Saturday 30 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 29 Raytown Revisited.

Top 102 Albums No 29
Raytown Revisited - The Blades.

It's probably fair to say that this album and band will be very unfamiliar to most who didn't spend the early eighties in Ireland as their wonderful run of classic singles didn't crack the charts outside their home country. They didn't rise too high in Ireland, either, but they got in deep. Lead singer Paul Cleary says in the short potted history of the band below that the records didn't really capture how good the songs were. He might be right but they are still great records.

 But the band was even better live, as demonstrated here. I remember seeing them (or not) in an L shaped room in O'Shea's hotel on the Bray seafront. I couldn't get as far as the bend in the L so had to make do with audio alone. It was still great - sweating, pumping, ecstatic soul. There was a real sense of amazement that this band was just ours. It seemed impossible that they wouldn't crack the big wide world but it was never to be. They weren't edgy or avant grade, they were passionate and direct and they had great pop songs. The world of music can be very unfair.

The Little Hammer

The Little Hammer - John Kelly

When I read that John Kelly's new (third) novel coming out on Dalkey Archive Press I thought that it must finally be time to take down his first book for a read.

John Kelly is a rather wonderful dj and the presenter of Ireland's premier TV arts shows for a number of years. As presenter of The View he often had (then) aspiring novelists Belinda McKeown and Peter Murphy as panelists. I have both of their novels in my to be read pile so expect a complete panel of reviews sometime in the next few years.

Friday 29 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 30 Hello Young Lovers

Top 102 Albums No 30 
Hello Young Lovers - Sparks

"The olefactory sense is the sense
That most strongly evokes memories of the past
Well screw the past"

This album has been flagged by me in a post from a number of years back. Although in terms of this list of my favourite albums this is dangerously recent it dates to 2006 which is seven years ago, a stretch of time I once thought long. Although their early album Kimono My House contains Sparks most famous song - This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us - and is generally considered (by Morrissey at least) their best I find that this is now my go to Sparks album.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 31 Crocodiles

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 31 
Crocodiles - Echo and the Bunnymen

It's difficult to explain the depth of the relationship between a fourteen year old music obsessive and his favourite band. It is as if you have to carry the flag for some battalion in a Kafkaesque war without weapons other than sarcastic smirks. Who could possibly think that (insert band name here) were the equals of the Bunnymen? And then there is the hunger for every scrap of information. And it gets confused with your actual identity. Mac said something somewhere about not smiling, so I gave up smiling for a few years. Mac said he loved Leonard Cohen. Time to raid the parents cassette collection. Thank God he didn't have a fetish for Country 'n' Irish music.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

The Kreutzer Sonata

The Kreutzer Sonata - Leo Tolstoy

"that only happens in novels"

The opening line of Anna Karenina is one of the most famous in literature. It is often brought out to illustrate the difficulty of writing about happiness, as if it could only occur within a framework of cliched mundanity. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

However the main character in The Kreutzer Sonata, Pózdnyshev, posits an opposing view, that all families (marriages at least) are unhappy, and that the differences are slight. Love, he says, is an illusion. "The husband and the wife merely deceive people by pretending to be monogamists, while living polygamously. That is bad, but still bearable. But when, as most frequently happens, the husband and wife have undertaken the external duty of living together all their lives and begin to hate each other after a month, and wish to part but still continue to stay together, it leads to that terrible hell which makes people take to drink, shoot themselves, and kill or poison themselves or one another..."

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 32 With His Hot and Blue Guitar

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 32 
With His Hot and Blue Guitar - Johnny Cash

Trying to pick out a single album from the myriad albums released by Johnny Cash is an invidious task.  The two great live prison albums; his duets with June Carter; the wonderful Bitter Tears with the deathless Ballad of Ira Hayes and the wonderful historical revisionism of Custer:
"Now I will tell you buster that I ain't a fan of Custer
And the General he don't ride well anymore
To some he was a hero but to me his score was zero
And the General he don't ride well anymore"; Orange Blossom Special, which introduced Dylan to the Grand Ol' Opry and saw waves of venom aimed at Cash; or perhaps one of the albums from his magnificent late flowering? In the end I decided to go back right to the beginning and pick his debut album, which was also the first album released by Sun Records. I also have a very prized original copy from my parents collection.

