Bob Dylan: Together Through Life

There’s no doubting that Bob Dylan has released some truly seminal albums. “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Blonde on Blonde”, “Blood on the Tracks” and “Desire” are all unequivocal musical masterpieces.

Although his musical quality took a steep nose dive in the late 70’s early 80’s (curiously enough, the period where he became a born-again Christian, compelling evidence indeed to support the hypothesis that the Devil has all the best music), he has however had a late blooming purple patch with recent albums like “ Time Out Of Mind”, “Love and Theft” and even “Modern Times”

The professional critics' reviews that I have read for Dylan’s latest album all provide glowing endorsements for this recent work. Maybe they’re right, or perhaps they’re so in awe of the genius that created those aforementioned works of art, that they have failed to mention that the emperor is inclined to occasionally wonder around stark bollock naked.

I’m not suggesting that this is not a good album, there are indeed some great new songs on here, but I still think the package as a whole is a bit of a mixed bag. Accordion player, David Hidalgo, has a constant presence on this album but despite his talent, for me, he outstays his welcome.

Dylan is at his best on this new album with tracks like “Forgetful Heart”, “My Wife’s Hometown” and “Shake Shake Mama” where he opts for a more unadulterated blues formula. Conversely he’s at his most irksome on tracks like “Life is Hard” where the semi-spoken and strained vocals grumble over a painfully slow rhythm.

The Australian Pink Floyd Show: The Wall (Wembley Arena, Wednesday 29th April 2009)

The opening accordion introduction resulting from the wrapping around of “Outside the Wall” at the arse end of the album, opens proceedings, but wait a minute they’ve somehow drifted off into a rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”; they get back on track just in time to be drowned out by the opening power chord of “In The Flesh”.

The Oz Floyd are meticulous in their goal of reproducing an accurate live facsimile of Roger’s magnum opus. The energy of the opening track is in full evidence, especially behind the vast array of drums setup in front of Paul Bonney. I was going to say that he had more drums than you could shake a stick at, but that would be a particularly poor metaphor as he was in fact shaking sticks at them in a most accomplished manner.

The fact that they played “The Wall” in its entirety, competently matching the original score leaves me little to blog about as I’m sure you’re familiar with the work. If you’re not stop reading my blog and go and get yourself a copy of “Smash Hits”, or whatever it’s called these days.

The Floyd only originally performed “The Wall” in a select few venues including (from memory) New York, Los Angeles, Dortmund and London. The original show was an immense theatrical performance with gigantic inflatable puppets and a huge wall constructed during the show that by the conclusion of “Goodbye Cruel World” completely segregated the band from their audience. Roger took the theatrical elements of the show to its ultimate level when I saw him perform it in Berlin in 1990 replete with helicopters, limousines and marching bands.

The Australian Pink Floyd do not have the resources to imitate this, but despite the brilliance of Roger’s theatre, the music is more than enough to stand on its on two feet. That’s not to say that the Australian Pink Floyd are completely bereft of props, they have a brace of fine inflatable pigs, not to mention a large pink kangaroo and some impressive lasers.

I was relieved that the music followed the slightly different live version rather than the studio album. This means that it included the extended version of “What Shall We Do Now”, the additional guitar and keyboard solo’s at the end of “Another Brick In the Wall Part 2” and that little overture of the first half at the end of “Another Brick In The Wall Part 3”. To correctly mimic the live shows they also only introduced “Young Lust” in the first half with no further audience banter.

The intermission after “Goodbye Blue Sky” was followed by an equally competent and delightful second half of the album. The guitar solo for “Comfortably Numb” was handled with aplomb and much to the delight of the audience as a new level of respect was gained for guitarist Damian Darlington by those who had not seen him before.

The second half of the show features the more complex sounds with heavier orchestration and special effects which gave the band a larger reliance on tapes as a lot of this could not be fully recreated live.

As no physical wall was constructed on stage the final destruction of the wall was depicted with an impressive animation on the large rear screen. Other films were also used throughout the show with recreations of Gerald Scarfes original animations for “Good Bye Blue Sky”, “What Shall We Do Now” and “The Trial”.

