A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Saturday, January 26, 2002

I made my first "new" music purchase of 2002 a few days ago when I was able to finally check out Elbow, a sorta brand-new band from Manchester, England. I had read about them in some of the English muso-mags (Q, Mojo) about five/six months ago and they were being hailed as a 21st century progressive band. You can decide for yourself if you want..the album is out and it's called Asleep In The Back. It's actually more of a collection of their stuff they recorded for Manc indie label, Uglyman Records, with a couple of tracks they recorded after signing to V2 Records, who released "Asleep In..". My verdict is that it's a perfect antidote for all of the shallow teen pop and over-testosteroned/"my-life-sucks-so-I'm-going-to-scream-about-it" rawk on the mainstream radio stations.
The first track on the disc is Any Day Now, one of the cuts from the EPs and it features a chiming Hammond organ in the intro--it does sound very prog, straight out of The Yes Album or Trilogy (ELP's 1972 album)...but after that the acoustic guitars take over and Guy Garvey (lead singer and guitar player) begins his vocal. He has a pleasant voice and it compliments the sometimes somber lyrics well. That is what works so well for this band...at their website, there's a "band history" (it's probably an article from NME or something) page and Garvey describes the band as "prog without the solos"--and it's a fitting description. My problem with a lot of the neo-prog groups (Dream Theater, Spock's Beard et al.) is that they are influenced by more of the pompous, solo-ing side of prog without the sense of humor that say, Caravan or even Genesis (at times), had. Elbow have some of the sense of humor (evidenced by the song titles, Bitten By The Tailfly (about random shaggings with strangers) and Don't Mix Your Drinks (that one's pretty obvious)..), none of the pompousness and are often far more Nick Drake-like (lyrically, anyway)--than Yes or ELP--there's not a "wizard" or "lady of the lake" song on the whole record.
They even throw in a dash of electronica on a few tracks, though it's not as prominent as on any of Super Furry Animal's albums. The highlights are the afore-mentioned "Bitten By The Tailfly"...Newborn, a gentle tune about a couple growing old together--though you wouldn't know it from the opening lyric.."I'll be the corpse in your bathtub/Useless...I'll be dead as a post.." Anyone still want to make Gentle Giant comparisons? Can't Stop and the album closer, Scattered Black And Whites are also outstanding tracks. I like these guys and I hope they get to release at least two more records to see how their sound develops--I hope they're not another indie-hype/flash in the pan story..judging by all the swooning press they're getting in England..it could go either way at the moment. I won two separate E-Bay auctions for the original Elbow EPs on Uglyman Records...so I'll post about those when I get them via U.S. Mail.
Speaking of the Super Furries..I went against my rule and broke down and bought the damn import for Rings Around The World..it actually showed up at the record store I used to work part-time and where I'm still a "contingent" employee (they call me when they need me). I looked it up in the database..the store showed as having a copy--I ran to the shelf where it's supposed to be..and nothin'..D'Oh!! So I special-ordered one and a week later..it's mine!! After listening to it ten times this week--it definitely was worthy in my top-ten list..it's actually their best record to date, and that's saying a lot because I love Guerilla, from 1999 and Outspaced, a compilation disc from 1997, is pretty phenomenal too. My favorite tracks are the title track, with it's "Sunflower"-era Beach Boys melded with The Chemical Brothers sound, Juxtapose With U (I already covered this track when I got the EP), Receptacle For The Respectable--which starts off as a mellow acoustic tune and by the end becomes a techno freak-out, plus a middle section where, if you listen close, you can hear Sir Paul McCartney crunching vegetables (a la The Beach Boys Smiley Smile)...and Run Christian Run, where a gorgeous melody and backing track nearly masks lead singer Gruff Rhys' contempt for everyone's favorite organized religion--"Still dreaming of the perfect home near the sun/Run Christian run.." All in all..this is an excellent record and I would highly recommend this release--they've gone super-nova in England and maybe they'll gain some fans here when "R.A.T.W." is released here--soon?!!
Coming back to Manchester, I was able to score a promo copy of the new Charlatans UK disc, Wonderland. I believe they're the last "Madchester" band standing..Happy Mondays and Black Grape are gone...the same with New Fast Automatic Daffodils and Inspiral Carpets. When I last checked out the Charlatans, lead singer Tim Burgess had moved to L.A. and to me, that didn't bode well for the band. I liked the Charlatans English quirkiness and with Tim in La La Land, I felt it's influence would dilute their sound. It has, but ya know..it's not such a bad thing. The classic Hammond organ riffs are gone, a bit of a lament for me..but it doesn't disturb the group sound all that much. They've also added elements of electronica and though it doesn't always work for them--there are some great moments on the record where they sound comfortable exploring a techno angle. Burgess is in fine form and it sounds like he's been listening to a lot of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and other classic R&B stuff. Sometimes he hits the mark with his falsettos, sometimes he sounds like he's in a karaoke bar singing the Stones' "Waiting On A Friend"..but he sounds like he's having a good time and that's what counts, in the end. I can't really recommend the last couple of Charlatans albums--but if you can get it cheap.."Wonderland" is worth a spin.
Awlright..prog-sters, pomo-hipsters and various other modern day pundits of pop culture...I'll be back atcha in a few...Peace Off!!!