Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The problem with writing a musical blog is that when you can't afford to buy new records, you really can't write that much.

But here's two new arrivals, and don't complain, there's no accounting for musical tastes - mine are just all over the place.
I've been listening to the latest Goo Goo Dolls album, "Let Love In". The Goo Goo Dolls are a bit of an obscurity here in Europe - they seem to belong to the same category of competent but faceless bands as Dave Matthews Band and Hootie and the Blowfish, or even Counting Crows, that make it huge in America and are met with disappointed bafflement in Europe. The difference being that I always sort of liked The Dolls. Sure, they are a poor man's The Replacements, or were, anyway. But they have somehow, imperceptibly, slid up (or down, depending on your perspective) the scale from ramshackle power pop to polished stadium rock. And let's face it, what's stadium rock but power pop played to a larger audience. Isn't Boston just Big Star with the amps cranked up to reach the folks in the back of the stadium. And doesn't Cheap Trick prove that the sliding scale from power pop to stadium rock is pretty short? So anyway, on their last couple of records, The Dolls have gotten production values and chops and more focused songwriting abilities. I thought "Gutterflowers" was pretty darn good. And I think "Let Love In" is the same. It's a bit more optimistic at times, lyrically, and the production really shines with little pro-tooled details and some tasteful washes of Hammond and Mellotron, but as always it's Rzeznik's quite brilliant, somewhat emo-ish songwriting that saves the day, along with his vocal delivery that is part Westerberg, and part Springsteen/Mellencamp/Seger. In fact, The Dolls are like a noughties update on that whole blue-collar, Chevy-to-the-levee suburban-ersatz-Dylan thing.
Anyways, I like it, and Glen Ballard's production is huge, almost Floydesque, especially on "Become", with it's "The Wall"-references.

That was the good news. The great disappointment of the week was the new Survivor album, "Reach". Now, I always thought that Survivor are a misunderstood and underrated band. They are NOT just "Eye of the Tiger", brilliant though that song might be. To me, Survivor are all about passionate, storytelling AOR. Less muso-ish than Journey, way less prog than Styx, but at their best maybe better songwriters than both those bands. To me, "Too Hot to Sleep" represents the last, glorious gasp of AOR, the swan song of the genre. It's polished, passionate, sensual, and it has more fire/desire rhymes than any record in the history of rock! After that I've followed them on and off. Jimi Jamison has been in and out (didn't he even release an album under the monicker "Jimi Jamison's Survivor" at one point") and Jim Peterik has spent a lot of time writing tunes for other people as well as doing some decent solo work. But now Jimi's back for real, and my expectations were way up - I was hoping that this was one band that might age gracefully. No such luck. I turned it on (without having looked at the credits), bracing my ears for that classic Peterik sound, earcandy washes of ethereal synth chords mixed in with the stylish AOR guitar riffs. But then the sound comes on and it just... guitars. And a tinny digital piano way in the back of the mix. Mediocre guitar riffs, harsh guitar sounds, uninspired drums and NO fucking keyboards! What's up. I grab the CD desperately. Peterik isn't there. What a bummer. Had I known, I would've never bought it. He was the brain and the sound of Survivor, his keyboards were the aural signature, and his songwriting was head and shoulders above almost any other AOR in the late 80's. So who cares about a Survivor record without him on it? Not me. For the record, the album consists of short, unexciting tracks of guitar-driven pop-rock. And Jimi Jamison does not sound like Jimi Jamison anymore.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

This takes a while to download, but I just had to post this, since I am one of the planet's biggest Eddie Jobson fans, and this video is... well, out of this world...

