Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)


I’ve reviewed the 2011 remasters of Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” (1971), “Obscured By Clouds” (1972) and “Wish You Were Here” (1975) – all three are sonically amazing but hugely disappointing on the packaging front (miniscule booklets that exclude original details and don’t expand your knowledge a jot). It’s pretty much an identical story here. But let’s get to the details first…

The vinyl LP “The Dark Side Of The Moon” was originally released 10 March 1973 on Harvest SMAS-11163 in the USA and 24 March 1973 in the UK on Harvest Records SHVL 804. This 26 September 2011 single-disc version (released 27 Sep 2011 in the USA) on EMI 50999 028955 2 9 is a straightforward 10-track remaster of that Number 1 studio album. A 2CD ‘Experience’ Edition and a 6-Disc ‘Immersion’ Box Set are also released Monday 26 September 2011 (see separate entries for details). This single-disc ‘Discovery’ reissue comes in a gatefold card sleeve with a newly laid-out 12-page inlay inside (total playing time 42:59 minutes).

[Note: original copies of the vinyl LP famously came with 2 posters, 2 stickers and a titled ‘Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon’ sticker on the front – this new issue doesn’t feature any of these original items, but instead simply uses the now familiar untitled `prism’ artwork]

Like all the other albums in this 14-title reissue series – “The Dark Side Of The Moon” has been mastered by James Guthrie and Joel Plante at the Das Boot Recording Studios in Tahoe in California (Guthrie is a Sound Engineer associated with the band since 1978). The original 1st generation master tapes have obviously been given a thorough going over because it truly feels like each segment has had a staggering amount of time spent on them – worrying out every single nuance possible. The audio result is truly impressive.

God knows how many times this ‘cash cow’ of an album has been reissued on CD – and yet another version will probably make even the most die-hard of fans yawn and even feel a little angry. But – outside of the amazing SACD version of 2003 – this new 2011 ‘Discovery’ edition is absolutely the best it’s ever going to be for those of us with a lesser budget. The now famous opening heart-beat and ‘loony’ voices of “Speak To Me” sound extraordinary – which in turn lead into the sonic wall of “Breathe (In The Air)” – and it’s a wow.

The remaster hasn’t dampened anything or over-amplified it for the sake of volume (the dreaded loudness wars so many talk of) – it’s just ‘there’ – all the instruments present and swirling around your speakers in superlative clarity. And while “Time”, “Money” and the lovely “Us And Them” were always going to be audio wonderland with their myriad effects and top-drawer Alan Parsons’s production values – it’s the last track on Side 1 that impresses the most.

The truly gorgeous and innovative “The Great Gig In The Sky” is on the ‘Immersion’ mega box set in its original bare-bones state – later beefed up with the incredible Acapella Vocal of Clare Torry – and what a smart move that was. Even in its very quiet opening and ending passages – it sounds beautiful – and not for the first time brought a tear to a weary eye. I also love the “Any Colour You Like” instrumental on Side 2 (some DJs have been mixing it in with Dance and Funk 12″ in their sets) and by the time “Eclipse” finishes this concept of concept albums (lyrics above) – it’s very hard not to be impressed at the work Guthrie and Plante have done here.

I wish I could say the same for the staggeringly unimaginative packaging. The ‘Pink Floyd’ logo you see in all the photos advertising these new reissues turns out to be a sticker on the outer shrink-wrap that gets lost the second you unpeel it. The card sleeves are like The Beatles 09/09/09 EMI reissues – glossy and flimsy – so they smudge with finger prints the second you open them and are easy to bend and crease.

The CD itself has the new generic artwork (the sticker design on the outer packaging) repeated in different colour variations throughout the series – a sort of Turquoise and Pale Green for “Meddle”, a garish Red and Pink for “Obscured By Clouds”, Blue and Green for “Wish You Were Here” and here – Black And Grey for “Dark Side…” But where’s the beautiful band poster, the two Hipgnosis-designed stickers, the deep blue triangle/prism Harvest label of the English LP? This ludicrous new design has no relevance to the original and speaking of the disc itself – there’s no protective gauze sleeve for the CD either so it will scuff on repeated plays. The inner glossy gatefold could easily have featured these – instead we get two useless sepia-tinted pictures of the pyramids – how imaginative…

But the skimpy booklet is the biggest disappointment. It has the lyrics of the original album (which were on the inner gatefold) reset in the new booklet against a background of god-awful Storm Thorgerson images. Of the millions of words written about this most famous of rock records, there isn’t even a history on the album. There’s no pictures of European and Worldwide 7″ sleeves for “Money” and “Time” (singles lifted off the album), no pictures of the band, no 7″ edit versions etc – naught to get your teeth into. OK – it does look nice and does the job adequately – but that’s all.

