Sunday, 31 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 42 - Thompson Twins 'Into the gap'

Ever since I started this whole cassette experiment on February 11th with Sparks’ ‘No. 1 in Heaven’, I’ve had a shortlist of albums that I’m secretly dreading listening to again. I’m sure that some will pack a pleasant surprise while for others the feeling of foreboding will prove to be painfully justified.
One member of that dreaded list has already been and gone and proved much more fun than anticipated (day 29 if you’re wondering), but today I’ve been listening to one of two Thompson Twins tapes currently riding high on the ‘list of dread’.
‘Into the gap’ was released in 1984 when Thompson Twins were at the height of their international popularity, apparently selling around 5 million copies (and that’s an awful lot!).
Listening again in 2013 I can report that this album is definitely ‘of its time’, but that generally, my fears were misplaced. Never a great trouble to critics compiling lists of favourite albums of all time, some of the tracks still stand up reasonably well. Of the singles released from it ‘Hold me now’ is the one that still sounds freshest, of the album tracks I enjoyed ‘Storm on the sea’, which had completely slipped from my mind in the intervening 29 years.
My cassette version includes a ‘whole side of extended remixes’. If you’re a fanatical Thompson Twins fan and don’t already own these remixes (and you probably do) then you might like to seek them out. If you’re not then your life will be no poorer for not hearing them. I generally have a very simple theory about remixes and it’s this – if they were any good they’d be on the album.
One word of caution though – this album contains a credit for the musician who plays the Tablas. Not always a good sign.
I promise to steel myself for ‘Quick step and side kick’ in a few weeks time. I always found it preferable to ‘Into the gap’ at the time!
Happy Easter!
Label – Arista
Year - 1984

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 41 - Funkapolitan 'Funkapolitan'

I always find it interesting when people say one thing but clearly mean another. One example being ‘economical with the truth’, which as we all know, means ‘lying’. Or how about ‘not conventionally beautiful’ which simply means ‘not beautiful’. Or, in the case of our cassette today, ‘of its time’, which of course translates into ‘terribly dated’.
‘Funkapolitan’ by Funkapolitan is one such album that is absolutely ‘of its time’ – but, if you, like me, were listening to music in 1982 then I’m sure, also like me, that you’ll find something to enjoy here.
Funkapolitan’s record label, London, obviously thought this was an album that deserved the full ‘pulling out all the stops’ treatment, so Production is courtesy of August Darnell (of Kid Creole and The Coconuts) and for the cover/insert the band have been given a helping hand by no less than Peter Saville. Wonderfully designed it is too, although obviously with an LP sleeve rather than a fiddly little cassette insert in mind.
Musically there are similarities to a number of other (predominantly) white artists of the time who were having fun with jangly guitar-based funk with a bit of (at times clumsy) rap thrown in. Haircut 100 did it (their second album will be featuring soon!), Perry Haines did it rather more pleasingly and obscurely with ’What’s funk?’, Blue Rondo a la Turk did it with the brilliant ‘Klacto Vee Sedstein’ and Wham crashed the whole party with their similarly jangly/funky ‘teeth-on-edge’ ‘Wham rap’.
The best known tune on ‘Funkapolitan’ is ‘As the time goes by’ (which I have on 7” single too!) and it is pretty much the best of what’s on offer. There are some other good tracks too – although if anything the album suffers from that fatal flaw that can sound the death knell for any collection; starting side 1 with the weakest and keeping everyone waiting until the last track on side 2 for the best. ‘In the crime of life’, another single, is also entertaining in a 1982 kind of way.
So that, ladies and gents, is ‘Funkapolitan’. Funky and cosmopolitan, presumably.
And just in case you’re wondering, the cover shows an experimental Sunbeam alloy head.
Label – London
Year - 1982

Friday, 29 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 40 - Depeche Mode 'Songs of Faith and Devotion'

