, you will learn more about the other periods of Brian’s life but also got directly to the source regarding the main events described in the film. For others not that familiar with him, you will discover the life of a man who managed (with a little help from his friends) to get over the voices in his head and build a career and a family. Of course, the style is a bit childish sometimes (Brian likes to describe his food!) and very far from Bruce Springsteen’s style in his biography “Born to Run” but once again this is not what is essential here. On my side, I finally learnt the real reason behind Brian Wilson being deaf from the right ear and can only thank him for all the joy his “working” left ear brought to people like me.

 

My book of the year 2016: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to run”.

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run biography

Last post on the year 2016 before leaving it behind us. I must admit I did not read all new books about music (well, who did?) and that for instance I am eager to read Johnny Marr’s memoirs’ “Set The Boy Free”. However, in all the books I read last year, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” was that which stands heads and shoulders above the rest and the reasons are the following ones:

  • This book had been expected for years as first rumours started a long time ago. The Boss has put his heart and soul in this book which took him close to eight years of hard work between tours, music recording…and family life;
  • The writing is exceptional and many serious book reviewers in the US and the UK have considered it as one of the best books written in 2016, period. In other words, reading it is an on-going pleasure for music fans and specifically those of Bruce Springsteen but basically anyone can read it and find a deep interest on his story and what lies behind;
  • What makes this book a specific one is that it is written with constant humility and humour by a man who agrees on what his strengths and weaknesses are. For instance, Bruce Springsteen is very honest about the relative power of his voice or his will to control everything as he is factual about his determination to succeed in life and his ability in playing 4-hour shows;
  • You will learn a lot about the man in this book: his Irish-Italian origins and the strength and burden associated with it, his relationship with his father, the difficult first music years he had, his complex friendship with Steve Van Zandt, his recurring fight against depression, etc…. All this with no pathos at all and a great proximity. I do not want to spoil anything but I hope you will enjoy as much as I have the story around the night he and his son went to see a gig of the punk band Against Me.
  • ..and last but not least, wise words: “When you’re on tour, you’re king. When you’re home, you’re not.”

My music personality and gig of the year 2016: Iggy Pop, Royal Albert Hall, 13th May

Be warned: this post is an excuse to talk about one of the last living heroes: Mr. James Osterberg, alias Iggy Pop! Not really actually as I really think his presence and excellence throughout the year was huge and unexpected and that he deserved this virtual reward.

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Iggy Pop, 13th May 2016, Royal Albert Hall – Iggy celebrating

I let you read the review of his latest LP “Post Pop Depression” which ended up the year ranked #2 in our best of the year list. The good news is that Iggy Pop toured throughout the year for a few shows and that the band which played with him at least during the first part of the year was actually that present on the album.

Iggy Pop, 13th May 2016, Royal Albert Hall - full stage

In particular, I was lucky enough to attend the 13th of May gig which occurred at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I know superlatives are easy and that music reviewers do have sometimes the tendency in being over-enthusiastic for the last album they listened to and for the last gig they attended. But trust me, this concert was definitely in my personal top four, which means a lot for someone who spends his life listening to live music. For the record, the other gigs would be Jeff Buckley in 1995 (Paris Olympia), Radiohead in 1996 (Paris la Cigale) and Tom Waits in 2008 (Paris, Grand Rex). Why was this concert so amazing? First, the Royal Albert Hall is a very specific and beautiful place but I do admit we are just dealing with the environment here. Secondly, apart from the original Stooges, Iggy Pop has never played with such a great and smart band: Josh Homme, Dean Fertita, Troy van Leeuwen from the Queens of the Stone Age galaxy, Matt Sweney from Chavez/Swans and Matt Helders from Arctic Monkeys. Apart from the latest who only played incredible drums throughout the concert, the other musicians alternated between keyboard, guitars and bass with an incredible sensitivity, joy of being on stage and a certain fandom also. Third reason was the setlist which was entirely based on the three best Iggy’s albums, namely “The Idiot”, “Lust for Life” and the new one “Post Pop Depression”. Listening live and for real by such tracks as “Lust for Life”, “Mass Production” or “Fall in Love with me” was really something I never thought I would live.

