The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty Eight (1977.1)

Today on The Obsessive Album Project we take our first look back to a monumental year. 1977 was the year David Bowie released Low, the year Kraftwerk released Trans Europe Express and the year The Clash released their debut album. Also, even more importantly, at least for a 21 year old living in West London, your author popped out into the world.

We’re going to take a look at the three albums mentioned above – starting with The Clash (#70) and their debut album. It happened so long ago now that I can’t really remember how I got into The Clash, but I suspect an old friend pointed me in the direction of London Calling at some point. And then an even older friend, Baxi, pointed me at the first album.

I think there’s something important about listening to punk at the right age, in the right circumstances. When I first heard this album, I could relate – a little – to the anger contained within Strummer & Jones lyrics – although at university, I was working a low paid job at McDonald’s, you could say I was so bored of the USA. There have been stages in my life where the Clash have been massively important to me, Jo will tell you about a point in 2005 where I was obsessed by the film Rude Boy and the live performances contained within it. She still can’t listen to White Riot without wincing. I will tell you about how much I related to the lyrics to Janie Jones and, obviously, Career Opportunities.

Although now, let’s be honest, a middle aged man who is in a more comfortable position than where I began this blog ten years ago yesterday (belatedly happy birthday to me), I listen back to the first Clash album and still love it. I love its energy. I love the paranoiac What’s My Name. I love that Mick Jones was the only one who really knew what he was doing.

It doesn’t really matter to me that The Clash weren’t really punks (at least not musically), that they used it to jump off into the worlds they were interested in, because I did the same too. And maybe I thank them for letting me know it was okay to do it that way. Clearly, their cover of Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves is where the mask slipped for the first time; a) it’s a brilliant cover; b) whilst their contemporaries stood still, it led to so much great music. 8.82

Here is a photo of The Clash’s Paul Simonon and David Bowie.

Speaking of whom, we come to Low (#71), originally conceived as the soundtrack to Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth which, of course, starred the Thin White Duke himself. If you read my Blackstar tribute, you’ll know that it was Low, more than any other album which – belatedly -cemented my relationship with Bowie.

Here is where I try to win any Bowie fans I upset with my dismissal of Lodger back.

I was pretty much hooked by this album from the opening as the instrumental, Speed Of Life whirred into life. It’s such a jaunty opener, I defy anyone to listen to it and not enjoy. We then get a series of short, perfectly formed pop songs. Breaking Glass tells you,“Don’t look at the carpet, I drew something awful on it”, which makes me laugh every time I hear it. Sound And Vision & Always Crashing In The Same Car hint at creative struggles, with Bowie singing in hushed tones on the latter, as if bereft of confidence. It’s quietly beautiful.

The second side is, largely, where the magic happens though. This is where Bowie (and, obviously, Brian Eno), finally, had me thinking “That’s it, I’m in!”

Weeping Wall does a ghostly approximation of Scarborough Fair, whilst A New Career In A New Town would be echoed 39 years later on Blackstar. I mentioned earlier about hearing music in the right circumstances. I had heard Warszawa a couple of times before, notably on the soundtrack to Control, Anton Corbijn’s film about Ian Curtis and it had done nothing for me. Listening to it with new ears and within the context of the album, I found its doomy tones and glacial pace, almost dirge like, impossibly alluring. The same goes for the “I’ll invent my own language” track, Subterraneans which closes the album out. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure that the first time I heard this album, I went straight back to the beginning.

Always crashing in the same car, I had found my Bowie gateway drug. 9.09

“From Station to Station, back to Dusseldorf City/ Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie”

With these words, German electro pioneers Kraftwerk made it clear that they had also been listening to David Bowie. This line comes from the title track of Trans-Europe Express (#72) and I think this track, this magnificent sprawling track which dominates side two of the album, is one of the most important tracks in the history of music. Yes, even more important than New Order’s Everything’s Gone Green *BIG CALL KLAXON*

Side one kicks off with Europe Endless – gets on a train and provides a homage to limitless travel within Europe that, writing in the Brexit aftermath, seems, well, like a dream to me now.

The Hall Of Mirrors is a spooky reflection* on the nature of celebrity and how it can distort your own self image. This is properly terrific, percussion echoing like footsteps throughout the track whilst a woozy synth bass and whirling keyboard lines evoke the distortion you’d find in the titular hall and Ralf Hutter sings “even the greatest stars discover themselves in the looking glass”.

The pulsing Showroom Dummies lightens the mood with a mission statement wrapped in a knowing, deadpan humour that apparently everybody writing in the music press at the time seemed to miss. Scars still raw from WWII perhaps. I can understand how this tongue in cheek joke may have read as something more sinister in 1977. It’s as if the Terminator walked into Tech Noir and, rather than killing Sarah Connor, started a dance revolution instead.

And, when you flip the vinyl, you get the revolution. Trans-Europe Express puts you back on a train and, as with Bowie on Subterraneans, creates its own language. I feel slightly wanky saying this, but I really do feel like it created the future of music right here. Hip hop and rap certainly owe a debt to these 4 men from Dusseldorf and their bleeps and percussion and pulses.

Although perhaps not the singing.

And on the singing, are our four heroes singing “Trans Europe Express”, or it is Trance Europe Express? Whichever it is, the track seamlessly bleeds into Metal On Metal & Abzug.

Endless Endless closes the album out on a slight reprise of the opening track and the optimistic refrain, “endless endless”.

It’s not going to surprise you to hear that I love this album. I think it is one of two in the Kraftwerk cannon which has a legitimate claim to being their finest.

What’s the other one? You will have to wait and see… 9.27

 

*See what I did there, haha

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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty Seven (2001.1)

Today on the Obsessive Album Project, as we’ve ended up talking about turn of the millennium albums from both PJ Harvey & Radiohead, I thought it would be worth sticking around to have a look and see what else was going on at the time.

