Posts Tagged ‘nick lowe’

At this time of year I find I have to rush out of a high street shop as another seasonal ditty pumps out the shops speakers. It usually happens with Wizard’s glam-tinged I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day and Slade’s over-the-top Merry Christmas Everybody, songs that lose any quality that may possess in the maddening overplay in a two-month period ending only when the bells chime for another year.

And yet, here I am listening to said Wizard track and not feeling the urge to kick in the stereo, because the version I have on is by NickQuality St Lowe, from Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All The Family (Proper records). Lowe has found creativity easy to come by as his hair whitens and he goes beyond the age of 60, not an age usually conducive to musical integrity.

In the past six years he has released At My Age and The Old Magic, both of which have featured in Porky’s annual best of year lists. Quality Street won’t achieve that, well, it is a Christmas album after all, but it’s a superior effort for a collection from a period dominated by the likes of Mariah Carey and Cliff Richard. On Quality Street, Lowe has recorded oft-forgotten seasonal cheer that have hints of rockabilly, blues and folk.

Among the festive non-hits given the Lowe-down are Roger Miller’s Old Toy Trains and Ron Sexsmith’s Hooves On The Roof. In one of his own creations, the languid and beautiful Christmas Can’t Be Far Away, Lowe paints a scene of harmony and expectation, where “even the landlord smiles and says good day”. Another Lowe penned number, Christmas At The Airport, retells a familiar theme, of the horrors in getting anywhere in the run-up to the holidays, with a “terminal seething” with fellow travellers, “all the planes are grounded and the fog is rolling in,” Lowe bemoans, before falling asleep in one of the airport’s crannies and wakes up wondering where everyone has gone. Lowe and co turn the traditional Children Go Where I Send Thee into a rockabilly knockabout, and the 1950s feel continues on the North Pole Express, as Santa makes his way around the planet.

How can anyone hate Christmas music now?


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PJ Harvey: Let England Shake (Island) 
Harvey looks at her home country and its role abroad, with an emphasis on war, both current and historical. The end of the Empire and Britain’s diminished role in the 21st Century brings Harvey to note that “England’s dancing days are done,” and on a track simply titled England her homeland “leaves sadness, it leaves a taste, a bitter one,”.

The bugle’s used to majestic effect on The Glorious Land, one of a few tracks that reference the horrors of World War I and in particular the gory Gallipoli campaign that is etched so strongly in the psyche of the people of New Zealand and Australia. The militaristic and national soul-searching elements aside, this is a generally uplifting album that shows a musical diversity and even includes a sample of Niney the Observer’s reggae classic Blood and Fire.


Wire: Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)

Wire sound, like how Wire have always done, in 1977, 1987 and 2011. There’s some sort of random wordplay going on in Two Minutes, Colin Newman shouting statements like ‘A dirty cartoon duck covers the village in shit, possibly signalling the end of western civilisation, and ‘Coffee is not a replacement for food or happiness’.
That may be the best track of the album but Adapt is the most potent: a slow moving beast it may be but that is an ideal pace to delve deep into the state of the modern world – extreme climate change and disaster, the failure of financial markets and hollow politics. There’s a strain of melancholy and it’s difficult to ascertain much hope in the song, just a denouncement of how things are, but it remains aesthetically beautiful.
And in those two tracks you have the essence of Red Barked Tree: quiet or loud; random or thoughtful; brutal or delicate.



Little Bushman: Te Oranga (Little Bushman) 
As someone who comes from the thought process that angry is better, born of a youthful love of punk and reggae, I often have to remind myself that some of the best records and songs are those about love, peace and the human condition. So, there’s no axe to grind, no point to make. Just some sprawling, ambitious tracks like Gone, that are long, but the length is justified as Warren Maxwell, and co delve into different layers of sound and weave them together. That track and the space-rock Dream of the Astronaut Girl come in two parts, saddled together rather than as a reprise. This means the four-piece allow themselves the luxury of developing the tracks as much as they can, but it doesn’t sound like prog-rock-esque indulgence and in the true nature of a concept album, which I guess this is, Gone Part II segues nicely into the eight-minute Big Man.


Arctic Monkeys: Suck It And See (Domino)
On the first couple of listens Suck It And See sounds like their adventure in Indie-Rock, as if a sober Pete Doherty ghosted into the studio and left some ideas behind. Could it be … no, I dare not so their name ….damn I’ll have to now, but have they been listening to post-Madchester James?  Later listens suggest a broader palate, but you get the picture.