Some of the best albums ever recorded come from groups in midst the strangest of personal circumstances. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ famously sprouted from an ‘unusual’ combination of personal relationships and alleged copious amounts of ‘stimulants’. Abba’s later albums were essentially two singers telling the stories of their relationship break-ups, penned by the two guys that they’d broken up with.
By all accounts (including one in the most recent Mojo magazine) Depeche Mode recorded and toured their ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ while (how can I put this tactfully) ‘troubled by a number of personal demons’
From the point of the ‘Black Celebration’ onwards, the inspiration for all Depeche Mode albums came from some very dark places. All of which adds together to give the impression that Depeche Mode are a depressing bunch who make downbeat music.
And, of course, nothing could be further from the truth for two extremely good reasons;
1. Their music is always inventive and uplifting
2. Every album is graced with quieter tracks of absolutely searing, painful beauty
The most beautiful tune here is ‘Condemnation’, with its chanted backing vocals. Running this a close second is the tremendous ‘Judas’.
There are also some storming, louder tracks too – ‘I feel you’ (which was a single) has a brilliant, rolling rhythm and the quieter ‘One caress’ sizzles very nicely, thank you.
So, lots of darkness and lots of light, and, as I realised when I played this for the third time in succession today, one of the tapes I’d missed the most while it’s been shut in  the loft for all these years!
Label – Mute
Year - 1993

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 39 - Nanci Griffith 'Storms'

There are times, such as when a British winter stretches all the way to Easter, that you need a nice soft, fluffy blanket to keep you warm.
I’m thinking one of those crocheted ones with lots of little squares made by plump little crafty crocheters and stitched together with lots of love.
Fittingly my choice of album today to warm me on my drive to work and back in the sub-zero County Durham temperatures was the musical equivalent of a warm, comfy, cosy blanket – ‘Storms’ by Nanci Griffith.
A little ‘twee’ and over-polished in places, but ultimately a very satisfying and warming, ‘grown-up’ album, with fine tracks like ‘Drive-in movies and dashboard lights’ and ‘You made this love a teardrop’ which features Phil Everly on ‘harmony vocal’.
Other favourites here include ‘It’s a hard life wherever you go’ (where Nanci ruminates on ‘the troubles’ with her Belfast taxi driver, Seamus – very much better than that description makes it sound!) and ‘Brave companion of the road’ (where Nanci comes across as a much sweeter version of our experiment subject of a couple of days ago, her MCA stable-mate, Steve Earle). Luckily, on a cold day, this album offers many other songs to give you a satisfying glow (a bit like Ready Brek).
Like many of the best female ‘country’ singers, Nanci has a voice like warm honey.
As a reaction, I’m going to listen to something much ‘grimier’ tomorrow – can you guess what is yet?
Label – MCA
Year - 1989

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 38 - The Icicle Works 'If you want to defeat your enemy sing his song'

In 1995 there were three fantastic albums that just wouldn’t leave my CD player – ‘The Bends’ by Radiohead, ‘Grand Prix’ by Teenage Fanclub and ‘Head like a rock’ by Ian McNabb (in fact I’m tempted to wander off and listen to them all now!).
All three are firmly categorisable (if that’s a word) as ‘guitar’ albums and the first two are often mentioned when critics compile their favourite albums of the 1990s (and often ‘of all time’ too). The third, Ian McNabb’s ‘Head like a rock’ tends to have slipped away a little in our collective musical consciousness, but if, like me, you still think it’s a classic, then you’ll almost certainly love (and possibly own) this, the 38th cassette on ‘the great cassette experiment’ roll call.
Released in 1987, The Icicle Works’ slightly clumsily titled ‘If you want to defeat your enemy sing his song’, burst forth into the lower reaches of the UK album charts before slowly slipping towards oblivion. I was one of the few people to buy this Ian Broudie (channelling Phil Spector) produced album at the time, and I’ve loved it ever since.
The top two tracks are undoubtedly the 100mph ‘Understanding Jane’, with its stupendous ending and ‘Evangeline’. That being said, almost everything else on here is fantastic too – ‘Hope springs eternal’ is a typical example of the boys’ anthemic style and ‘Up here in the north of England’ is very fine too, definitely not only a northern song.
Please note too that this album includes just the right amount of banjo – it is possible to have too little banjo on an album and it’s almost certainly possible to have too much.
Label – Beggars Banquet
Year - 1987

Monday, 25 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 37 - Steve Earle and The Dukes 'The hard way'

