Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade

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Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade
Released July, 1984

Hüsker Dü  had humble beginnings as a four piece in 1979 called Buddy and the Returnables. It didn’t take long for the members of the band to realise that the keyboards didn’t fit with their sound, so they started practicing without the keyboardist. Now comprising of a three piece with Bob Mould on guitar and vocals, Greg Norton on bass and Grant Hart on drums and vocals, they renamed themselves the much cooler Hüsker Dü , named after a Swedish board game. Fun fact, they replaced the macrons with umlauts because they look way cooler \m/. With their feet firmly entrenched in the hardcore punk scene in the Midwest, they has some releases through Reflex Records which were well received by fans and critics alike. As was the way with punk rock bands of the time they toured relentlessly, garnering them the attention of The Minutemen and Black Flag which led to them being signed to SST Records. Here they released the “Metal Circus” E.P. in 1983. It is said that this is where a slightly more poppier and refined songwriting sensibility started to show, which started to divide them from their punk contemporaries. The first thing that comes to my mind is Black Flag’s track ‘TV Party’. Hüsker Dü  were definitely more than jumping around singing inane lyrics and it made them stand out.

Which brings us to this week’s album “Zen Arcade”, released in 1984. Brace yourself kids, this one is a concept album. It tells the tale of a young lad who leaves a crap home situation only to find the real world is worse. It was released as a double L.P. and clocks in at a little over 70 minutes. Gone are the straight up punk song, replaced by something that is much more melodic which paved the way for the Alternative Rock genre that followed. You can find elements of folk (‘Never Talking To You Again’), psychedelia (‘Dreams Reoccurring’, ‘Hare Krsna’) and even a piano instrumental (‘Somewhere”). These all serve the album well to break up intensity. The whole thing was recorded pretty much in 40 hours, production took forty hours and all up it only cost them $3200. That’s about as punk rock as it gets. It was well received critically and has gone on to be considered one of the most influential albums of its genre.

Hüsker Dü  were one of the first bands to break away from the hardcore punk mould but to still infuse that spirit into what they are doing. It leads to an album which is in parts genius but also in parts kind of infuriating. “Zen Arcade” is not an easy album to listen to and listening to the whole thing in one sitting takes a bit of dedication. In all honesty it took me around 5 or 6 listen to actually get my head around what they were trying to do. The energy of it is immediately apparently, but you have to work to appreciate the subtleties. Originally released as a double L.P., it does help to split it into its 4 side listening order. My picks are Side One and Side Three. Both Mould and Hart share songwriting and vocal duties, although at times it is hard to tell the two apart. My main complaint overall is how terrible the mix is. Part of me thinks that the final sound is quite intentional on the band’s part however. The more I listened to it the more I liked it though.

I was really reminded of Nirvana whilst listening to “Zen Arcade” particularly their more chaotic and heavier tracks, so I wasn’t surprised to read that Kurt Novoselic has said that Nirvana’s sound was “nothing new; Hüsker Dü did it before us.” You can really see how this album went on to influence great bands such as The Pixes, Nirvana, Foo Fighters and Green Day, just to name a few

Bob Mould has said recently of “Zen Arcade”, “that record has a lot of those rites of passage, trying to separate once and for all from your childhood, as we all want to do when we’re 22 or 23, and not realizing that we can never fully separate from it”. As a 36 year old listening to this album, I really felt that and can’t help but think that if maybe I got to listen to is 15 years ago I would feel differently about it. I’m not sure I’ll ever listen to “Zen Arcade” in its entirety again, but there are tracks that will definitely stay with me.

Well, Hüsker Dü  were an experience, huh? “Zen Arcade” certainly was a very loud album! Fortunately for us, the average track times were about two minutes (removing the obvious outlier), because I’m not sure I could take it if they were any longer. And to be honest, I’d be surprised if they could play some of these tracks for any longer than two minutes at a time! That would take the fitness and stamina of an elite athlete. Sadly, for me anyway, having this many tracks that are all flat out speed punk makes it real hard to take note of a song in particular. They all kind of mush together. Which is a shame because as far as punk rock goes, I find Hüsker Dü  better than other staples, like Black Flag or The Ramones. There actually does seem to be a bit of music under all the screaming and distortion, which is nice. That said, when there is a bit of a switch up, it comes as a welcome change. ‘One Step at a Time’ seems to almost serve as an interlude; 45 seconds of piano, apropos of nothing. ‘Pink Turns to Blue’ is a definite stand out, the actual singing vocal hugely differentiates it from the rest of the track, making it infinitely easier to listen to, even if the content is a little dark.Just when you think you’re coming to the end of the album, they punch you in the face with a 14 minute jam session. It’s almost jazzy, in that it’s a bit of a mess, but still kind of fits to a form. I’m just not really sure why this track is even there. It seems unnecessary to me. Would I Hüsker Dü it again? Maybe a single track here and there…