However unlike the original shows we didn’t have to bugger off after the wall came down. Our hosts soon reappeared and continued to entertain us with the following additional set:

Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 1-5)
The Great Gig In The Sky
One Of These Days
Wish You Were Here
Brain Damage / Eclipse
As the final strains of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” faded an image of Syd, its inspiration, adorned the large screen. The opening piano for “The Great Gig in the Sky” started up and the pictures of Syd were replaced with a respectful montage of images of Richard Wright, reminding the audience of the sad loss of Floyd’s keyboardist last year.

The tuning radio introduction to “Wish You Were Here” was also ozzied up with snippets of Australian soap opera theme’s and even a quick snatch of “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo” before neatly segueing into another perfectly copied Floyd standard.

3 full hours of Floyd genius never veering away from those 1970’s classics.

Bat For Lashes: Two Suns

Bat For Lashes is a pseudonym for Natasha Khan and “Two Suns” is her second studio album following on form her 2006 Mercury nominated “Fur and Gold”. Before reviewing the actual music, here’s a copy and paste from the press release of “Two Suns” harvested from Wikipedia:

"a record of modern-day fables exploring dualities on a number of levels – two lovers, two planets, two sides of a personality," bringing reflection about "the philosophy of the self and duality, examining the need for both chaos and balance, for both love and pain, in addition to touching on metaphysical ideas concerning the connections between all existence."

I’ve read and re-read the above quote a number of times now and it still makes no sense to me. Perhaps it’s because I have an allergy to words like “metaphysical” as I favour empiricist principles and more logical based philosophies. Maybe I’m just on a lower astral plane than Natasha (whatever that means), but I don’t really want to get hung up it; I’m far more interested in the musical and lyrical content of the album itself.

“Moon and Moon” combines piano and vocals in an elegant piece that must surely be a homage to Tori Amos. “Daniel” on the other hand is more in the style of Stevie Nicks with the softer vocals. To complete my trio of female musical references I would have to compare both songs with the world “sleep” in their title with Kate Bush.

As a dedicated fan of both Kate Bush and Tori Amos these are not comparisons I throw around lightly. Although I instantly appreciated her voice, her musical style and the great production of the album, it didn’t immediately produce that sonic spark that ignites that explosion of musical cerebral pleasure. However having now given it a few more listens it is becoming a real pleasure.

The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love

Let’s start off this review with a few introductions. The Decemberists are:
Colin Meloy: Singer / Songwriter
Chris Funk: Guitar / multi instrumentalist
Jenny Conlee: Hammond Organ / Accordion / Piano / Keyboards
Nate Query: Bass
John Moen: Drums

The Decemberists formed in 2000 in Portland, Oregon and “The Hazards of Love” is their fifth full length studio album. It is a dark musical fairytale that like a classic Pink Floyd album must be taken as a whole, not a random collection of songs. The story unfolds throughout the 17 connected tracks. I shall attempt to retell the narrative whilst describing each song in turn, but first, allow me to introduce you to the characters in our little story:

William: The Hero, who takes the form of a faun by day
Margaret: The Heroine
The Queen: William’s Mother, The Queen of the Forest
The Rake: The child killing villain of the tale

1. Prelude
A low morose hum gradually increases pitch and is eventually joined by a series of organ chords and choral backing vocals, very evocative of Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets”. I can see why the Decemberists opted to play a recording of “Echoes” in its entirety at the start of the recent gigs premiering this album.

2. The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle The Thistle’s Undone)
Acoustic guitars join in as the prelude fades and the story begins with the narrator describing how Margaret rides out into the forest and after straying somewhat she meets
“a white and wounded faun”
in the woods, she helps the faun and stays with him till later when
“The beast began to change”
into William, its true form. William takes Margret to the Taiga deeper in the forest and makes love to her. The track is a fairly gentle folk affair with intricate guitar work that reminded me of a late 60’s Kaleidoscope (US) track. A distant shout heralds the start of the next track

3. A Bower Scene
The music speeds up with a ticking beat and running electric guitar as Margaret returns home and
“when young Margaret’s waistline grew wider, the fruit of her amorous entwine inside her”
she returns to the Taiga to seek out William.