Fourth reason was the energy, love and enthusiasm showed by the little 69-year old man. He succeeded to keep his jacket for two tracks but as usual he took it off and spent the whole show bared-chested, showing his strange skin which is a mix of that of an old lizard and of an ageless punk rocker. The way he sang these songs was incredible and his voice was really on top. But more important, what made this concert special was the feeling of love and good vibes transmitted by him. I must say I have never seen so many hugs in one concert!

Image result for iggy pop post pop depression live royal albert hall

I was not the only one to feel the quality of this concert as we spotted after the show of group of people, including Kate Moss, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and Mani (The Stone Roses). I recommend also the following linked review by The Guardian who says it all…in better English. Last but not least, this concert is now available in CD, DVD or even better Blu-ray so watch if you want to experience the beautiful moment yourself in your sofa…or elsewhere.

Image result for jim jarmusch gimme danger

…and that is not all there is to it for Iggy Pop in 2016. The great American director Jim Jarmusch filmed and produced a documentary on Iggy Pop’s first band called “Gimme Danger” . Jim Jarmusch has always been very much influenced and present within the world of music either through his movies where one could see the late Joe Strummer (The Clash) or the RZA (Wu-Tan Clan) acting or the documentary he did on Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The Stooges only actually released three albums but they are all indispensable and influenced generations of musician and music lovers. Not sure if this is already available everywhere globally but watch it when you can and in the meantime click to see the trailer.

Best albums of 2016: Death is not the end

2016 yeah-ah! Remember, the year when everyone died and also the year everyone discovered mortality? Losing David Bowie, Alan Vega, Prince, George Martin, Leonard Cohen or George Michael was very sad indeed as a few of them were really young but probably also has it meant a part of our youth was vanishing. I remember not being something new as such sad news in the past already occured with artists such as John Lennon, Jeff Buckley, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith, Lou Reed or George Harrison. Listening to their music on a regular basis is probably the best way to keeping the flame alive. Death is a weird topic in Western civilizations as we keep on doing as if it were nonexistent although this is the only sure thing…I advise for those interested by this very festive topic to read the first pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard memoirs’ “A Death in the Family”.

On top of being the year everyone died, it has been also the year everyone published records. For some reasons, I had more time than usual to listen to (almost) all records that went out this year if one considers my reviewing perimeter is confined within the pop/rock/soul/hip hop/metal/r’n’b perimeter. I am humble enough to recognize there is somewhere an amazing jazz or blues record I am not aware of but this is also probably true for a great record made by an Italian, Malian or Brazilian band. There are so many musicians in the world and so many ways to discover them with streaming platforms or the resurgence of records’ stores that this is getting frustrating sometimes.

So after death and frustration, let’s bring the good news! This was a really fantastic year in terms of records and new music and it has been more difficult than ever to keep a shortlist. A few usual favourites of this blog are not amongst the chosen few either because they are just out of this Top 15 or because their records was below expectations despite being good. In other words, it has been a great year for hip-hop and r’n’b genres and De La Soul, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West, Solange or Franck Ocean 2016 records are also super-recommended. Same for a few indie rock favourites such as Shearwater, Bob Mould, Mark Kozelek, Wilco, Okkervil River, Teenage Fanclub or Pixies. As usual, I tried to stay as close to the end of the year as possible…but probably not enough as a new Run The Jewels album has just been available two days ago and a new Nine Inch Nails EP yesterday!

Anyway, always difficult to make choices but I guess that is the beauty of such lists. I had enough time this year to put on a ranking amongst my selection so here we go in reversed order. For those who did not get it, it means #1 is my record of the year!

Image result for biffy clyro ellipsis#15 Biffy ClyroEllipsis The main reason this record is here is probably that I live in the UK and that this band is really massive here. Biffy Clyro is a Scottish band made out of the twin brothers Ben and James Johnston on drums and bass and of Simon Neil on guitar and voice. On top of being known for playing bare-chested and being full of tattoos, their music has been evolving throughout the years from grunge metal to a kind of Scottish Foo Fighters. Not the most subtle music ever but it is soooooo good to shout out loud these anthems. Best stadium-rock record of the year!

Image result for sunflower bean human ceremony #14 Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony Sunflower Bean is a young trio from Brooklyn and 2016 saw the release of their debut album. This record is a grower has one says and this band has a perfect sense of melody mixed with an exciting in-your-face attitude. If Liz Frazer from Cocteau Twins and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana had made a record together, it would be quite close to Sunflower Bean’s sound.