Which brings us to albums by The White Stripes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

First, White Blood Cells (#67) – bonus point for you if you can guess who this one was by. When it came out in 2001, I loooooooooooooved this album to absolute pieces. It felt then, and still does, incredible to me that two people – okay, two incredibly talented people – but just two people in Meg & Jack White could create such a noise on their own. And fuck if they didn’t look absolutely amazing too. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t listen to it too much twenty years later, but I do still get the occasional urge and listening back now, there are some brilliant, beautiful tracks to be had here, although I’m not 100% convinced we needed 16 tracks as the album, for me, runs out of steam as the scuzzy Mariachi of I Think I Smell A Rat recedes in the rear view mirror.

However, Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground is a hell of a way to kick off an album, another of those songs with a haunted vibe you know I’ve come to love so well. The rocking Fell In Love With A Girl, on the other hand, is one I will forever associate with Saturday nights following my mates Kev & Luke around the LSE’s After Skool club, having drunk one turbo shandy too many and desperate for a girl, any girl, to pay me some attention.

Yes, one turbo shandy is one too many. I know that now.

Hotel Yorba is something I feel I should like, but it feels like the sort of White Stripes song you might hear at a wedding if the groom wanted to prove he was, y’ know, edgy but still have everyone singalong. The Same Boy You’ve Always Known & We’re Going To Be Friends show that, amongst the chaos and fury, Jack White could do tender too and even twenty years later, The Union Forever, “It can’t be love, for there is no true love”, still kills. 8.13

Aside from the turbos, one of the more positive influences Kev & Luke (perhaps more Kev to be fair) had on my life following my return to London from Leeds in late 2002 was to introduce me to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and their imaginatively titled album, B.R.M.C. (#68)

Let’s cut right to the chase here, this album is, basically, all about the four absolute bangers which kick the album off, Love Burns, Red Eyes And Tears & Whatever Happened To My Rock And Roll (Punk Song), Awake – and Spread Your Love. The Rebels fuzzy sounding guitars were definitely a winner back then and, I guess, the line “red eyes and tears, no more for you my dear I fear” stuck with me; a) because it’s a good one, but also; b) because – at that point in my life I was full of red eyes and tears having had my heart broken and my life turned upside down in the summer of 2002.

By the same token, the shoegaze of Awake, guitars crescendoing around a simple plea to “Take Me Home” also resonated with me, whilst the album closer, Salvation, which nods towards psychedelia, proved that the Rebels could slow the tempo and still convince. The album highlight though, is the aforementioned Spread Your Love which bounces happily along on the fuzziest of guitar tones and a blissed out vocal, inviting you to “spread your love like a fever”.

Believe me lads, I wanted to. 8.27

I have already written a review of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds No More Shall We Part (#69) on this website.

(To be fair, I’ve probably reviewed a lot of the albums I’ve talked about as part of this project already, it’s just that I clearly remember doing this one).

Also, having listened back to it for the first time in a while, my feelings about it haven’t really changed.The album’s mid section – Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow, God Is In The House & Oh My Lord, is, with Cave’s delicious imagery, its strongest. That said, the beautiful, broken, We Came Along This Road was something which really spoke to me on this listen. The overall feel here is that Cave had, obviously, written some magnificent songs and, throughout this album, they are decorated so ornately by the Bad Seeds.

I can’t talk about this album without mentioning watching a documentary about the making of this album, which depicted Nick trying to get the McGarrigle sisters to sing the backing vocals to Sweetheart Come in a way that didn’t sound like “sweet hot cum”. I almost feel like he wrote that line deliberately (of course he did – you know what I mean…), of course I now can’t hear that line in any other way, which is a shame because it really is a beautiful song.

Overall, then, a gorgeous album (despite the unwanted injection of man milk), the only complaint and one that – funnily enough Jo and I both shared – is that it is a track or two too long. 8.92

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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty Six (PJ Harvey’s Stories From The City…)

Today on the Obsessive Album project, it’s all about PJ Harvey’s Mercury Music Prize winning album, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (#66), which has just been reissued on vinyl. For the truly obsessed, there is also a record containing the album in demo form.

So, naturally, we have that too, but it’s Jo’s, so we don’t have to talk about it here.

I’m not quite sure what happened with me and this album, you know. We have already established, I think, that I am a huge fan of PJ Harvey’s work, this was very much the case in October 2000 when the album was released. I remember, though I don’t remember exactly when it was, jumping up and down on my bed in Burley Park, Leeds, when she played Later with Jools Holland to promote Stories… And yet, it wasn’t till my mum came up to visit for my 24th birthday in July 2001, that I got the album. My mum, bless her, bought it for me in the Virgin Megastore there.

Okay, I’ve just looked it up, the Later appearance came nearly a year after the album’s release, so maybe I just didn’t know about it. If it’s okay with you, I’ll let myself off.

So, enough about me, what about this album then?

Well, ten years in and 5 albums down, Stories is the continuation of a hot streak which has lasted since PJ’s debut, Dry. Following on from the clanging claustrophobia of Is This Desire, this record is a huge, wide eyed, widescreen epic. Written as Polly Harvey had moved to New York, hence the album’s title, the other shift in focus here is towards the personal. Is This Desire’s tortured characters; Joy Catherine, Angelene & Leah are gone, replaced my more personal perspectives; you, I, me.

Which immediately lends this album a more intimate perspective, even as PJ takes you by the hand and leads you around the brightly lit streets of New York. It’s there in the very first lines of the album, on stone cold classic Big Exit,

“Look out ahead! See danger come! I wanna pistol, I wanna gun!”

It’s a ferocious opener, the guitars sounds huge and PJ’s vocals reverberate as if she is signing from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building with the mother of all megaphones at her mouth. It’s this song that I would end up bouncing along onto on my bed in October 2001,

“Baby baby, ain’t it true/ I’m immortal when I’m with you”

PJ Harvey is back in the room. And with one of my favourite things, she’s ever done.

Another of my favourites is A Place Called Home.

*Unreliable Narrator Klaxon*

I did know about this album in advance. I remember getting a magazine, Select I think, which contained a CD promoting various new releases on its cover. So A Place Called Home was the first thing I heard from the album. Interestingly, listening to the demos, this song started life with a trip hoppish drumbeat that would end up repurposed on We Float.

