Archive for February, 2015

The Waterboys: Modern Blues (Harlequin and Clown)

WHEN A SCOTSMAN and an Irishman try to make a big impression they go to America.

Nashville may have become somewhat of a cliché, but it was the natural calling for Mike Scott (whose nationality needs no elaboration) and his long-time accomplice Steve Wickham who have just released the 11th studio album under the name of The Waterboys.  Waterboys

It’s been quite a ride for Scott, the act’s founder and backbone, from the big music of its early days, through to the folk-fest of The Fisherman’s Blues and the ghost of the Irish poet who inspired An Appointment With Mr Yeats in 2011.

So it isn’t a surprise, given The Waterboys’ changing musical palate, that last year recorded in Nashville with some American artists. An album titled Modern Blues recorded in the heart of country and western sounds intriguing; or very disconcerting.

Scott has corralled Paul Brown and David Hood for this album, respectively a Memphis keyboardist and a bassist who played on Aretha’s Respect. That’s a fine backing band. On paper anyway.

And yet it sounds as if the musicians aren’t quite sure what Scott wants out of them on the opening track, Destinies Entwined. And on November Tale they stop playing, all of a sudden, a few times, and pointedly right at the end. A small, moot, point maybe, and not one that is going to detract from the fresh appeal of the track, but a beguiling, slightly irritating trait nevertheless.

Still A Freak contains heavy blues influences as it erupts out of Memphis with all the energy and enthusiasm of a John Lee Hooker track. Meanwhile, Scott moves down a gear for I Can See Elvis, on which the backing singers provide subtle doo-wops. Scott’s febrile imagination is on overdrive as he envisages Presley “Talking philosophy and law with Joan of Arc and Plato/ Quizzing Shakespeare on his plays/ Showing Crazy Horse and Marvin Gaye how to dance the mashed potato.” A little fanciful, perhaps, but the images are immeasurably illuminating.

The Girl Who Slept For Scotland is a return to the rock-ist, uplifting Waterboys sound of years ago, with a rousing, razor-sharp chorus, and Rosalind (You Married The Wrong Guy) is a blues-infused rock standard in which the narrator sounds deranged as he implores a woman of his affections to “lift up your skirt and flee”.

Modern Blues concludes with the semi-autobiographical Long Strange Golden Road, which encapsulates Kerouc, and a curious stream of consciousness. It is both incredibly enthralling and tedious at the same time, with its repetitive riffs and ongoing verses. It’s a statement for the whole album: Modern Blues is the sound of The Waterboys taking an adventure without being terribly adventurous.

Read our review of An Appointment With Mr Yeats here.

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Half Man Half Biscuit: Urge For Offal (Probe Plus)

THE BISCUITS ARE guaranteed a place in Indie Heaven when eventually they shuffle off this mortal coil after a slew of excellent albums that finds uses for plankton-level celebrities, and revels in the minutae of everyday life. Only these superstars of the Wirral could carve out songs from subjects such as daytime TV, Urge For Offalkorfball, moshpits, crap support bands, and bemoan the annual National Shite Day. This is the follow up to the slightly disappointing 90 Bisodol (Crimond) in 2012, an album that strayed from the band’s renowned love of the pun and the mickey-taking for more darker subjects. If the titles on Urge For Offal are anything to go by – Baguette Dilemma For The Booker Prize Guy and Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride – we are in for a treat. Urge Offal begins with a trip to the seaside with Nigel Blackwell scribbling on his postcards about the delights of “A Devon cream tea around half past three … Crazy golf with a Swedish couple we befriended.” It all goes well until Frank Ifield jumps up and down on a windmill and then we understand, yes, Westward Ho! – Massive Letdown.

This One’s For Now mimicks Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain … “You’re so beige/ I bet you think this song is about someone else,” a couplet that rhymes with Standard Liege, and a former Slovak football manager is spotted in an obscure Wirral suburb.

Then there’s the mythical Adam Boyle, who is celebrated – or lamented – as he casts lad rock aside, eschewing “after-match lager in ‘Spoons” and “his Dad’s Mac and Katie Kissoons.” Wikipedia is a necessary requirement when listening to a Biscuits album. Instead, Boyle has his folk antennae fully switched on and has “booked two weeks off at the end of July/ Dumfries and Galloway, Plockton and Skye.”

It’s all fun and games for Blackwell, Neil Crossley, Ken Hancock and Carl Henry as they delve into the importance of good car care, and bemoan a lack of ability for DIY.

OffalIn among all these throwaway lines about Crewe station and baguettes the music is almost secondary, but, like the lyrics, this is trademark Biscuits territory, snatches of indie-rock, a touch of folk, sometimes full-out, sometimes not quite so, and in the one-minute 14 second, Theme Tune For Something Or Other, I suspect the four-piece have recorded their first-ever instrumental.

This is Half Man Half Biscuit’s most rock’n’roll album – Stuck Up A Hornbeam, for example, is pure post-psych Status Quo – and it’s also a travelogue for Britain (with the West Highlands and the south of Scotland in particular piqueing Blackwell’s interest).

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Feed the Beast

Proton Beast: Digitizer (Muzai records)

IT’S WEIRDY-BEARDY TIME. Auckland three-piece Proton Beast are the self-proclaimed “king of the monsters” who play a bastardised electro-rock they affectionately label as disco doom. Proton Beast

Which makes you wonder how the bassist from straight-out rock-n’roll outfit D4 became part of this experiment in sound. Vaughan Williams is the man, joining Westley Holdsworth on guitar and vocoded vocals, and drummer Stuart Harwood. They have toured with Beastwars and DZ Deathrays, bands whose names alone suggest a troubled youth.

But, it’s all actually somewhat tamer than what those paragraphs might suggest. Digitizer isn’t a bag of ghastly goth-metal pouring over Einstrurzende Neubaten B-sides that you might envisage. It isn’t, also, the kind of record you would play to your kids in the car, nor would it be played before 10pm on any radio station.

There’s a running theme of technology throughout the album, digital is used to the max, vocoders given it an alien futuristic feel, and it comes across as how a Belgian electroclash act might sound if recording an album of Kraftwerk covers.

Digitizer is the first release of the year from Muzai records, which has moved from Auckland to Bradford in Yorkshire, of all places, in the latest step to take over the world. Also available on 12″.

Go to protonbeast.com and muzairecords.com


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