Sunday, 30 December 2012

Memory Of The Future EP's

So today I was able to listen to the new single EP's in their entirety for the first time! I'm sure you all know how this works right now, these aren't my final thoughts on the songs (This is the first I've heard the majority of them). It's just some basic thoughts that I had when I listened to them for the first time. Anyhow, let's begin.

Memory Of The Future
So the first of the two disc set comes with the Stuart Price radio edit of Memory Of The Future and three bonus tracks. I've been particularly eager for the bonus tracks because I've loved every other B-side they've put out this era. For me, its been one of their most consistent eras for B-sides (maybe since Behaviour era in my opinion) in their career. With that in mind I have to say that whilst I admittiedly think this is the weakest set of B-sides from Elysium so far, that doesn't mean I dislike them. All three of them are mid-tempo ballads and are the sort of tracks that will get better with repeated plays I think. Listening and One Night are particularly lovely (I think One Night could have fitted on Elysium really well too) and Inside is unlike any other Pet Shop Boys song I think. I really love parts of Inside's arrangement. It's my least favourite so far admittedly but I think that this could be the one I find myself playing the most out of the three in the long term. That tends to happen a lot with me: the song that turns out to be my favourite tends to be my least favourite initially. Overall though, three very worthy b-sides! Overall, I think my favourite is One Night.

Memory Of The Future Remixed
This one I definitely was more apprehensive about hearing. Remixes I tend to either love or hate, and for some reason I tend to find remixes of Pet Shop Boys songs a decidedly more mixed bag than most. With that in mind I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised here! I found myself really enjoying all of them, bar one.My favorite was the Ulrich Schnauss remix which actually has a really beautiful arrangement that's rather different from the original and vocals not found in the original. I thought it was Chris' voice at first but the ever-informative Pet Shop Boys Commentary states that it's almost certainly the voice of Ulrich Schnauss himself. It does sound an awful lot like Chris though. The only remix that I didn't like was the DJ Waldo Squash remix. It's just too ploddy sounding and I don't like the slightly dubstep type effects that were added. I also really liked the club oriented direction of the two Digital Dog remixes, particularly the one entitled Digital Dog Club Remix. All in though I definitely found the majority of the remixes better than average!

All in all though I think both EP's are most enjoyable. I don't know if Elysium will have a fourth single (I think A Face Like That should be the next single if there is to be one) but if there's not, then there's been at least 9 very good B-sides to add to their impressive catalogue of B-sides. With a dance album supposedly getting released in spring of 2013 a fourth single may not come to fruition, but time will tell.

Albums of the year.

Amazingly, I haven't actually listened to that many new albums from this year. I've been typically listening to older music and discovering more older bands. This year has seen me become a fan of Nirvana and The Clash and finding that I liked albums by Liza Minneli, The Police, Dusty Springfield and Lou Reed more than I would ever have imagined. I've also began developing keen interests in David Bowie and Echo & The Bunnymen.... 2013's obsessions maybe? Who knows!

Anyhow, here's my admittedly small year end list.

Albums of the year
Pet Shop Boys - Elysium (Favourite)
Hot Chip - In Our Heads (Favourite)
The Killers - Battle Born (Runner up)
Django Django - Django Django
Walk The Moon - Walk The Moon
Reptar - Body Faucet
David Byrne & St Vincent - Love This Giant
Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal
Madonna - MDNA
Jessie Ware - Devotion

Songs of the year
Pet Shop Boys - Ego Music
The Killers -  The Rising Tide
Walk The Moon - Tightrope
Reptar - Isoprane Bath
Madonna - Falling Free
Hot Chip - Night and Day
Pet Shop Boys - The Way Through The Woods
David Byrne & St Vincent - I Am An Ape
Friendly Fires - Why Don't You Answer?

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Q Book of Punk Legends

My brother decided to clear a few of his old possessions out of the spare room, and rather surprisingly came across this! You can probably tell why I loved him finding this - that's Joe Strummer from The Clash on the front cover. It's rather funny that he found this whilst there's somewhat of a Clash phase going on in my house at the moment (I've made my brother and father interested in investigating them too). Anyhow, this came free with an old Q magazine in 1996. We're not actually sure who bought the issue but it was definitely either my brother or my dad, most likely my dad though. Its a good little book, it timelines key moments in various punk related bands careers, it even has an entry on Talking Heads bizarrely and I wouldn't class them as punk at all. I personally found the Clash entry more educational than their Westway To The World documentary; I wasn't sold on that documentary if I'm honest. Never the less, I'm pleased we found this in our house!