There’s something about the kaleidoscopic instrumentation here, it creates this dizzying sensation as if, if you really concentrate on it, you might just fall. And over this backing, PJ sings,

“With love comes the day, just hold onto me.”

Perfect. Like all good story tellers, PJ ends the song back to its beginning, but from starting looking for a place called hope, she’s certain that we will find the titular place called home. Goosebumps, readers, goosebumps.

Thom Yorke turns up halfway through the album to deliver his most impressive appearance(s) of 2000, first on the sparse, sleepy Beautiful Feeling and then This Mess We’re In which sees Thom dreaming of “making love to you now baby” and being summarily dispatched with the words “I don’t think we will meet again” less than two minutes later as PJ takes over the conversation and the sun rises over the skyscrapers. There are impressionistic moments like these all over the album, rooftops and street corners, sunsets and sunrises.

Sandwiched in between these two is The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore. Guitars crunched up to 11 and PJ back atop the Empire State Building, I love this piece of music. In album full of thrilling moments, this is right up there with the best of them. Her voice drenched in reverb, PJ cries,

“This isn’t the first time I’ve asked for money or love, heaven and earth don’t ever mean enough”

That’s a mission statement, right?

You could say the same about this line from This Is Love,

“I can’t believe that life is so complex, when I just wanna sit here and watch you undress”

This is the song, not my favourite on the album by any means, but I think this is the perfect synthesis of the romanticism expressed in Polly Harvey’s lyrics and the sonic palette, guitars all amped up, of the album,

“This is love, this is love that I’m feeling”

She repeats as if she can’t quite believe how loved up she is.

We Float and that repurposed drum beat surface here. This is my uncle Jo’s favourite PJ Harvey song. In fact, despite my best efforts, it seems to be the only song of hers he likes – but he REALLY Likes it. And why not? It’s a beautiful piece of music shot through, initially, with the kind of bleak lyrics which might have appeared on Is This Desire:

“I was in need of help, heading to blackout
Till someone told me run on in honey, before somebody blows your goddamn brains out”

But then the song becomes something else as a shimmering piano line takes over and realisation dawns that we can just float and “take life as it comes”. With all the romance and danger that implies.

Hidden track, This Wicked Tongue ensures this beautiful album ends on a slightly curdled note, all dirty guitars and PJ’s voice echoing off the walls. One last rock out to send you on your way.

I know record is seen to be PJ Harvey’s most straight up, radio friendly record, but this is done so well, I think it’s impossible to hold this thought against her. 9.08

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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty Five (Radiohead Kid A & Amnesiac)

And so towards the end of another week on the Obsessive Album Project. Today, we’re talking about a “bunch of Oxford Jesuses”, widely regarded as the greatest band to have come out of the mid 90’s music scene. I am referring, of course, to Radiohead. A very specific period of Radiohead.

The period that spans Kid A (#64) and Amnesiac.

I, like everybody else hearing Kid A for the first time, was confused by it. I think the memory of that first listen has stayed with for the last twenty years, to the point where I read appraisals of Radiohead’s discography almost always acclaiming Kid A to be their greatest ever achievement – and it almost always Kid A – and I think, did I hear another version of this album?

Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine album indeed and in tracks like Everything In Its Right Place, The National Anthem and, of course, Idioteque, the band produced some of their most iconic songs, but there are large parts of this album, hello Treefingers, that could just be considered mood music – and I have to be in the mood to hear it. The last half of the album, in particular and with the obvious exception of Idioteque (the first Radiohead song you could dance to?), I find very well produced, but overly ambient and difficult to engage with.

Lest you think I’m complaining too much, I should make clear that Everything In Its Right Place is a superb track, with that lovely, slow dawning opening synth lines which really gives you the feeling that the album is waking up, and the repeated line “Yesterday, I woke up sucking a lemon” which speaks to Thom Yorke’s state of mind as the band tried to escape OK Computer. Just as good, of course, is the highlight of Radiohead live shows for the last twenty years, The National Anthem.

Live, this song is not so much heard as experienced – once you’ve had that experience you won’t quickly forget it. The recorded version can’t quite match that feeling, of course not, but opening on Colin Greenwood’s down in the dirt bassline, as samples float in and out of the mix against Phil Selway’s drums, it creates a discordant concerto in your head. In 2000, it felt like the most thrilling thing they’d ever done, twenty one years later I don’t feel any differently about it.

We had a weird experience with How To Disappear Completely in Amsterdam, 2008. Standing in the Westerpark, enveloped in this song’s beautiful rhythms, we watched a man who was maybe stoned, maybe pissed, maybe both, stagger across the ground in front of us. As Thom, up on stage, sang, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening”, the guy face planted. When he stood up, his face was covered in blood. It was some tableau. Some soundtrack, too.

Perhaps, maybe, the point of Kid A is that in choosing not to make OK Computer Vol: II, the band were able to move on and create their own future. 8.5.

The following year, Amnesiac (#65) would prove to be a more engaging exercise. I say that and two things occur to me:

1) what if Amnesiac had come out first? Answer, I don’t know, but I do know that this album, exemplified by Morning Bell/Amnesiac’s “cut the kids in half” line, there’s a slight air of decay & danger to it that I love.

2) I must have actually liked Kid A more than I thought I did, because when Amnesiac was released, I was straight to my local record shop in Headingley to pick up the library book edition of the CD, song with Tricky’s Blowback – more of which soon.

And in the piano led Pyramid Song, Radiohead constructed their, ahem, towering achievement across these two records. There was a phase across 2003 when we were straight out of work into the pub across the road in Twickenham (the Red Lion, it’s Tesco now) and I would bang Pyramid Song straight onto the jukebox. Get Friday night off to a bang. The locals loved it, I’m sure they did.