Friday 22 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 33 Red Devil

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 33 
Red Devil - Tav Falco's Panther Burns

Polish! Bah! The Astounding Panther Burns and majordomo Mr Tav Falco judder to life in a frenzy that remains suspended somewhere between cohesion and collapse. A defiant sideshow pitching  their tent in the ditch rather than the arena the Luminous Panther Burns have produced a still growing body of work since their first single in 1980. 33 years of ditch digging and those Memphian swamps show no signs of drying out.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 34 Berlin

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 34 
Berlin - Lou Reed
R.I.P. Lou Reed - 27th Oct 2013
There was a time when this was always on my turntable. The line which went from Bowie to Reed was one of my earliest explorations into the weird web of connections that gradually becomes a record collection. Bowie was a pre/early teen obsession and I got a Lou Reed greatest hits cassette because of the link. I just searched for an image of the cassette (see below) and felt the pull of nostalgia - this was one of only five or six cassettes I owned at one point. Must dig around in the attic and see if I still have it, or maybe not.

Monday 18 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 35 It's Alive

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 35 
It's Alive - Ramones
"Dee Dee he did a job on me
Now I am a real sickie"
I know, I know. Another live album. Against the rules. The quotes wrong. But (Gabba Gabba) Hey! These are The Ramones and if they'd listened to the rules you wouldn't be reading this.

Each of their first three Ramones albums is magnificent and I couldn't decide which to go with. This takes from all three and is the one I go back to most. With The Ramones the faster the better and the live adrenaline drives these even faster than the studio versions.

Sunday 17 March 2013

The Ungathering - Happy St Patricks Day

The Ungathering - Happy St Patricks Day

Kevin Rowland's celebration of his Irish roots on My National Pride.

Below is a Spotify playlist for St Patrick's Day and the year that's in it. Given the focus this year on The Gathering, the big idea to boost tourism from the Irish diaspora it's strange how little I've heard about the major achievements of the diaspora. Surely as well as celebrating ourselves for staying behind to run the asylums, industrial schools and laundries and teach their children to doff their hats to their abusers we should celebrate those who got out and their progeny, who have achieved so much.

Top 102 Albums⁺. No 36. New Skin for the Old Ceremony.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 36
New Skin for the Old Ceremony - Leonard Cohen

"But then I overheard your prayer, 
that you be this and nothing more 
than just some grateful faithful woman's favourite singing millionaire, 
the patron Saint of envy and the grocer of despair"

It could be any of five or six Cohen albums here. Maybe the choice is even wider but this is the one I find myself listening to most over the past few years. I'm not going to even try to say why this is my favourite. I tried but didn't really agree with myself so what hope have I of convincing others. It just is.

Saturday 16 March 2013

A Rose in the Heart of New York

A Rose in the Heart of New York - Edna O'Brien

March is Irish Short Story Month at The Reading Life. I have read a some O'Brien novels and enjoyed them. A copy of A Fanatic Heart, her selected stories has sat on my shelves for a few years. Time to take it down. This story is highlighted on the back cover so I thought I'd start by reading it.

I was primed to enjoy this story but still surprised by its power and intensity. It is emotionally devastating, a symphony composed of the perfectly observed minutae of pain and emptiness. It is the story of a daughter and her mother, of love, hatred, loneliness, frustration, sex, despair, desire, injustice, loss and death. It is a story of a harder Ireland, an often cruel country. Looking back, I find it hard to believe that it is only thirty pages long.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 37 Come on Pilgrim

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 37 
Come on Pilgrim - Pixies

"I said, I want to be a singer like Lou Reed.
I like Lou Reed, she said, sticking her tongue in my ear."
On the day that Pope Francis I is elected it seems a good time to celebrate his antithesis, Black Francis and his mischievous elfin band.

I remember when this came out it was an astonishment. 4AD was the label of artsy askance records by the likes of The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil and Throwing Muses. Often beautiful, even thrilling. It was also the label of the dark, intense and explosively direct Birthday Party. The Pixies swung between both. Huge riffs, spanish phrases, mixing the obtuse and the direct, the childish and the sophisticated, they seemed like the only band in 1987.  The album, with it's oddly disturbing cover became a marker. (Indeed, for some, Vaughan Oliver's covers were reason enough to buy many 4AD releases.)

