Wednesday, June 14, 2006

And so it goes / and so it goes / and so it goes

I guess this is part three of the vinyl listings I did here and here. Having collated a bunch of 7” singles and 12” singles, albums are the obvious next listing, although I find the concept way more daunting than a singles list. The playing field is already well signposted, there are accepted parameters.

And, if I’m realistic with myself, the world, and myself, really doesn’t need another greatest albums of all time thing. Do you really want me to tell you that Pet Sounds is a work of genius (I guess it is) or The Bends is a monumental achievement (c’mon be honest, Radiohead are really just a good rock band who mutated into a pretentious poor mans post Barrett, Pink Floyd, Meddle era…oh and having heard two tracks from the Tom Yorke album, shall I risk life and limb by saying that what I’ve heard is formless drivel).

I’m not the person to write such a list.

What I’m happy to waste my time doing is writing a few words about a bunch of albums that, for one reason or another escape all those lists, albums that maybe should be listed somewhere but seem to get forgotten. I think you could make an extended list of some 200 records and cover any possible album that could possibly be considered for a Q, Mojo, NME, or RS list, it’s that predictably narrow and dull. All they do is shuffle. There are rules and there are records that are pre-ordained classics, ones you are supposed to assume hit the listings. The ones below are not on that top 200 boys club listing.

I perused the recent Mojo (another bloody Mojo list…they love em lots, eh?...must really push sales along big time…like yet another Beatles cover) of the best albums released in their fifteen year tenure and it really was a mostly shitty bunch of mediocre sub Americana and drab singer-songwriters. It was the Zimmer frame of lists, but I guess that’s Mojo, they kind of get the distant past but the more recent stuff eludes them somewhat. But, generally speaking they sem to be running out of subjects to reminisce about, which is a shame. New York Dolls story was good though….

But that’s beside the point. These are the records that I recommend without any reservation. Am I wrong about these? And who really cares anyway. I guess I have too much time on my hands..

The rules are the same as before..2000 is the cut off, I have to have a physical copy and only one album per act or artist is permitted.

And, rather than burden this blog down with forty odd albums (which is about the number I narrowed it down to) I’m gonna do this in slabs. That makes it user friendly and stretches the thing out somewhat, so in lots of half a dozen or so:

