Tuesday 30 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 13 Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 13 
Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express - The Go-Betweens

No band seems to exist in such a haze of wistful nostalgia as The Go-Betweens. Even at the time, the conversations about them seemed to revolve around the wonder that they hadn't yet cracked the charts and been swept into the hearts of millions on a wave of success. Perhaps its that sense of nostalgia that I now feel even more strongly in the music itself. This is a band that always seemed to be harking back to a garden somewhere, a garden they had to leave. They tried the apples but never made a deal with the snake. Or maybe they did.  For whatever about hits, The Go-Betweens seem to have bled pop. They just forgot the u, l, a and r.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 14 The Band - The Band

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 14
The Band - The Band

"A scarecrow in a yellow moon,
Pretty soon, the carnival on the edge of town,
King Harvest has surely come"

Folk, jazz, country, marching band, bluegrass, blues, bruised funk... The Band achieve a kind of musical synthesis of America on this album which manages to be a wake and a celebration, a eulogy and an accusation. Carnivals should be held in honour of this album.

Garth Hudsons organ, Rick Danko's bass, Levon Helm's drumming, the way they switch vocals seamlessly, Robbie Robertson's guitar, Richard Manuel's piano and then there's everything else they play, without any drop in quality. This was one of the greatest musical combos of the twentieth century in the full flowering of their talent, years on the road having apparently given them a shared neural system. If you look up ensemble playing in a good dictionary the front cover of this album is what you'll see.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 15. Dusty in Memphis

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 15. 
Dusty in Memphis - Dusty Springfield

There is no such thing as perfection, of course, but there are moments when you feel yourself to be in its wake. Some of those moments are on this album, where Mary O'Brien, with the emotional nakedness of someone who is familiar with trouble, bares her soul in phrase after phrase of sophisticated simplicity.

Friday 26 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 16 What's the Matter, Boy?

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 16 
What's the Matter, Boy? - Vic Godard and Subway Sect

Subway Sect's Ambition is one of my all time favourite seven inches of vinyl. The very antihitesis of Thatcherite values the song showed Vic to be the crown prince of ambivalence. It regularly appears on compilations and best singles lists but was to be one of only two singles representing the 'original' Sect until Vic went back and recorded 1978 Now a couple of years back.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 17. Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 17. 
Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy - Billy Bragg

Seven songs, sixteen minutes. Raw, simple, direct and thrilling. Life's a Riot seemed like nothing else when it emerged and it still does. Bragg may have gone on to release more ambitious and sophisticated albums than this and the pared back, primitive sound might have delivered diminishing returns over the longer term but in this short, sharp blast it works perfectly.

Raw and simple the sound may be but Bragg was not afraid to be vulnerable and The Man in the Iron Mask, the tale of a man cuckolded but resigned, is tender and heartbreaking. This is Bragg's standby persona on this record, the naive, well meaning but ultimately discarded lover. In A New England (the song which, in Kirsty McColl's deft hands would take him to the heart of the music buying public), he says, finishing with a girl who has long finished with him "I put you on a pedestal, They put you on the pill." He is a little old fashioned and time is passing him by, as are women.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

De Niro's Game

De Niro's Game - Rawi Hage
(Winner of the Impac Dublin Literary Award 2008)

Full of bomb blasted poetry, De Niro's Game takes us deep into a shattered world, where language digs through the archeology of a city to find a barren future in a bloody past. Beirut is the setting for most of this book, a place of chaos and memory, where the anarchic and bourgeois live hand in hand: "Ten thousand bombs had landed on Beirut, that crowded city, and I was lying on a blue sofa covered with white sheets to protect it from dust and dirty feet."

The book centres on the friendship between two young men who have been friends since childhood, the narrator Bassam and George, a.k.a. De Niro, a war orphan. There are clear parallels with Mean Streets with the attraction of being outside the law magnified by the difficulties of living in a war torn city where you have to wait in line for everything. After all, "Thugs never waited in lines."