Just the other day I was wondering whether being a ‘Hellraiser’ is a lifestyle choice, or more of a ‘calling’. I was inspired toward this thought by Robert Sellers’ excellent book ‘Hellraisers – the life and inebriated times of Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed’ (please note that this refers to Richard, Richard, Peter and Oliver, rather than the slightly less hellraising quartet of Tim, Rolf, Plenty and Austin).
I’m not suggesting for a moment that a life of drinking, womanising and motorbikes is for me though – I can’t even ride a pushbike, so the thought of something powerful between my legs fills me with apprehension (thanks to Julian Clary, who has copyright on that last sentence!).
Our cassette experiment subject today, Steve Earle, has seen his fair share of hellraising in his time too. Well publicised drug problems, a short period in jail and seven marriages (but only to six different wives) mean that his albums contain a little bit more of real life than many others do.
‘The hard way’ recorded with The Dukes, has tales of open roads, blue-collar life, hopeless romantics and the execution of a murderer who bemoans the fact that his crime didn’t even make the Newspaper. As if to prove his working-class credentials, Steve even appears on the cover wearing what can only be described as a ‘Casey Jones’ hat.
There are, it must be said, one or two slightly monotonous low-points on this cassette (‘This Highway’s mine (Roadmaster)’ and ‘West Nashville Boogie’ are skippable if I’m being honest), but the high-points more than make up for them. The storming ‘The other kind’ makes you yearn for a big motorbike (even if, like me, you’d probably fall off) and ‘Hopeless romantics’ is the kind of track that Earle does best.
It is, however, the tale of 29 year old, quarter-Cherokee, murderer ‘Billy Austin’ that is the high point here by a considerably long chalk. Once you’ve spent 6 minutes and 31 seconds in its illustrious company you’ll never be the same again – and you’ll probably come to the conclusion that hellraising isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Now, where did I put my glass of milk?
Label – MCA
Year - 1990

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 36 - Japan 'Tin Drum'

Here's a deep thought for a freezing cold Sunday in March - are artistic integrity and mainstream popularity mutually exclusive?
I'll tell you why I ask. My selection for experimentation today is Japan's 'Tin Drum', their last real album before they splintered into solo artist and endless variations of their former band for years to come (some of which may well feature in weeks to come – Rain Tree Crow anyone?).I always got the impression that David Sylvian was grumpily uncomfortable with fame, and has spent the subsequent years actively seeking to avoid it.
My favourite Japan album has changed over time, but tends to vary between 'Tin Drum' and 'Gentlemen take Polaroids' and I always feel that 'Tin Drum' is Mick Karn's finest Japan album, while 'Gentlemen take Polaroids' is David's.
Japan were always much more musically accomplished than any of their other fashionable contemporaries (with the possible exception of The Human League) and as a live act they were unrivalled. We saw them on the tour to promote this album and the more atmospheric tracks (and, let’s be honest, that’s most of them) were fantastic. We still have the tour programme somewhere – it’s tucked inside the LP sleeve if memory serves.
Personal favourites here are ‘Sons of pioneers’, featuring the late Mick Karn’s amazing fretless bass playing, ‘Visions of China’ with Steve Jansen’s signature drum sound and ‘Ghosts’, which felt like a natural hit single at the time, but now seems too unique to ever grace anything as common as the singles chart.
Now regarded as a classic album, for many years this album (and band) was sneered at by almost everyone, including most of the band’s former members themselves.
Label – Virgin.
Year - 1981

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 35 - Matthew Sweet 'Girlfriend'

