Radiohead – General Introduction

Radiohead Are: Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Colin Greenwood & Phil Selway. All Five Members Met While Attending School At Oxfordshire.

Radiohead Are: Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Colin Greenwood & Phil Selway. All Five Members Met While Attending School At Oxfordshire.

Innovators in the truest sense of the word, the name of Radiohead is synonymous with the best music that came from the ‘90s. Conformed by five school friends from Oxfordshire, the band led by Thom Yorke mutated from a grungier outfit into electronica linchpins over the course of just three albums, writing the rule book as they went along with the songs they chose to release as singles.

Radiohead is also remembered as one of the biggest emotionally-tumultuous bands this side of Joy Division, The Sisters of Mercy and related acts. Yorke’s recurrent themes of paranoia and self-loathing surfaced as early as their first single, “Creep” (from “Pablo Honey”, 1993). The song was actually banned in England by Radio One on grounds of being too depressing, but when “Creep” became a surprise hit in Israel and then in San Francisco the band gained recognition in their home soil. They were thrown into an onslaught of live shows that left everyone dour, and the subsequent album was to be named after the mental condition that affects drivers that have risen to the top too quickly

The Bends” (1995) included the desperate “Street Spirit”, the turmoil-weighed “High and Dry” and the we-have-fucking-had-it title track. But nowhere was the frustration expressed as clearly as in “My Iron Lung”, a song in which the music could barely sheathe the vitriol. Also included was the turbid yet beautiful “Fake Plastic Trees”, composed by the band the night after they attended a Jeff Buckley gig.

None of those songs managed to make them feel better as a performing unit (or as individuals, for that matter), and the sessions for their next album were the most trying ever.

But the struggle was worth it. “OK Computer” (1997) quickly became the best album not only of the year but also one of the most celebrated LPs of the whole decade. The band managed to beat lots of acts who had broader appeal like Oasis, whose “Be Here Now” was rebuffed by the public and found its way into the used racks pretty quickly. Continue reading

Dream All Day (The Posies) – Compilation Album

“Dream All Day” Was The Posies’ First Anthology Ever. It Came In The Year 2000, And While It Included All Their Radio Hits It Bypassed Their Independent Years. This Is My Copy, Autographed By Ken Stringfellow When He Come To Uruguay. He Was A True Star And A Gentleman.

“Dream All Day” Was The Posies’ First Anthology Ever. It Came In The Year 2000, And While It Included All Their Radio Hits It Bypassed Their Independent Years. This Is My Copy, Autographed By Ken Stringfellow When He Come To Uruguay. He Was A True Star And A Gentleman.

Not only did Seattle give us the best grunge music ever in the shape of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, not only was it the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, not only did it regale us with the talents of Bill Frisell, the city was actually the home to one of the best alt rock bands of the ‘90s: The Posies.

The band formed in 1986 and it has undergone several transformations and periods of inactivity (they are now about to release a new album – titled “Blood/Candy”, it’s coming out on Rykodisc at the end of September). Its core member have always been Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, and I had the immense pleasure (not to mention the honor) of meeting Ken face to face when he played in Uruguay in the summer of 2009. He was such a humble and engaging person that even to this day the friend who accompanied me to the gig can but tell me when we meet and there is a minute of silence “¡Fa! ¡Qué bueno que estuvo lo del Ken!” [¡Man! ¡Ken’s gig was the bee’s knees!].

That day, I was lucky to have him sign my copies of The Posies’ first anthology, “Dream All Day” and what was then his latest album: “Smoking Kills”.


Smoking Kills

I’d like to tell you a little about “Dream All Day” now. The compilation was released in the year 2000, at a time in which the band was inactive. It did include tracks from their three major label albums (they were signed to DGC, an imprint of Geffen Records). These albums are “Dear 23” (1990), “Frosting On The Beater” (1993) and “Amazing Disgrace” (1996). No tracks were included for the independent albums “Failure” (1988) or “Success” (1998), and the live disc “Alive Before The Iceberg” was also bypassed by the compilers.

What remains is an anthology that has their major radio hits: “Dream All Day” (it hit #4 at the time of its release, when grunge was all the rage), the beautifully-harmonized “Suddenly Mary” and “Golden Blunders”. The latter was not a bondafide hit, but it was covered by Ringo Starr within weeks of being released as a single. Continue reading

Echo (Tom Petty) – Album Review

"Echo" (1999) Was The First Album That Tom Petty Issued With The Heartbreakers In 8 Years. On The Album, Petty Coped With The Passing Of Some Dear Friends  And His Very Own Divorce.