Image result for kanye west the life of pablo #13 Kanye West – The Life of Pablo This record has been probably too long and complex to make in a year that was a bit tough for Kanye West. After second thoughts, all years are tough, different and weird for Kanye… The reason why this record is not higher in terms of ranking is indeed probably due to the fact it requests many more hours of thorough listening to get over it. The reason why Kanye West is once again in our best of the year is named “Ultralight Beam”. This is the song opening the record and is one hell of a tune.

Image result for michael kiwanuka love and hate #12 Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate Michael Kiwanuka is a young British singer songwriter from Ugandan origins. After a very promising debut album in 2012 and great shows in a soul/folk tradition, he eventually faced a few difficult years looking for his real musical talent and trying to be at peace with his cultural background. After being closed to leave the music industry, he came back stronger and not afraid to show at the same time new ambitions but also happy to embrace any kind of music he likes. The results are really astonishing as one goes from one track sounding like Pink Floyd to another more related to black protest song a la Curtis Mayfield.

Image result for xiu xiu plays the music of twin peaks #11 Xiu Xiu plays the Music of Twin Peaks Of course, we Twin Peaks fans are all very much excited to discover in 2017 what Season 3 will be, directed by David Lynch himself…but that is not the reason this album is here. Xiu Xiu is a Californian band lead by Jamie Stewart and their music has always been complex to say the least. Here they succeeded to keep their weirdness to reshape covers from the series and the movie “Fire Walk With Me” whilst respecting the beautiful sense of melodies these songs hold. One of the most fascinating, frightening and powerful records one could find in 2016.

Image result for red hot chili peppers the getaway #10 Red Hot Chili Peppers  The Getaway “The worst band in the world”, “a cartoonish band”, “their best material is behind us” and so on… These are the articles one could find in reviews about the latest album by RHCP. This is totally untrue and shows how this is difficult sometimes for bands and their work to be really listened to. Thanks to the extraordinary production of DJ Danger Mouse, this is their best record for a long time and a few songs are really on par with their most famous ones (“Dark Necessities” for instance). This is also the first album in which Josh Klinghoffer succeeds in being himself and shows his guitar creativity without one having to remember his amazing predecessor John Frusciante.

Image result for meilyr jones 2013 #9 Meilyr Jones – 2013 This LP is the highest ranked debut album in our list and comes from a young Welsh singer. My best description of his music would be to mention Neil Hannon and his band The Divine Comedy if they still had the flame and kept on doing exciting records… The first track of this album called “How to recognize a work of art” is the best example of what a single should be nowadays. To put it differently, if you do not want to sing out loud or clap your hands, you are probably already dead (and I should have added you in my introduction). Click for concert’s review.

Image result for beyonce lemonade #8 Beyoncé  Lemonade A record from a major maturing artist, mixing all kind of music and sounds, not afraid to grab political topics such as the role of the black woman in Africa, being very much at the peak of visual and sound production, having prestigious guests such as James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Jack White or The Weeknd? Indeed and even better than it looks like.

Image result for palermo hollywood biolay #7 Benjamin Biolay  Palermo Hollywood Would Benjamin Biolay be more famous out of French-speaking countries if he were to sing in English, like Christine and the Queens did this year with a new English edition of her album? Probably not and not sure I would like it to happen… I was a bit afraid to read that he recorded this LP in Argentina as this is not always a good idea to mix different styles. No risk here as this record is as Argentinian as The Wings’ “Band on the Run” was Nigerian when they went to Lagos to record it. Beautiful as always and as usual a very thin line between production and emotion.

Image result for radiohead a moon shaped pool #6 Radiohead  A Moon Shaped Pool Quite a bit unexpected I must say as although I found the recent experiences of their members always rewarding, I had more or less abandoned hope in listening again to a traditional great Radiohead album. I was entirely wrong as this album is probably one of their best, mixing urgency, poetic themes and more importantly super exciting music. Good also to hear more than usual the great sounds of the underestimated Colin Greenwood on bass. Take the time to discover this new album and you will be immensely rewarded.

