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Archive for August, 2011

Who: Nick Lowe 

Title: The Old Magic
Label: Proper Records

Tell me more: I have to say it’s great being a reviewer, even if the bulk of the stuff that arrives at the sty stinks worse than the swill. Having the best blog in the universe means plenty of corporate and indie chaps and chapettes want to get down and dirty with Porky, and some good human being has acted admirably by sending the latest Lowe album. If it wasn’t for those good people at the record labels I would continue to have a misguided view of Lowe as a middle of the road old foggie with a dodgy past in pub rock.

The Lowdown: Lowe may be a sexagenarian but age seems to have invigorated this quintessential Englishman, with 2007’s At My Age delving into the nuances of his approach toward the big six-oh. In fact, he confronts it with typical wit and adroitness: “I’m 61 years old now, and Lord I never thought I’d see 30/ Though I know this road has still some way to go, I can’t help but thinking on.” (Checkout Time).

He ponder lost love; selling up, from a house where love once resided (House for Sale) and finds that he reads a lot “not just magazines, but more serious things” to get over a deserted lover (I Read a Lot). Meanwhile, Lowe also finds he has the “wander dust” in his feet, on Restless Feeling, though he doesn’t know where it’s leading him to. With a strong backing band, Lowe has found a niche, and there seems little let up, a la Lee Scratch Perry.

Anything else: Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding hit has been covered by Elvis Costello, and more importantly Curtis Stigers. Now, that’s respect.

Who: Squeeze 

Title: Spot the Difference

Label: Love Records

Tell me more: A greatest hits collection, with a difference.

The Lowdown: Over the decades bands – or to be more precise in most cases, opportunistic labels – have added a little teaser or two to compilations to entice the fan to buy another product with the act’s name. So, usually, it’s a couple of new tracks, that have either been collecting dust or are new recordings. Squeeze’s little gimmick is to re-record 14 tracks including Loving You Tonight with Glenn Tilbrook singing instead of the bland Paul Carrack. The majority of changes are fairly small, though the spotters among their fanbase will have fun picking them out. Squeeze’s first records came out in 1978, and, naturally, they were lumped in with the new wave ‘power-pop’ movement that sprung up in the wake of punk, though they were a more traditional pop outfit. There are two stand-out moments in their canon: Cool For Cats, which surely must contain the most words in a three-minute song, and the more restrained Up The Junction, both of which were monster radio-friendly hits in 1979. By the early 80s the hits had dried up as they moved closer to the centre of the highway, but hit back with the timeless Hourglass in 1987. The early years and a few of the later hits make this a thoroughly pleasant experience.

Anything else: TV personality Jools Holland was a founder member.

Who: 808 State 

Title: Blueprint

Label: ZTT

Tell me more: Pioneers of dance music, this career overview feature contributions from Elbow’s Guy Garvey, James Dean Bradfield and Bjork.

The Lowdown: Its 1988, house music is in the charts, indie music isn’t but all the best of those bands are from Manchester and the first illegal dance raves are taking off. Fitting in nicely with all this is 808 State, whose instrumental Pacific State single reaches the UK top 10, with its breezy feel and sensuality. The Manchester trio will always be associated with that track – to be honest they never quite matched it. Early tracks Cubik, In Yer Face, Cobra Bora and Olympic reveal a time when music was changing and the line between rock and dance was drawing ever closer. Then came the love-in with the great and the good with hich Garvey, Bjork and Bradfield all lending a hand, and Eno mixing Lopez, the track the Manic Street Preacher features on. In 1991 when the Manics were playing out and out punk, no-one would ever have considered that their lead singer would perform a band synonymous with electronica.

Anything else: Martin Price, Graham Massey and Gerald Simpson started off in a hip hop act called Hit Squad Manchester.

Who: fleaBITE 

Title: In Your Ear

Label: Jayrem

Tell me more: Porky has been reviewing albums in a variety of outlets since 1996 (you got it, since he was two years old) but never reviewed a children’s album.

The Lowdown: As an adult, it is of course, difficult to subjectively review a children’s album, I mean where’s all the heavy, innuendo-laden lyrics you spend ages trying to decipher? This is all too simplistic: “Hair/ Why is it there?/ People stop and people stare everywhere/ When I walk, out of the door/ It flows from my armpits, and down to the floor.” (Hair). And We’re So Famous, is about, well, ahem, being a celebrity. I guess. fleaBITE use an array of styles, dancehall on one, for example, while Medusa sounds somewhat eerie, designed no doubt, to scare the poo out of the weans. The Piglet is too young to appreciate this just now but it won’t be long before she sticks the CD in the bin and the case in the laptop.