"Echo" (1999) Was The First Album That Tom Petty Issued With The Heartbreakers In 8 Years. On The Album, Petty Coped With The Passing Of Some Dear Friends And His Very Own Divorce.

As you know, I am not the biggest fan of “Wildflowers“, Tom Petty’s second solo album. I have always felt that he could only take the pastoral element so far, and that the rockers were jaded. That album did, however, set the scene for one of his finest works with the Heartbreakers, 1999’s “Echo”, an album that was to sound like the truest solo offering of his whole career – yes, even more than “Full Moon Fever“, “Wildflowers” and the forthcoming “Highway Companion”. If anything, that “solo” feel was the indirect result of the passing of some of his friends, and the direct consequence of his own divorce.

I feel I must mention that “Echo” was not the first album that Petty released with the Heartbreakers after “Wildflowers“. He did actually bring the boys around for a soundtrack album that certainly renewed their energies. That was the “She’s The One” OST, and while I did never consider it a canonical album (and I actually actively dislike it) I’m the first to admit it did energize the band. Because cuts like “Won’t Last Long” and “About To Give Out” on “Echo” could never have sounded as fresh as they did without that soundtrack, nor songs like “Accused Of Love” and “This One’s For Me” sound so joyous and frolicsome.

Still, “Echo” will always be remembered for the catharsis of songs like “Room At The Top” (where the nature and the inexorable downfall of forced forgetfulness are explored), and the two final tracks, “Rhino Skin” and “One More Day, One More Night”. “Rhino Skin” is a cry of disgustingness at the cruelty of life, and “One More Day, One More Night” is a song of resignation in which I like to read between the lines and find a certain determination to carry on. It’s placement on the album is certainly impeccable, especially when we pitch it against the opening “Room At The Top”. That is something about the album: how well structured it is. Songs which are not that pivotal like “Swinging” and Mike Campbell’s “I Don’t Wanna Fight” (in which he also happens to take the lead) don’t get in the way at all. And the title track (one of the most Dylanesque compositions that Petty ever penned) is placed right in the middle. The song (which is absolutely gorgeous) is too long to be either at the beginning or at the end. It could only work there, especially as the track that follows it is “Won’t Last Long”, a song which is pure make-believe, and which is what the album needs after the expurgation of its title track.

The cuts that deal with Petty’s separation more forthrightly are situated mostly at the beginning, and they are not really my favorite songs on the album. They include “Free Girl Now” and “Lonesome Sundown”, and while I have never thought too much of either I have to admit that “Free Girl Now” has Petty sounding as pissed as he ever did. What is interesting is how well he controls and channels that anger (something he could not do on the next album, “The Last DJ”). That ability to take negativity and turn it into something that could instill positive action on the listener is what wins me over in the end. Despite the circumstances that surrounded it, “Echo” managed to sound victorious instead of vanquished. And along with “Into The Great Wide Open” and “Full Moon Fever“, this is the one album of Petty I reach out for the most often.

Rating: 9.5/10

Wildflowers (Tom Petty) – Album Review

Tom Petty's Second Solo Album, "Wildflowers" (1994) Was Produced By Rick Rubin, With Michael Kamen Adding Many Orchestrations.

Tom Petty's Second Solo Album, "Wildflowers" (1994) Was Produced By Rick Rubin, With Michael Kamen Adding Many Orchestrations.

Tom Petty’s second solo album is clearly a more modest effort than his previous solo offering (“Full Moon Fever“, issued in 1989). This time around there are no superstars backing Mr. Integrity (fellow Traveling Wilburys Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison had contributed substantially to the making of “Full Moon Fever”), and “Wildflowers” was to end up sandwiched between two of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers better releases: “Into The Great Wide Open” (1991) and the tragedy-inspired “Echo” (1999). If anything, “Wildflowers” seems to me a canvass upon which “Echo” was to be painted. In some cases, a couple of brushes have already been either insinuated or put into place in “Wildflowers” – the songs “Crawling Back To You” and “Don’t Fade On Me” constitute a true link in the chain of despondency and abatement that would come to define the most endemic material to “Echo” (“Rhino Skin”, “One More Day, One More Night”).

By my reckoning, there are only a handful of tracks here that are real keepers. These include “Time To Move On” and “A Better Place”, both reasonably upbeat (or at the very least positive) compositions, and the relatively loud “Honey Bee”, a number in which Tom and Mike Campbell have one of their best guitar duels on record with the instrument of each having a separate speaker all to itself.