It’s a lazy-assed approach on behalf of EMI and undermines the sterling work done on the sound front. I hate to come across like some nick-picking fan boy here, but it would have been nice to actually ‘discover’ something on this so-called ‘Discovery’ version (docked a star for that).

To sum up – the remaster is gobsmacking – a stone five stars – but sadly we get mediocre presentation that completely undermines the original power of the vinyl album when you got it in your hands all those decades ago. Still – with the truly beautiful sonic upgrade thrown in – the casual listener is advised to dig in, rediscover and enjoy.


May 26, 2013 Posted by | Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon | | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise Influence: Hits, Singles, Moments, Treasures (2010)


I’ve been very lucky to receive an early copy of the new Art Of Noise (AON) “Influence”, a collection which from outset appears to have been lovingly conceived and executed by ZTT & Union Square.

Having been an AON fan, but having never picked up a “Best Of” to date, I have very much been looking forward to this release, particularly as I was so delighted with The Buggles “Adventures In Modern Recording” re-issue from the same company earlier this year.

Where to begin? Well, firstly, this is no jewel cased, 4 page, lets-do-as-little-work-as-possible release. It really is a package put together with tender loving care. Housed in a multi leaf dig pack, this double disc set comes with a 35 page booklet, filled with all you could possibly need to know about every era of AON. Ian Peels’ captivating essay drills down to staggering detail, taking us from their beginnings as a Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, Paul Morley, JJ Jeczalik, Gary Langan super group, through their commercial Dudley-Langan-Jeczalik zenith to their late 90s reformation with Horn & Morley.

It’s very clear Ian knows exactly what he is talking about, both as a fan and a researcher, making a refreshing change to the often inaccurate liner notes that can accompany such a release. You can be absolutely certain that as much thought went into the booklet as it did the track selections.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably no stranger to the music of AON and as a hits collection, on disc one you’ll get exactly what it says on the tin. They’re all here, and in some instances for the first time on CD in their original 7″ format (“Moments In Love”, also included is 12″ b-side “Love Beat”). My particular favourites will always be “Peter Gunn”, “Beat Box” and “Paranomia” (featured in rare 12″ form) and strangely enough, “Dragnet”, a single I remember buying on 12″ but haven’t heard for years. Likewise it’s good to hear the bizarre mega-mix b-side “Action Art” again.

I still remember thinking “what the hell was that?” at the time! I remember having the same reaction to “Kiss” back then, which of course became their biggest hit and went on to revitalise the career of Tom Jones. Technically, CD one could end there but it is a nice touch to see their final charting single, 1999’s “Metaforce” included, albeit in a slightly longer 1998 mix. The real surprise to me though is the inclusion of the previously unheard “Something Is Missing”, a re-imagining of “Dreaming In Colour”, the `lost’ single from “The Seduction Of Claude Debussy”.

I think this could have been the hit the album needed, fusing as it did elements of AON V4.0, Paul Hardcastles’ “19” and a dab of the perennially popular Frankie Goes To Hollywood vibe. A missed opportunity indeed I think.

Disc Two. What’s so special about AON? Well, these 20 unreleased tracks answer that question. Expect the unexpected, and the theoretically impossible. These tracks represent previously unheard moments in time from each version of group. Kicking off with alternate mixes of singles such as “Beat Box” and “Moments In Love” (Anne To Tears Mix – nice anecdotes on this in the liner notes), there’s also an unreleased 12″ mix of “A Time For Fear”, that shows what we could have had if the 4th single from “Who’s Afraid (Of The Art Of Noise)?” had have happened.

There’s a lot on this second disc to absorb, and it will take time and repeated listens to appreciate the wealth of material here, but obvious highlights for me so far are the unreleased JJ/Dudley “Cassandra”, a song which seems to encapsulate every era of the band in six shining minutes, and a Way Out West mix of “Dreaming In Colour”, which for me is probably the best moment of 90s AON. There’s a true treasure trove here and something for everybody. I think there are going to be some delighted fans out there come August 2nd.

A final note, because I know what a bone of contention audio quality can be with lovers of catalogue re-issues. You’ll find refreshing honesty here with regards to the source materials. Ian makes it quite clear which (few) tracks no master could be sourced for, and ultimately what format those tracks were taken from, although I have to say that you’d be hard to spot the two vinyl transfers from the rest if you weren’t made aware. Only one, crucial track, is sourced from MP3 and since it runs for only 52 seconds I think that is acceptable! All in all, this is not bad going for a 39 track collection.