4. Won’t Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
A more bluesy and rockier guitar kicks in as the thumping beat continues assisted with a stomping piano refrain and Margaret sings
“columbine, columbine, please alert this love of mine, let him know his Margaret comes along”
in search of more love as she sings out
“Despite this swelling in my belly it won’t quell my want for love”

5. The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)
We return to the slower folkier sound of the next instalment of the title track as William finds Margaret and sings
“to lay you down in clover bed, the stars a roof above our heads”
as they make love again throughout the night until the corncrake crows.

6. The Queen’s Approach
A short “Bert Jansch” style acoustic intermission heralds the approach of William’s mother, the Queen of the forest.

7. Isn’t It A Lovely Night?
An acoustic guitar and accordion (whose player sound like they may well be wearing lederhosen) provide a backdrop for Margaret to recount their lovely night together:
“And here we made a bed of boughs, And thistle down, That we had found, To lay upon the dewy ground”
The upright bass joins in for the last verse and a slide guitar adds a more country and western feel to this track.

8. The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid
A harpsichord accompanies William as he hears the Queen approach and declares:
“Mother I can hear your foot-fall now, Soft disturbance in the dead-fall how, it proceeds you like a black smoke pall”
The beat picks up and we enter an “Arcade Fire” style piece as William anticipates his mothers rage and pleads that the
“wanting comes in waves”
A heavier rockier change introduces the Queen who screams
“This is how I am repaid”
at William after all she has done for him. We return to the harpsichord / Arcade Fire style for William to offer a deal to the Queen.
“Grant me freedom to enjoy this night and I'll return to you at break of light”
There’s a final return to the Queen’s rockier sound which allows her to accept his proposition as she screams
“Consider it your debt repaid”

9. An Interlude
We then fade into an acoustic instrumental intermission that would fit rather nicely at the end of a lengthy Mike Oldfield composition.

10. The Rake’s Song
If there is to be a single from the album, I propose this dark sinister tale giving us the back story of the villain of the piece. The song reminds me a little of the 3rd Pixies album with its simple electric riff. The harrowing tale explains how the Rake was married at 21 and considered himself cursed as
“her womb starts spilling out babies”
The Rake has a total of four children whom he describes thus:
“First came Eziah with his crinkled little fingers. Then came Charlotte and that wretched girl Dawn. Ugly Myfanwy died on delivery. Mercifully taking her mother along”
The Rake is then able to persue his freedom by killing his remaining children in a various macabre ways.

11. The Abduction of Margaret
We return to the main plot and some classic rock as the arbours provide cover for the Rake to sneak up and
“Our heroine here falls prey to her abductor”

12. The Queen’s Rebuke / The Crossing
A slow heavy Black Sabbath like beat with squealing guitars allows the Queen to fill in the back story of William’s upbringing and how she found him abandoned as a child and turned him into a faun by day. Jon Lord styled keyboards and guitar solos give a classic Deep Purple style sound as the Queen aides the Rake by allowing him to cross the river Annan with Margaret, out of William’s reach:
“But the river is deep to the bends and the water is wild. I will fly you to the far side”

13. Annan Water
The pace of the music quickens with rapid strumming guitars as William pursues Margaret and the Rake and reaches the shores of Annan Water where the Queen helped the Rake flee. Unable to cross the turbulent waters, but undeterred by the Queens warnings that he will drown, he prays to the river spirit and makes another deal to the accompaniment of Church organ.
“So calm your waves and slow your churn. You may have my precious bones on my, on my return”

14. Margaret in Captivity
The Rake taunts Margaret telling her that her calls cannot be heard, but Margaret continues to call out to William to rescue her.

15. The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)
The ghosts of the Rakes children return for their revenge to the familiar opening refrain of “The Wanting Comes in Waves” . The children all sing
“The Hazards of Love”
in unison along with a painfully screeching cello sounding like finger nails down a blackboard. The children take their revenge on their loathsome father.