The three-chord rocker “You Wreck Me” was a successful single, and so was the mellow, autobiographical  “It’s Good To Be King” . I think they are good, but not that good.  I wouldn’t call “You Wreck Me” rote, but I would call it perfunctory.  And when I listen to “It’s Good To Be King” I get the feeling Petty is holding something back – something he would unleash to good effect on “Echo”, and to disastrous consequences on “The Last DJ”.  In the end, Michael Kamen’s orchestral arrangement is what makes this rumination on fame remotely memorable.

The folksy contingent of the album is best-represented by the title track, which is a lovely air and one of Petty’s most realized incursions in the genre. Conversely, cuts like “To Find A Friend” are easy to listen to, but also easy to be forgotten. Continue reading

Mirror Blue (Richard Thompson) – Album Review

Richard Thompson Issued "Mirror Blue" In 1994, More Than Two Years After The Critically-acclaimed "Rumour And Sigh" Album. It Was Produced By Mitchell Froom Again.

Richard Thompson Issued "Mirror Blue" In 1994, More Than Two Years After The Critically-acclaimed "Rumour And Sigh" Album Was Released. It Was Produced By Mitchell Froom Again.

It remains something of a mystery why Richard Thompson did not capitalize on the success of “Rumour And Sigh” and took more than two years to deliver his next album. Well, it is a mystery only if you are not familiar with the man himself, that is. Thompson did never care about making “commercial” albums, and he has never player by the rules of the industry either. His music is something that is created in a context where expressions like “hit single” or “chart success” are either redefined or absolutely discarded. And there is no clearer example of that than the album he was to finally release long after “Rumour And Sigh” had run its course.

The album was to be titled “Mirror Blue” (after a poem by Lord Tennyson which is quoted on the booklet), and it would be the penultimate album that Mitchell Froom was to produce for Thompson. Many would point his fingers at the finished album, and cite Froom’s production as the reason it could not dent the charts. But today we know that Richard was the main instigator for the somehow disconcerting drum sound that was employed in the end. If anything, it seems as if Thompson was doing all he could to decommercialize the album, as if the successes attained by “Rumour And Sigh” were a cause of concern. More than anything, one is left feeling that Thompson came up with a disc to please his long time fans after having created one that pleased casual listeners, as if all he wanted to do was prove he could have mainstream success if he wanted to.

The themes he broaches are true to his best compositions – people who feel too much in too limited ways like the character from “For The Sake Of Mary” (and whose narrowness ultimately seals his fate) and delinquents like Shane and Dixie (two non-hopers who might as well have been called Sid and Nancy) are some of the protagonists you get to know during the disc’s duration. You feel you have met them before in different guises if you have been a listener of Thompson’s albums for a while, but there are topics which are infinite in themselves. Leaving aside the inherent nefarious thrill of such stories, I believe that tales about wrongdoing are always alluring if only because we believe deep down inside that by being exposed to other people’s faults me might be eventually able to address our own shortcomings. That might explain the popularity of songs like “1952 Vincent Black Lighting” from the previous album, and the heart-rending “Beeswing” from this one. “Beeswing” is a delicate Celtic ballad in which the fierceness of young love is demolished against the ineluctability of maturing. The final verse is bestial in its desolation. The listeners who have been there themselves will sink low for sure, and younger listeners will have one of the harder-hitting reality checks of their lives. Continue reading

Into The Great Wide Open (Tom Petty) – Album Review

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 8th Album, "Into The Great Wide Open" Was Also The Final Record They Cut For MCA. Jeff Lynne Produced It.

"Into The Great Wide Open" Was The Final Record Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Cut For MCA. Jeff Lynne Produced It.

Some albums can have a very limited tonal palette and still manage to convey emotions with such vividness and diversity that you can but be amazed at the level of craftsmanship displayed by their composers.  “Into The Great Wide Open” is an album that certainly brings that to mind. Produced by Jeff Lynne, it was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers eight album overall, and the last they would release for MCA Records.

The year was 1991, and the partnership with Lynne made a lot of sense – not only did Tom and Jeff get along like a house on fire, Lynne had helmed the praiseworthy “Full Moon Fever” just three years before.

In terms of sound, “Into The Great Wide Open” recalls not only Petty’s first solo album but also The Traveling Wilburys’ entire oeuvre with its mix of contemporary motifs and a shiny roots rock feel. That was an inevitable point of comparison, and one of the main criticisms leveled at the album – that it was nothing but “Full Moon Fever 2”,and that the production undermined the message.