Monday 22 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 18 - Aerial

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 18
Aerial - Kate Bush

There is some tough competition in the competition to take the spot as Kate Bush's best album. As with other artists, this is a fluid position but Aerial has been my favourite for quite a while now. Hounds of Love, The Dreaming, The Sensual World, any of them would easily earn a place in my top twenty. She is a genius, sui generis. She seems to bleed music.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 19 - 390 Degrees of Simulated Stereo

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 19 
390 Degrees of Simulated Stereo - Pere Ubu

If it's good enough for Moses...
Hey, I know there were rules but they are meant to be broken, aren't they?

This is both a live album and a compilation. It even includes a track recorded in their rehearsal loft. I guess you'd call it lo-fi. Bot it's not 'lo' on anything else. Sounding like a mix of a Krautrock Stooges with early Roxy Music, Pere Ubu are one of my favourite bands. I saw them live twice (late eighties) and they were fantastic, perhaps the best live band I have ever seen.

Friday 19 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 20 - Rum, Sodomy and the Lash

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 20 
Rum, Sodomy and the Lash - The Pogues
"the ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil's in the chair"

The Pogues were a rattlin', rollicking shot in the arm to the whole idea of Irish music and folk music in general. One of the best live bands I have ever seen, they performed with passion and intensity but also wildness and a devil may care attitude which erased any sense of their music being a revival of anything. This was a new beast, a mutation rather than a revival.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 21 - King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 21
King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown - Augustus Pablo & King Tubby

I first remember hearing the title track of this album on the John Peel show back in the late seventies and a wonderful late night reggae show on our local radio station in Bray. It was the late eighties before I bought the album and I remember thinking it was even better than my memory of it. In the years since then it has been played very regularly and has never lost any of its appeal.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 22 Positive Touch

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 22 
Positive Touch - The Undertones

When I think of The Undertones my mind is drawn to the mixtapes I used to make back in the eighties, slowly dubbing vinyl to cassette and cutting and pasting covers from magazines. They were often themed and always seemed to have one Undertones song. If the theme was SEX it had to be Teenage Kicks; if FOOTBALL My Perfect Cousin or When Saturday Comes, FASHION had Male Models FOOD had Mars Bars & on and on. They were on the tapes that didn't have themes as well. They just wrote great songs that made you feel like jumping around and laughing. And if they could make me (Factory setting: "miserable") do that, they must be special.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 23 Something Else

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 23 
Something Else - The Kinks

If anyone asks me that threadbare identifying question from the sixties: "The Beatles or The Stones?", my response is "The Kinks." A much harder question is what Kinks album to put into this list. Face To Face; The Muswell Hillbillies; The Village Green Preservation Society; Arthur....

Well, as you've probably guessed from the title at the top of this post I went for Something Else. It always astonishes me that this album was a flop: "It made number 35 on the LP charts for 2 weeks in the UK and barely scraped 153 in the USA for 1 week." It starts and ends with masterclasses in how good songs can be: David Watts and Waterloo Sunset, and the 'filler' is pretty fine, too. This is not a 'concept' album but it does really move the idea of Englishness into an even more central place in The Kinks worldview, something that would reach its apotheosis on Village Green Preservation Society.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 24 - The Correct Use of Soap

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 24
The Correct Use of Soap - Magazine

"I am angry I am ill and I'm as ugly as sin
my irritability keeps me alive and kicking
I know the meaning of life, it doesn't help me a bit
I know beauty and I know a good thing when I see it"

This album was in danger of being little more than a single to me, so often did I drop the needle into the grove just before Song from Under the Floorboards. Channeling Kafka's Metamorphosis it is a declaration of pride in insectitude. The intro is peerless with the rumble of Barry Adamson's bass and John McGeogh's ringing guitar. And then we get Devoto's cold, borderline sneer of a voice and Dave Formula's otherworldly keyboards and lyrics that bite as deeply as an apple into a giant housefly.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon

""You know," Sammy said, "we're, uh, we've all been really worried ... about Hitler ... and the way he's treating the Jews and ... and all that. When they, when you were ... invaded ... My mom was ... we all ..." He shook his own head, not sure what he was trying to say."
They say that the first time is tragedy, the second time farce. The third time it's a soap and no matter how many times you repeat the operation the bubbles remains on top.