  1. Alexander O’Neal (Tabu 1985)….before this album there were lush soul records but this was the eve of machine driven lush soul. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis took the mountainous Alexander (he was / is six foot six) and made what may still be their finest soul record. Thrown out of The Time because he was, they said, too black (!), any doubt that there was so much more to the sound that made Prince what he became, is put to rest by this album, especially the grinding purple funk of Innocent (best in its 12” B side mix). Prince, genius that he is simply took the sound and ran with it. But Innocent is an aberration on this album which is dominated by gorgeous, plaintiff, ballads and mid tempo grooves, none of which qualify as anything close to a filler (and that’s a virtual unknown on soul albums of the era…Alexander’s future albums are full of them), and all dominated by the deep purity of Alexander’s voice which was never swamped by the, at the time, fresh technology that the production duo was using. He came close again with Hearsay and released some killer singles over the next few years, but this album is the one.
  2. Carlton-The Call is Strong (FFRR 1990)..the usual call made is that Massive Attack’s debut was the defining moment in the post Wild Bunch Bristol scene. Not true. I’m not going to say anything disparaging about Blue Lines, it was, and remains, one of the pivotal moments of its decade, pushing open doors for British, and indeed (and I’m trying to think of a word but I can’t) Jamaican infused soul music, and it was, ahhh, understatingly, a good record. That said, the debut, in fact only, album from Carlton (who was the vocalist on the first single to bear the name Massive Attack, the original, and superior, 1988 take of Any Love) was every bit its equal and in many ways is a better record, with more dimensions. Produced by Smith & Mighty (who have never had the kudos or rewards their immensely influential work rightly deserves), and largely forgotten now, this dark, haunting and fragile record has never sounded better than it does now. K7! did a very patchy Smith & Mighty collection a couple of years back, but the re-issue and elevation of this absolute classic is long overdue
  3. Fingers Inc- Another Side (Jacktrax 1988)…for a genre that can claim classic singles by the hundred, great, or classic house music albums are very thin on the ground. In real terms I can think of less than twenty, and a bunch of them turned up in the first five years of its existence. I still don’t know the legality of this record. It came out on an indie UK label in a time when the niceties of who owned what in Chicago was vague at best, and was essentially a collection of earlier singles, with some newer material. It has, as far as I know has only briefly appeared on CD. However, Larry Heard mentions it favourably on his site, so who knows. The day I first managed to get hold of this in 1988 (I swapped it for something forgotten with a friend as you simply couldn’t buy this stuff in New Zealand then) I was mesmerised. I sat up all night and played it repeatedly until the sun rose. This was the rawest, most sensual, most elegantly beautiful music I’d ever had wash over me. It was the moment when it all changed. So simple, so powerful…..
  4. VariousThe Philadelphia International Story 1971-86 (Philadelphia International / Street Sounds 1986)…various web sites claim this was a bootleg. Maybe it was but Morgan Khan was furiously releasing a mind boggling selection of bits and pieces from all over the soul, funk and jazz stratosphere, so I doubt it. I guess, over a wine or five he somehow managed to persuade someone at CBS to license the tracks which make up the bulk (there are later, non-CBS, tracks too) of this unbelievable anthology of what many claim is the greatest independent record label of the past thirty years. Certainly PIR was the equal of Motown, Stax and Chess in changing the face of black contemporary music. Simply put, there are black American records pre-PIR and black American records post-PIR and the difference is both obvious and substantial. Fourteen big fat slabs of thick, beautiful black vinyl with god knows how many tracks which include every major track on the label (think O’Jays, MFSB, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Jacksons, Teddy Pendergrast, Dee Dee Gamble, Dexter Wansel and countless more). That plus albums of obscurities, Philly flavoured jazz, 12” mixes, and so very much more. Rare as hell, I got it (he says gloatingly) for virtually nothing at a sale in Auckland after having coveted it for close to a year. The holy grail of seventies soul…
  5. The Ronettes-The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (Philles 1965)…an album to make your heart pause. Every damned song just goes bam and shatters me. It’s not just the power of Spector’s production, although there is that of course ((he may be a lunatic but that’s the industry…there are no shortage of nutters, its just that he takes it to new levels), but it’s also that unassailable voice. Every time Ronnie Spector opens her mouth it just makes me want to shiver, to collapse and crawl away. No woman has ever had a voice like hers, before or after, and Phil was able to recognise that power. The way he placed it in the mix, allowed it to soar and explode with such carnage, was what made this work. Ronnie tried both before and after Phil but, sadly, the voice was there but the other essential element that makes this one of the greatest American pop albums ever, wasn’t.
  6. Allen Toussaint -Southern Nights (Reprise 1975)…there are songs on this album that others have taken and placed in the charts (and, I imagine made Mr Toussaint, one of the most influential American writers and producers ever, a bucket of money) but you’ve not heard them properly until you’ve heard the originals herein. Glen Campbell’s slight, throwaway, take of the title track sits in the shadow of the beautifully dreamy recording on this album which evokes an aura of the place that Toussaint so clearly loves and breathes, and Boz Scaggs’ pleasant cover of What Do you Want the Girl To Do is dwarfed by Allen’s smooth southern funk (with The Meters of course). Alternately tough, although rarely raucous, and warm & soft, Southern Nights is an unhailed masterpiece, and deserved its due many years ago…

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Click Go the Shears Boy / Click Click Click *its lateral…think about it... I'm not telling..