Monday, 24 December 2012

First time listening: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Rock Art & The X-Ray Style

So as you could imagine, with exploring  The Clash comes with it a fair few Clash related bands to discover too such as Big Audio Dynamite, The 101ers etc. The first place I've started though was Joe Strummer & The Mescarleros who formed in 1999 and lasted until Joe Strummer's death in 2002. Rock Art and X-ray Style was their debut album.I have to admit that I was a little bit dubious at first because I really love The Clash and I wasn't sure if I would like this new musical style of The Mescaleros. I have to say though that for the most part I really liked it. A few of the songs didn't gel with me on first listen but when I liked certain songs, I loved them. My favourites so far are Nitcomb, Sandpaper Blues, Willesden to Cricklewood and Diggin' The New. I'm really looking forward to listening to Global A Go-Go now, especially because it contains the beautiful Johnny Appleseed which has become one of my favourite songs since I've first heard it!

Soft Cell - Non Stop Estactic Dancing (First listening)

I do really like Soft Cell, I think they were very underrated if I'm honest. In particular, I love their first album, Non Stop Erotic Cabaret. Anyhow, as you could probably guess Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing is a remix album (with their cover version of What being a new single at the time). Anyway, I decided today to give it a proper listen in full for the first time. I was familiar with about three out of the six songs on the EP but I fancied giving it a full listen. I have to say that I really enjoyed it! I was already familiar with the version of Memorabilia here, but I prefer it so much more to the single version. I also really loved the instrumental version of A Man Could Get Lost and the version of Chip's On My Shoulder too. A very enjoyable listen!

Happy Mondays - Bob's Yer Uncle 12" mix

I love this mix, probably my favourite mix of any Happy Mondays song if I'm honest! The original version of Bob's Yer Uncle can be found on the seminal Pill's N Thrills and Bellyaches as an album track. I was quite surprised to discover as well that this particular remix was actually carried out by The Grid (Who were Dave Ball from Soft Cell's second band). The Grid also did a remix of one of the Happy Mondays biggest hits, Loose Fit too. Anyway, the original version of Bob's Yer Uncle was one of my favorite Happy Mondays songs namely because it was very laidback and mellow but still maintained that certain groove that gave Happy Monday's their unique edge. It was one of the more relaxed tracks in their discography I think. The 12" mix just takes that relaxed quality and capitalizes on it even further but it's still slightly danceable. It omits the guitars that had a quite a prominent role in the original track and -for me at least- it makes Shaun Ryder's vocals more the center of things. I don't know about you (and I am terrible for making out lyrics for many artists) but in the original version I find his deeper pitch damn near impossible to make out sometimes. It also doesn't commit a cardinal sin of messing around with the deep and pretty much irresistible bass line which is the key in making the whole track work. You can find this on 12" on the Loose Fix vinyl in the UK, but if you want it on CD then you can find it on the Double Easy: US Singles compilation. It was this "12 that made me really want to get that compilation actually. It's not as difficult to get as it sounds either. Although it was only released in the US you can find that compilation on Amazon UK. I payed no more than £3 for my copy (a very good condition second hand one) from an excellent Amazon Marketplace seller called Zoverstocks. You can also find it on the 2007 special edition of Pills N Thrills and Bellyaches that came partnered with a DVD. For some reason though, that album (as well as the Bummed reissue done in the same vein) is an utter nightmare to track down at a decent price, even here in the UK. Hopefully in the future now that Happy Mondays in their original line-up are recording new material the record company will see fit to re-release those special editions. For now though, enjoy a great remix!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

New Order - Live at Irvine

I found this a few hours ago, its a great little find so I thought I would show it to any fellow New Order fans who haven't yet discovered. This was uploaded on Youtube a few weeks ago but I've only stumbled across it now. It's a bootleg of a show in California as part of the 1989 Technique Tour. I've never actually heard a Technique show in full so I was very excited to find this because Technique is one of my favourite New Order albums. I have to say as well that it has absolutely superb sound quality. Easily one of the highest quality New Order bootlegs that I've heard in terms of sound quality if I'm honest. It's also quite unusual to see a New Order set that doesn't contain Blue Monday although given how overplayed that song is it may be no bad thing. It's certainly a treat to finally hear Mr Disco performed live as that's one of my personal favourites. I really recommend checking this out!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

10 years ago today....