Almost all of the material has been lifted from original Ampex tapes or DAT masters and carefully remastered so rest assured you’re spending your money on something worth spending it on.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise Influence: Hits Singles Moments Treasures | | Leave a comment

Genesis Nursery Cryme (1971)

Nursery CrymeFrom

The late, great jazz master Charles Mingus once said that “creativity is more than just being different… what’s hard is to be as simple as Bach”. Jazz as a genre of course is second to none as a creative outlet but while creativity can come in many forms, it is hard to argue against progressive rock being a close second. Forging from pop roots Genesis quickly established themselves as a genuine progressive act with their second album Trespass, jumping aboard the bandwagon popularised by King Crimson et al. just one year previously.

Clearly this was a large transformation for such a young band, and although Trespass wasn’t a bad album it suffered from overly elaborate arrangements and embryonic compositions. Discarding the flak Genesis underwent a few major line-up changes, not least the introduction of Phil Collins on drums, and classic-era Genesis was born. With new personnel the group would go on to take the still infant progressive rock scene to new heights, and they marked this new epoch with their first glorious exemplar, Nursery Cryme.

Both adventurous in design and imaginative in presentation, Nursery Cryme purveys a deeply pensive aura through its delicate instrumentation which provides a vessel for Peter Gabriel’s commanding vocals. The beauty is in the detail; subdued brass and woodwind passages intermittently punctuate the wailing guitar riffs and gentle organ melodies bringing additional depth to the music, and yet it all seems so simple. This veil of simplicity shrouds the few audible mistakes and even these feel calculated, serving in creating a personable atmosphere for Gabriel to hypnotise through his surreal narrative.

From the crooning folk verses of Seven Stones to the audaciously theatrical stanzas of prog-rock epic The Return of the Giant Hogweed, quaint storylines pervade the music injecting further charm and character into the record. It sounds eccentric, and at times it borders on plain silly, but throughout Gabriel retains a vice-like grip on his audience, aided by the outstanding pacing of the tracks.

The first of many flagship moments throughout Nursery Cryme arrives in the form of the genre-defining, microcosmic opener The Musical Box. Rivalling King Crimson’s Epitaph as the gold-standard for symphonic prog, this ten minute arrangement illustrates regions of profound technical prowess and an acute manipulation of tempos and timbres enhance the atmosphere; refining convoluted meanderings into complimentary movements.

This is far from the only example of genius however, with a diverse range of techniques unique to every track. Saccharine-dosed, folksy numbers are just as common as the progressive excesses and display a wholly different side to the band. Restrained duo Harlequin and Seven Stones rely heavily on eerie organ melodies, and the introduction of an acoustic guitar passage in the former compliments the vocal harmonies of Gabriel and Collins, leading to another distinctive aesthetic.

Whether it was the influence of Charisma label-mates Van Der Graaf Generator, with whom Genesis toured profoundly whilst writing this album, or a fundamental desire to utilize a far greater range of auditory talents is open to debate, but the introduction of heavier passages and a denser atmosphere amplified the bands strengths and would become the blueprint for their subsequent masterpieces. The track structure, musical aptitude and songwriting would all be perfected in years to come but sometimes it takes a truly exceptional album in order for a band to realise their potential, and without Nursery Cryme expanding the band’s boundaries then it is possible Selling England by the Pound would never have been made.

With this in mind, as a precursor to greater things, Nursery Cryme is a resoundingly accomplished record encompassing some of the very best prog-rock endeavours with all the gall and ingenuity of youth. Moreover, it is a masterfully crafted, well-paced soundtrack containing numerous highlights, expansive textures and even a hint of satire and never a dull moment.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Nursery Cryme | Leave a comment

Art Of Noise The Seduction of Claude Debussy (1999)

art of noiseFrom

Review “The Seduction of Claude Debussy” is not just a remarkable musical triumph, it is doubly so given how easily the whole thing could have collapsed under the weight of its considerable hubris.

The Art of Noise are not exactly bashful, and here they are even less so than usual as they attempt what amounts to an electronica Debussy cover album. On top of it all, John Hurt provides highly stylized narration interspersed in the lulls and even sometimes during the most heightened drama of the album, describing Debussy’s life and artistic brilliance, referencing half-known poets and the like. This project could have been totally dire in less capable hands, but fortunately AON knows what they’re doing.

The source of strength of this release is that it is an album, not a collection of weak Debussy remixes. No techno-ridden piano-and-string loops here. Instead we have luscious piano cascades and classical guitar and mighty string crescendos flowing beautifully over ambience, dub beats and jackhammer drillnbass alike. After all, it wouldn’t be enough for Art of Noise to put new beats to old music.

