Hurry Up, We're Dreaming


Why carry on listening to new music? I've got so much, I've got firm favourites that, at my age, are unlikely to become displaced by anything new. Is anything ever going to match the stripped down, oiled up elegance of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy The Silence", or the compressed punch of QOTSA's "First It Giveth"? I highly doubt it. So what's the point?

Well, I enjoy tracing the influences down the decades, listening to how innovations get adopted and adapted, subverted and perverted down the years. I like understanding what floated the boats of previous generations. I want to try and hear what other people hear when they acclaim a classic. I get a kick out of being a trainspotter about the production details.

But actually, all this just time filler. The real reason I listen to new music is because, once in a blue moon, some combination of factors gels perfectly and knocks me out. For a day, a week, that track becomes all I want to hear. When this happens, it makes all the gold panning worthwhile.

Such a track is "Midnight City". I heard it for the first time less than a week ago. It is now the song I've listened to the most number of times over the last 12 months. (I'm can't be the only person doing this, either: it has significantly more plays than any other M83 track on last.fm.)  It's a fantastic collision of The Human League recast as stadium rock and Flesh And Blood-era Roxy Music as covered by My Bloody Valentine. It contains wonderfully crunchy, analog square wave synthery and a two note riff that sounds likes it's being played by an hysterical gnome, all drenched in M83's trademark OTT reverb. And just to cap it all, it comes complete with a saxophone solo at the end that is So Eighties It Hurts.

In fact, the first three songs are all good; they are "Intro", "Midnight City" and "Reunion".  They alll stay close to the same template - you could say that M83 are formulaic and I wouldn't disagree, although luckily it's a formula I like. It's obviously indebted to the 80s; it's there in the nods to Hugh Padgham production sounds, or of Peter Gabriel on So. It reminds me in some respects of Neon Neon's Stainless Style, but instead of being a deliberate homage, it uses the influences as a jumping off point.

The keyboard sounds are immense, bigger even than my previous benchmark for high quality synth action, Will Gregory's on Goldfrapp's Supernature and Head First. There's a bit too much surface sizzle but it's so dazzling I don't mind the lack of depth. As well as "Midnight City", I also like "Claudia Lewis", which includes Tony Levin-esque bass slaps for added 80s flavour, on top of everything else; "Wait", a much slower version of the formula which builds very satisfyingly; and "Raconte/Moi Une Histoire" which is like M83 does Lemon Jelly.

All of the songs mentioned are from the first CD. The album is too long, as most double albums are (I can only think of three off the top of my head that don't need editing: London CallingOut Of The Blue and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road) but overall, good. And worth the price of entry for "Midnight City".


The Wildest!

Louis Prima

It's difficult to know how to classify this album. It's a real curiosity. There's some jazz, some blues, some standards, some Jordan-esque boogie. It all begins to make a bit more sense when you learn that Prima was always an inveterate entertainer and, at the time of this recording, was playing nightly in one of the biggest venues in Las Vegas. So the mix is representative of a show band at the peak of its powers - something for everyone, we're here all week, try the veal.

There's a real sense of energy and humour running through the whole thing. Most indicative of this is the track "Just A Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody", later covered pretty much note-for-note by Dave Lee Roth and suiting his party animal image perfectly. Not bad for a (then) thirty year old recording of a sixty year old tune. But there's plenty of other things to enjoy. The standard "Body And Soul" starts straight but appears to be derailed and starts speeding up more and more, before crashing to a halt and resuming at a more sedate speed. Well, I find it amusing and I think it's supposed to funny.

Other picks would be "Jump, Jive An' Wail" which I thought could easily be a Louis Jordan song but is a Prima original, and "(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You", which is fun. And that's the feel of the whole album - fun. Prima's a decent trumpeter, distinctive singer (he sang "I Wan'na Be Like You" in The Jungle Book) and excellent entertainer. Again - not what I expected from the fifties.


Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs

Marty Robbins

If I had to lay bets about the genre of music least likely to appeal to me, it would be country and western. Both kinds. And this album seems to embody all the aspects that irritate me: maudlin balladry, overwhelming sentimentality and an inexplicable obsession with a distant (and brief) period of history. Don't most people grow out of playing cowboys and indians by the time they're twelve?

