Wednesday, December 14, 2016
The best artists tell us something about themselves. And, if we're really lucky, they'll tell us something about us while doing so.
Coldplay are unfairly targeted as lightweight and boring. But, they reveal something about themselves just as much of themselves as any "credible" artist. For example, Chris Martin famously has a break up (with Gwyneth) and voila! the result is a break up album (Ghost Stories). Then, possibly in response to the break up, Chris Martin decides to respond to this with positivity and a "moving on" album appears (A Head Full of Dreams). How much more do we want him to tell us?But how does this translate into the live show? Well it certainly helps if you have all the tricks that a modern rock show allows. TV screens, Fireworks, Confetti, Electronic wrist bands that flash in tune to the music. And that's just the first song! Coldplay approach the first song much like another band would approach the encore. They throw everything at it, and then (this bit is different to most bands) they keep the energy level at that point for about two hours.
One thing they've got on their side is the number of songs that appeal to a crowd of 50,000 people. They've got the ballads covered (Scientist, Fix You), they've got the Beyonce number (sadly she didn’t appear in person – she featured on the backing track to Hymn for the Weekend), they've got rockers (Charlie Brown), they've got the obligatory acoustic set (featuring early hit In My Place), they play their first hit (Yellow) and they turn the whole arena into a dance party (Adventure of a Lifetime). This was the point that I think it all came together. The song Adventure of a Lifetime is where the band states their manifesto, which is both intimate and universal. Paraphrasing here, it says “If you’ve only got one life, I want to share it with you”. And that’s the trick. They’ve got the songs that mean something to every single person in the audience, but also to everyone collectively. This is some trick.
Don't take my word for it though. Take the word of Ms "hard to please" 15. When told that another reviewer gave the concert 4 stars she said - disdainfully, as only a 15 year old can - "it deserves more than that". Who am I to argue? If it can touch the impenetrable 15 year old heart and mind then it deserves every one of its 5 stars.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Popular wisdom is that Oasis took too many drugs (mainly coke) when recording their third album Be Here Now which resulted in an overblown and self-indulgent album. The world was theirs for the taking. They had released two brilliant albums and needed to just capitalise on this success. They had played Knebworth to 250,000 people only 2 years after releasing their debut album. They. Were. Big.
Next step – writing the third album.
Noel Gallagher went on holiday to Mustique and stayed in Mick Jagger’s villa. He flew his producer over to record some demos. Why is this relevant? Because the demos that are included in the deluxe edition of Be Here Now are not actually that different from the versions that appear on the final album. Yes, the performances are more polished but the general arrangements are basically the same. The demos show that, aside from a few tracks, the songs Noel brought to the third album just aren’t very good. Maybe it was too much time in the sun or hanging out with celebrity friends, but something just wasn’t working for him. Perhaps the well was just dry.
The final album does have layers on layers of guitar tracks that make it seem overblown and self-indulgent, but I don’t think this is the major problem. What Noel should have done was to save some of the tracks that he, frankly, threw away on B-sides for the first two albums and used them for his third.
If the band had used the best tracks from the excellent B-sides collection (The Masterplan) and the best tracks from the Be Here Now demos (with a bit of judicious editing) it could have made a killer third album.
Sadly, it was not to be.
Friday, November 25, 2016
When is a debut album not a debut album? The answer might be when the lead singer from a successful band releases their debut solo effort. After five albums with Keane, The Wave is the solo debut release from the Keane lead singer Tom Chaplin and it poses another question – why do lead singers release solo albums? Is it ego? Is it the fact that they want a bigger slice of the pie? Is it that after years of listening to the guitarist putting in his 5 cents worth they are sick of it and just want to make decisions for themselves? I’m sure there are many reasons.
In the case of Tom Chaplin’s solo album, none of those reasons seem to apply. The format of Keane was that there was a great singer. And there was a great songwriter. But they weren’t the same person. So, in this instance, the great singer (the aforementioned Mr Chaplin) has decided to write an album himself because, well, he actually has something to say.
The Wave feels like all good albums should. It is deeply personal. Tom Chaplin has had a long history with addiction (don’t let those choirboy looks fool you) and this album expresses the fallout from his actions – apologies to loved ones, apologies to himself, and most importantly it addresses the redemption that he feels for coming through the other side of his illness.