After declaring at the end of “Il Pleure” that Debussy “was the revolutionary that set 20th century music on its way,” they could do nothing less than give us a full and rich sampling of the entire palette of 20th century music, from jazz to bubblegum pop to dub and drum and bass to hip hop. Anything less would be an insult their chosen subject and hero. For the most part, they succeed, although I personally found the rapper Rakim’s surprising arrival in the middle of Track 6 to be a little jarring.

Most importantly, though, is that “Seduction” doesn’t just work as an artistic concept, it works as music. It is a beautiful composition, with rich arrangements and terrific mixing, and covering an impressive degree of ground, never growing repetitive, always original and filled with aggressive experimentation and originality. I can’t imagine whether Debussy himself would have liked or hated it, but what is probably certain is that he would not have been bored by it.

Review First, let me state that this album is, in my ever-so-humble opinion, the best album of 1999, and ranks in my Top 10 albums of the 1990s.
I was aware of the Art Of Noise for some time, but never actually listened to one of their recordings until this one. It blends their rhythmic synth-beats with the classical undertones of composer Claude Debussy.

Never before has an album been so melodic, so wonderful, so complete. The songs flow from one into the next, sounding similar, but never the same. The continuity of Debussy’s compositions is readily evident, yet the Art Of Noise has not held-back showcasing their own talents. The sound of the album is exquisite. Actor John Hurt narrates throughout (odd, I know, but it works), and the voices of the female singers used are near-perfect. Music and voice blend together wonderfully.

Only one song, “Metaforce”, jarred me at first, for its style is markedly different from the rest of the CD. But even that track eventually sounds as though it fits in, a weird sort of way. It simply adds to the diverse, yet cohesive tone of the CD.

It is important that this work be listened to as a ‘complete album’. It is not of the typical ‘pop/single market’ today, where one can skip to any track they choose. Do that, and this album will lose much of its beauty.

“The Seduction of Claude Debussy” is, quite simply, a complete, modern masterpiece. You will not find another one like it.

Review The Art Of Noise reaches into the mind of classical composer Claude Debussy and extracts their vision of what most listeners will find to be an eccentric blending of innovative sound.

This long awaited release has expanded the traditional ambient sound of The Art Of Noise by introducing a diverse range of musical styles and textures. Unique blends of opera, jazz, hard rock, opera and even rap, make this extraordinary recording a must for the distinguished ambient listener. Unlike many ambient artists, the Art Of Noise offers the listener true melodic substance and does not leave you feeling like you have just subjected yourself to an hours worth of experimental digital sound effects.

For those who are expecting a ‘new age remix’ of Debussy’s classical style, you will find only vague musical similarities. The recording is more an experimental visitation of creative expression with odd and very inappropriate biographical undertones. The entire project has scattered tidbits of narrated ‘facts’ that are sometimes surreal and innovative, but more often annoying and repetitious.

The use of narration is interesting, but leaves you feeling as though you are being read to from a music history book. Fortunately, these segments are short and non-obtrusive and lead up to a layered blend of beautiful ethereal passages of mystical sound.

This particular recording is not for everyone, but for those of us who are musically connected with the spirituality of ambient sound, this recording will bring you on an amazing journey.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Art Of Noise The Seduction of Claude Debussy | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Greensboro, North Carolina, May 31st 1977


Since its now been 30 years to the day since I saw Zeppelin in the Greensboro Coliseum, I thought what better time to recount my memories (however eroded by the years they are) and reminisce. I’ll have to say, that really was a long time ago and at best my recollection is fairly hazy but I’ll give it a try. By the way, if there are others that were there that night in Greensboro, N.C. , I would love to hear your stories too.

But, over the years, the finer details tend to slip away and what is left are some random, disjointed thoughts (uh, did I say dis-joint-ed?). I can tell you that at 18 years old, your world is quite different than it is today, so needless to say, so were my priorities 30 years ago.

My brother and I had about an hour and a half drive to the show that night, but I don’t remember too much about the trip to G’boro. Pretty crowded outside the gated area. I do remember a rush to get in and some people attempting (and I suppose succeeding) to climb the fence when they let us in. I’m not sure how all that came about…it could have been more that the swell of the crowd had a lot to do with them letting us in.