The album actually kicks off with Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box. I mention this only to point out that there are some echoes of Kid A here too, the sonar like beeps echoing Everything In Its Right Place’s intro and, boy, Thom still seems upset about something, “I’m a reasonable man, get off my case” he sings. A line you can only really appreciate if it catches you in an increasingly crowded ticket hall, rush hour Waterloo.

Thom is back at the piano for You And Whose Army? A then topical takedown of Tony Blair and his illegal war in Iraq, which starts off sleepy and ends up being quite rousing as if Yorke himself has gathered an army behind him. I love the groove of I Might Be Wrong, which has that danger I referred to earlier, whilst the strings of Dollars And Cents could have come out of a James Bond movie.

As with most of the songs on Kid A, there is a superior version of Like Spinning Plates on the live album, I Might Be Wrong but it’s still pretty good and then, I’m sorry about this everyone, one of my favourite Radiohead songs ever, Life In A Glasshouse, closes the album out.

“Once again, I’m in trouble with my only friend, she is papering the window pane” Given what has come before, this is such a great, wry opening line. The closest Radiohead may have ever come to comedy. Backed by Humphrey Lyttelton’s trumpet free flowing across another great piano line, Thom’s closing line, “Well of course I’d love to sit around and chat, only, only, only, onlyyyyyyyyy (etc) there’s someone listening in” closes the album on a slightly sinister smile. 9

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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty Four (Lucky Dip Round.4)

Today on the Obsessive Album project, we’re going to be taking a quick look, and in the case of one album a very quick look, at albums from M.I.A., the Electric Soft Parade and… U2. Yes, dear reader, I have a U2 shaped skeleton in my closet. In fact, I have a few of them. More of which in due course.

For now, though, we can start with U2’s ever so popular, bandwagon jumping, 1997 album, Pop (#62). I don’t know if this is as unpopular opinion now as it was at the time (even the famously modest Bono hated it), but I really like this album a lot. Genuinely.

For me, this is the last time U2 did something interesting, even if it might not have been totally successful and, in retrospect, it does feel like the band were attempting to hitch a ride to Bristol here.

Perhaps my attachment to this album can be best explained by the fact that, thanks to my uncle Stephen – yes, him again – we got to play a copy of the stomping Discotheque, the lead off single from the album, on our college radio station 6 weeks ahead of its official release. This felt quite special at the time although probably everyone listening would have heard the opening lyric, “You can reach, but you can’t grab it” and thought, “Exactly”.

Here’s another skeleton. I bought U2’s Popmart video (yes, video) at some point in the late 90’s and, stagey as it is, was always thrilled by the band’s entrance, Bono making like a fighter on his way into meet Evander Holyfield (who would have course killed him with one jab), before the band tore into Mofo. That’s the third track here and with its insistent, urgent synth line driving the track, this is a proper rifforama. It’s the most exciting thing they’ve ever done. That live version is incredible too. Look!

Some lovely 80’s style synths (think Mister Mister’s Broken Wings) introduce the urgent Last Night On Earth, whilst on the slightly ( to use the parlance of the times) trip hop Miami, everything chugs along very nicely until the Edge detonates his guitar like a depth charge around the 4″ mark.

My only criticism of this album is that with three very well appointed, but resolutely downbeat tracks closing out the album they sort of all bleed into one – particularly Please & Wake Up Dead Man and so their emotional effect is numbed.  But overall, U2 were to be applauded here for experimenting in a way that they never would again. 8.25

And speaking of numbed – some time around 2002, the omnipresent uncle provided tickets for me and a couple of mates to go and see a band called the Electric Soft Parade at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. They were, I believe, supported by a band called Athlete – whatever happened to them?

Anyway, the album the Electric Soft parade was touring was Holes In The Wall (#63) and I think I quite liked it at the time (and so did the nominating Mercury Music Prize committee). Having listened back to it a couple of days ago, a two word phrase is running through my head and it is this, “landfill indie”. That’s not mine, hence the quotation marks, but it absolutely nails it here.

I could talk to you about the good tracks here, cos there are some and Silent To The Dark is at least something different. But I’m not sure what the point of this would be when the last few, particularly the last two, tracks left me feeling cross that I had to listen to this and wondering why the band didn’t cut a couple of the unnecessary twelve tracks here – but which ones? Dilemmas. 6.92

Fast forward a few years to 2010 and, for me at the time, the release of a new M.I.A. album was a cause of serious excitement, but this also ended up being the last M.I.A. album I would buy. For me, Maya (#64) lacked the sheer exuberance of debut album Arular and the overall quality of the songs on 2007’s follow up, Kala.

However, listening back to it now, over ten years later, it seems clear to me that whilst all my original reservations about this album, her most abrasive one to date, still hold, there are some gems here. Two of them in particular. First, STEPPIN UP, AKA M.I.A. takes on Einsturzende Neubauten armed only with her dead pan vocals and a battery of drills and guess what? She wins. After all, she runs “this fuckin club”. 

At this point in the project, well, you can see it, I’ve reviewed 63 albums (and listened to a lot more), STEPPIN UP is probably one of my favourite tunes I’ve listened to. It’s awesome. Yes, M.I.A., we know who you are.

Second, BORN FREE. Here, M.I.A. takes a savage Suicide (more of whom anon) synth riff – Ghostrider, fact fans – and literally runs with it. My abiding memory of the song is the “I don’t wanna live for tomorrow, I push my life today/ I throw this in your face when I see ya, cos I got something to say” as the Suicide sample rampages away underneath the vocals.

Well, that and the video depicting a load of gingers being rounded up and driven into the desert to be shot. This caused much hilarity if, within your group of close mates, you had a ginger – which we did and do in ours. Sorry Kev.

The rest of the album doesn’t quite match to these two tracks, but that’s kind of okay with me, because, how? The skinny is, MAYA is definitely not quite up its predecessors, with some jarring shifts between light and dark, but it also deserves better than to have languished in my CD cabinet unloved for the guts of the last decade. 8.3

 

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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty Three (Depeche Mode 1986-1990)

It’s another installment of the Obsessive Album Project. Today we go deep on the other of my two favourite bands on the planet. If you’ve been reading this from inception, you’ll know that the other one is New Order, but today… today is all about three blokes from Basildon – and a dude from Hammersmith. Today is Depeche Mode day.