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 38. More Specials

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 38. 
More Specials - The Specials

Take a trip with The Specials to the end of the world cabaret. Here at the cocktail lounge the band are playing easy listening. Suddenly the planes engines start to wheeze like an asthmatic barrel organ - the band slows down and plays along, their lounge/ska/cabaret/toasting/funk carnival of sound switching between exhilaration and dread.

Monday 11 March 2013

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum - Heinrich Böll
(Translated by Leila Vennewitz)

"(since this is merely a report, not a judgement, we will confine ourselves to facts)"

I am delighted be posting on this book in parallel with Richard at Caravana de Recuerdos, one of the finest book bloggers out there. This is at the suggestion of Richard who noticed that I have been developing an interest in Böll - see my reviews of The Safety Net and Group Portrait with Lady. Being second to the punch I can tell you that Richard's three letter review on Twitter was 'meh', which will give you an idea of what his longer review is like.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No. 39 It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Top 102 Albums No. 39 
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - Public Enemy
"I got a right to be hostile, man, my people's being persecuted"
It must be one of the more surreal sights I've seen. Public Enemy, flanked by the S1W (Security of the First World replete with replica Uzis) doing an afternoon public appearance on the cricket pitch at Trinity College in advance of playing the Trinity Ball that night. Their actual gig that night is lost in a haze. I lost the power of making memories, or perhaps even consciousness, before they made their appearance.

Thursday 7 March 2013

The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie

I find it hard to believe that it has been 24 years since this book came out and that it has taken me this long to get around to reading it. I guess my expectations of the book had been somewhat dampened at the time, having overheard conversations, one in particular where the quality of the book and Rushdie's own personality were called into question by people who, nevertheless were loudly condemning the Fatwa and defending Rushdie. Not that they should like the book, or Rushdie, to object to the Fatwa but it lowered my expectations. Which is a good way to approach a book.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 40. Sister.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 40. 
Sister - Sonic Youth.
Sandy beaches
Bridges sinking into the sea
Beautiful confusion
You're a fading memory"

After  EVOL it seemed that Sonic Youth were set to ride a wave which was carrying some of the more uncompromising outcrops of the no wave and hardcore movements in America into the mainstream. Sister was the follow up and it seemed set to take Sonic Youth one step closer to mainstream success. The album's energy is generated by tension between nostalgia and noise, between beauty and terror.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 41 New Boots and Panties

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 41
New Boots and Panties - Ian Dury and the Blockheads

It shouldn't work but it does. Music Hall funk with barrow loads of winks and more nudges than a pinball hall. George Formby rewritten by a cockney Shakespeare - performed by a boot boy Kenneth Williams?

Dury made the quotidian quotable. His vocabulary seems quite simply his own, streetwise, earthy and funny. The album opens with Wake Up and Make Love to Me, starring an early morning hard on - "a gift to womankind." After "a proper wriggle" it gets "private and also very rude." Yes, this is an album that goes all the way.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 42 The Stooges

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 42 
The Stooges - The Stooges

When I found copies of the first two Stooges albums in 1987 in a record shop in København I knew I'd come to the right place. The summer abroad had paid off. I had Raw Power and had heard some of the first two records but boy were they hard to come by. I still think their first three records are almost unmatched in their consistent brilliance and game changing nature.

A delinquent stone age jazz quartet, The Stooges mixed droning guitars, drawled lyrics and pulsing drums into a heady and potent mix that managed to sound like a rampage and a seduction at the same time. They were Brando and his gang on Harleys; leaving a trail of damp knickers, and a cadre of leather jacketed disciples growing like maggots in the wholesome apples that would never now make Apple Pie.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 43. Safe As Milk

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 43. 
Safe As Milk - Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

I've been dithering a lot over which Captain Beefheart album to include. It came down to Trout Mask Replica, Clear Spot, Doc at the Radar Station and this. This wins out partly because it was my first but also because the best songs on it are so visceral and exciting. Beefheart's extraordinary voice and his band's bowdlerised boogie and brittle blues accentuated by neophyte guitarist Ry Cooder.