The ‘Holy Grail’ of popular music may well be the three minute pop song (I hear Rush fans shouting ‘that’s way too short’ and Ramones fans (particularly the ones who think they only make T-shirts) probably just shouting).
For a while (approximately 11 months and 3 days) in the early 1990s I considered that some of the most perfect pop songs around were on Matthew Sweet’s ‘Girlfriend’ album, particularly the 2 minutes 55 seconds perfection of ‘Day for night’ the opening track on side 2.
There are other pleasures to be found here too, the opener, ‘Divine intervention’ has a guitar sound that knocked everything else around at the time (and I really do mean everything else) into a very firmly cocked hat. ‘I’ve been waiting’ just misses being a perfect pop song by 36 seconds.
I have other Matthew Sweet albums, but on most he eschews the melodic loveliness in favour of noisy rockiness and they just don’t come up to the standard of the tunes on ‘Girlfriend’. (I love the word eschew – that may be the first time I’ve ever used it though!).
Incidentally, I always think of this album as a companion piece to John Grant’s ‘Queen of Denmark’. This may be because they’re both fantastic in a fragile kind of way. Or it may be the presence of ‘Winona’ on ‘Girlfriend’ and ‘Sigourney Weaver’ on ‘Queen of Denmark’. Who knows?
The only time that Matthew ever came close to this kind of quality again was on the self-titled album by The Thorns, which merits a very quick spin on my CD player every once in a while.
Label – Zoo Entertainment.
Year - 1991
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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 34 - Roxy Music 'Manifesto'

I'm a huge fan of manifestos! Particularly the 'Tamworth manifesto’ of 1834 studied during my 'O' level history course when it was still moderately recent.
Manifestos are hugely optimistic documents, full of promises and hope. They let us know (in theory at least) what the future will hold.
I've never been sure if Roxy Music's sixth album was named 'Manifesto'' for this reason, but side 1 (the east side) seems to look back at their previous, more experimental musical style, while side 2 (you guessed it, the west side) prepares the way for the more easy-listening, cheese and wine party (but still very classy) style of the albums to come.
‘Angel eyes’ (on the east side) and ‘Dance away’ (on the west side) are present here in versions that differ considerably from their 7” single incarnations and are much more interesting as a result. There’s a passage during this version of ‘Dance away’ when I get an interesting mental picture of Bryan shaking his very cultured maracas – like many manifestos I’m being economical with the truth here, because this passage doesn’t actually feature maracas, but in my non-musical opinion it would be even better if it did.
The album’s high point is ‘Still falls the rain’, but my soft-spot for a musical-box interlude means that ‘Spin me round’ gives me a warm glow too.
In short, east side = Roxy Music, west side = Bryan Ferry and his backing band.
Label – E.G. Records Ltd.
Year - 1979

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 33 - Big Audio Dynamite 'Tighten up Vol.88'

I once saw Paul Gascoigne play for Middlesbrough reserves (against Sunderland reserves). He was overweight and well past his best, but he was still head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch.
He obviously got a lot of stick from the Sunderland fans, but there wasn’t a single one of them who wouldn’t have given their right arm for a player with a small fraction of Gazza’s footballing ability. Even though his skills were waning, there was still a lot of love (or at least begrudging respect) for the future Kentucky Fried Chicken deliverer.
I thought of Paul when listening to today’s cassette selection, ‘Tighten up Vol. 88’ by Big Audio Dynamite. Mick Jones, a much loved national treasure, unfortunately nowhere near his previous musical glories on this album.
It’s definitely true that many great albums have one ‘ho-hum’ tune, just as many ‘ho-hum’ albums have one great tune. In this case the great tune is the fantastic ‘The Battle of All Saints Road’, described by Mick as ‘Cockney & Western’, I’d be extremely surprised if you don’t grin as widely as I do when the ‘duelling banjos’ section kicks in.
‘Esquerita’ isn’t too bad either, however the closing track on side 1, ‘Champagne’ is just awful (sorry, there’s just no other word for it!).
Oh, and the cover painting (rather too small to be appreciated in tape insert form) is by one Paul Simonon.
Label – CBS
Year - 1988

Monday, 18 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 32 - Peter Gabriel 'Peter Gabriel'

