Wednesday, 30 April 2003

Album Review: Keep On Your Mean Side

That a stylish, bluesy, cross-gender pairing is automatically compared to The White Stripes should surprise no one. If there’s one thing the music industry likes to do, it’s make statements like, “if you like band X you’l love band Y.” Well I guess there is some truth to the statement this time round. Fans of The White Stripes will find a lot to like about The Kills, but the meekly sum up Keep On Your Mean Side as a wannabe White Blood Cells doesn’t tell half the story.

So after their critically lauded but commercially ignored Black Rooster EP comes this, The Kills debut LP. The music press have been harping on about The Kills for a long time now and aside from The White Stripes comparisons, they always mention how good The Kills look. Granted, aside from this record they seem to have a lot going for them: both VV and Hotel are achingly cool, the pair simmer with sexual tension, they use a drum machine and most importantly of all they have ‘the’ in their title. But the most important thing about The Kills right now is that Keep On Your Mean Side rocks with a vengeance.

The opening guitar chug of ‘Superstition’ sets the scene perfectly, recalling Rid Of Me era Polly Harvey. Future single Cat Claw is just astounding; it’s a bone-shaking rock n roll record with an awesome hook. Pull A U robs a Jimmy Page sized riff from Kashmir and plies it lavishly across its three minute running time.

Like most debut records, you can’t help but think that maybe The Kills are trying a little too hard to impress at times. As VV sneers, “Fried my little brains” on the track of the same name. To put a track entitled Fuck The People on a debut record takes some balls. After the Beautiful People-esque drum sample at the beginning, it grows to become the best track on the album.

It’s rare nowadays for bands to live up to the hype lavished on them but The Kills may just achieve it. For they are close to being a complete act after only one LP and the future looks absurdly bright for them. Take the voice of PJ Harvey, the guitar of Royal Trux, the mystique of The White Stripes, the cool of The Velvet Underground and you have The Kills. Fans of any of the above should consider this an essential purchase, and I defy anyone to be massively disappointed by Keep On Your Mean Side.

Album Review: Murder Ballads

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds might be the most consistently under appreciated artists of the last decade. Cave has constantly released utterly amazing LPs and yet receives little praise from the record buying public. The fact that he sounds more like a mortician than a pop star belies the fact that he is possibly the finest songwriter to have ever walked the earth. Murder Ballads is Cave’s ninth album and his first stab at something resembling a concept LP.

Murder Ballads is certainly the best example of poetry set to music of the last decade. Death might sound like a boring premise; but a subject as broad could never be dull in the hands of someone as talented as Cave. From sad tales (Kindness of Strangers) to the macabre Song Of Joy to the downright grotesque Stagger Lee the listener is treated to the different faces of The Bad Seeds on this Murder Ballads.

The opener, Song Of Joy is astoundingly atmospheric. The story is a chilling tale of murder where clues as to whodunit are cleverly woven into the lyrics. Only a thorough knowledge of John Milton’s work will allow the listener to fully understand it (or you can simply read the liner notes).

Where the opener is complex and clever so Stagger Lee is downright gruesome. Instrumentally the track is reminiscent of Cave’s earlier classic Red Right Hand but paints a much more monstrous picture. While it is a remarkable aural experience, it doesn’t seem quite the same without the video of Cave prancing around in a pink Take That tee shirt.

The album’s highlight is the incredible O’Malley’s Bar. The track certainly has the highest body count on the album. Cave plays an unknown rampant local maniac who slaughters the patrons of his local bar. Musically it remains suitably threatening until its climax and as Cave yells lyrics - the listener can be nothing but in awe. Similarly chaotic is The Curse Of Millhaven. Here Cave plays the part of a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, however Baby One More Time this is not. Cave’s character Loretta is a deranged young lady who takes pleasure in the decapitation, burning and drowning of the other inhabitants of the town of Millhaven. The track is yet another example of Cave’s uncanny knack of mixing murder with substantial wit.

Somewhere in amongst these maniacal tales come some moments of tenderness. The single Where The Wild Roses Grow probably continues to be Cave’s most well known moment, if only for the inclusion of Kylie Minogue. Similarly Henry Lee substitutes Minogue for PJ Harvey, for a slight reworking of the traditional song.

With Cave adopting the persona of a crazy teenage girl one minute and a homosexual homicidal maniac the next, Murder Ballads can make for uncomfortable listening, but I’ve certainly never heard anything like, and I dare say you won’t have either.

Tuesday, 29 April 2003

Hail a cab with your mobile

I dunno how anyone would have trouble getting a cab in London since there are millions of the buggers all over the place, but anyway.....

"When a punter calls Zingo from their mobile, location-based technology pinpoints where they are. 

At the same time, global positioning satellites identify Zingo taxis in the area that are free.

Then, punters are automatically connected to an available cab driver in their area before the prospective passenger tells the cabbie exactly where they are. Bingo.

The charge for the Zingo service is £1.60 a throw, which is added to punters' fare."

Link from the Register

Wednesday, 23 April 2003

Madonna hacked

Ha fucking ha!

A few days ago Madonna diluted her own trademark by planting a few fake tracks on P2P networks, somebody has hacked her site and posted .mp3s of the entire album before it goes on sale.

Tuesday, 22 April 2003

Nina Simone RIP

Nina Simone, one of the great voices, has died at the age of 70 in her home in the South of France.

Wednesday, 16 April 2003

Album Review: Iron Flag

With yet more below average Wu solo albums sandwiched in between The W and Iron Flag, feelings were mixed at to whether this would be the first bad album to carry the entire Wu Tang Clan.