One thing that was very clear, and still remains clear to this day, was the mass of people moving into the concert hall. You really didn’t need to walk forward …the crowd pushed and literally carried you with it. At that point in my life, never experienced anything like it. No control of your own movement at all. Pretty much a wall of humanity surging forward. If anyone had fallen, it would have been impossible to get up. Maybe we were just lucky in that regard, maybe just lucky that we didn’t end up like the fans in Cincinatti at the Who concert about 2 years later. Its funny that you often don’t realize how dangerous something is in the moment…just later on when you are in a normal state of mind. Another memory I have is that the walls in the hallways leading to the concert area were dripping with condensation…..really strange and surreal. I suppose all the heat and moisture from the mass of people moving thru. Just strange.

In the concert arena we had pretty good seats. This was in the days of festival seating and general admission….. no seats assigned…. just get in there and find what you can close to the stage. If you were lucky (or maybe unlucky…I’llget to that later) you could get down to the floor in front of the stage. Our seats were to the left of the dtage, about mid-way up on the lower level. I heard that thi was the last concert that Greensboro coliseum had festival seating…for a lot of good reasons.

Seemed like forever before Zep took the stage at least an hour and a half…running late or something like that…but I understand that was more the norm. Before the show…lot of partying all around….seemed like there was not much security that I recall. People smoking up and passing around the reefer…. I counted at least a dozen times a joint was passed down our row…. it was the 70’s what can I say. All the trappings of the 70’s concert scene for sure… clothing, or lack thereof too!! The land of long hair, tight jeans, and no bras!! I remember one guy looking just like Plant, a virtual clone… you couldn’t tell them a part…

Back to the show…. Zep comes out about an hour or hour and a half late… Plant says “Good Evening Greensboro” and they launch into Song Remains the Same….really rock it up….. played the intro of the Rover and then went into Sick Again…great stuff, lots of stuff off of Physical Graffiti, some stuff off of Presence too. I remember Nobody’s Fault but Mine and Achilles….., don’t have the set list, although I’ve searched the Web for it, I couldn’t find anything. If anyone has it, would like to see.

lz19770531_03Did I mention the volume of this show? Damn. I mean damn was it loud!!! When Page was soloing during Dazed, he used this violin bow and it could have shredded the paint off the walls!!! My ears were hurting…hate to admit it, but I had to cover them during a part of that solo!! The visual stuff was good too….laser pyramid and such….. this was back in the 70’s but still pretty high tech for then. Another thing was when Page used this synthesizer thing like a moog or something during Whole Lotta Love…. made some really weird effects with that thing….pretty cool for back in the day…. by the way, I was working that summer and the next day, my hearing was shot all to hell. It took a couple of days to get back to hearing right again.

From the show, I would have to say Kashmir was excellent, Stairway, Ten Years Gone, No Quarter, Rock n Roll. I really liked the acoustic set too… a nice change of pace too. All in all, they played about 3 hours including the encore and Bonham’s drum solo in the middle. Speaking of the drum solo, Bonham’s drum set rotated outward and I think some people may have gotten hurt that were next to the stage….not sure about that though.

Other recollection…. some people on the upper deck had linked their belts together and were lowering themselves down to the lower level. Think one chain of these broke too. As I said, not a lot of security around that I remember.

That’s about it. Great show. One of the best ever been too. If you care to share, I would love to hear. It may even jog my memory!!! Thanks for the opportunity to share my experience 30 years ago tonight!!!

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Greensboro North Carolina May 31st 1977 | , | Leave a comment

Roger Waters The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking (1984)


I expect that everyone who’s listened to this album, or is a fan of Roger Waters, is at least somewhat familiar with the music of Pink Floyd. Therefore, most of them compare “Pros and Cons” to Waters masterworks like “Final Cut” and “The Wall.”

I won’t. I’m just going to write this for the music lover who’s been directed to this page by a “best of” list of friend’s recommendation.

Most importantly, “Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking” is a concept album in the ultimate sense. This means that it is not actually twelve different tracks that go together — it means that the entire album is really one long track, telling one story. It includes a multitude of sound effects and imbedded dialogue to enhance the narrative. Many musical chords are used repeatedly in various parts of the album to reinforce the cohesiveness. It is virtually impossible to appreciate “Pros and Cons” without sitting down and listening to it all the way through at least a dozen times. Like all of Roger Waters’ work, he requires his listener to put as much thought into the album as he did.

Minor problems do crop up. For instance, it’s a godsend that the lyrics are included with the album, as well as the dialogue, because some of it is quite difficult to understand with no outside reference. Then there’s the usual problem with Waters work: if you don’t pay full attention, you will not “get it.” I can’t put it any more clearly. Waters demands your full participation. Also, some portions of the music don’t run quite as deep as the lyrics. This makes the album as a whole seem shallower than it really is…. And sometimes, if you’re not in a patient mood, some parts seems to drag on. This may be due to Roger not having the safety net of collaborators during the composition process. (This was his first solo album, after all. So he’s allowed to be a little shaky.)