So it comes as a complete surprise to me to find that I have heartily enjoyed this album. In fact it's probably my favourite so far of the albums from the fifties that I've listened to. I should learn to get over genre classifications. Or remind myself that, as Louis Armstrong said, there are only two types of music. This is the good kind.

My most common complaints about some of the music I've been listening to recently is the lack of proper tunes. This is not a charge you can level at Marty Robbins. Every single track here has a super, straight-forward, whistle-able tune that actually stays with you, accompanied by simple guitar, bass and drums. It might be simple but it is mightily effective.

Favourites? "Big Iron" starts the album and is a song of a ranger and an outlaw having a shoot out. The acoustic guitar strums in an insistent rhythm while the double bass thumps satisfyingly underneath it, while the story unfolds over it in a wonderfully singable tune. And so we find for the whole album. The songs are mostly stories: "El Paso" is the story of a man who kills and runs, but returns for his woman (and gets killed); "The Master's Call" tells of a boy who becomes an outlaw but is rescued by a vision of God, or Jesus, or something. All are blessed with superb melodies.

So, C&W, eh? Bring it on. Next stop: Hank Williams.


Outlandos d'Amour, Regatta de Blanc, Zenyattà Mondata

The Police
1978, 1979, 1980

Many online reviews of The Police's first three albums are faintly derisory, acknowledging the quality of the musicianship but questioning the authenticity of the songs. The suggestion is that The Police were somehow fake; that they deliberately engineered their image and sound to suit the times but that their hearts lay somewhere else.

This is, of course, classic inverse rock snobbery, but, for some reason, it persists. Only last month, an article in The Word could describe Zenyattà Mondata as "overrated" and add, "surely, no-one listens to this any more". Yet the notion that, say, The Clash or The Ramones were in any way less artfully conceived or more genuine (whatever that means in this context) than The Police is clearly bollocks.

I think that, over thirty years later, we should be able to get past this and appreciate the albums for what they are. In this age of inflated artificial celebrity, instant fame and naked ambition, can we really fault a band that wrote and recorded such classics as "So Lonely", "Roxanne" or "Can't Stand Losing You" (all off Outlandos d'Amour), "Message In A Bottle"or "Walking On The Moon" (from Regatta de Blanc), or "Don't Stand So Close To Me" and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" (Zenyattà Mondatta)?

And that's just the singles. Many of the album tracks are just as good. My favourites would include "Hole In My Life", "Truth Hits Everybody", "Masoko Tango", "Bring On The Night", "The Bed's Too Big Without You", "Driven To Tears" (fantastic guitar solo), "When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What's Still Around" ... I could go on.

What still shines through is the sheer expertise on display. Obviously, with the benefit of hindsight, Sting is a brilliant songwriter. Even if you don't like the songs, surely you can see the craft. Andy Summers is an astonishing guitarist, his unassuming manner and nonchalance disguising true mastery of his instrument. And Stewart Copeland is generally acknowledged as one of the world's best drummers; again, the lightness of touch masking the skill.

I really enjoy all three of these albums and I think they're all underrated, if anything.



Carole King

As well as being another on the list of 1001 Albums (tick!), this was a favourite of an old friend of mine with whom I have since lost touch (i.e. I got fed up with being the one who always called him). Despite this, and it being widely recognised as a classic, I've never really been motivated to seek it out.

Coming to it now, the initial listens felt very unbalanced; four of the tracks are very well known while the rest are completely new to me. However, several runs through sorted this out and the whole record is a pleasing, consistent whole, both thematically (with one exception) and in sound.

The outstanding tracks are, inevitably, the famous ones. "It's Too Late" and "You've Got A Friend" are lessons in the strength of simplicity - of sentiment, of melody and of arrangement. The same approach gives a interestingly different interpretation of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"; The Shirelles' original sounds like a nervous teen worried that her boyfriend will still respect her in the morning, while the version here is an adult woman concerned about the next few decades.

The less known tracks are also enjoyable, particularly "So Far Away" and "Way Over Yonder".  The only track that grates at all is "Smackwater Jack", which seems out of place - not stylistically but thematically, not being about personal feelings.

The sound mix on my CD (which was secondhand and is probably the original CD release and not the newer "Legacy" edition) is a little muffled, which makes some of the drums, particularly, distracting on, say "So Far Away" (or maybe it's just my AKG headphones which are admitedly quite bass-heavy).

I'm glad to make this album's acquaintance now - a very pleasant album that will no doubt hit the spot on occasion.