Image result for kevin morby singing saw #5 Kevin Morby  Singing Saw Sometimes a good singer makes a new record and one can feel he has stepped up and is now part of the greats. It happened in recent years with bands or artists such as The War On Drugs or Kurt Vile for instance. Kevin Morby’s first albums were really good but this one has an extra je-ne-sais-quoi, mixing super exciting guitar music with great lyrics. If Bob Dylan were in his 20’s today and had started directly with electric music, he would not sound that different from Kevin Morby. Click for concert’s review.

Image result for nick cave and the bad seeds skeleton tree #4 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds  Skeleton Tree Nick Cave has been a sort of old companion as I have been buying his records and listening to his music for thirty years now. Unless having a heart of stone, one could only share the indescribable pain he and his spouse had last year when they lost a son. Despite a few songs already written and produced before this tragic event, this album is all about this loss. It may be of course quite harsh sometimes to listen to but one must recognize this is a fascinating record and one of his best works. With lots of very long songs and more drones and loops than usual, it might surprise those familiar with a Nick Cave sound but the effort is really recommended.

Image result for field music commontime #3 Field Music  Commontime This is another fantastic record from this band of brothers from Newcastle and probably a blessing and a curse for them as one gets used easily with quality stuff. I have already wrote a few posts on this band, in particular throughout my review of the end of the road festival. Let’s be more specific here: Field Music are the best unknown band of our times and every record is an incredibly exciting piece of music, mixing british pop sound, Prince and Steely Dan. Now get this record!

Image result for iggy pop post pop depression #2 Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression To put this record under the name of Iggy Pop only is quite an injustice as he himself recognizes that this is the work of a real band with Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys) on drums and Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) on bass. But the real architect of this album is the great Josh Homme, leader of Queens of the Stone Age and main man on guitar and vibes here. Legend is that he received a text from Iggy asking “I think we should make a record together”. After a couple of days of uncertainty and pride, Josh replied also by text “I think that would be beautiful”. And beautiful and exciting and moving and funny and…name it it is! They all gathered secretly in the Rancho de la Luna studio in the Joshua Tree, California area and polished these fantastic nine songs. The best Iggy Pop record since “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life” 1976/77 Bowie era. Iggy pop made it quite clear that it would be his last traditional rock album and tour. If such were to be the case, one of the most beautiful human beings on earth has left us with a record to cherish. No better way also to end up a record (career?) with the wise lyrics taken from “Paraguay”, the last song on the album: “You take your motherfucking laptop/And just shove it into your goddamn foul mouth/And down your shit heel gizzard/You fucking phony two faced three timing piece of turd/And I hope you shit it out/With all the words in it”.

Image result for david bowie blackstar  #1 David Bowie Blackstar I swear I did not want to put this album as my album of the year as it looked a bit obvious… Blackstar has been the first record I bought this year as I got it on the 8th of January at the excellent New York Rebel, Rebel record store. This is also in NY that I got the sad news of the morning of the 11th of January and I do recognize that the way the late great man organised this record as a farewell piece of art might be over controlled. But I am pretty sure this record would still be ranked as such if David Bowie was still alive. First the music is super fresh through it and I have never heard so-called jazz musicians be used in such a “non-jazz” way on a “non-rock” record. Donny McCaslin on saxophone is particularly amazing. But the real stars of Blackstar are the songs and the melodies. Has there been a better song this year than “Lazarus” with its moving lyrics, free jazz style and The Cure influences?  I know this is difficult to listen to this record out of context but to me it stands as an immense piece of exciting musicRECORD OF THE YEAR!

 

Here we go then for 2016. Probably not my most original list ever but these records were those that brought me the most emotion and excitement this year and as a reminder this is the criteria for this list rather than any cultural or trendy meaning. Please react if you feel like it and whip me harshly for any significant record I may have missed in this Top 15!

Other voices’ (websites, magazines, records stores, etc…) Top 10. David Bowie and Franck Ocean everywhere!