It's sort of important to know a little about this video. Eddie Jobson (UK, David Bowie, Roxy Music and briefly Jethro Tull and Yes) was the great overlooked keyboard genius of prog - for my money he is better than Emerson and Wakeman combined. After the demise of UK, he started a solo project called Zinc, and I think he envisioned a trilogy of semi-conceptual albums. As things were, his progged up synth-pop was way to left-field for most people, so only one album got made, "The Green Album". It was released in 1983, which I guess means that this promo video was made the same year... check out those computer animations. Like the UK albums, "The Green Album" showcased Jobson's mastery of the Yamaha CS80, which was the only synth apart from some mini-moog that was used on Zinc's sole album. The CS80 is of course the phattest polysynth ever to have existed. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter vacation. I didn't think I had one, but then the magazine I thought I was working for in Easter tells me no-one's gonna be at the office until Monday. So there I am - with Easter off. I dunno when I last had a vacation. And with nothing else to do either. So I've gone for walks, sat in the sun, listened to neglected records, eaten too much food and enjoyed the company of my family.
I've also made a cover of "Like a rolling stone" that I'm pretty sure Dylan would hate if he ever heard it. It's sort of a mash-up of Dylan's tune and "More than a feeling". Very catchy and very tasteless. Those are the kinds of useless and entertaining exercises one gets into when one has too much time on one's hands...
I downloaded some BBC live album with Renaissance. Ever since we started with White Willow people have compared us to Renaissance, and eventually I had to get one of their albums and check it out - the first one I got was "Ashes are burning", I think. It's been sort of an ongoing process, I keep buying Renaissance albums trying to like them and to understand why we supposedly sound like them. So this is what I've learnt from years of trying to undestand this band. OK, Annie Haslam has a great voice, no doubt. It's beautiful. But it's also baffling. She sings in a complete 60's style, very vocally conservative, very straight, very pretentious and filled with what I consider to be artificial pathos. I don't really understand how they could get so popular in the 70's with what must then have seemed like a very unhip vocal style. Then there's the music. It's pretty, it has a slight classical and folk influence and I suppose it's meant to infuse some vague sense of nostalgia and melancholy in the listener. Those are the superficial similarities with my own band, apart from the chick singer thing. But it is SO bland. Considering that these were well-trained musicians with a respectable amount of theoretical understanding, I find their music to be almost shockingly un-exciting, harmonically and melodically. There's NO harmonic tension, and even when they at very rare occasions stray from tried and true sunshiny major-chord progressions, they never manage to sound anything but slightly overcast... So I don't really get it, the band or the comparisons. Except maybe our first album, but I say that grudgingly. We are basically a minor-key band, even when we're not ACTUALLY playing in minor keys. Renaissance is the excact opposite.
That being said, I have to admit to quite liking some of their music. Bland music is no stranger to my ears - as I've mentioned before here, there are times when nothing beats a vacuous pop song. "Turn of the Cards" has some really nice moments, and I really like some of their later, synthier pop stuff. "Ashes are burning" and "Schehezerade" or whatever are supposed to be their masterpieces, but they don't do much for me. But at their best they do manage to invoke some of that wintry, British pastorality that, say, Anthony Phillips is so good at. And the keyboard playing is always impressive, although I preferred John Hawken with the Strawbs.
One thng I will never understand, though, is why Renaissance is considered prog. They're classic symphonic pop, not as good as Supertramp but possibly better than early ELO. Curved Air in their Francis Monkman days, that was chick-fronted prog, but only briefly. Dagmar Krause with Henry Cow, now THAT was prog all the way.
Anyway, I never understood why we are considered prog, either. Oh, and the BBC download? Pretty cool if you're into that Joan Baez with string synths thing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I'm kinda on a little vacation from blogs and music and all that. It's really nice, but it won't last, I can already feel the itch to write some new tunes - and some new blog entries...

In the past few days I've been relaxing with Cheap Trick, 80's ELO - and, unbelievably, Elvira Nikolaisen. She's very hot in Norway, and my instinct is always to step away from that heat... if anything gets talked about, you can count on me to say, don't talk about it, 'cause it's nothing special. So I've been resisting Elvira ever since I first started hearing about her. Then one day I heard this song on the radio, liked it, then realized it was hers and went "bugger!". But there you have it - she has an incredibly beautiful and soothing voice - I love the timbre and texture of it - she writes nice tunes, and the arrangements on her album are extremely tasteful and mature, like you can't believe it's a debut album. She's from a musical family - I believe she has siblings in the rather charming X-ian glampunkers Silver and the very competent but somewhat overhyped Serena Maneesh or however you spell it. Elvira is singer-songwriter stuff, squarely. It's all very traditional and safe, but just so impeccably and lovingly done that you can't help but like it. I see it like this: In the 70's, the undisputable golden age of singer-songwritingism, the field splintered into two separate, easily distinguishable directions. You had Joni Mitchell on the one hand, harmonically and melodically adventurous, genre-mashing, lyrically trailblazing etc type stuff. My kind of stuff - the legacy continued through anyone from Rickie Lee Jones to Tori Amos. The whacky ones. Then you had Carole King. Now, don't get me wrong. She was great too. She had an incredible voice, she sang some of the greatest songs ever, and she put her definite stamp on the genre for millennia to come. But she worked within a traditional framework. She kept to the harmonic and melodic structures of traditional singer-songwriting, she stayed true to the time-honored lyrical themes. What Carole King did new, was simply that she outdid everyone else - she just did everything a million times better than they had ever been done before. So, THAT is where Elvira's at. She from the Carolian current of s-s-ing, and she does it darn well.

Did I mention that I'm on myspace now, and you can hear a couple tunes...


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We've finally finished all the essential overdubs for the new album. I cannot wait to enjoy my newly found freedom to do NOTHING. Tonight will be the first night I spend at home for like a month! I'm gonna watch TV, eat potato chips, play with my son and not think about anything in particular. Except I have to figure out how to pay the IRS what I owe them, 'cause they're on my case and they ain't friendly - or patient. I'm officially super-broke. But hey, it's only money. Things aren't quite as bad as I thought at first - when I started looking around the house to see what we'd get if we sold all our stuff. Then I realized we don't actually HAVE any stuff... anything of value that we have, is not really ours. The car belongs to the bank, my beloved powerbook is on lease - and the only other things of any value I have are my guitars, and I'd have to be actually starving before I'd part with them.