The first part of that argument did hold its own, and Petty knew as much (this was the last album Lynne produced for him). But I find the second part patently untrue. Petty did never touch upon his endemic themes with such accuracy, vitality and grace.

The first single was to top the Mainstream Rock Charts for six weeks. Named “Learning To Fly”, it has become one of Petty’s trademark songs, and the one song of his that everybody knows down where I live (Uruguay). That is a good thing – the song is one of the catchiest within his repertoire. And thematically, it has all the basic ingredients that Petty is known to combine at his most emblematic- a lyric where hopelessness is turned in its head by the mere resolution of the protagonist to hold onto something that he actually knows is not there. But it will be there one day. Until that day comes, it is a matter of going up and down.

And several songs showcase a development in Petty’s typical cast of characters that one can help but feel, “At last, it all comes full circle”. I am speaking about “King’s Highway”, where the promise of a better day becomes engraved in time by the courage of the narrator to believe the force of his will. And the song “Two Gunslingers” has two gunfighters (IE, two slaves to a brutal form of entertainment) breaking out of their given roles, with one of them pronouncing “I’m takin’ control of my life” so many times that what ends up mattering is the life that is begotten, and not the onslaught that we (as the listeners) know had preceded that moment. Continue reading

Psychoderelict (Pete Townshend) – Album Review

One Of The Two Covers Of "Psychoderelict" (1993)

One Of The Two Covers Of "Psychoderelict" (1993)

Pete Townshend’s relationship with the music industry was always defined by a sort of unresolved tension. His one dream project (Lifehouse) clearly spelt that he wanted something from music and from listeners that was not to be. And that tension began pouring into songs by the point “The Who By Numbers” was issued. The jabs were to become full body blows in solo songs like “Jools & Jim”. And the final solo album that he was to release examined the way artists were at the mercy of unscrupulous managers and press agents as thoroughly as only a lifelong insider could.

Named “Psychoderelict”, the disc came out in 1993 and many experts touted it as one of the comebacks of the decade. But it was to perform ingloriously in the charts, and if we leave aside the “Lifehouse Chronicles” boxed set and some compilations (including a “Best Of” package and another title in the “Scoop” series), Pete was to issue no more original material ever again.

Psychoderelict was a conceptual work that took the shape of a CD drama. The story revolved around a ‘60s s musician named Ray High who ended up cocooning himself as the years went by, much to the chagrin of his ruthless manager Rastus Knight. He was desperate to spur Ray into action, and a music journalist named Ruth Streeting devised a way to revive Ray’s career. This involved the creation of a sex scandal that effectively put the name of Ray in everybody’s lips again.

The CD is made up of songs interspersed with dialogue, and the story is completely understandable (and even funny). Ray High (whose name was a direct homage to Ray Davies and Nick Lowe) is entirely convincing as he rallies against the industry and the press, but the true stars are Ruth and Rastus. They are truly two villains you will love to hate. They are hardnosed and truly mercenary. They are also entirely tangible, and the words they speak to each other must have been spoken a billion times over the fates of artists everywhere. At around the time the disc was issued, Pete told Keith Moon’s biographer Tony Fletcher that the music industry “feeds on the corpses of artists”. By that yardstick, Ruth and Rastus come across as the most accomplished undertakers you are liable to ever come across. Continue reading

All This Useless Beauty (Elvis Costello) – Album Review

"All This Useless Beauty" Was The Final Album Elvis Costello Cut With The Attractions

"All This Useless Beauty" Was The Final Album Elvis Costello Cut With The Attractions

Costello’s artistry was in permanent evolution during the mid-90s. Learning to write music at the start of the decade was the first of many events that led him to reconsider his position as a performer and a composer. In 1995 he released a disc devoted from start to finish to covers. The title of the album was “Kojak Variety”, and it felt more like a resume than anything else. There was only one true gem, namely the version of The Kinks’s “Days” (a little known non-album side that is often packaged as a bonus on reissues of “The Village Green Preservation Society” today). And in 1996, after having given us the chance to glance at those artists whose music spoke to him in one level or the other, Costello swapped sides and looked at how he spoke to other artists. He ran through songs he had written for others to perform, and decided to interpret them for what was to be the final studio album with The Attractions: “All This Useless Beauty”.