Despite some below par performances from the Wu's big-hitters recently (stand up Rza, Method Man and Gza), when the Wu have a family get-together they continue to produce some of the finest hip hop around. Their previous LP, The W was an attempt by the Wu to retread the mystic hip hop that they perfected on their debut. I think it was a terrific album, the record buying public didn't and The W suffered at retail. Iron Flag is unmistakably a more commercial effort than their last release, but perhaps strangely, it doesn't suffer a jot.

By 2001, Ghostface Killah had unquestionably stepped up to become the Wu Tang empire's most valuable commodity. He is simply untouchable on every line of every track. On Rules Ghostface gets in his two cents on the 9/11 attacks, "Who the fuck knocked our buildings down? / who the man behind the World Trade massacres, step up now / where the four planes at huh is you insane bitch / fly that shit over my hood and get blown to bits." Later he sensibly suggests, "Mr. Bush sit down, I'm in charge of the war." In fact Rules is one of the highlights on the album, featuring a rejuvenated Method Man chanting the, "How the fuck did we get so cool?" chorus line.

Another highlight, Pinky Ring, really shouldn't be a decent record but somehow is. Taking the sample from Sesame Street it somehow manages to remain credible. Pinky Ring follows Gravel Pit's lead by being a Wu track aimed squarely at chart domination. It didn't set the UK singles chart alight, but it remains a club favourite two years after its release. Other stand out tracks include the (Ann Peebles-featuring) haunting Babies and the international bonus track The W.

Dashing is a little too bland for the rest of the album, and despite Gza's best attempts to rescue the song from mediocrity with an excellent final verse, it remains the dullest track on the album. Elsewhere, Chrome Wheels is a little too orthodox to be an outstanding track. Apart from that, the lyrics of In The Hood a little cliched.

Another (albeit one which is forced on the group) problem is the lack of ODB. His wild, unintelligible ramblings have always been a highpoint of Wu albums for me. However, on Soul Power Flava Flav steps into the void left by ODB's absence admirably ("Without me having my finger in the plug / I'm getting shocked anyway"). If nothing else it is always good to hear Flav's voice on record.

Ultimately Iron Flag is a very good album but slightly shy of the usual five-star excellence that Wu Tang Clan albums provide. What is most noticeably missing is a little of the mysticism that made the Wu so original. There are a lot more verses dedicated to girls and money than there have been on previous Wu Tang Clan LPs, which is a shame, and there is a lot less of the kung-fu nonsense that made the Wu so endearing when they exploded on the scene around a decade ago.

Monday, 14 April 2003

Great Sasuke wins office in Japan

Despite being elected, he won't take off his mask because it would weaken his 'superabundant power'.

"This is my face," the wrestler -- known as "The Great Sasuke" -- was quoted by the Nikkan Sports newspaper as saying of his black and white full-face mask with bright scarlet streaks and golden wings by the eye holes.

"I won support from voters with this face, and to take it off would be breaking promises," the 33-year-old wrestler, whose real name is Masanori Murakawa, said of his victory in conservative Iwate prefecture, some 460 km (290 miles) north of Tokyo."


Sunday, 13 April 2003

London at night

Not a cluster of galatic light but a photo of the lights surrounding London.


Tuesday, 1 April 2003

Album Review: Lapalco

Six years after his debut One Mississippi, New York resident Brendan Benson returns with a charming, witty and heartfelt twelve-strong collection of songs. Those who enjoyed One Mississippi will know that the basis of Benson's charm is his simple lyrical innocence coupled with a home-grown musical sophistication, his love of rhymes that can make you groan and smile simultaneously.

Benson's odd addiction to rhyming is what makes this album so delightful. Never is this better highlighted than onFolk Singer where Benson reminisces, "Every girl that I made in the shade of the Esplanade / I've saved in a song that I play when I'm afraid of a full-scale air raid from the choices that I've made." The chorus is equally ludicrous, "Every single day at eleven I'm home in bed in sleep heaven alone, cos my girl leaves at seven / Ain't got time for my bed-in, she said stop pretending, you're not John Lennon." All nonsense of course, but delivered so well, it becomes charming and not annoying.

The album begins with the very catchy Tiny Spark, co-written with friend and studio whiz Jason Falkner. It's a fine example of the naivety that endears Benson to the listener. The upbeat tempo is at odds with the lyrical bewilderment, yet the contrast works from the very first listen. Elsewhere What is a winning track that tells the tale of a man usurped by another who sees his ex laugh at the same jokes and fall for the same tricks that he once used. Eventually examines the way that relationships alter our behaviour, as Benson ponders what he has wrought upon his girl, yet he still makes a plea for her to stick with him through the promise that things will get better.

Personally, the stand out track on the album is the heartbreaking Metarie. Here Benson plays it straight as he meditates on a lost love. It's the only track on the album that has Benson truly depressed as he confesses, "If I had a life, I'd put it in my song." There is a pared-down version of the track lurking after the album has finished, which while more intimate is slightly less powerful.

Other highlights include the synth-driven You're Quiet, which gives another illustration of Benson's witty choruses, "I've been a little bit down on my luck / I think you know where I'm coming from / I need a pickup and I don't mean truck / I think you know where to get some." On Good To Me Benson discusses the merits of his humble but reliable car (a 1980 Volvo he tells us, not a vintage Cadillac), his amplifier (A beat-up Supro amp not a Fender Tweed Deluxe) and, somewhat predictably, his girlfriend. I'm Easy is an immaculate upbeat guitar-driven rocker.

Benson concludes the album with Jetlag, a candid lashing out against the whole showbiz thing. As is the case with most of Benson's work, this is obviously written from his experiences with record labels as he tells us sarcastically that, "the boy has got the magic touch and he can't ever lose."

Benson's style is difficult to appreciate immediately, but given repeated listens, Lapalco is an entirely refreshing bittersweet collection.