Some things I’ve learnt in recent days:

  1. I should’ve bought a manual for FrontPage a long time ago. My web pages have been a dog’s breakfast for years because I blindly decided to teach myself web design by, foolishly, seat of the pants, instinct. Arrogance I guess it is. I taught myself the ins and outs of a computer decades ago, writing BASIC bits and pieces in the mid eighties, dismantling countless boxes, and I’ve been reasonably Windows literate since about 1989. I’ve had internet access (via Auckland University) since the early nineties and remember the arrival of HTML and Mosaic well. I can find my way around generations of CorelDraw &, Photoshop and the registry really doesn’t frighten me. So I really just jumped in some years back. My earlier web stuff was done in Netscape’s very rough Composer, then first editions of FrontPage, which was a shitty program (and that is a generous description). A couple or three years back I went across to Dreamweaver and it all got very messy. Last year I went back to FrontPage and it started getting very confused. Half a page would be done with Dreamweaver, half with FP and it would all look fine before I published. Layers, how the fuck do they work..there is nothing in the appalling help or MS’s inadequate online help. Sadly I was oblivious to the cascading conflicting disaster visible to anyone who looked online. Last month I went to a page and found that it was a visual nightmare and had been for ages. So now I have a book…I’m up to page nine and I’ve learnt about the tab viewer and a bunch of other very basic things….here I come.
  2. I haven’t learnt anything. I’m teaching myself Bahasa Indonesia right now…a tutor…nah, who needs it. Watch me walk into a panel beater and tell them my car has a green testicle…..
  3. I’ve learnt not to listen to Brigid at three in the morning waking me to tell me that the tap in the outside, Indonesian styled, bathroom is broken and our pump was working on overdrive and was a) likely to break down due to over exertion, and b) our well would likely be drained by morning. After getting up, allowing the dogs to get out and listening to them joining a chorus at the gate with all the local anjing kampong I realised that there was little that could be done to fix a washer or whatever it was in the middle of the night. I went back to bed but the howls from the street and the roosters from the compound next door, that joined in conspired to keep me awake until dawn broke. I found in the morning, of course, or at least I was told, that there was nothing wrong with the tap that a quick turn wouldn’t fix….joy…
  4. Sometimes I feel so completely useless in Indonesia. I had to put air in a tyre and had to ask where….Gustu pointed to the air compressor across the road in the workshop…..smiled and walked away. He’s a good lad though….
  5. Bad service is a universal thing. I moved the aforementioned web pages from Ihug to in the US of A (to make it easier for the NSA to keep track of my subversive thoughts)(and because they are cheaper and faster) and after going in who are the registrar and pointing the DNS in the right direction (something that I’ve done many times before…its not tricky) waited the required few hours before I realised that the whole lot had disappeared from the web. Jaguarpc had the files and all was correct there but still showed Ihug as the server and typing into Firefox came back with a no such domain result. I rechecked the repointed the DNS on Domainz to Jaguarpc, but nothing. Frantic emails to their support got no reply and a toll call to their support number went unanswered. The best part of a week went by and I emailed some five times, getting no reply and getting more and more annoyed, until on the sixth day I received a quick one liner saying there had been an error and it was now fixed, as it was. But no explanation and no apology. Hopeless. I wonder if my snarly, vaguely irrational, email to their corporate head office in Melbourne that day made any difference….
  6. I’ve learnt that the countless blown bulbs in the traffic signals in Bali are not a problem. I used to get irritated by the fact that many many of the lights at the intersections on the island simply don’t go. In many instances all three colours have blown but in almost every intersection at least one bulb in each direction is dead. This has nothing to do with electrics, but more to do with the fact that the bulbs have blown and nobody seems to be assigned to changing them, or if they are, they don’t really bother. It used to drive me crazy especially as it was such an easily resolved problem. Now, however, I’ve learnt that I sit until the two dozen motorcycles behind me start barking out with their horns, indicating that they know that the light is green, or would be if there was one. Or, I take a punt and move forward anyone. Generally the traffic will make way and I’ll find out I’m wrong when a policeman pulls me over and threatens, unless RP50,000 slips out of my wallet into his, with charging me with going through a red light. The argument that there was no light, red, green or otherwise (the red lights often show orange here just to confuse) is irrelevant.