Regardless, Alex Turner’s words remain as potent as ever, if you’ll forgive the monotonous Brick By Brick. Turner’s come up with some gems like “Topless models doing semaphore” (Reckless Serenade), or “You’re rarer than a can of dandelion,” (title track).

Oh yes, and there’s those gloriously long-winded titles, like Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair.


The Horrors: Skying (XL recordings)  

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, both in look and sound. What enters the 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.


Iggy Pop: Roadkill Rising … The Bootleg Collection 1977-2009 (Shout Factory!)

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 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 rest.


Nick Lowe: The Old Magic (Proper Records)  

Age has 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 ponders lost love; selling a house where love once resided (House for Sale) and finds solace in the printed page: “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.


S.C.U.M: Again Into Eyes (Mute)

S.C.U.M have a longing for psychedelia, space-rock, avant-garde and ambience. There’s a spiritual element to the five-piece as they ponder the essence of life, as on Sentinal Bloom: “What I hold as time/ Nothing without you/Buried ‘neath the water.”

There are deep and meaningful thoughts, set to a soundscape of epic, swaying guitars and moody bass, reminiscent of shoegazing, My Bloody Valentine and Radiohead in reflective mood. The single, Amber Hands, is a triumphant, multi-layered cascade into pop’s bitterest tendencies. It takes some practice to master the art of S.C.U.M, but, equally, there is a limit to their often one-dimensional material, with some tracks drifting into a black hole of emptiness. Some tracks lack substance and diversity but the beauty of Days Untrue, Amber Hands, and Cast Into Seasons render them obsolete. I find the more I listen the more goodness I uncover.


The Waterboys: An Appointment with Mr. Yeats (Puck records)  

Like Primal Scream who change stripes with every album, Mike Scott is no stranger to a challenge, keenly adapting WB Yeats’ symbolist words, written between 1893 and the late 1930s.
Most of the songs, such as The Hosting of the Shee offer themselves to music, with Scott’s ever-beautiful voice ensuring the words are given the grace they so deserve. Sweet Dancer is a clever welding of two poems published 22 years apart. On A Full Moon in March, Scott emphasises the darkness of the theme, with the band matching his mood.
With a band that includes a variety of talents include long-time Scott collaborator Steve Wickham, Irish singer Katie Kim, keyboardist James Hallawell and multi-instrumentalist Kate St John, Scott and friends provide an engaging background to 14 poems, and while it could be argued that no band could ever provide the vigour and realism of a poem regaling his own words to a crowd, there is sufficient enthusiasm and understanding of the works to make this a worthwhile effort.


Half Man Half Biscuit: 90 Bisodol (Crimond) (Probe Plus)

All the elements of a Half Man Half Biscuit album are here: the play on words and the witty titles and songs about the things we actually talk most about: korfball, Betterware products, and “Ross Kemp on Watership Down.

The Biscuits are a breed apart, leaders of a small clique of obscurantist artists delving into the minutae, the strangeness, the uniqueness of our 21st century lives. Porky adores Joy of Leeuwarden (We Are Ready) which is bizarrely derived from a song written about the 2010 European Korfball Championships in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Nigel Blackwell uses the narrative style he’s used to good effect on previous albums, on Descent of the Stiperstones, to describe a meeting a dullard has with a former Coronation Street star.


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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? The New York Dolls

Title: ‘Cause I Sez So

Tell me more: They go into hibernation for 300 years then we get two albums in three years and Morrissey gets to cream his pants once more. The Dolls mattered in 1972/ 73, one of the few shining lights in a darkly-lit era. A couple of band members passed onto the great gig in the sky but David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and Arthur Kane made a surprise comeback, in 2004, at Morrissey’s request.

Why the fek should I listen to this? Nothing will surpass 1973’s The New York Dolls, nor would you expect it to. But there’s sparks of ingenuity and re-ignited embers of talent, enthusiasm and pure rock und roll. There’s nothing too clever, nor experimental, on ‘Cause I Sez So, and at times it does sound laboured but the Dolls were too good to die and prove that there’s life in the old dogs yet.