1977 was a very good year for music. What with David Bowie’s ‘Low’ and “Heroes”, Abba’s ‘Arrival’ (I’ll have no disrespecting the top Swedish exports on my watch), Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the key of life’, The Sex Pistol’s ‘Never mind the bollocks’ and of course Donna Summer’s ‘I remember yesterday’ to name but a few.
What chance then, in this most eclectic of musical years, that the ex lead singer of a ‘Prog Rock’ band should also bring forth a classic album too? Well (as you probably know by now) Peter Gabriel’s first solo outing, called, simply ‘Peter Gabriel’ turned out to be just that.
At the time it sounded like a huge departure from his work with Genesis; with hindsight (with the brilliant barbershop quartet/Peter Skellerny ‘Excuse me’ and ‘Waiting for the big one the obvious exceptions) it still sounds an awful lot like ‘Public Schoolboy Prog’ (and I mean that as a sincere compliment).
The opening track ‘Moribund the burgermeister’ could very easily have come directly from any Genesis album of the early 1970s (and would have merited a great Peter Gabriel costume had it done so). ‘Solsbury Hill’ sounds every bit as good after 36 years, but the pick, for me, is the beautiful ‘Here comes the flood’. There’s a great German version of this track too – please don’t miss out if you ever get the opportunity to hear it.
Of course, as we now know, this turned out to be only the first of four of Peter’s self-titled albums, so it’s often now known as ‘1’ or ‘Car’. When it comes to self-titled Peter Gabriel items my advice is this – the best ones are the odd ones!
Label – Charisma
Year - 1977

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 31 - Billy Bragg 'Talking with the taxman about poetry'

In my last Birthday Honours List (it’s only imaginary, apparently only the Queen is allowed to do a real one) I awarded Billy Bragg a knighthood for services to music and political agitation.
In my book (Sir) Billy is definitely at his best when he turns the politics down ever so slightly (maybe to 9) and the love songs up a bit – and he gets this balance just about right on his third album ‘Talking with the taxman about poetry’.
Lyrically about as good as Billy gets, this album even includes a tribute to the humble cassette tape on the wonderful ‘Levi Stubbs’ tears’ (you can trust Billy when it comes to apostrophe use!).
I made a checklist of some of my favourite musical things and most of the boxes are ticked comprehensively here, as you’ll see below;
The imaginative use of brass – tick
The presence of Kirsty MacColl – tick
Mrs Mills/Chas & Dave type upright piano tinklings – tick
Constructive use of ‘Jerusalem’ – tick
Name-checking of musical icons – tick
Robotic voice – no tick (sadly)
Billy’s first two albums were powerful examples of angry young manhood, but it’s here that he really comes of age. ‘The marriage’ comes on a bit too strongly, but everything else, even the unashamedly strongly political messages are top class. ‘The warmest room’ and ‘Wishing the days away’ deserving of special mentions in despatches (or dispatches, I’m never 100% sure).
Arise Sir Stephen William Bragg of Barking.

Label – Go! Discs
Year - 1986

Friday, 15 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 30 - Depeche Mode 'Speak & Spell'

In early 1982, a young boy of only seventeen summers, saw a bunch of four other young boys, barely older than he was, play an unforgettable gig at Newcastle City Hall.
So fresh were the band that they only had one album and a couple of singles to play. So, in front of a set of stark fluorescent strip-lights, they played them, then, for an encore, they played two of them again. The whole thing lasted barely an hour from start to finish.
The first boy was me. The four other boys were Depeche Mode. The album was ‘Speak & Spell’ which had been released just a few months earlier and it tells you everything about 1981 that you will ever need to know.
Released on Mute records (a guarantee of quality at that time), ‘Speak & Spell’ is a brilliant, almost exclusively upbeat, synthesizer album that posts it’s intentions right from the word ‘go’ with ‘New Life’ then powers all the way through (the mood dipping a bit in the middle of side 2) to end with ‘Just can’t get enough’ – a tune that acts like a mission statement for at least their next three albums.
‘What’s your name?’, tucked away at the end of side 1 is still the stand-out track for me, encapsulating all of the fun and excitement of early 1980s electronic music in less than three minutes.
Who knew that their next album ‘A broken frame’, released later that same year, would be even better still?

