Sunday, August 6, 2017

Def Leppard - Hysteria (Deluxe Edition)

Def Leppard’s Hysteria is a masterclass in production.  The band said that they wanted to make the Hard Rock equivalent to Michael Jackson’s triller where every song could have been a hit single. Their goal was to make the audio equivalent of a Star Wars film.  They wanted to do something that was a big spectacle and they certainly succeeded.  Hysteria had seven hit singles, took over the charts from 1987 to 1988 and catapulted the band to a place where very few acts get to and sold 25 million albums along the way back when people actually bought albums.  Hysteria was B. I. G. Big.    


Let me make a confession here.  I don’t actually think Hysteria is perfect.  I can live without the majority of the tracks on side 2 (yes side 2 kids…) But side 1 is just … flawless!  Six of the seven singles are on side 1 of the album and it is the perfect mix of hard rock, glossy production, pop hooks and great playing.  In fact, side 1 is so good that I don’t even need to hear side 2.  By the time I get to the end of these six tracks I just want to start them again. 


This deluxe edition brings together 7 discs of live tracks, b sides, video clips along with the original album.  But interestingly there are no demos included in this package, which is a little disappointing.  I would have thought that this would be the perfect time to explore how this great album was made.  These days it is not uncommon for bands to release albums every 4 years, but in the mid-80s the length of the recording of Hysteria was legendary.  Stories about the band doing so many overdubs that they would wear the tape out were common.  It would be great to hear how the songs evolved from their early versions up to the finished ones that we hear today.  Having said that, they say that making a record is a lot like making a sausage.  You’d enjoy both more if you didn’t know how they were made. 


File under: Just listen to the original album (and side 1 at that!). 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Arcade Fire - Everything Now

There’s nothing wrong with being a little pretentious.  It can allow an artist with a clear vision and the courage to pursue this vision to achieve great things.  It can allow the artist to push boundaries and try things that have never been done before.  A healthy ego is often required to do great things.   

Arcade Fire are pretentious.  There's no escaping this.  But when you release your first album (Funeral - 2004) and all the great and the good of the music world claim it as an “instant classic” it would be hard not to let your grand ideas go to your head.  Then when the Thin White Duke himself (Bowie) offers to do backing vocals (yes, backing vocals!) on one of your Tracks (Reflektor) your greatness is pretty much confirmed.  At least in your own mind.

Arcade Fire have released four albums (Everything Now is their fifth) each one greeted with breathless anticipation from the critics.  They seem to fall over themselves trying to outdo each other with the amount of superlatives they can heap on the band.   This kind of atmosphere means that their new album will be greeted like the second coming from hipster rock critics everywhere.

So, most importantly, is it any good?  Well, on Everything Now Arcade Fire divert away from the anthemic sound where they made their name and go further towards the dance rhythms first explored on Reflektor.  The title track and first single has been described as ABBA-esque and that's a pretty good description of the sound of the song and an indicator of where the band is going on this album. 
Overall the album is actually pretty great.  There are elements of Talking Heads, 70s disco sounds and the previously mentioned ABBA.  It’s quite a euphoric sounding album.  It has to be said that one of the downsides of being pretentious is that sometimes your goals are beyond your abilities and there are moments when the band sometimes overreaches on the album.  But overall Everything Now reaffirms Arcade Fire’s status as one of the best bands in the world.  Unfortunately, that opinion won’t do anything to help deflate their ego.  It also means that we can look forward to more pretentious albums from them in the future.  I can’t wait.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Prince - Purple Rain Deluxe Edition

When Prince was alive there were always stories about “the vault”.  The vault was a mythical place where he left a vast body of work that would never see the light of day – it was rumoured to have outtakes, alternative versions, hell … even whole albums that were brilliant.  But not released.  Until now. 

The death of Prince in 2016 has seen the inevitable release of the deluxe edition of Purple Rain.  The most interesting aspect of the release is some of the treasures from the vault in what we can only assume will be the first of many of these projects in the years to come.  So apart from the original album (still brilliant), you get a disc of b-sides and a disc from the vault (there’s also a concert film in this package).

My first impression of these unreleased tracks?  

Half baked ideas.

Sure Prince’s half baked ideas are better than just about any other artist's completed songs.  But there are no hidden works of genius hidden among the vault tracks. 

Given that this is the first bite of the cherry for the record company to mine the vault we can assume that this is the best that is in there.  There’s no When Doves Cry part 2 hidden and waiting for us to discover.

I guess it shows what a great editor Prince was.  These vault tracks are good but his albums were Great.  Brilliant even.  

An interesting thought is that while Prince thought that his contract with Warner Brothers made him a “slave” it may have actually resulted in his reputation being enhanced.  As a result of the contract he always needed to put his best work forward which resulted in a virtuous circle – his reputation built while more great tracks were released and the just good ones were hidden in the vault.

After being freed from his contract in 1994 his golden period was over.  Coincidence? 

Guns N Roses - Appetite for Destruction

This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of Guns N Roses - Appetite for Destruction.

Listening to it again, it strikes me that the album is the perfect mix of punk attitude, 70s rock swagger, with a dash of 80s hair metal (although this album is the antidote to that whole scene) with a shot of naive youthful "danger" (whether that was fake or real that didn't matter to this author when he was an impressionable 15 year old).

While my tastes have changed over the years, this is still a classic album.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Coldplay - Kaleidoscope

I'm a great defender of Coldplay.  They're pretty much the uncoolest band alive.  But this EP just doesn't do anything for me.