At the time, many critics did not get the point. The charge was that Costello was running out of steam, hence his decision to play other people’s material. Now, more than fifteen years later we know that Costello was not really running out of steam. Rather, he was accumulating steam for an unbridled return. He wasn’t empty – he was almost half-full by then. He let it all grow and grow inside of him, and when the time came he ventured forth again without breaking stride with albums like “The Delivery Man”, “Il Sogno” and “Momofuku”.

But that was to come later. If we situated ourselves back in 1996, what we had was a disc made up of songs written for others like “Complicated Shadows” (composed for Johnny Cash) and “All This Useless Beauty” (penned for June Tabor) along with collaborations like “The Other End Of The Telescope” (written with Aimee Mann, and originally issued on ‘Til Tuesday’s album “Everything’s Different Now”) and “Shallow Grave”, a leftover from the writing sessions with Paul MacCartney.

Surprisingly for songs that came from so many sources and that were meant for so many dissimilar destinations, the album had quite a pronounced sense of unity. Of course, some songs were altered in order to suit Elvis’ sound – “Complicated Shadows” was done as a loud rocker, and a countrified version was not to surface until “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane” saw release in 2009.

“All This Useless Beauty” had a predominance of ballads and mid-paced cuts. The exceptions were “Complicated Shadows”, the rockabilly-oriented “Shallow Grave” and the exciting “You Bowed Down” (grossly omitted on “Extreme Honey”). This stood in direct contrast with “Brutal Youth”, a disc that was defined by songs in which Costello revisited his roots. There is only one tune on “All This Useless Beauty” that could have fitted on the previous disc, namely “Starting To Come To Me”. But if the energy was what characterized “Brutal Youth”, a true refinement would be the key note of “All This Useless Beauty”. And that refinement didn’t just boil down to the actual performances being tamer.  Mitchell Froom was no longer acting as Costello’s producer. That was a defining factor. Continue reading

Brutal Youth (Elvis Costello) – Album Review

Released In 1994, "Brutal Youth" Has Become A Mandatory Listen To Fans Of Costello Both Old And New

Released In 1994, "Brutal Youth" Has Become A Mandatory Listen For Fans Of Costello Both Old And New

“Brutal Youth” was incontestably Elvis Costello’s best album of the ‘90s. It was no coincidence that it was his first full-scale collaboration with The Attractions since “Blood & Chocolate”, his 1986 record that yielded the deliciously turbulent “I Want You”.

Here, Costello is backed by his classic ensemble on five numbers; Nick Lowe sits in for Bruce Thomas in the remaining seven cuts, and Elvis himself plays bass on “Kinder Murder” and “20% Amnesia”.

The disc (issued in 1994) mostly apes his late ‘70s sound, and cuts like “Pony Street”, “13 Steps Lead Down”, “My Science Fiction Twin” and “20% Amnesia” wouldn’t feel out of place on his early trinity of albums. The emphasis is often placed on the melodic twists he was always revered for in his heyday, while songs like “Rocking Horse Road” recall the more polished MO of later albums like “Get Happy!!”.

The most new-wavish song is “Kinder Murder”, whose main riff actually treads grungier turf – it always made me think of The Posies at their most pissed off (“Everybody Is A Fucking Liar”). Continue reading

In Time: The Best of R.E.M 1988 – 2003

In Spite Of Some Omissions Like "Shiny Happy People" & "Drive" This Compliation Portrays The Band At The Peak Of Their Hit-making Powers

In Spite Of Some Omissions Like "Shiny Happy People" & "Drive" This Compliation Portrays The Band At The Peak Of Their Hit-making Powers

R.E.M. became an unstoppable force during their stay at Warner. This single disc compiles most of their ineluctable hits along with some rarities and previously unreleased tracks to keep collectors entertained.

All of their Warner albums are featured; “Automatic For The People” is the one that has more tracks in (4 in total), whereas the least represented discs are “Out Of Time” and “Monster” (only one track each – “Losing My Religion” and “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” respectively). And the remaining discs (“Green”, “Up”, “Reveal” and “New Adventures in Hi Fi”) are summarized in two songs per album.

Even someone who isn’t that well-versed on their catalog will spot some omissions that are bitter to swallow. Both “Shiny Happy People” (“Out Of Time”) and “Drive” (“Automatic For The People”) have been excluded. “Shiny Happy People” might be one of the stupidest songs since the dawn of time, but it was their one and only Top 5 hit both in America and in Europe. The band has professed its deep abhorrence for the song. Fair enough. But Radiohead does not omit “Creep” on anthologies, no matter how much they grew to detest it.   Continue reading