Specifically the three albums released between 1986- 1990 which, in my opinion, constitute Depeche Mode’s imperial phase. Clearly, some would include 1993’s Songs of Faith And Devotion here, but I think it isn’t quite at the level of these three and anyway, we’ve already covered it.

We start with 1986’s Black Celebration (#59) and the fascinating little nugget that, inspired by Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 movie Das Boot (it’s set on a WWII submarine), Daniel Miller – Mute label boss and unofficial fifth Mode member – opined that the band should “live the album”. So they did. They recorded this album in one 4 month stretch. Without a day off.

This wouldn’t be the last time the boys would suffer for their art, but 35 years later, it’s difficult to argue that Miller’s gambit didn’t pay off. Despite the fact that lead singer, Dave Gahan gives way to songwriter, Martin Gore on 4 of the album’s 11 tracks and, apparently, there weren’t any singles on it, this album is a solid slice of fried gold. Albeit, neatly dressed in black. Ahahaha…

In Stripped, Fly On The Windscreen (Final) & It Doesn’t Matter Two we have three of the finest songs Martin Gore ever wrote. Stripped, starting with a sample of the ignition of Dave’s Porsche, takes simple desires,

“Come with me in to the tree/ We’ll lay on the grass and let the hours pass”

and becomes Depeche’s most atmospheric composition ever. Listening back to this song for the gazillionth time, the way this song builds & builds its synth washes and clanging percussion over a simple plea,

“Let me see you stripped down to the bone”

is just irresistible. I guess there’s a reason why more than 30 years on, it’s still a highlight of the Depeche live show. It Doesn’t Matter Two, by way of comparison, is a very simple, almost spare song. And yet the feelings it creates are, perhaps similar,

“As I lay here with you, the shame lies with us/ We talk of love and trust that doesn’t matter

Though we may be the last in the world we feel like pioneers/ Telling hopes and fears to one another”

I’ve always found this song to be incredibly haunting, perhaps even Depeche’s most haunting song ever; certainly my favourite “Martin” song. I think it’s the way the song appears to give up on itself at the end there, but perhaps I’m misreading it. After all, if you have love and trust, the end of the world is academic. Or is that the misreading?

I’m not sure there’s anyway to misread Fly On The Windscreen (Final), which is one of the most danceable songs ever written about the impending, inevitable mortality of man. As you have probably gathered, this is quite a dark album. But what are you expecting from a band who spent 4 months doing nothing but working it? As it turned out, the singles were quality, Stripped being joined by the Martin led ballad A Question Of Lust, whilst Dave voiced the stomping A Question Of Time. There were also some stellar – band led – remixes as well as one from key future collaborator, Flood (the Highland Mix of Stripped).

Before I forget to mention it, A Question Of Time would also mark their first video collaboration with Anton Corbijn. So you could say this was quite an important album for the band. It’s also brilliant. 9

Right from the accidental intro to Music For The Masses (#60) first track, Never Let Me Down Again, featuring a John Bonham drum break, is a huge track which somehow managed not to be massive in the charts. Of course Devotees the world over make up for this

The Things You Said appeared to borrow slightly from Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity and is, in my opinion, a rare Martin track with something of a stadium vibe to it. Strangelove was the first single released from the album although in a different version, this continued the visual collaboration with Anton Corbijn, creating a continuity that was made explicit by the videos he produced for Never Let Me Down Again & Behind The Wheel.

I think the second side of this album is where the majority of the fun is. Behind The Wheel is a terrific single, darkly submissive –

“Oh little girl, drive anywhere/ Tonight, I don’t care”

and it lays the table for the rest of the album. I Want You Now, with its porn cinema aurals is fun, but slightly less fun than I remember it. To Have And To Hold keeps you down in the sex dungeon but Martin has been replaced by Dave, so the dungeon feels even more dangerous. Nothing comes over a little like a spiritual lyrical successor to 1984’s Blasphemous Rumours, but for anyone who’s seen 101, they’ll just be thinking of the terrific way DA Pennebaker intercuts live footage of the band performing this song with the kids dancing on their tour bus, which is what I was doing on my listen back. Thinking, that is – not dancing on a tour bus.

I LOOOOOOVE album closer Pimpf. It might be the weirdest track to have ever appeared on a Depeche album, which is saying something given some of the company here, but the way it just builds and builds before the kitchen sink gets thrown through the control room window is, to me at least, spectacular.

For me, whilst this album is a fractional dip from the quality displayed on Black Celebration, this is probably my favourite era of Depeche Mode’s audiovisuals – Anton’s mini art movies, showcasing a humour in the band which might have been otherwise missed. It is also the album that propelled the Mode out of the arenas and into stadiums, preparing the way for the Violation era. 8.91.

Speaking of which, I guess there aren’t going to be any surprises here. Released in 1990, Violator (#61) is the third and final album of Depeche’s imperial period, it’s also their greatest achievement – if you will, their sweetest perfection.

In a way, it feels a bit like Black Celebration in that through the 9 songs represented here, a distinct world is created. You slip into it and disappear, emerging, blinking into the light 46 minutes later. Opening track and still a huge live favourite in 2017, World In My Eyes invites you to take a trip, beckoning you in with that seductive line, “let me show you the world in my eyes” as synths pulse and bleep away in the background.

A while back me and my mate Andrew created a Spotify playlist of Depeche Mode track one, side ones and, despite the presence of some very heavy hitters including Never Let Me Down Again (my personal favourite), we were completely agreed that World In My Eyes was the greatest thing on the list.

Personal Jesus was the biggest selling 12″ in Warner Brothers history. So who’s word are you taking? The record buying public of 1990, or my missus who believes the track to be duff? For me, it’s a wonderful, romper stomper of a song, the live invitation to “REEEEEEEEEEEACH OUT AND TOUCH FAITH!” is always a welcome one and, you know, Johnny Cash covered this. So what else is there to be said about it?