In other sadder news, Joe Strummer of The Clash sadly passed away 10 years ago today, of an undiagnosed heart defect at the age of 50. His music and lyrics are as relevant today as they ever where, and in an era were music can sometimes sound a little passionless and insincere, we need more people that have the same honesty and passion for their craft as he had. I'll be listening to plenty of The Clash and also of The Mescaleros as has become almost habitual for me. His music is getting me through some pretty tough times at the moment and for that I will always be grateful. RIP to a legend <3

New Order - Peel Sessions 1998

CD Front
New Order did several Peel Sessions - three if I recall correctly - but my favourite of the three has to be their third and final Peel Session from November 1998. It was one of the first things they did together when they made their comeback as a group in 1998. On a slightly sadder note, it would also prove to be the last recordings Gillian Gilbert would make with the group prior to her departure in 2001 which would last for ten years, until she rejoined them in 2011. Anyway, one of the things that New Order decided to do when they made their comeback was to begin playing Joy Division songs at the live shows, which has now become an utter staple feature of their sets. This decision is somewhat reflected in the songs performed at the Peel Sessions. The songs chosen were the following:
  •  True Faith
  • Isolation (Joy Divison cover)
  • Touched By The Hand of God
  • Atmosphere (Joy Division cover)
  • Paradise

I have to say I really like the variety of songs there. It's not really a conventional (although when were New Order conventional really) straight forward hits set. It was a stroke of genius to include a version of Isolation I think, as I think that's one of the Joy Division tracks that sounds slightly akin to the sound New Order would go for. Their version of Atmosphere isn't quite as haunting as the original but its still a fine effort nonetheless. The real crowning glory for me here though is the new version of True Faith. It gives it more of a house feeling and its simply masterful. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say its probably become my favourite version of the song, even above the already excellent original. Those of you who have ever saw their stellar performance at Reading in 1998 and felt suitably impressed by the version of True Faith there then need to check this out if you haven't done so - its the same arrangement. It was also great to see one of their most underrated singles (Touched By The Hand of God) make an appearance, along with a Brotherhood album track called Paradise. Paradise is another overlooked song I think and its good to see it get some attention when so many of New Order's album tracks criminally get forgotten in favour of the likes of Blue Monday, Bizzare Love Triangle etc.

CD Back
The 1998 Peel Sessions seems to be popular with New Order fans. Online petitions took place in order to ensure that it got an official release. A year after these petitions, the label Strange Fruits decided to honor fan's wishes and released the 1998 Peel Sessions - along with their four tracks they performed in the 2001 Evening Sessions set - in a CD entitled In Sessions. Sadly its proved to be slightly difficult for me to obtain and I do fear its become somewhat rare. The cheapest copy of it is on Amazon UK for a whopping £30 and that's second hand! It's a shame, because I feel this is one of the best moments in their discography. It just further cements their place as one of the most innovative and consistent artists ever to grace electronic music. Highly recommended!

ABC - One Better World (Pickering Park Remix)