This is a book with a wide scope, vividly imagined scene and the acclaim for it was led by the Pulitzer committee, who awarded Chabon the prize, and Bret Easton Ellis, who called it one of the three great books by his generation. So if I seem vaguely nonplussed, I may well be wrong.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 25 - The Poison Boyfriend

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 25 
The Poison Boyfriend - Momus
(Momus is the Greek god of mockery who is currently inhabiting the body of one Nicholas Currie a peripatetic Scot who is, apparently, quite big in Japan.)

If you like your pop deviant and intellectual Momus' run of albums on Creation is a motherlode. I would probably advise a neophyte to get the Monsters of Love singles compiltion which includes Morality is Vanity, one of my favourite Mo(mus)ments. It could also be argued that Tender Pervert, probably the high point of name recognition, would be more apt and it certainly does have it times as my favourite of his studio albums. I also have a soft spot for The Ultraconformist album, with its nod to pre-WWI cabaret, dubbed audience sounds and self-deprecating subtitle 'Live While Out of Fashion". However, my choice (today) is The Poison Boyfriend, his second solo album. You don't have to make any such choice. Momus has made all of his six albums recorded for Creation available for free online HERE. Here's what Momus said about the album at the time of putting it online for free; http://imomus.livejournal.com/419757.html He also has quite a large body of work since then which is also well worth exploring, although I am not as familiar with it as I am with his earlier work.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 26 Metal Box

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 26 
Metal Box - P.I.L.
"Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine"

Maybe it wasn't quite a basement but John Lydon's post - Pistols albums seem to have been dreamed up in dark rooms. The first P.I.L. single was a monstrous pop moment and remains one of my all time favourite seven inches. The first album also included songs like Religion 1 & 2 where John continued to confront society with an unflattering mirror.

Friday 5 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 27 I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 27 
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight - Richard and Linda Thompson
"High up above the crowd
The great Valerio is walking
The rope seems hung from cloud to cloud
And time stands still while he is walking"

On a  guitar string strung vertiginously high between the twin poles of hymn and hurt Richard and Linda Thompson here perform one of music's great balancing acts, creating from the depths of depression an album which acknowledges despair but yet celebrates the tightrope walker. Moments of tear-glittering beauty twinkle in this dark night of the soul. Voices and guitars, accordions, dulcimers and krummhorns blend into a texture at once ancient and startlingly modern.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

"Fortunately among these people a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father. Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things. He was still young but he had won fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages. He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams, and had just married his third wife. To crown it all he had taken two titles and had shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars. And so although Okonkwo was still young, he was already one of the greatest men of his time. Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered."

I was around half way through this book when I heard the news of Chinua Achebe's death. It's the kind of thing that makes you feel connected to your reading, somehow. Things Fall Apart is certainly something to have left behind, fully deserving its reputation as one of the classics of twentieth century fiction. I was pulled into an unfamiliar world and the story of a pretty unsympathetic man but came away feeling I had been granted an extraordinary window into that world, and a greater understanding of the forces that make a man what he is.

Monday 1 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 28 St Dominic's Preview

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 28 
St Dominic's Preview - Van Morrison

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

The Van Morrison of St Dominic's Preview is always on the edge of apprehension, travelling, reaching for, trying hard "to make this whole thing blend". He is seeking some kind of ecstasy, some Blakean revelation where words and music combine together to open the zipper which keeps your eyes blind to the invisible, your ears deaf to the inaudible, your fingers insensible to the impalpable. It's Almost Independence Day.