Halo & Waiting For The Night deepen the vibe, my favourite of the two of these tracks seems to change with every listen. If you ask me today, I’m saying Waiting For The Night which has such a nocturnal, sleepy feel that Martin arrives halfway through the song to help Dave finish it as the synths gurgle away, creating an aural cocoon.

Enjoy The Silence is next. Thirty one years later, I think we can all be glad that Flood & Alan Wilder persisted with their idea that Martin’s demo ballad could be sped up. And that they nicked a bassline off of Hooky. And that Dave sang it so well. And also that Martin wrote such a beautiful song in the first place.

At the regular music nights I used to have with Baxi, Ray and co, getting Depeche Mode has always been a struggle. However, on one magic night a few years back, Ray uttered the magic words, “Now, I like that!” The object of his affection? Policy Of Truth. In a normal world, this hymn to lying to your missus would be the best track on the album, but this is not a normal world, this is Violator.

Clean, with a bassline steal from Pink Floyd which isn’t actually a steal, closes the album out on a claustrophobic worldie. Although it’s lyrics, “Clean, the cleanest I’ve been…” would prove darkly ironic in the not too distant future, that was for the future.

The present, though, the present belonged to Depeche Mode. 9.67

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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty Two (1979.2)

Another day, another dollar on The Obsessive Album Project. Today, we go back, again, to the last year of the 1970’s to have a look at albums from Blondie, Public Image Limited and David Bowie.

We’ll start today with Eat To The Beat (#56), Blondie’s follow up to Parallel Lines. Yeah, you know her, Parallel Lines, the one with Heart Of Glass, right? Excellent. Well, this one is the one with Atomic. And Dreaming. And Union City Blue. And Shayla. And Slow Motion.

I think it’s better than Parallel Lines. There, I said it.

I haven’t listened back to Parallel Lines yet, so my scoring may yet betray me, but as I’m sitting here today, this Blondie album is the one with heart, this Blondie album is the one with the big tunes and, as I’ve already mentioned, this Blondie album is the one with Atomic. And, for me, Atomic – with that spaghetti guitar riff and, aching, iconic,

“ohhhh, your hair is beautiful!” vocal from Debbie Harry – is the Blondie song. (11)

Union City Blue has always felt to me like the greatest Springsteen song the Boss never wrote. Looking back at the lyrics, I guess Blondie weren’t saying too much with this one, but the yearning in the line, “Oh, oh, what are we gonna do, Union City Blue” hints at so much possibility and, allied to the spacious, Phil Spector Wall of Soundish production here, it opens my heart like a flower. Also 11.

And I haven’t even gone in on that epic, soaring opening track, Dreaming. Holy fuck. Clem Burke’s huge drum intro here really sets the tone, opening the album beyond CBGB’s and The Bowery into a whole new world of sound. It’s a wonderful, romantic head rush.

Shayla & Slow Motion show the band’s pop sensibilities and, in the case of Slow Motion, explicitly nod back to Motown and 60’s girl groups like the Ronettes – the influences of which are all over this album. 8.6

By the way, as this Blondie’s first mention here, let me just say that if you haven’t read Debbie Harry’s memoir, Face It, it is an absolute scream. A must read. A bit like Jah Wobble’s Memoirs Of A Geezer. Speaking of whom…

Metal Box (#57) is one of two albums that I wish I had been old enough to listen to and be blown away by in 1979. The other being, of course, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Was anyone making music like this back then?

Opening with, and underpinned by, Jah Wobble’s bassline, Albatross is a tour de force as John Lydon’s spectral cries “Getting rid of the albatross… I know you very well… You are unbearable… I run away… run away” float in and out of the track, which is really all about Wobble’s bass. To be honest, it isn’t right, but I feel like the story of this album is really the story of Mr Wobble’s dubby bass playing. He provides such a groove to an album which could easily have proved otherwise unlistenable.

He does it on Swan Lake, later – appropriately – retitled Death Disco. If this isn’t a death disco, I don’t know what is. Interestingly, with the bass line providing the melody, and Keith Levene’s guitars supplying textures, it feels as though PIL weren’t operating too dissimilarly to their contemporaries in Manchester – albeit with very different results.

The, would be languid if it wasn’t so unsettling, Poptones comes close to album highlight status, but is pipped to the post by Careering which, to this day, still sounds so amazing to me. I can’t begin get my head around what people would have thought of it over 40 years ago. To me, Careering sounds like the sort of thing you would hear as you went round on a ghost train – if the carnies really wanted to shit you up. Clattering percussion like car doors being blown across an old scrap heap & synth lines like lasers collide with Wobble’s bass whilst Lydon conjures up images of despair, decay and death as he implores, rhetorically I think,

“Is this living”

It sounds dark. Of course it does, it is, but it’s also a veritable tour de force. From there, the album hits a relative down slope, but tracks like the death dub of The Suit & the appropriately terrifying instrumental, Graveyard, make the journey home worthwhile. If you hadn’t already got the idea that John Lydon was just a little pissed off with the world around him, then Chant punches you in the face with it.

“Mob! War! Kill! Hate!” (this repeats for the duration)

“Voice moaning in a speaker… side of London that the tourists never see”

There isn’t much of a tune here, this is just a percussive assault, until finally,

“Chant, chant, chant, chant, chaaaant”

You can imagine Lydon smashing up the studio at the end of this one. It would have been an appropriate way to end this angry, stunning album, but we go out instead on the vaguely classical Radio 4.

Sitting at home somewhere in Bristol, a certain Robert Del Naja would have been listening to all of this with great interest.

“I can’t forget the impression you made”. 9

Lodger (#58)

This is gonna sound terrible, having only recently established my David Bowie bona fides, so I will cross my fingers ,and hope my godparents are not reading. I bought Lodger 5 years ago when I was on my initial Bowie rush and then promptly got Spotify. So, the CD sat on top of my cabinet, unopened for years.