The execution of the music is flawless, though! Mr. Waters is an accomplished bassist. The Legendary Eric Clapton is lead guitarist (and if you don’t know Floyd, I have to assume that you must know at least Something by Clapton…) Michael Kamen plays the piano and conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra. So despite showing signs of lacking in musical composition, the performance of the material gives it an operatic quality. Roger Waters himself gives a go-for-broke vocal performance that quickens the strain of the protagonist’s conflict.

I think the main reason that this album is a bit obscure (except among true Floyd and Waters fans) is that there really are no tracks that could be marketed as radio singles. As I’ve mentioned before, the entire album is the only track on the disc. But for posterity’s sake, I’ll say that there are a few cuts that might have made excellent singles. “Sexual Revolution,” “Every Stranger’s Eyes,” and the title track may have made it… But stripped of the album’s context, they do in fact lose some of their power.

What really kills me is that I can’t think of a single other artist to whom I can compare this album. It has a quite different sound from classic Pink Floyd, and Roger Waters’ later work is even a little more audience-accessible than “Pros and Cons.” I’d say that it could possibly be just summed up as a “country rock opera.” I do think that you would not enjoy this album quite as much unless you first go back and investigate some of Pink Floyd’s earlier work.

“The Wall” and “Final Cut” are absolute essentials in Roger Waters ouevre, and listening to them would help considerably in appreciating this. If you like those, then you’ll probably appreciate this album a bit more. Definitely don’t make this your first Roger Waters purchase. “Amused to Death” is a much more polished work. If you want a good overview of his work, try his “In the Flesh” live album. Then move on to “Pros and Cons.”

Now, if you do happen to be a Pink Floyd fan, and you’re reading this review, you already know what a brilliant lyricist Mr. Waters is. Since this was his first solo album, it’s easy to see his attempts to make his own musical mark, and that’s probably what detracts a bit from this. But I can say that it is a very satisfying work, and anyone with a deeper sense of sophistication would certainly give “Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking” a thumbs up.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Roger Waters The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking | , | Leave a comment

Rick Wright Wet Dream (1978)


As a pretty big Pink Floyd fan, I’ve always appreciated Rick Wright’s contributions to the band, especially on their pre-Animals albums–I think he adds some great texture with his keyboards, some great vocals and harmony vocals, and some excellent songs that were part of an era where the entire band was contributing creatively.

I think he’s also underrated in his contribution to what made Pink Floyd sound like Pink Floyd–give Wet Dream one listen, and I think you’ll agree. There’s something really Pink Floyd about this album, and it happens without Roger Waters’ lyrics or David Gilmour’s guitar, so we get an interesting look at just what part of the band’s sound comes from Wright.

The result is an album that, really, doesn’t break any new ground, but if you’re willing to listen closely it will reward you with some great playing (Snowy White sounds great on several tracks) and a sublimely mellow, mysterious mood. Although the album seems short on full-blown songs and sometimes seems a bit homogeneous, there’s a whole lot to appreciate here.

Wet Dream opens with an instrumental, “Mediterranean C,” based on a piano line (pretty much every song on Wet Dream is) in which Wright adds touches of familiar synth. I don’t agree with other reviews that Snowy White imitates David Gilmour with his guitar playing–if you listen closely, I think you’ll find that his playing is a bit less melodic and lyrical, but he makes up with speed and fire that Gilmour often doesn’t display.

The addition of jazzy/prog saxophone on the opening track and many others also typifies the album (it’s not quite the same kind of sound as Pink Floyd usually gets out of sax; a bit jazzier). Really, to my ears, Wet Dream sounds the most like The Division Bell.

There are only a handful of vocal tracks on the album–the second song, “Against the Odds,” “Summer Elegy,” “Holiday,” and “Pink’s Song.” The first three are similar in sound and theme, discussing some pretty contemplative feelings about relationships. “Holiday” is definitely the album’s centerpiece–its best vocal track, with a great chorus and excellent crescendo. I forget which one, but you can hear Richard tinkering with the piano part of one of these songs in the Live At Pompeii documentary.

“Pink’s Song” is a pretty mysterious ode to somebody–perhaps Syd Barrett (it seems that the members of Pink Floyd all felt a need to address their former bandmate in song). Throughout, Wright’s voice sounds clear and honest, and it’s a pleasure to hear more of his singing. The rest of the album is slow to mid-tempo instrumentals. Some highlights include the hypnotic “Waves,” and the aptly-titled “Funky Deux.” It’s not a particularly speedy album, but if you’re in the mood, the texture and vibe is pretty trippy.