Or should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? There is either a complete lack of competition around just now that this sounds pretty good, or we have to admit that 25 years out of the loop hasn’t diminished the Doll’s ability to keep the flame alive.

lowe 2


Who? Nick Lowe

Title: The Brentford Trilogy
Proper records

Tell me more: As you might be able to determine from the title, there are three albums, (The Impossible Bird, Dig My Mood and The Convincer) all enclosed in a case with a wee booklet. Released between 1994 and 2001, the period when Lowe’s hair began to fade to the now-famous white and the public had all but forgotten a chap who was on Stiff Records in the 1970s during the punk wars.

Why the fek should I listen to this? A couple of years ago, in one of those inumerable free CDs you get with the UK music mags that are sold for inflated prices overseas, was a track called In The Club from Lowe’s At My Age. The mag has long been recycled and the CD offloaded to a charity shop but I got hold of the album and it remains in the must-listen-to-this-when-I-can pile, for the simple fact it’s bloody good.

These three albums are of similar vein, songs about man’s naivety, of failed Christians, faithless lovers and other tales of human frailty. The Convincer is the best of the three.

Or should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? Is that the sound of country and western I hear every now and again? Please say no.

Trivia: Some tracks were recorded in a community hall, others at a former cinema in Brentford, a nondescript suburb of south-west London. Curtis Stigers is a big fan, and covered You Inspire Me, from Dig My Mood.



Who? Ali Campbell

Title: Flying High
Guilty Party:

Tell me more: The former UB40 frontman’s third solo album. Are the Brummies still together? Does anyone care?

Should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? A solo career will either: a) let loose the inner creative fire long constrained by a corporate monolith or b) reveal who were the real talents in the band were. Campbell is out of his depth really. This is dazzlingly inept. But at least the record label issues a warning on the cover: “features Craig David, Shaggy, Sway, Lady Saw, Gentleman and Danny K.”

Or maybe I’ll like this: Hell, you might. You might also be one of those people who bought Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required.

Trivia: In 1980 Campbell sang a eulogy to civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King. In 2009, he’s doing a Britney Spears song.



Who? Kasabian

Title: West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Tell me more: Kasabian provided, on their self-titled debut from 2004, just what the music industry needed: a clutch of songs that appeared to have lives of their own, the seeds of a sound that would once have been the basis of rave, centuries ago. It was a startling debut, of epic, neo-dancey tunes, that was eclipsed by follow-up Empire two years later. Since then … bugger all, even though West Ryder began to form in late 2007.

Why the fek should I listen to this? In an age when British music seems lost in a sea of its own importance, Kasabian are one of the highlights; like Doves or Super Furry Animals they are their own men, their albums distinctive. West Ryder is a tricky one, almost a concept album, the would-be soundtrack to a would-be film set in a 19th century asylum in the Yorkshire Moors. It’s entertained my ears just three times now. Enough to appreciate it’s artistic worth, but not enough to truly feel what it’s all really about.

Or should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? Oh dear, some reviewers haven’t been too kind at all.

Trivia: The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding appears as a vampire in the video for Vlad the Impaler.




Attic Dweller

Icicle Works


Who? The Icicle Works

Title: The Icicle Works (1984)
Situation Two

Tell me more: Indie Scousers from the mid-80s. Mainly forgotten now but not by this old fucker. Ian McNabb, Chris Layhe and Chris Sharrock were the hardest-edged band since Killing Joke. Remastered and re-issued in October 2006 without any outtakes or b-sides to soil it. I may well have bought this on vinyl in a sale then got rid of it in a clear-out along with a Goodbye Mr MacKenzie album.

Why the fek should I listen to this? Listening to The Icicle Works once again makes me realise how stoopid I was do that, but hell, I probably needed to do a trade-in for a Charlatans cassette. I suspect that decision was partly down to my introduction to the band – the second album, For The Small Price of a Bicycle, released 18 months later, and one of the 80s hidden gems.

The debut contains Love Is A Wonderful Colour, which got into the top 20 of the UK charts, at a time those charts were a closed shop to the Gods of money and synths, with only the odd shabbily-dressed indie outfit being allowed through the hallowed doors to Top of the Pops and the Radio 1 playlist.

The Icicle Works shared a love of the Big Music, as the Waterboys called it, with bands like the Cult, the Bunnymen, et al, acts who took the three-minute pop song, and buried it in an avalanche of guitars and bass.

Or should I take it a stick to it and beat the shit out of it? You could, but make sure it’s made of marshmallow.

Trivia: Sharrock was later a member of The La’s.


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