12" cover.
I have to concede I don't know an awful lot about ABC - I've only heard their Up and Lexicon of Love albums and a few other various songs. From what I have heard, I quite like them. They're not my favourite group of the 80's, but they still have some great songs like Love Conquers All and When Smokey Sings. Anyhow, this is a remix of their lead single (released in May of 1989) from Up by Mike Pickering and Graeme Park. I listened to the Up album for the first time in its entirety yesterday and I have to say that it did leave me feeling rather disappointed if I'm honest. It's funny because the whole album is done in a very house influenced style - and house music is one of my favourite genres - but for me the whole production on the album was just a little bit cheesy and the songs just all sounded more or less identical to the other. One of the only tracks on the album that I thought had a bit of individuality about it was One Better World, but if I'm honest I think I prefer this remix. I also do quite like the Club mix and the Garage mix too though. Having said that I think this remix brings out the potential in the song a lot better and it's just produced far better in my opinion. I don't think the original version has aged all that well at all, but the Pickering/Park mix has aged substantially better I feel. Elements of the sound vaguely like Good Life by Inner City to me actually. Also, the piano chords are much more prominent in this remix which gives it more of a euphoric atmosphere to me, and that goes perfectly with the lyrics. As you could probably guess from the title One Better World is a very upflifting song with a very direct and straightforward message (but a lovely one at that). The message of the song is simple: we should promote the values of peace, love and equal rights for all. It's a message that's always timeless I feel as let's be honest, the world has yet to fully embrace those principles. Honestly, I could have imagined that this would have fitted in just perfectly with the Second Summer of Love that was underway in the UK at this time. On that note, one of the most well known nightclubs in the UK at this point was Manchester's legendary Hacienda nightclub, at which Pickering and Park were both regular DJ's. The Pickering/Park remix was released as a stand-alone 12" in its own right, but you can also find it on the 2005 remastered edition of Up and on the 1990 greatest hits album Absolutely. A great remix that still sounds fresh!

Friday, 14 December 2012


Highlights is a VHS tape of the first tour by Pet Shop Boys, the 1989 tour. Originally, the intention of Pet Shop Boys and Derek Jarman was to release a full length recording of one of the Wembley Arena concerts. However when they saw the film in full, they felt disappointed with the way the show came across on video. So much so they decided to only release a partial recording of the concert, entitled Highlights. The full length film of the Wembley concert that was recorded was called On Tour and to this day remains unreleased, with Highlights also remaining only on VHS. The full track listing for the VHS is as follows:
  • The Sound of the Atom Splitting
  • It's a Sin
  • Shopping
  • Love Comes Quickly
  • Domino Dancing
  • Rent
  • King's Cross
  • It's Alright
As you can see, its an incredibly brief VHS - it only equates to roughly 33 minutes in length. It only has eight songs out of the eighteen that were performed on the tour and omits some of their biggest hits like West End Girls and Always On My Mind. Some of my personal favourite performances from the tour were omitted too, like Heart, One More Chance and Nothing Has Been Proved. I can't fault the actual performances here - the 1989 tour is one of my favourite tours - but I actually feel that a partial recording of a concert does an even bigger injustice to their live talent. I do wonder just what they felt was so poor about the original On Tour film.

Japanese Laserdisc release
Also, it may be worth of note (or it could be just splitting hairs on my part) to remember that the tracks on the VHS are jumbled up, in the actual concert Love Comes Quickly was performed before The Sound of The Atom Splitting and Its A Sin for just one example. I don't know about you, but I am a real stickler for watching things the way they were originally planned to be seen, so the idea of watching the performances in non-chronolgical order is a big no-no for me. Thank goodness the overall concert didn't have a narrative structure originally though (like Performance did) otherwise the lack of chronological order would have been a massive hindrance!

All in all - despite the performances being excellent in their own right - I find it hard to recommend this, even if you are a die-hard fan. It is relatively easy to find a secondhand copy, at least it is here in the UK but I just don't think its worth it. Not only is it an archaic format it omits just over half of the eighteen songs performed. When you consider that the full tour can be viewed on Youtube in very good quality it renders this more or less obsolete. My advice? Pass on this VHS and lets just hope that one day Pet Shop Boys will see fit to release this (and Discovery too)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Cicero - Then