Label – Mute Records
Year - 1981

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 29 - The Fun Boy Three 'The Fun Boy Three'

It’s a mere 24 hours or so since the new Pope got the gig and I’ve a confession to make – I never really warmed to the 2 Tone movement. I appreciate the whole cultural significance stuff, but, on the whole, the music didn’t really move me.
For every ‘Ghost town’ there was a ‘Missing words’, for every ‘Gangsters’ a ‘Stereotype’.
Imagine my surprise then when Specials’ (or Special AKA (it was confusing)) members Terry, Neville and Lynval went their own way and, with the help of Bananarama (which could be good or bad news depending on your point of view) created a genuinely original pop album.
The rather overstated aim, declared on the sleeve/insert, was to encourage the listener to ‘Gasp wonder and thrill to the sound of the 80’s’. Not sure I’d go that far, but this album does include some rather entertaining pop nuggets. Billed simply on the insert as ‘The lunatics….’ and on the tape itself as ‘The lunatics have taken over the asylum’, the album’s best track is every bit as relevant musically and culturally as ‘Ghost town’, but if you can remember the last time you heard it on the radio I’ll send you a chocolate button. (Simply send an SAE to….)
Almost all of the other tunes are good too, constructed with a heavy reliance on (for 1982 at least) unusual and interesting rhythms and delivered for the most part with a deadpan style verging on the entirely disinterested.
A small note of caution though; just like all films could be improved by cutting 20 minutes from their running time, most albums could be improved by removing one track. And on this album, that track is the inaccurately titled ‘Funrama 2’.
Don’t forget, it’s ‘in gorgeous stereo FunboyScope’. Apparently.

Label – Chrysalis
Year - 1982

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 28 - Faith Brothers 'Eventide'

The great playwright and wit, Oscar Wilde, wrote a well known play about a handbag called ‘The importance of being earnest’. I haven’t seen or read the play, but I have seen the film and Colin Firth, as usual, was excellent in it. (At this point I’d better clarify following a grammatical quirk in the first sentence – the play was called ‘The importance of being earnest, not the handbag).
Earnestness tends to be an under-rated quality among the pop stars of 2013, but in the mid 1980s it was like poo in a field. At that time pop stars had only two ideological choices - you were either a member of an organisation like ‘Red Wedge’ or you were a member of Duran Duran.
Now, earnestness and unbridled fun don’t often go hand-in–hand I’m sorry to say. That’s certainly the case on today’s cassette from 1985, Faith Brothers’ ‘Eventide’.
That’s not to say that it’s not an extremely good album though, in fact it has been one of the biggest surprises of the cassette experiment so far. Like many albums you can guess the tone from the titles of the tracks ‘A daydreamers philosophy’ (they missed the apostrophe, not me!), ‘Easter Parade’ and ‘The tradesmans entrance’ (them again, not me!) leave the listener in no doubt that these boys are not unfamiliar with the Robert Tressell’s ‘The ragged trousered philanthropists’ (which, unlike ‘Earnest’, I have read).
Best known tracks (on what is sadly not a very well known album) are ‘Easter Parade’ (which currently has a paltry 557 views on YouTube) and ‘Eventide (a hymn for change)’ but others, such as ‘The tradesmens entrance’ and ‘Sunday (rebel soul)’ also have their moments.
If you find the idea of Billy Bragg with a better voice (he’d admit that himself) and a great band an appealing thought, then you might like this if you’re able to find a copy.
Label – Siren
Year - 1985

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 27 - OMD 'Dazzle Ships'

When we look back at any artist’s career we tend to remember them by their popular rather than critical acclaim – and as record companies all understandably push for the most commercial tracks on an album to be the ones released as singles, most of our memories tend to be filtered through the rose-tinted ‘Greatest Hits’ or ‘Best Of’ collections that record companies further promote to perpetuate an artist’s popularity and, as a result, sales and revenue.
This rather cynical (but nonetheless accurate) view of back catalogues meant that my recent re-listen to OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ caught me a little by surprise. Take away the undoubtedly catchy ‘Telegraph’ and you’re left with an album that includes many experimental techniques. All of this right at the time, following the release of the successful ‘Architecture & Morality’, when OMD’s world domination appeared to be just around the corner.
It’s a bit of a mixed album if I’m brutally honest – In a time (particularly on cassette) when skipping tracks wasn’t particularly easy, it would have been preferable if ‘Dazzle Ships’, ‘This is Helena’ and ‘Time Zones’ had been the last tracks on side 2. Others, however, still sound impressive; I still have a particularly soft spot for ‘The romance of the telescope’, and the (hauntingly as opposed to annoyingly) repetitive ‘ABC Auto-Industry’. I also love the very short opening track, ‘Radio Prague’.
Of the singles released from this album, I always thought ‘Genetic engineering’ was a bit too ‘noisy’ and OMD’s first single misfire. ‘Telegraph’, although hugely ‘poppy’ has very little depth and subsequent listens don’t add anything to hearing it for the first time.
Often compared to Kraftwerk, I would tend to point towards the instrumental tracks on David Bowie’s ‘Low’ and “Heroes” as more obvious influences.
All of these things being said, OMD released this album at a time when many of their contemporaries were pursuing a brazen road towards more commerciality. I respected them greatly for this at the time, and find that my admiration has only grown and my respect increased with the passing of an unbelievable thirty years.
I now know that the album’s title was inspired by a painting that also inspired the distinctive cover art (sadly over-simplified for the cassette insert). At the time I wasn’t sure if ‘Dazzle Ships’ was some sort of sinister instruction!
Label – Virgin
Year - 1983