The lyrics plot the path that he takes – the opening lines are “Buried in the rubble, there’s a boy in trouble reaching for a piece of the sky” and the album closes eleven songs later with “My soul surrendered to the undertow, Driven by the tide, I’m heading for the shore”. It certainly feels that you’ve followed him from his low point towards a kind of healing.
I have to admit that when I heard that he was “going solo” I was a bit concerned. But perhaps all that time spent in close proximity to one of the great song writers of the 21st century wasn’t wasted, because the album is really quite fine. While the music isn’t ground breaking or cutting edge (yes it could get a bit schmaltzy for some tastes in the middle), his lyrics are obviously very personal and the band that he has put together really brings out the best of these songs.
So, while this album isn’t perfect, this album is a really great debut album. A satisfying addition to the broader Keane catalogue and I’m looking forward to where he goes from here.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Crowded House – Deluxe Editions
The first four Crowded House albums are basically flawless. They are essential listening for any music fan. These two statements are irrefutable facts.
Crowded House have released a boxed set where each album comes with a bonus disc of demos, home recordings, a smattering of live tracks, works in progress. It’s a treasure trove of brilliance that shows how these great albums were made. It really gives you a glimpse into the writing process of Neil Finn. Some of the demos show the songs arrive almost fully formed. Others, and perhaps more interestingly, show the evolution of the songs. They have different arrangements, different lyrics, and different moods. All of them are fascinating. There are the sessions that Neil and Tim Finn did for what became the Woodface album. No longer do you need to wonder what it would be like to be a fly on the wall when the brothers were writing a song. Here is the audio equivalent. Amazing!
There are also complete unreleased songs that any other artist would not only have put on the album, but would have made them the lead single! Basically this shows the quality control Crowded House had at their peak. Without wanting to name all the forgotten tracks, if songs like “Blue Smoke”, “Convent Girls”, “Fields are Full of Your kind” couldn’t make it onto the parent album then you know the songs on the main albums must have been good (and they were).
Normally this kind of “Deluxe Edition” is just an excuse to throw together some demos (which are essentially the album but recorded in poorer quality) or a live show from the era. But in this case the deluxe editions show how the albums were made, why they were so good and why my first two statements still hold today. They are basically flawless and essential listening.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
James is a band from Manchester who quite notoriously don't play greatest hits sets. If you were being unkind you could say that's because they only have one hit - that being "Laid" (and as it only just cracked the top 40 in Australia, calling it a “hit” is a loose definition of the word). The argument the band give is that they play what inspires them creatively which gets a better result for both band and audience. So you're as likely to get a set filled with b sides as you are with hits.
There aren’t many advantages to being a fan of UK indie music if you live in the antipodes. The bands never tour here. The releases are hard to find. If you can find them they are expensive. And when you mention your favourite band to people they think you’re a bit strange. But the advantages are immense. When the band you like eventually make it out here they play in tiny venues. How tiny? Imagine your living room. Only more intimate. I know back at home they play huge arenas but here they play shoe boxes.
At James' first ever Sydney show (it's taken them 35 years to tour Australia) the band played a selection of old and new songs to an overwhelming reception. Perhaps it was the pent up anticipation. Or perhaps it's just because they have a great back catalogue. But being in the audience felt like being at a rapture.
Lead singer Tim Booth asked us if we wanted to revel 1 or if we wanted a quiet night staring at our phones. By the end of the concert he had his answer. After the band completed the song Sometimes the audience took over and basically sang the whole song again back to the band acapella doubling the length of the song and doubling the volume in the room. I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite like it. The looks on the faces of the band members was unforgettable.
Opening with a brace of new songs (ie not recorded in their 90s heyday) might have tested the audience a little but once they kicked into “Ring the Bells” from their breakthrough album Seven we were in safe hands and it was plain sailing for the rest of the evening.
Finishing the main set with 4 songs from the Laid album lifted the roof off the Metro. All that was left was to return for the inevitable encores and promise that it won't be 35 years before their return.
It bloody well better not be.
Greatest hits set? No. But I can't imagine a greater set.
- Google defines Revel as “enjoy oneself in a lively and noisy way, especially with drinking and dancing”