I finally listened to it a couple of years ago and, having listened to the previous two albums in Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, this one confused me somewhat. I put it away and resolved never to speak of it again. However, in the interests of this project, I have gone back to it and…. still no. Sorry.

I think the first two tracks, Fantastic Voyage & African Night Flight are great and then everything else afterwards, except for Yassassin and the closing Red Money, are staggeringly inessential and, in the case of Look Back In Anger, just plain bad. Even Boys Keep Swinging couldn’t do much for me on this excursion. Of course, it’s Bowie, so it’s not awful, it’s just a record in his back catalogue I know I’m not going to listen to very often, if ever again. 7.3

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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty One (2017.1)

Happy Monday! Yes, it’s another week on the Obsessive Album Project (part twenty one and I haven’t gone mad yet). Stick with me gang, we’ll make it through together. A couple of weeks back, I made reference to 2020 being one of my favourite years for music since 2017. Today I’m gonna wander back 4 years to 3 records I bought that year and start to explore why that was.

We start with blog favourites – well, let’s be honest about it, blog inspiration, The National…

Sleep Well Beast (#53) found the band 7 years on from High Violet and stepping away from the sound which had served them so well on High Violet & follow up, Trouble Will Find Me and into a slightly more electronic territory. Yay for me, right?

Well, no, not initially, I have to say. But probably only because I had heard the band were going down an electronic direction, for me, maybe they didn’t go far enough. Nonetheless, I would say I’ve been quicker to love this album than a lot of the die hard fans I know and as the years have passed, it has gradually become my “go to” album of theirs.

That isn’t to say it’s perfect by any means, and it probably lacks the dynamics of High Violet, for example, but the textures created by the Dessner brothers and the rhythms of the Devendorfs are as soothing as a Sunday evening in front a fire, or under a duvet whilst the rain batters your windows. I would also wager that Matt Berninger has never sounded better*.

And for all that, one of my favourite tracks on the album is Day I Die, which, with it chiming guitars, could easily have appeared on High Violet. There is something about that song which, in the 4 years since it first appeared, has really gotten under my skin. I think it’s this simple lyric,

“The day I die, where will we be?”

It’s the idea that, for me, the day you or I die, you’re likely to wake up not knowing this is going to be your last on this mortal coil. Or maybe you will know.

Where will your loved ones be? Will they be with you? Will they know? Will they care?

Maybe Nobody Else Will Be There and what a beautiful album opener that is, by the way.

When you start thinking like that, it’s kind of difficult to get it out of your head.

When I played this album to my mate Ads, he immediately latched onto The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness as the “gateway drug”, but its guitar riff is something I find strangely nagging and, therefore, annoying. Guilty Party is much better and perhaps the saddest Matt has ever been on a record as he sings,

“It’s nobody’s fault, there’s no guilty party”.

Ah, man. Magic. There are moments like this across this record, with the closing title track acting as a lullaby for both the listener and the man almost murmuring, “I’ll still destroy you, sleep well beast” That I’ll Still Destroy You is the title of another song here only adds to the effect of Matt’s brain unspooling as he drifts away.

Like I said, magic. 8.42

Also cloaked in magic is the very first track on Baxter Dury’s album Prince Of Tears (#54), Miami. It’s a low slung, bass driven epic, thematically, it’s like hearing from the protagonist of LCD Soundsystem’s Losing My Edge only with ten years of bitterness and cocaine and madness behind him as a series of barfly boasts become ever more deranged,

“I’m the eye doctor, the night chef, Mr Maseratiiiii/ I’m king of the migraines, soiled lord of tears”

If you don’t know this song, it’s so great that, nearly four years after I first played it to my cousin Josh, his WhatsApp status still reads “I don’t think you realise how successful I am..”

And, man, that bassline. (11, obvs)

Porcelain reads like an immediate riposte as, cold eyed and clear voiced, Rose Ellinor Dougal intones “You’re just a lonely motherfucker… I don’t give a shit about you”. Light relief comes in the form of Almond Milk & Letter Bomb, the pair of which manage to evoke the theme to the Batman TV series, whilst Oi sees Baxter fondly reminiscing about an old acquaintance and hoping he didn’t turn into a “total cunt”.

Overall, though, the feeling this album generates is one of sadness and regret across its ten tracks clocking in at just under half an hour. This is best exemplified by closing track, Prince Of Tears, which comes across as the ultimate answer to the opening track. Almost as if she’s come to rescue her deranged barfly and drag him home, surrounded by strings, a Madelaine Hart sings,

“Prince of tears nobody’s gonna love you more than us”

and then, finally. Repeatedly,

“Prince of tears, don’t leave me like this laughing at you.”

It’s a wonderful, moving, note to end this album on. 8.3

On a slightly different tip now and an album from Chelsea Wolfe which, for me, almost defies description. I have to thank Jo’s mates from Berlin, Domi & Jens for Hiss Spun (#55) really. They came and stayed with us a few years back and Jens Spotified 16 Psyche for us. Blown away by its Massive Attack on steroids vibe, I ended up listening to the album in full on a train journey down to Southampton to watch England take on India in a test match.

I reckon I’d ordered the vinyl before leaving the Surrey borders.

If I’d waited to hear the whole thing, then perhaps I might – might – have thought twice. The opening half of the album, with its part ethereal, part horror movie vocals, overdriven guitars, percussion like rocks from the gods and Berlin nightclub/sex dungeon vibe contains all the best stuff. It’s so heavy, I think, that it’s difficult to sustain the feeling throughout the whole album and then the tonal diversions feel a little dull compared to what’s gone before.

That said, for me, this is doom metal/electro goth/ whatever the hell it is is an avenue I don’t often wander down, so I reckon the purchase was well worth it, the initial three tracks – one of which is, of course, 16 Psyche, acting as a massive shot of adrenalin straight into your nervous system. 8.25

* I haven’t listened to either The National’s first, or last album that extensively, so I might be wrong on that one.