I can’t agree with other reviewers that it’s the best Pink Floyd solo album, compared with Barrett’s work and Waters’ fantastic Amused To Death, but it’s not far behind, and a worthwhile statement from a member of the band who was never heard as much as he should have been. Hopefully Wet Dream will get reissued soon–it’s a good, worthwhile album, but it’s not worth how much sellers are asking for it right now.

Last, I’d add that Wet Dream is definitely better than Broken China, though the latter does have some interesting moments.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Rick Wright Wet Dream | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti (1975)


Since I’ve always considered this album John Bonham’s finest moment (making it required listening if you ever aspire to be a (good) rock drummer), I have a tendency to nag about the drumming on this album. It’s fantastic.

Bonham may not have been a technically gifted stylist like Carl Palmer or Vinnie Colaiuta or Simon Phillips – there are none of those lightning-fast fills (or not too many), dazzling shifts in time signatures or “impossible” accents, rolls and tricks – but the guy comes up with all the appropriate power and groove necessary to make these songs even much better than most of them already were. Of course, the impact wouldn’t be as impressive if it weren’t for the actual sound of the drums.

Even though these songs were recorded over the course of several years – 8 songs were recorded in 1974, 7 others were ‘leftovers’ recorded in the first four years before it (“Bron-Yr-Aur” is from 1970!) – I’ve rarely heard an album with such a consistently awesome, natural and massive drum sound. It’s totally thunderous (apocalyptic even), nothing less and it takes even the slightest songs into epic territory. Is there anyone – a drummer, a studio technician, a Zephead, a wise-ass – who can tell me why not even a legion of engineers and producers can’t capture that sound anymore? Is it the kit? Is it the recording equipment?

Or is it the simple fact that a few strategically placed mics are so much more effective than today’s “advanced” technology? Tell me. Anyway, its not just the powerhouse drumming that makes this one gargantuan slab of rock ‘n’ roll excess, as the whole package is larger than life: 4 album sides, 15 songs (almost half of them longer than five minutes), self-indulgent jams, unashamedly struttin’ rhythms, and some of the most physical hard rock this sound of James Brown.

It has all their virtues and vices combined into 80 minutes of rawk. It’s nowhere near as innovative as their first few albums and it’s not the transitional, innovative album Houses of the Holy was, either. If anything, Physical Graffiti is a consolidation of their unquestionable reign as rock Gods. Some people criticised the album, calling it a retread, a hodgepodge of stale ideas and mediocre songwriting, but I say it’s just a band at work that had nothing left to prove. So they did what they do best: rock and let the creativity flow.

Like all their other albums, Physical Graffiti has its share of filler (and perhaps more than that – so, no perfect ’10’, I’m sorry!), but it also has the swagger, the monumental riffs, amazing musicianship, sex and sprawl that only make the best double albums out there (Blonde on Blonde, The Beatles, Zen Arcade, Double Nickels on the Dime, that kind) so valuable, despite their faults. Fifteen years ago, I would’ve raged on and on and on, foam dangling at the corner of my mouth, how the first disc (songs 1-6) messes with all the rules of good rock ‘n’ roll, but nowadays, I consider it an almost flawless triumph. “Custard Pie” is easily the weakest of those songs, yet it not only proves Plant’s limitless linguistic talent (how many synonyms and metaphors did he use for “pussy”?), but it’s also a dirty, pumping slice of hard rock, featuring Jones’ awkwardly funky clavinet parts (yeah, it’s that “Superstition”-sound), greasy axe-work by Page and ragged vocals by the sore-throated banshee (and check out how he totally misses the mark 3:09 into the song).

“The Rover” is kicked off by Bonham’s hi-hat and snare drum, which soon gives way to another monstrous riff, but while it suggests it’s a monotonous boogie-rocker, it soon blooms into one of their most underrated, melodic rock songs and when Plants croons that melancholy “There can be no denyin’ that the wind’ll shake ’em down”-line, how can you not like that? And it still gets better, and this is where I’m treading on dangerous ground. “In My Time of Dying” (credited to the band, but actually a cover of the same song Bob Dylan included on his debut album) is basically a repetitive 11-minute blues-jam, but boy, does it kick ass, not in the least because of Bonham’s awesome performance.

Of course, the biblical references give it an aura of aural corpulence even they rarely achieved (unless they were playing live), but man! Listen! Page’s menacing slide playing, Plant’s moaning, the way Page and Bonham switch to that second part four minutes into the songs, the hollerin’, the delirious blues soloing. It may not be pretty, it may not be original, but play it loud (and I mean, crank it up!) and you’ll realize it’s pure rock ‘n’ roll. As far as jammin’ goes, this is a monster band at work and few classic rock bands ever managed to make a similar impact. And no, The Doors didn’t even come close with their similarly lengthy “When the Music’s Over.” They didn’t.