Anything else: www.fleabite.co.nz

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Who: Steve Earle

Title: I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

Label: New West

Tell me more: The donkey work to this album began three years ago, and part of the reason for it taking some time to reach the market is the book of the same name which accompanies it. This is no ‘making of’ doco-style tome, it’s a bona fide novel, featuring the ghost of Hank Williams.

The Lowdown: Copperhead Road (1988) and Revolution Now (2004) are the two Earle works that Porky associates with most, because of the former’s marriage of rock and country, and the development of that sound on the latter, with an added dash of politics and anger. I’ll Never Get Out of This World lacks the rockiness of Revolution Now in favour of a more languid flavour, with dashes of bluegrass and Celtic folk. In saying adios to George Bush Jr (a little late, perhaps) and reflecting the public’s anger over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Earle shows he’s not letting up on issues that matter.

Anything else: Earle has an acting role, playing an actor, in the HBO series Treme.

 

 

Who: The Horrors

Title: Skying

Label: XL recordings

Tell me more: They’re not small fry. The Horrors were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize two years ago for their second album. Their early garage rock sound has been refined to what has been cruelly termed shoegazing, a mini-scene of the early 90s that was derided for being a vehicle for middle-class students who did the very un-rock’n’roll thing of looking downwards while on stage.

The Lowdown: From looking like a bunch of black-clad goths reading Joseph Conrad all day, the four-piece now remind me of Pink Floyd, circa 1969, and the photographs in the CD have a grainy look born of nice camera techniques and an eye for the oblique. What enters ears is the most pleasant and surprising thing, as Skying is choc-full of lush, ethereal tracks such as You Said, which builds into an enormous monster of a tune with its captivating verses and pounding beats. Endless Blue begins like Velvet Underground, but at 1:44 out come the grinding guitars while Faris Badwan gives it his best rocking frontman impression. Their development from garage rock to post-punk psychedelia is reminiscent of the same path tread two decades ago by The Telescopes, who’s self-titled second album remains one of my personal favourites, with its ability to blend in the emerging indie-dance sound with killer rock noise. Time was not favourable to the Telescopes, so I hope there’s a better outlook for the Southend-on-Sea’s finest talents.

Anything else: Google The Horrors and The Mighty Boosh to see the band playing themselves in the show.

 

 

 

 

Who: The Saltwater Band

Title: Malk

Label: Dramatico/ Skinnyfish

Tell me more: Out of Australia’s barren Northern Territory comes the Saltwater Band, a group who are helping to keep the indigenous population’s culture and music alive. Among their membership is Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a worldwide phenomenon as a solo star under his second name.

The Lowdown: Gurrumul’s star will keep the headline writers busy, but The Saltwater Band have been going for more than 15 years and it’s a cohesive eight-piece band that’s released Malk. I was in the Northern Territory two years ago, and although my stay was fairly brief, it was clear that the Aboriginal communities are ill-treated and at the bottom of the economic rung. Nevertheless, Aboriginal culture, while still largely exploited, is experiencing a revival, no less so than in music.

I was slightly surprised to hear hints of reggae throughout the album, notably on tracks such as Marwurrumburr, sung entirely in the Yolgnu language, and the sound of other Caribbean islands on Yolgnu Island Dancer, which intersperses their native tongue with snippets of English. It’s not strictly Aboriginal music but a combination of influences which brings a new dimension to this unique culture.

 

 

 

 

 

Who: Iggy Pop

Title: Roadkill Rising … The Bootleg Collection 1977-2009

Label: Shout Factory!

Tell me more: The cover sticker screams ‘Over 4 Hours of Prime Unreleased Iggy’, which is reason alone for thousands to seek out this four-disk compilation, of well, you may have guessed, unreleased material – which is industry speak for live recordings. Microphones were placed at venues such as the Rainbow Theatre in London and the Leysin Festival, in Switzerland, picking up some of the rawest rock’n’roll the world has ever heard.

The Lowdown: Iggy’s been an icon since The Stooges first unleashed their raw power in 1969, and while his albums have been varied over the past 20-plus years, he remains a star of the stage, doing things there, especially in his earlier days, that shocked and teased his audience. Naturally, he’s a popular draw with summer festivals, so a collection of  bootleg live material is an appropriate and welcome release.

Recorded at various venues around the world with much of the latter two disks being recorded at festivals, it offers a broad overview of Pop’s career, peppered with covers such as the Batman Theme and Les Feuilles Mortes, a French favourite sung by Yves Montand and Edith Piaf. These are welcome additions to the familiar (I Wanna Be Your Dog, TV Eye, Lust for Life, Nightclubbing etc) and the not so familiar: the album tracks and the singles from the largely barren early 80s period.

The tracks are cut and laid out in an awkward manner, so you want to stay with one concert and skip another but, really, that’s my only real quibble. The quality is generally good, Pop has great interaction with the audience and he puts his heart and soul into Search and Destroy, Raw Power and the fucking rest. He is a natural stage performer and, where most live albums stink to high heaven of money and a lack of vibrancy, Roadkill Rising reveals Pop the animal in his natural domain.

