Earlier this year, when the news leaked out that there was a new Pink Floyd album on the way, there was a feeling bewilderment among fans, rather than excitement. It simply did not compute, as most people assumed the band was completely defunct. Since the death of Richard Wright four years ago, only David Gilmour and Nick Mason remained as ‘official’ band members, and the latter was never force as a performer nor a composer. And it was highly unlikely that former bandleader Roger Waters had reconciled with the others enough to record with them. So what was this new release to be? It seemed likely that it would just be Gilmour and Mason, like A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987), which is one of the worst-reviewed releases of the band’s long career.
However, it was soon revealed that the album would be mostly made up of music recorded for, but ultimately rejected from, The Division Bell (1994). It was heartening that it would feature contributions from Richard Wright, but at the same time disappointing that music that didn’t make the grade 20 years ago was now considered good enough to release. Many fans were willing to give the record a try, as it was ‘new’ material, and possibly a chance to celebrate Wright’s life and work. But was this album worth reviving the Pink Floyd moniker for?
Desert Island Discs is a British institution, but it has been going so long that the producers seem to have run out of interesting people to interview. These days, the guests are vapid celebrities and incredibly posh people who nobody’s ever heard of. Also, none of the guests seem to have any particular love of music, so their eight musical choices are generally a mix of the startlingly obvious and the incredibly asinine.
Some thoughtful person at the BBC made an archive of the show, listing every single guest and their chosen discs. This made it very easy for me to find the interviewees with the poorest musical tastes. Five of the worst offenders are outlined below…
- The Archies – Sugar Sugar
- Mory Kante – Yeke, Yeke
- Boney M. – Daddy Cool 2001
- The Mavericks – Dance the Night Away
- Wheatus – Teenage Dirtbag
- New Order – Blue Monday
- Eminem – Cleaning Out My Closet
- The Chemical Brothers – Hey Boy, Hey Girl
Several of these tracks are obviously garbage, but the one that really sticks out is “Teenage Dirtbag”. It’s not just that it’s a band song, it’s that it’s about the angst of being an adolescent boy. Nigella is female and was forty years old when the song was released. So she doesn’t even have the excuse of this being a record she related to in her youth. She gets some points for New Order and the Chemical Brothers, though.
In the 1980s, the music scene was changing at a breakneck pace, and artists who first became famous in the 60s were finding it difficult to stay relevant (and therefore rich). Many long-established artists tried changing things musically, often by embracing the use of synthesisers and electronic drum machines. Worse still, they also tried to improve their “branding” by changing their dress sense and visual aesthetics. This led to some unintentionally hilarious record covers. The slideshow below has ten album covers that show older artists trying, and failing, to look cool in the 80s. Click to activate…
I’ll say one thing for this album: it does exactly what it says on the tin. It sounds exactly like you would expect a collaboration between Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey to sound. Even the album title and cover art let us know what we’re getting ourselves in for – that being a trip down memory lane with two veteran musicians.
The cover photos show both men in their younger years, but rather tellingly, the two are never pictured together. Although they are only four years apart in age, they were never truly contemporaries. Daltrey, of course, first made it big in 1965, as the lead singer of The Who – a band then renowned for a punchy sound they called “Maximum R&B”. As the years progressed, like many bands of their era, The Who turned their back on their roots to embrace concept albums and rock operas. So by 1975, the whole music scene was mired in prog and glam, leaving little in the way of straightforward Rhythm ‘n’ Blues. Dr. Feelgood, the band with which Wilko Johnson was guitarist and songwriter, deftly filled this gap in the market. The Feelgoods’ music provided a shot in the arm for the music scene, and were a huge influence on the nascent punk sound.