16. The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)
A final triumphant reprise of this song to reunite William and Margaret.

17. The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)
The slow and sad conclusion to the tale features a beautiful slide guitar that could have come from a classic Eagles hit. As their boat begins to sink William promises Margaret that they will be together as ghosts as they take their wedding vows and sink beneath the waves.
“Oh Margaret the lapping waves are licking quietly at our ankles another bow another breath this brilliant chill's come for the shackle. With this long last rush of air we speak our vows and sorry whispers, when the waves came crashing down, he closed his eyes and softly kissed her.”

In 1969 there was “Tommy”, in 1979 there was the “The Wall”, now in 2009 we finally have “The Hazards of Love”. I guess it could be considered a tad pretentious but I have a huge hard-on for this album. Superb stuff. Go buy it.

Bill Callahan: Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

Bill Callahan (aka Smog) sounds like a distinguished graduate from the Nick Drake School of acoustic bliss with a double first in Philosophy and Music. In actual fact he’s a singer/songwriter from Silver Spring, Maryland with beginnings more in low-fi instrumentals.

“Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle” is his second album under his own name and has lyrics that explore love, responsibility and most eloquently, faith, or rather the lack of it.

“Eid Ma Clack Shaw” is certainly the only song I can think of about a horse written in the first person, or should that be first horse? It also manages to feature Eleanor Rigby’s Cello.

“The Wind and the Dove” is a gentle acoustic ballad encased at either end by ancient Arabic sound-bytes that prepared me for lyrics about magic carpets, genies and Persian Princes that failed to materialise.

The album closes with its best track, “Faith/Void” almost 10 minutes of delightful mesmeric acoustic harmonies and the frequently repeating line: “It’s time, to put God away”.

Highly recommended.

AC/DC: Live at the O2, London (14th April 2009)

Because AC/DC are a band that have always kept it simple, it makes for a great live show as the five well versed musicians can simply and accurately recreate what they have put down in the studio without the need for session musicians, orchestra’s or fancy instruments.

Over the years however, the live shows have included a number of set pieces with the appropriate props and showmanship associated with certain key tracks, and it got to the stage now where these form the expected content of any AC/DC show. This means that live show does include all those AC/DC classics that you know and love, and as you would also expect, a showcase of their latest material, which all in all leads to a fairly predictable set list.

The show starts off with a new animation on the giant screen behind the stage (and smaller side screens), featuring a cartoon Angus driving the Rock ‘n’ Roll train to the thundering sound of the train rattling down the track whilst the band take centre stage in the darkness. The pounding sound of the train steaming down the track segues into the opening number, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train”, as the rear screen splits in two, and their new stage centre piece, a huge AC/DC steam train, glides onto the stage. Cliff and Malcolm flank Phil’s drum kit at the rear of the stage, occasionally walking forward to their mikes to sing backing vocals, and leaving the stage free for the twin alpha males, Brian and Angus to roam at will.

The crowd are suitably warmed up with a couple of old classics, “Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be” and “Back in Black”, the opening riff of the later causing squeals of delight and making the sea of illuminated AC/DC devil horns surrounding the stage dance in unison.

The band seemed a little afraid to play a string of new material and preferred instead to pepper the 5 songs from the new album across the set list. The attention noticeably dropped during the new material and the whole row of seats in front of me refilled their plastic lager cups during “Black Ice”, returning just in time to catch the audience sing-a-long favourite, “The Jack”. As expected, Angus teases the crowd with his striptease as he sheds his jacket, tie and shirt whilst pouting at the audience like a cross between Jimmy Page and Adrian Edmondson. He briefly drops his shorts and flashes his AC/DC emblazoned under-crackers to all and sundry before whipping up his shorts and breaking into the guitar solo.

The bell is lowered during the opening chimes of “Hells Bells” and a spritely and well worked out Brian Johnson, despite his years, still easily manages the anticipated swing on the bell rope as the crowd appreciate another classic from the “Back in Black” album.