Cicero (who's real name is Dave Cicero) is somewhat of a forgotten artist. He's perhaps most known amongst Pet Shop Boys fans, those that would be aware of their work with other artists in particular. He was signed to the Pet Shop Boys short lived music label, Spaghetti Records.He became involved with them after he attended one of their 1989 concerts and succeeded in giving a tape of demo's he had recorded to them which Pet Shop Boys subsequently liked. His single Heaven Must Have Sent You Back To Me was the first release on their record label. Cicero would go on to release a number of other singles on the label and to date his only album, titled Future Boy. He was never a chart sucess really which is a shame I think as he does have some excellent songs. The Loving Feeling (which was co-produced by Pet Shop Boys) would have reached much higher than #46 on the UK Singles Chart had it been recorded and released by Pet Shop Boys themselves I feel. Some of the tracks on Future Boy enlisted the help of Pet Shop Boys in one guise or another, but this track - Then - I feel is perhaps the best on the whole album and it doesn't enlist the help of Pet Shop Boys at all. It could easily have been a single I think, I actually prefer this to Love Is Everywhere if I'm honest. Like all of the other tracks on Future Boy, Then was written by Cicero. The song spends pretty much all of its first two minutes as a slow song. It's refreshing for a change of tempo when up until this point, the album has consisted almost exclusively of fast-paced dance tracks. The slow arrangement is quite touching and actually very lovely I think. However, it quickly evolves into a dance track, albeit it still doesn't have just the same pacy feeling as Heaven Must Have Sent You Back To Me for instance. The first time I heard the track the change in tempo did take me by suprise. Having said that, it feels natural though and not contrived or forced to make the track seem more interesting. Most importantly of all, the song still retains the same level of emotion even at when it reaches that faster tempo. The song does sound 80's tinged too - personally I think it sounds a tiny bit like a New Order song - although I think many of the songs on Future Boy have those sonic influences. I have to say that the first time I heard this song I thought I could hear Sylvia Mason James' voice - who has worked extensively with Pet Shop Boys for many years - although the ever informative Discogs site informed me otherwise that it wasn't her on the track. Anyway, this is a really good song from an artist who I feel didn't quite get the recognition he probably deserved.

The Clash - Know Your Rights

So lately I've been listening to an awful lot of The Clash (and material concerning their late frontman, Joe Strummer). So far I'm having a hard time deciding my list of favourite songs because there's been just so many that I've really liked, but there's something special about Know Your Rights I think. It's from their penultimate album Combat Rock, and was released as the first single from the album in April 1982, prior to the album's own release. Know Your Rights has to be one of my favourite songs from the album, almost exclusively because of the lyrics. Lyrically the song takes a very scathing view on the government, more specifically the rights that the Government bestows upon us and subsequently feels that we should be grateful to have. According to the song itself, we have three main rights (not to be killed, to food money and to free speech) and each of the song's three verses discuss and then ridicule each of these rights in turn. For instance, we have the right not to be killed but if it's carried out by a policeman or an aristocrat then it becomes acceptable. The song has a very timeless message I think, particularly the third verse, which says that we have the right to free speech so long as we're saying what people want us to say and nothing in protest. For me at the moment that particular verse carries some poignancy. Not least because of the political tension that has flared up in my hometown at the moment over a political decision. In general though sometimes I feel like here in Northern Ireland you can't really say what you feel because there can be just too much bigotry, and the last few weeks here have made me feel there's still a lot of work to be done on that particular issue. It's certainly a very disillusioning place indeed sometimes. It's a great example of what a timeless lyricist Joe Strummer was though. Know Your Rights was released in 1982 and yet thirty years later it's lyrics are still ringing true for people. For me at least, it's a song that embodies why I personally feel The Clash were superior to Sex Pistols (as much as I really like them). I can't say I've listened to a song of the Sex Pistols and felt that the lyrics really summed up my viewpoint on subjects although it happens much more frequently with The Clash. That's just me though. In any case, I think Know Your Rights is a brilliant song with just as much relevance today as it had when it was originally written.

Friday, 7 December 2012

NME - Joe Strummer cover

So I am having quite a phase of listening to The Clash recently. To add to that, I've taken quite an interest in the life of their lead singer - the late Joe Strummer. To date this is the only Clash related item I have (along with a postcard on my wall), but I hope to rectify that soon with Christmas coming up. Anyhow, this is an NME special that was made in August to commemorate what would have been Joe Strummer's 60th birthday had he not passed away. As you could imagine it was a retrospective type feature and it also featured more current artists talking about why his legacy is so important and that sort of thing. I remember I was really excited to get this issue because I wanted to find out a bit more about Joe Strummer. Its a really interesting article that the NME did on him, what was particularly fascinating was the reprinting of an old interview from the Clash's heyday that he had done for the NME. I found a lot of what he said in the interview not only made a lot of sense, but it also resonated with me a fair bit. It was definitely instrumental in making me want to investigate The Clash/Joe Strummer more if I'm honest!