  • Mojo (music mag): 1.David Bowie Blackstar 2. Michael Kiwanuka Love & Hate 3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree 4. Lambchop FLOTUS 5. Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker 6. Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 7. Franck Ocean Blonde 8. Paul Simon Stranger to Stanger 9. PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project 10. Heron Oblivion Heron Oblivion
  • Uncut (music mag): 1.David Bowie Blackstar 2. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool 3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree 4. Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker 5. Ryley Walker Golden Sings that have been Sung 6. PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project 7. Sturgill Simpson A Sailor’s Guide to Earth 8. Anohni Hopelessness 9. Teenage Fanclub Here 10. Beyoncé Lemonade
  • NME (formerly great, now free weekly junk): 1. The 1975 I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it 2. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 3. Christine & the Queens Chaleur Humaine 4. Skepta Konnichiwa 5. Kaytranada 99.9% 6. David Bowie Blackstar 7. DIIV Is the is are 8. Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 9. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book 10. Franck Ocean Blonde
  • Rough Trade (London, Nottingham and Brooklyn stores): 1. Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 2. Anderson .Paak Malibu 3. Margo Price Midwest Farmer’s Daughter 4. Mark Pritchard Under the Sun 5. Charles Bradley Changes 6. Anohni Hopelessness 7. Thee Oh Sees A Weird Exit 8. Angel Olsen My Woman 9. Powell Sport 10. Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial
  • Fopp (UK stores): 1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree 2. David Bowie Blackstar 3. Christine & the Queens Chaleur Humaine 4. Mogwai Atomic 5. Bat for Lashes The Bride 6. Brian Eno The Ship 7. Field Music Commontime 8. King Creosote Astronaut meets Appleman 9. Lambchop FLOTUS 10. Skepta Konnichiwa
  • Greg Kot (Sound Opinions radio DJ #1): 1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree 2. Franck Ocean Blonde 3. Jamila Woods HEAVN 4. Michael Kiwanuka Love & Hate 5. Anderson .Paak Malibu 6. PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project 7. Drive-By Truckers American Band 8. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book 9. Solange A Seat at the Table 10. David Bowie Blackstar
  • Jim Derogatis (Sound Opinions radio DJ #2): 1. Savages Adore Life 2. TEEN Love Yes 3. La Femme Mysteres 4. Sneaks Gymnastics 5. The Gotobeds Blood//Sugar//Secs//Traffic 6. Honeyblood Babes never die 7. Jenny Hval Blood Bitch 8. Drive-By Truckers American Band 9. The Handsome Family Unseen 10. Beach Slang A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
  • Pitchfork (music website): 1. Solange A Seat at the Table 2. Franck Ocean Blonde 3. Beyoncé Lemonade 4. David Bowie Blackstar 5. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 6. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book 7. A Tribe Called Quest We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service 8. Anohni Hopelessness 9. Angel Olsen My Woman 10. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
  • Paste (music website): 1. David Bowie Blackstar 2. Beyoncé Lemonade 3. Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial 4. A Tribe Called Quest We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service 5. Mitski Puberty 2 6. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool  7. Angel Olsen My Woman 8. Lucy Dacus No Burden 9.Bon Iver 22, A Million 10. Franck Ocean Blonde
  • Les Inrocks (French mag): 1. David Bowie Blackstar 2.La Femme Mystere 3. Franck Ocean Blonde 4. The Lemon Twigs Do Hollywood 5. PNL Dans la légende 6. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 7. Leonard Cohen You want it Darker 8. Drake Views 9. Alex Cameron Jumping the Shark 10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree
  • Time Out (London free weekly) : 1. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 2. David Bowie Blackstar 3. Solange A Seat at the Table 4. Skepta Konnichiwa 5. Kaytranada 99.9% 6. Anohni Hopelessness 7. Christine & the Queens Chaleur Humaine 8. Franck Ocean Blonde 9. Beyoncé Lemonade 10. Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
  • The Guardian (UK daily newspaper) : 1. Beyoncé Lemonade 2. Franck Ocean Blonde 3. David Bowie Blackstar 4. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 5. Solange A Seat at the Table  6. Anohni Hopelessness 7. Rihanna Anti 8. Christine & the Queens Chaleur Humaine 9. Skepta Konnichiwa 10. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
  • Noise Magazine (French bimonthly magazine) : 1. Dinosaur Jr. Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not 2. Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas Mariner 3. Perturbator The Uncanny Valley 4. Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 5. Preoccupations Preoccupations  6. Nothing Tired Of Tomorrow 7. David Bowie Blackstar 8. Neurosis Fires Within Fires 9. Savages Adore Life 10. Oranssi Pazuzu Värähtelijä