 

 

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As the world reflects on the events in London and other British cities, the lyrics to the Mekons’ single, Never Been In A Riot, springs to Porky’s mind like the chiming of a bell at noon.

“I’ve never been in a riot / Never been in a fight / Never been in anything / That turns out right.”

What’s clear is that for thousands of people across the UK such words won’t apply anymore, having been involved in both a riot and a fight, and for those facing the courts, it very much didn’t turn out right. With buildings torched, raided and looted, the deaths of five people, and hundreds of arrests, it’s been a week that Britain would rather forget.

As well as the social cost, the riots have badly hit the independent music sector in Britain by destroying the Sony distribution centre in Enfield, north London and with it about 1.5 million CDs. More than 150 labels have been affected and Warp Records – home to the Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Grizzly Bear – say their entire back catalogue has been incinerated and is unlikely to be re-pressed. Other labels to be hit include Rough Trade, Independiente, FatCat, Ninja Tunes, Soul Jazz, Track and Field and many small outlets that release only a few hundred new releases at a time.

It’s hard to comprehend what was going on in the minds of the teenagers suspected of carrying out the attack on the building, but surely they had little idea of how this would affect cash-starved musicians and label owners, most of whom do what they do out of a love of music and no material desires.

Meanwhile, the Notting Hill Carnival, which ironically was hit by rioting by disaffected black youth in the late 1970s, but now attracts more than a million people every year, is under threat due to the rioting.

Music has not been immune from rioting and general disorder in the past, the Bank Holiday flare-ups between the Mods and the rockers in the mid-60s being a notable watershed in the history of youth culture.

There was also the so-called riot at the inaugural Phoenix Festival in 1993, when crowds of people turned on security and the organisers, after festivalgoers, who had paid quite a lot of money to see Julian Cope, the Manic Street Preachers et al were told to put out campsite fires and go to bed early. Hordes of angry people berated the organisers inside the arena until security guards, who had changed into black attire, charged out of the main entrance and clubbed people with what was likely to be baseball bats.

Child’s play in comparison with what’s just been happening in what I called the Chav Uprising to a friend.  There can be no excuse for looting and senseless violence, which are the last vestiges of the desperate and the opportunists.

But to hear righteous politicians and self-appointed judge and jurymen vent their spleen on those involved, without attempting to get to the root of the problem, is unseemly.  Prime Minister David Cameron’s call to dismiss “phoney human rights concerns” smacks of a Pacific despot. Human rights are far from phoney and there are people around the world who are losing their lives to achieve human rights in their country. Mr Cameron has no justification in attempting to influence the law courts of his country and he should allow the judicial process to run its course, independent of political interference. There’s also a hint of hypocrisy here. There are 16,000 police officers on the streets this weekend to ensure there’s no repeat; but that is the same number of officers who will lose their jobs under proposed government cutbacks, by 2015.

Unlike the riots of the 1980s, in Toxteth, Handsworth and Brixton, most notably, race, police oppression and unemployment was the spark for a downtrodden group of people, mainly black, to hit back. There was a public outcry about the rioting, but they did, at least, lead to a debate on what was happening in the inner cities.

Nothing like that will happen this time around, and with stories of the Sony distribution centre being torched, and rioters taking whatever material possessions they could find (except books apparently), from electrical goods to Imodium, it’s hard to see why.

But to dismiss the riots as just wanton criminality will be ignoring some key questions, and could lead to a repeat. We live in a consumer-obsessed society, with the notion that we should aim to buy Gucci and Louis Vuitton, or if you are on a more restricted budget, anything that comes out of China and Indonesia. Economic growth is tied in with how loud the tills are ringing on the high streets. It’s impossible to walk down any main street, or open a magazine, without an ad screaming at us to buy, buy, buy.

The people who looted the likes of Foot Locker and Boots would not have been oblivious to this slavering devotion to the consumerist society, so we can’t claim to be surprised when a generation bred on such nonchalant terms as “retail therapy” with shopping elevated to something of a sport, turns on the retailers and claims what they feel they should be entitled to. Still, it doesn’t justify what has happened but equally some understanding of the sparks that cause such actions need to be addressed. Don’t hold your breathe though. Governments no longer look at long-term solutions to social problems and pander to the public’s thirst for justice and the rise of fast-media that lacks an insightful function, into creating more laws and regulations that often only create more problems than they solve.

Musicians have often had concerns about the consumer society; back in the late 1970s a pivotal theme in punk music, particularly by the likes of X-Ray Spex, was how young people were becoming consumers, and were encouraged to obtain as much high street goods as they could. Now seems about a good time for modern musicians to return to such themes.

 

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