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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Twenty (Status update & Top 10)

Welcome to Part Twenty of the Obsessive Album Project. Today, at the end of the forth week of the project, I thought I’d give myself a little breather and so this post, such as it is, is a status update. Yeah, I know, sorry, but I almost love my stats as much as the writing. And even I need a break from writing sometimes… If you don’t want to know the results, look away now.

Over the last 4 weeks, I have listened to 95 different albums, writing about 52 of them. I think that’s pretty good going in this period of time.

So far, I have listened to:

6 albums from the 1960’s

11 albums from the 1970’s

15 albums from the 1980’s

40 (FORTY) albums from the 1990’s

9 albums from the 2000’s

12 albums from the 2010’s

and 3 albums from the 2020’s

All of which is to say that if you’re thinking this has been very 1990’s heavy so far, it has (see below for further proof), but it will change – I promise! Although 1995, also known as the year I turned 18, will probably remain the best musical year ever… Especially if I go mad before I finish this project.

Here is my current Top 10 – difficult to see anyone topping Closer, isn’t it?

NumberAlbumArtistYearScore
1CloserJoy Division198010
= 2Low-LifeNew Order19859.75
= 2MaxinquayeTricky19959.75
4To Bring You My LovePJ Harvey19959.7
5Exit Planet DustChemical Brothers19959.55
6Power, Corruption & LiesNew Order19839.5
7DummyPortishead19949.5
8Different ClassPulp19959.33
9Blue LinesMassive Attack19919.29
10BlackstarDavid Bowie20169.29
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The Obsessive Album Project: Part Nineteen (1998.1 PJ Harvey and Tricky)

Part Nineteen of the Obsessive Album Project and, for the first time since I started this, I’m wondering what the hell I’ve let myself in for here. Maybe I’m just tired. Anyway, I run for cover and take refuge in one of my favourite years for music and football, 1998. And two of my favourite artists…. ever!!! Yes, it’s time to talk the West Country’s favourite pair, PJ Harvey and Tricky.

We begin with Tricky’s Angels With Dirty Faces (#51). By 1998, Tricky appeared to have been so freaked out by the success of debut album Maxinquaye, that he was almost wilfully determined to get as far away as he could from it, thus alienating people like, er…. me. He nearly managed it too.

Even as someone who to this day holds Maxinquaye up as one of his three favourite albums of all time and even as someone who thinks Christiansands is the greatest song in the history of music (we’ll get to it), I found Angels With Dirty Faces, well, I guess you could say it was a bit tricky.

And yet, if you can get through the dense dope fog which pervades the album, there is beauty to be had here. After four albums together, this would be the last album to feature the honeyed tones of Martina Topley Bird and, on the spectral, Billie Holliday referencing, Carriage For Two, she makes her presence felt. The other significant contribution comes from PJ Harvey, as we shall soon see she wasn’t overly enjoying her 1998 either, but here she combines with Tricky to stunning effect on the haunting Broken Homes (11). For all the great songs PJ Harvey has put out under her own name, I think this is up there with her very best.

I remember, having seen Tricky do a searing live performance of Tear Out My Eyes in 1997, being completely confused and disappointed by the sleepy version which appears here, it follows Tricky’s first little jab at journalists, Demise. Better to do it in verse than physically, I guess.

The Moment I Feared takes us down down a drum n’ bass alleyway and Record Companies, which is Tricky’s little jab at – well, take a guess – is, all ominous whispers and tones, vaguely terrifying. Martina gets a Taxi out of here on the final track, her opening line “I said I’m bored” set against rattling percussion and a bassline which can’t be bothered. It’s an intriguing note for her to bow out on.

I think 14 tracks was stretching it here and the effect palls across the whole album, but at least Tricky is, here, in control of his own vision. 8.07

Someone else very much in control of her own vision in 1998 was the aforementioned PJ Harvey. I remember when Is This Desire (#52) came out, the NME had the bare faced cheek to give this magnificent album a 6/10. I guess I’ve rather given my ending away here, but I’m much more sympathetic to the attitude of the guy who spent £200 on a vinyl copy of this album he knew to be fake just to have a vinyl record. If only he’d waited for the reissue series which began last year – it’s been very much worth the wait…

Moving on from the desert blues of 1995’s To Bring You My Love, Harvey created a series of dense, harsh electronic soundscapes around a series of tormented characters and they are uniformly terrific. Even more so because she was very much operating outside of her wheelhouse here. I think Tricky would have been proud of this – which, in this context, is about the highest praise I can give.

Lyrically, first track Angelene introduces PJ Harvey’s approach to the album as well as the first of our tortured heroines. Musically, this airy, piano led track feels like you could easily be watching Polly perform it on a sunny afternoon at Glasto’s Pyramid Stage. Which is to say that it gives no hint of what is to follow. The Sky Lit Up quickly remedies that, with its heavy percussion bouncing around channel to channel and Harvey ending the song almost screaming. The Wind is terrific, all staccato guitar riffs, hushed vocals and a fabulous, rolling rhythm which cleverly evokes the wind.

I remember hearing My Beautiful Leah the first time I saw PJ live (2004) and, even after years with this record, being stunned by its clanging force. The heavily distorted synths here sound incredible. The frantic single, A Perfect Day Elise (11, #25 in the UK Charts fact fans!) which opens with the urgency of a post bank heist car chase, is even better, one of my favourite ever Harvey compositions. Electric Light, “sirens rising” against what sounds like a repeating synth bass riff and spare, menacing electronics – a comparison with Siouxsie & The Banshees Red Light has just popped into my brain – lives in this totally unsettled atmosphere.

Towards the end of the album The River, not unnaturally, brings calm to proceedings, asking you to “throw your pain in the river”, before the title track closes the album out on a note of relative calm. The last time I saw PJ live, it was with this track she closed a total assault of a show. It made total sense then, it makes total sense here. This is a terrific, terrified, terrifying album and, for me, second only To Bring You My Love in the Harvey back catalogue.

And, though I have had to wait years for a vinyl reissue (and, believe me, I have been waiting), at least I didn’t have to pay £200 for it.

Really, really, really worth the wait. 9.25

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