The next three songs (second vinyl side), the album’s most recognizable and unique songs, are probably even better. The funky strut of “Houses of the Holy” is Led Zeppelin at their catchiest (can you sit still? honestly?), “Trampled Under Foot” even betrays hints of disco rhythms with that insistent groove and cheesy use of clavinet, but is as sexual as the band ever got musically, and Plant’s “OOOoooooooooohhhyeahyeahyeah” is one for the books.

The best is yet to come, though, as “Kashmir” remains one of their crowning achievements, even though it’s been overplayed and almost put to shame by the shithead entrepreneur with the silly sunglasses and the clothing line. It remains a stunning combination of rock groove and outlandish melodies, guitars, brass and strings, drama and uh, more drama. And all the while, Bonham keeps that simple, but majestic beat going. It’s eight and a half minutes long and worth it. Every bombastic second. And that’s all I have to say about that.

If you’re fed up with the big, ambitious rock songs, there’s always the second disc to turn your attention to, as it contains a mixed bag of straightforward boogie, more acoustic-oriented material and the occasional oddball. It’s also this batch of songs that ensured Physical Graffiti’s stature as Led Zeppelin’s White Album – which does make sense if you’re talkin’ about the album being a loose display of their styles and sounds, even though the sequence suggests they considered this material less essential.

When I heard the keyboard-intro to “In the Light” for the first time I was, like many others I presume, almost shocked, as it has more in common with lo-fi sci-fi music, or Tangerine Dream (!) than the world’s greatest cock rock band. Of course they didn’t have the guts to continue like that, so what you get (twice) is a long, extended intro with eventually also baroquely treated vocals (or are they multi-tracked?), then a pummeling monotonous groove and finally a lyrical part with exquisite guitar work. If you’re waiting for the pay-off, you’ll have to be patient, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this one.

The next three songs (which make up the rest of side 3) have nothing in common with each other, as “Bron-Yr-Aur” is an acoustic folk instrumental that’s tenderly pastoral, “Down by the Seaside” a gently swaying kind of sea-shanty with shimmering guitar parts with a terrific solo part in the middle and “Ten Years Gone” a patiently developing, smooth slice of folk, pop and rock combined into one, while being a long shot from the densely arranged stuff on the first album.

It would’ve fit nicely on III or IV. The final five songs are often considered the album’s ultimate le tdown, but again, they’re surprisingly enjoyable, as long as you don’t expect another “Kashmir” or “Trampled Under Foot.” “Night Flight” is concise, melodic and laidback boogie-pop, “The Wanton Song” and “Sick Again” are greasy groove-rockers with the especially the latter offering dirty guitar sounds, “Black Country Woman” is a nice blend of folk and… country that’s perhaps a bit too unsubstantial for its own good and “Boogie with Stu” finally, the black sheep, is actually enjoyable as hell, as the combination of mechanic percussion, barrelhouse piano done Pinetop Perkins-style and Plant’s retro-rock ‘n’ roll vocals are sheer fun. None of the songs on the album’s second half would end up in my Led Zeppelin Top 10, but exactly because they’re not overweight, pompous and ambitious, they work perfectly fine as an extra bonus to the better, but also more exhausting first half.

I heard Physical Graffiti for the first time in the summer of 1991 and didn’t wanna admit I actually like quite a lot of it. Two months later a band from Seattle made some impact, sent my preferences off in another direction and I forgot about Led Zeppelin for a while, until I revisited them in the mid/late nineties (many, many hours of music listening later) and asked myself what I’d been thinking. Sure, Physical Graffiti is still the perfect target if you’re a punk rocker narrow-minded enough to set out to prove that the epitome of ’70’s rock was too self-satisfied, not always very smart (because the lyrics do become trite once in a while) and such a drag, but if you turn up the volume and listen, you’ll have to admit that these guys were still going strong after already having released five excellent albums in a row.

You can feel, however, that it also was a turning point for the band, breaking or bending, as their adventurous spirit was kept in check and virtuoso hard rock had been confronted with its limitations in the meantime (and things did go downhill – really fast). Aerosmith and AC/DC were waiting around the corner to become the new emperors of rock ‘n’ roll, but even they will have to admit that the core of Physical Graffiti is exactly what bands had been looking for the two decades before them and three decades since: the devil’s music wrapped up in irresistible adrenalin that tells you you’re the man.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti | | Leave a comment