“It’s one of those endings / Where no one claps ‘cause they’re sure that there’s more”
The opening track of Nickel Creek’s comeback album clearly references the band’s long hiatus. The band amicably went their separate ways in 2007, vowing one day to reunite. However, as the years went by, any reunion looked more and more doubtful, as the band’s breakout star Chris Thile had so many other projects to fill his time. There was solo material, a whole new band, and even an unlikely-seeming collaboration with the classical cellist Yo Yo Ma.
However, Thile clearly didn’t let his new friends, nor even his MacArthur Genius Grant, distract him from his roots. On this the bands 25 anniversary, they have finally reunited for an album and American tour. If all this makes them sound like old fogies, don’t be fooled; the former child prodigies of Nickel Creek are still in their thirties, and still have a lot of musical vitality.
Musically, it’s like the band have never been away. Their acoustic sound is still the paragon of Newgrass music, which is basically acoustic pop but without the guilt. One of the great strengths of the band is that all three members contribute to the song-writing and singing, meaning there is much more diversity than you find with many groups. Thile and Sara Watkins’ voices are still as childlike as ever, giving their songs of lost love a sense of youthful folly, rather than lasting pain. Only Sean Watkins, the oldest member of the group, really brings gravitas to his vocal delivery. Instrumentally, the band is stronger than ever. The mandolin virtuoso Thile doesn’t dominate, leaving room for Sean’s crisp acoustic guitar, and Sara’s mournful violin (sorry, “fiddle”).
Amoeba Music, the famous LA record shop, has a great little web series called What’s In My Bag? They invite well-known people into their store, let them shop around for a while, and then interview them about the albums they chose. It’s basically a non-copyright-infringing version of Desert Island Discs. There’s often a lot of hipster-y posing, but there are a fair few videos where the celeb’s genuine love of music shines through. Here’s a few of the best videos…
Unlike the others on this list, Gallagher’s video is ad hoc. Amoeba didn’t know he was coming; they just saw him in the aisles and ushered him into the green room for this brief but enjoyable video. He’s taking a punt on some artists that are new to him, and some of his choices (Pink Floyd, Can, and David Axelrod) are fairly surprising. Never one to mince words, he guesses that he’ll find a lof of these “shite”. He also gets a Hawkwind album “to see what all the fuss is about”. I don’t think there’s been fuss about Hawkwind for about 40 years.
Every once in a while, some publication comes up with a list of the Scariest Bands of All Time. However, all the choices are shock rockers, i.e. people who wear clown makeup and shout a lot, all in the hope that it upsets their parents. That’s not the kind of music that I think is truly scary. The most frightening kind of music chills rather than shocks, getting under the skin and staying there.
Below is a list of the music that I find to be actually scary…
Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) demonstrates the difference between shocking and scary. His most famous song “Come to Daddy” provides some shocks, thanks in part to its horror movie-like video. But he has also produced ambient work which is genuinely eerie. His first ambient record was a dance music-inspired affair, but with volume two, things became slower, weirder, and darker. Most ambient music is suitable to help you sleep, but if you tried it with this album, you’d probably be awake all night, terrified. You might have heard some of these tracks in Chris Morris’s dark comedy series Jam.
As album titles go, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, doesn’t really inspire confidence. It’s almost Fiona Apple-like length, and reads like a teenager’s Facebook update. Luckily, Neko Case managed to assuage many of my fears about her way with words, right from the opening lines of the first song: “When you catch the light, You look like your mother”.
The album begins in a rather restrained manner, but things kick into gear with the up-tempo “Man”. If you’ve unfamiliar the concept of “Genderfuck”, then this song will give you an excellent primer. With its loud guitars and a Pixies-esque middle-eight, it’s something entirely new from Neko.
Case seems most alive on these fast-paced tracks, such as “Bracing for Sunday”, which is a murder ballad about the killing of an incestuous rapist. So I’m sure the defence would argue for “justifiable homicide ballad”. She has confirmed in an interview that it’s not based on a true story, thank god. “City Swans” is a song that achieves the impossible: it’s a Country/Rock crossover that would be suitable for radio states in both Red and Blue states.