Another film accompanies the new track “War Machine” which I thought was the pick of the new material; the film features the band and a selection of rock chicks astride various pieces of heavy military hardware.

The one stage prop that we all love best however is Rosie. The giant inflatable whore and her car sized tits danced around to her theme tune as she straddled the mighty steam train, like the band, giving it her all.

“Let There Be Rock” features Angus’s extended, extended guitar solo and includes the bit where he walks along to end of the catwalk, stands in the little round stage and is elevated above his adoring fans whilst turning circles on the floor and never missing a note. The band leave the stage at the conclusion of his epic solo and the two numbers most noticeable by their absence flash through my mind as the required encores.

After a little coaxing, a small trap door opens in the stage, and Angus rises up out of the smoke playing the opening of “Highway to Hell”. At this stage we are all on our feet (which enables us to easily see past the over enthusiastic Australian flag waving fan who seemed to be having the time of his life). Then the big guns are rolled out for the finale, “For Those About to Rock” complete, as usual, with the full 21 gun salute. AC/DC, we salute you. Superb.

Full set list below:

Rock N Roll Train
Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be
Back In Black
Big Jack
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Shot Down In Flames
Black Ice
The Jack
Hells Bells
Shoot To Thrill
War Machine
Anything Goes
You Shook Me All Night Long
Whole Lotta Rosie
Let There Be Rock

Highway To Hell
For Those About To Rock

NB Photo's from the internet (different show), mine didn't come out very well.

Madeleine Peyroux: Bare Bones

Bare Bones is the fifth studio album from Athens, Georgia born traditional American Jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux. The album consists of 11 freshly penned tunes all firmly entrenched in good old fashioned traditional jazz and blues.

“Instead” kicks of this album with a brushing snare keeping perfect time behind timeless tinkling ivories, slow sliding guitar and Billie Holiday styled crooning. This is perhaps the best track on the album and despite the fact that the actual lyrics are quite positive; it is the one most evocative of those depressive slow jazz standards.

“Bare Bones” is packed with Shakespearian mentions and a soft reverberating organ fills in between the slow ticking beat picked out on the acoustic guitar.

On my first listen, I considered the remainder of the album to be a little weaker after these first 2 great tracks, but having had it on repeat for a few days soaking up that smooth jazz vibe; I’m getting to grips with the album as a whole now.

This is the soundtrack to the best dinner parties in 2009

That Tricky Third Album

Having looked at Google Analytics to see which I of my blogs are the most popular, it seems that arbitrary lists draw many more readers than anything else. This time it’s a list of the greatest tricky third albums. The third album is often seen as the test of true great band or artist, after the first two albums have consumed all of the original material and gusto, what happens when they dig deep to follow up their initial success, can they pull off a classic third album or have they run out of steam? Here’s my top 40 of the very best third albums:

Sheer Heart Attack

Long Live Rock 'n' Roll

The Waterboys:
This Is The Sea


Yardbirds (aka Roger the Engineer)

Simon & Garfunkel:
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Jethro Tull:

Siouxsie and the Banshees:

Nursery Cryme

Status Quo:
Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon

ZZ Top:
Tres Hombres


Elvis Costello:
Armed Forces

Kings Of Leon:
Because Of The Times

The Cure:

Black Sabbath:
Master Of reality

The White Stripes:
White Blood Cells

Porcupine Tree:
The Sky Moves Sideways

Iron Maiden:
The Number Of The Beast

The Stranglers:
Black and White

David Gilmour:
On An Island

Talking Heads:
Fear Of Music

In Utero

The Who:

The Who Sell Out

Jimi Hendrix:

Electric Ladyland

Paul Weller:
Stanley Road

Tago Mago

The Smiths:
The Queen Is Dead

Forever Changes

The Verve:
Urban Hymns

Cat Stevens:
Mona Bone Jakon

Captain Beefheart:
Trout Mask Replica


Leonard Cohen:
Songs Of Love and Hate

The Clash:
London Calling

Neil Young:
After The Goldrush

Smashing Pumpkins:
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness


Led Zeppelin:
Led Zeppelin III

OK Computer