Monday, 11 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 26 - Tyka Nelson 'Royal Blue'

When it comes to music collecting (although for me it’s more a case of accumulating) I’m not what you could call a completist. In fact I see myself as more of an ‘incompletist’, always happier to spend my £10 on five albums than on one.
I do have some exceptions to my rule though and one such exception is the diminutive genius, Prince. During the 1980s if Minneapolis’ finest had pushed your buttons or twiddled your knobs then I was all over you like a rash. Sheila E, The Family, The Time, Wendy & Lisa, Madhouse, Apollonia 6, Martika and more besides found themselves firmly nestled in my music accumulation.
In many cases the Prince-related albums that I accumulated only actually merited one listen – often less than that in the case of Madhouse.
Imagine then my excitement when, in 1988, I chanced upon a cassette by the little axe-hero’s very own little sister, Tyka.
It’s still difficult to know exactly how much Prince actually had to do with the album as his guest appearances were often made under a pseudonym, although he does receive a grateful thank you from his little sibling.
The album is very well produced, and pleasant but unfortunately musically fairly unremarkable, with ‘L.O.V.E.’ and Marc Anthony’s Tune’ being the best tracks.
If you’re a Prince completist you might like to consider hunting this one out, but if you’re not there’s really nothing here that you don’t already have on your albums by 5 Star.
Label – Chrysalis/Cooltempo
Year - 1988

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 25 - Tears for Fears 'The Hurting'

I read somewhere this week (probably on twitter!) that an optimist hears the music and a pessimist hears the lyrics. Very profound I thought, and then promptly forgot about it.
Needless to say, as you’ve probably guessed, this little observation came back and hit me right between the ears yesterday when I selected Tears for Fears’ ‘The Hurting’ as my cassette of choice for ‘the great 6 month cassette experiment’ (day 25).
A great favourite around these parts with their early single releases in 1981 and 1982, Roland and Curt finally hit the (very) big time in late 1982 with the single ‘Mad World’ and then in 1983 with the musically optimistic/lyrically pessimistic album ‘The Hurting’ - its cover design subsequently copied by every single misery memoir now selling like hot cakes at your local book emporium.
With track titles like ‘The Hurting’, ‘Mad World’, ‘Suffer the Children’, ‘Watch me Bleed’ ‘The Prisoner’(a close relative of Peter Gabriel’s ‘The Intruder’ and the most disappointing track on the album by a country mile) and ‘Start of the Breakdown’ you know you’re going to be bombarded by the kind of lyrics that the band’s name suggests. And yet this is an uplifting and musically interesting album with a depth missing from the output of many of their early 1980s contemporaries.
Tears for Fears cemented their popularity with ‘Change’, which is slightly more optimistic than the remainder of the album, and included in two different versions here. It also presents one of popular music’s only opportunities to indulge in an energetic session of ‘air xylophone’
The next album, ‘Songs from the big chair’ was the one that really brought true international success, but they were never quite as fresh (or as miserable) again as they were on their first album.
Label – Mercury
Year - 1983

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 24 - David Bowie "Heroes"

