Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Was it something I said?

I think this is the first time I've actually lost a Follower. Perhaps I should have posted about the mighty Klams? ;-)

Anyways, this 'ere blog has been a bit quiet of late I know, but I do plan further rock 'n' roll witterings here as soon as inhumanly possible. ( Next up: New Day Rising by Husker Du - stay tuned!! )

Soundtrack: wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

New Day Rising by Husker Du

OK, up until now this 'ere blog has concentrated on albums that are generally thought of as "classics" and are often found on "Best Of" lists from the great and good..... and music journalists.
But this time I'm going for a more personal, less well-known choice, Husker Du's mid-'80s hardcore milestone, New Day Rising.

Husker Du were Bob Mould ( vocals, guitar ), Grant Hart ( vocals, drums ) and Greg Norton ( bass, moustache ) - with both Mould and Hart writing the songs..... something which would lead to friction over the years and contribute to the band's demise. They formed in Minnesota in 1979 and, as contemporaries of bands like The Minutemen and Black Flag, were initially a very fast, thrashing Punk/hardcore band. Their first ( live ) album was called Land Speed Record, which pretty much summed up their musical philosophy at the time.

Before long, however, they began to break out of the hardcore straitjacket and introduced more melody and variety to their sound. The mini-album Metal Circus pointed the way towards the "grunge" sound of the '90s ( especially on Hart's murder ballad Diane ) and the ambitious, sprawling double Zen Arcade was actually a ( whisper it! ) concept album which dabbled in psychedelia. As the band became more popular the major record labels came calling but, before their temporary step up to the big leagues, they produced one last classic for their old label, SST: New Day Rising.

It starts with a restating of their hardcore credentials: Mould and Hart shouting, screaming and howling the album title over a barrage of thunderous drums and squalls of guitar. As attention-grabbers go, it certainly works. Then we're straight into the new, poppier Husker Du sound, with Hart's The Girl Who Lived On Heaven Hill, boasting a huge, singalong chorus. Well, I say "poppier" but, by the end of the song, Hart's screaming his head off again, from up there on the top of Heaven Hill. Mould's I Apologise follows, anticipating the emo genre with its brutal dissection of a relationship going wrong.

And that's one of Husker Du's great legacies - they had moved beyond the punk cliches of earlier songs like Deadly Skies and Obnoxious and were now talking about the joy and pain of real life. Over top of some bloody loud guitars, of course. The three songs which close side one of the album ( vinyl forever! ), If I Told You, Celebrated Summer, and Perfect Example are fantastic, er, examples of the Husker Du methodology - heart-aching lyrics welded to great tunes and Bob Mould's shimmering, multi-tracked guitars.

"Do you remember when the first snowfall fell
In such a celebrated Summer?"

But just when you think it's all got too grown up and sensible, the band hit us with the bizarre discordance of How To Skin A Cat, the redneck anthem Whatcha Drinkin' and Grant Hart's piano-assisted alternative pop classic Books About UFOs. And to finish we get the almost compulsory Bob Mould guitar freak-out. On Zen Arcade the band had produced a 13-minute, experimental epic, Reoccurring Dreams; here they were less self-indulgent and Plans I Make is a mere 4 minutes of chainsaw guitars, feedback and Mould's anguished vocals.

Sadly, Husker Du imploded a couple of years later, following drug problems, creative tensions and the suicide of their manager. They'd only achieved moderate success, even after signing to Warner Brothers and seeing their last album, Warehouse: Songs And Stories, being relentlessly hyped by the music press. Mould and Hart pursued solo careers with varying success and Norton went into the restaurant business, with only the occasional return to music. They were, however, a huge influence on the next generation of alternative rock ( Pixies, Nirvana etc. ) and on such big-business "punk" bands as Green Day. ( Not to mention the legendary Death Planet Commandos. Well..... they're legendary in my house, anyway. )
Not bad for a group named after a kids' board game.....
Song to annoy the neighbours: New Day Rising

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

When I was a teenage wannabe-Punk I didn't like The Beach Boys. I mean I really didn't like them. I thought the harmonies were girly, the fun-in-the-sun lyrics were too cheesy, the clothes were bloody awful, and what the Hell was Sloop John B about anyway?

Now, of course, I love The Beach Boys and I especially love Pet Sounds, the album containing - you've guessed it - Sloop John B.

Pet Sounds is famously the album where Brian Wilson took creative control of the group and steered them away from their previous surf / rock 'n' roll style towards a more symphonic, studio-based sound. And what a sound! Wilson throws in strings, Theremins, bicycle bells, clip-clop percussion, harpsichords, rasping horns and possibly a kitchen sink on a surfboard, who knows? It almost strays into the realm of the avant garde before settling for queasy-listening on a couple of strange filler instrumentals. The trademark Beach Boy vocals are present and correct and perfect, alternately joyous and heartbreaking.

As well as Sloop John B, the album also contains two of their most well-known singles, Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows, mini masterpieces of yearning and heartache. And, if not for Brian Wilson's perfectionism, the awesome Good Vibrations would have appeared here as well, instead of propping up the next album, the deeply flawed Smiley Smile.

Lyrically, Pet Sounds is a lot deeper than previous Fun Fun Fun -type material. The first track, Wouldn't It Be Nice, is a childlike wish to be grown up and married but, after that, things take a more introspective and troubled turn. The songs' protagonists often feel lonely or betrayed and offer warnings about former lovers and friends.

"I went through all kinds of changes
Took a look at myself
And said 'That's not me' "

"Where can I turn when my
Fair-weather friends cop out?
What's it all about?"

Even the traditional Caribbean folk song, Sloop John B, seemed to fit in well:
"I feel so broke up, I want to go home
This is the worst trip I've ever been on."

With hindsight all this is sadly indicative of Brian Wilson's fragile mental state, culminating in the honest admission of I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. The uncertainty and confusion in these lyrics ( along with the fantastic music ) adds a resonance to the album that elevates it to its classic status.

Song for your favourite surfer girl: Don't Talk ( Put Your Head On My Shoulder )