Did I ever get around to talking about what I thought of Donald Fagen's "Morph the Cat"? I guess not. It sounds awesome - of course. But it sounds better than awesome - or rather, better than the last two Steely Dan records. They were sort of cold and hard sounding - just like the recent Becker and Fagen solo albums. Like it was a bit hard for them to handle the transition to all-digital recording, and they mistook perfection for sterility. That's all over with "Morph the Cat". There's still the ultra-precise beats, the ultra-clean signal paths and the super-tidy performances. But there's a warmth there, that I think stems particularly from the vocal production. It's rich in mid-range, and the harmonies have all the lushness of "Gaucho"-era Dan - and that's a very good thing! The tunes are pretty good, too - as always with Fagen solo, they're even jazzier than the Dan, and that's OK. It's not really rich in melody, but all the more so in harmony - and the grooves as simply silky. It flows better than either of the last two Dan records, song wise, but on the other hand there aren't any songs that grip me emotionally in quite the same way as the most poignant moments of "Two Against Nature" ("Almost Gothic", for instance) or "Everything Must Go" ("Pixeleen"), although there's plenty that out-grooves and outwits those albums ("What I do" is a standout). All in all a wonderful album, not as great as "The Nightfly" but way better than "Kamakiriad" - which wasn't a bad album either.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

string driven things Posted by Picasa

the police box Posted by Picasa

some of the fun stuff I used in the studio this time around. Posted by Picasa
Yowsa, I'm back!

Spent a week in Denmark recording vocals and overdubbing guitars - it was a wonderful experience. We pushed for a lush, Beach Boys-like vocal sound with beautiful dense harmonies. And I did a lot of guitar parts with a set-up that I think duplicated Andy Summers' 80's rig almost exactly. Yummy!

I read this book by Daniel Barenboim and Edward W. Said recently, "Parallells and Paradoxes" or something to that effect. A good book about music, but entirely classico-centric, like other music doesn't exist. It made me think about the stuff I was going to write about classical music again.

Classical music. So silly. What does the term mean. It includes sacred music from the 16th century, dance music from the 19th century, tafel music from the 18th century and event music from almost any era. And the occasional piece of art music from the last 400 years or so... How can anyone possibly, and with any conscience, put all this music into one category, and then on top have the balls to say: This is Serious music, listen with respect.

The respect that is bestowed upon classical music is what bothers me the most. People have a reverence towards it that makes them take any piece of crap seriously, they sit there and listen to the most appaling drivel that Haydn wrote with his left hand while he was banging some babe - like it is the word of God or something. It just ain't right!

So: Can't we dismantle this meaningless category, and start talking about the actual music, rather than some ancient, feudal, semi-fascist socio-cultural category. Classical music is not art music, for instance. Yes, there's a lot of art music within that framework, from Mozart's Requiem to Beethoven's sonatas to Shostakovich's symphonies to Wagner to Schönberg to... tons, yes. But there's even more that would fall into the category of popular music, dance music, utilitarian music, church music etc.

And today the label is doubly problematic for pretending to be today's art music as well, although most musicians and composers would agree that the "art" these days is happening in jazz, electronica, rock and even pop. Contemporary classical music has disappeared so far up its own arse that it will take a half century for us to be able to appraise what those composers are trying to do. (And those composers that haven't disappeared up their own arses are just rehashing "classical" cliches.) Until then we must enjoy the artistic labours of genres that are actually in touch with reality.

Classical music is basically a survival from the time when the distinction between "high" and "low" culture had some dubious shadow of a meaning. Today it doesn't. The most lasting legacy of the modern and post-modern deconstruction of "culture", is that the social barriers and associations of culture have irrevocably been torn down. A genre that is basically defined by the fact that old people with too much money and too little taste gather in sterile concert halls to applaud sterile performances of any bizarre manifestation of music from the last 4-5 centuries as if it were all the same thing - has no right to life in the 21st century.
Goodbye, classical!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

OK, I always have time to bitch about the follies of the music biz: The New Cars. What an incredibly silly and depressing idea. They're reuniting The Cars - but without Ric Ocasek - and with Todd Rundgren as his replacement. I am a huge Cars fan - and also a Rundgren/Utopia fan - who isn't? But how can they put together The Cars without Ric? It's like The Jam without Paul Weller or something. The Smiths without Morrissey. It just doesn't work. And Rundgren is far too much of an artiste and auteur to be stepping into someone else's shoes. I don't get it.

Besides, The Cars' history is so glorious - why taint it with some half-assed reunion tour, or - shudder - album? They were cool. Why be uncool. Leave that to Yes. Don't misunderstand - I love Yes - but embarrassing reunions are their forté. Being Yes is being uncool. And thank God for that. Now let The Cars be The Cars. We don't need any New ones. At least Ric Ocasek is still making good solo albums.

I have hereby bitched.
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