1977 was a strange old year. I was an awkward 13 year old (is there any other kind?), all adidas T-shirts and Dr Martens and only just starting to develop my own musical tastes.
At the time I was probably only aware of two songs by David Bowie, ‘The Laughing Gnome’ (frequently played by Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart) and ‘The Jean Genie’ from my Hot Hits album (volume 16 I think) bought from the Value Stores Supermarket in Chester Road. For the uninitiated the 1970s Hot Hits (and better known Top of the Pops) LPs featured poor cover versions of current chart hits with what was known in the Benny Hill 70s as a ‘scantily clad’ young lady on the front cover. I remember one (perhaps a little too well) that featured one of these aforementioned ‘ladies’ slowly pulling down the zip on her wetsuit – very classy.
As a consequence I only discovered most of the great albums from this era non-contemporaneously. This meant that while I discovered and listened to all of the albums by, say, Depeche Mode, in chronological order from ‘Speak and Spell’ and could appreciate their development musically, their high points and their lows, I just didn’t have this luxury with artists like David Bowie or Roxy Music (or even The Beatles). My first David Bowie album then was ‘Lodger’ (perhaps not the most advisable place to start) and my first Roxy Music album was ‘Flesh and Blood’. I subsequently discovered both of these artist’s finest as and when I came across them in second hand stalls and record stores across the North East.
Until yesterday I’d always considered “Heroes” (which I only have on tape) to be a good, but not great, David Bowie album. Yesterday, however, I changed my mind and the reason for doing so was the rather grand concept of realising for the first time its historical musical context.
I realised for the first time while listening to the ‘Sense of doubt/Moss Garden/Neuk├Âln’ section on side 2 that no other popular artists of the time were either willing or able to take such a radical sidestep as David did on “Heroes” and ‘Low’ (both released in the same year can you believe!).
It’s been rumoured that David’s new album (to be released in the next couple of days and with a cover that references the cover of “Heroes”) has much in common with his ‘Berlin trilogy’. Let’s hope so – my fingers are firmly crossed.
Label – RCA
Year - 1977

Friday, 8 March 2013

Cassette experiment day 23 - Fashion 'Fabrique'

I find it both strange and fascinating to think about the ways in which musical tastes change and develop with the passing of years. For example there are some artists that are generally only appreciated with a bit of age and perspective; Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and, maybe more controversially, The Beach Boys all fall into this category for me. I wasn’t particularly interested in any of these in my teens or twenties, but their appeal has grown in direct proportion to my grey hairs and aching joints.
The reverse is also true of course – many of the artists that I loved in my teens and twenties lie unloved and unlistened-to in the spare room (all of my music is on a very slow journey from the loft to the ‘proposed’ music room – they left the loft in November 2012 and their ETA in the music room is late April/early May 2013).
During the course of the ‘great 6 month cassette experiment’ some of these have worked their way back into my heart again; others have merely confirmed that I’ve simply left some of my earlier musical tastes behind (I’ve tried The Pale Fountains’ ‘From across the kitchen table’ a few times now and, while it has its moments, I’m sure another tape has been substituted for the album that I used to love).
This ‘changing tastes’ dilemma caused me to approach an album that was a great 1980s favourite with extreme caution –and that album is ‘Fabrique’ by Fashion, in its special edition double play incarnation. Side 1 contains the full album; side 2 contains the full album, with running order preserved, in remix form with suitably altered titles. So the opening track ‘Move on’ becomes ‘Mutant Move’ and the closer ‘Do you wanna make love?’ becomes the much grubbier sounding ‘Do you wanna make love (at 5.00 am)?’ Always a bit worrying if you have to ask, in my book!
I was unsurprised to find that I still knew, word for word, all of the tracks on both sides. Much of the album still stands up surprisingly well, maybe due the the presence of legendary producer, Zeus b Held. I would also have to admit, however, that some of the tracks that used to seem a bit weaker, now sound a little bit weaker still – ‘You only left your picture’, I now realise, is closer to the sound of Level 42 than I would have previously admitted. Incidentally, the remix of this track is billed as the ‘Reggae Reprise’ and the less said about that the better.
If you love this album, but haven’t heard the remixes then don’t despair – some are very slightly better than the originals and others very slightly worse, and the result is that your listening experience of the album wouldn’t be markedly better or worse without them.
Stop press: Proposed colour of proposed music room’s proposed feature wall – ‘1981 Orange’ from the Crown Originals range.
Label – Arista
Year - 1982

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