Aside from Bob Mould’s guest vocals on the Foo Fighters track ‘Dear Rosemary’, this was my first ever experience with Hüsker Dü. “Zen Arcade” was an album that I struggled to listen to, particularly when I used headphones. The production was muddy, the guitars were painfully distorted and I couldn’t decipher much of the mainly-screamed-out lyrics. ‘Never Talking To You Again’ and ‘Pink Turns To Blue’ seemed to be the only cuts that I found semi-enjoyable or listenable. The little piano interludes were nice though, and by the time I got to the fourteen minute closing track ‘Reoccurring Dreams’, I thought I had a grasp on what the album was trying to get across. Essentially a workout around the riff introduced in ‘Dreams Reoccurring’, I appreciated its jazzy touches (and feedback-riddled ending), but did the song really need to be that long? It wasn’t until I read up on the record that I discovered this was a concept album, documenting the story of an angsty teenager who runs away from home only to find things can always get worse. I kept this in mind during my second listen, as I initially thought it was a series of vignettes taking place in and around this “Zen Arcade”, not a story about one central character. By the third listen it was starting to grow on me a little, and I added ‘Turn On The News’ to songs that I liked. Maybe with ten more spins I would have warmed to the record; if only it wasn’t such a chore to get through. You can hear how Hüsker Dü have been quite influential to bands of the nineties, particularly those painted with the grunge or alternative brushes, but this album is just a little loud and overlong for me to really enjoy.

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The Human League – Dare

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The Human League – Dare
Released October, 1981

 

Back in 1977, in the town of Sheffield, England. Synthesizer enthusiasts Ian Marsh and Martyn Ware expanded their duo The Dead Daughters into a trio, recruiting school friend Philip Oakey as a vocalist. Spending a short time as The Future, the band renamed themselves The Human League and began recording demos and performing live. They utilised stage technician Adrian Wright, whose slide show backdrops would become a trademark of the group’s visual appeal. They put out their first single ‘Being Boiled’ the following year after signing with the Fast record label.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Records soon lured the band away from Fast and “Reproduction”, their debut album, was released in 1979. It was a fairly grim dose of synthpop which also employed features of industrial music. Marsh, Ware and Oakey all shared vocal and synthesizer duties, creating a cold, emotionless sonic landscape. The album’s only single ‘Empire State Human’ details a desire for power and stature, with the narrator’s ambitions making him lose sight of what it is to be human. 1980’s “Travelogue” saw Wright contributing musically, playing keyboards and being credited as a co-songwriter. The first single from the album was a cover of Mick Ronson’s ‘Only After Dark’, which they followed up with a re-recorded version of ‘Being Boiled’.

Despite “Travelogue” hitting the Top 20 on the UK album charts, The Human League had yet to enjoy major commercial success. Oakey was slowly moving towards straight pop and the differences in musical direction created tension within the group. Just before a two week tour of the UK and Europe in late 1980, Marsh and Ware left to eventually form Heaven 17. To keep the rights to The Human League, Oakey had to take on all the group’s debts and commitments, so a new band needed forming.

Oakey scoured nightclubs for a female vocalist, and famously found two in the form of schoolgirls Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall. He approached both girls’ parents for permission to take them on tour, and also recruited Ian Burden from the band Graph to play synthesizers. After surprising many fans expecting to see the all male line-up, the tour was completed and the band went into the studio, as they were heavily in debt to Virgin. In early 1981 they released two singles, ‘Boys And Girls’ and ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ with the latter reaching No.12 on the UK singles chart. The track would also find a place on their third album, “Dare”. This would be recorded with another new addition, punk rock guitarist and songwriter Jo Callis from The Rezillos, who now had to learn how to play synthesizers too!

Other than vocals from Oakey, Sulley and Campbell, the only instruments present on “Dare” are synthesizers and drum machines! No strings are plucked; no skins are thumped. This made it pretty tedious listening for me, despite great tracks like ‘Open Your Heart’ and the excellent pop brilliance of ‘Don’t You Want Me’. Oakey’s voice is fine for a song or two, but a whole album? I was also surprised by how downbeat most of it was. Whether pondering JFK’s assassination in ‘Seconds’ or the needs of policing in ‘I Am The Law’ (inspired by the Judge Dredd comic book series, yes), I couldn’t really connect with it. If the songs weren’t dark or broody, then they were a little naff, like the opening track ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’ for instance. That ‘Don’t You Want Me’ was relegated to the closing song puzzled me as well, but apparently Oakey thought it was the record’s weakest song and unsuccessfully fought Virgin’s decision to release it as a single. More fool him. It became the band’s biggest hit, and one of the highest selling singles of the decade. The album should have had more songs like it, in my opinion.

“Dare” remains the group’s most popular album (released as “Dare!” in the US) and regularly turns up on eighties album polls. In 2006, it came in at No. 19 on Q Magazine’s 40 Best Albums of the 80s and was included in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die book. Rumour has it that when music critic Lester Bangs was found dead of a drug overdose, the run-out grooves of “Dare” were playing on his turntable. Make of that what you will.

15 seconds into the first track from “Dare”, I was pretty sure I was in for a rough week. Drum machines and quirky synths, were definitely in 80s territory. My first impression was that it sounded like the shitty midi soundtracks to the games I’d play on my Commodore 64 as a kid. Human League vocalist and songwriter Phil Oakey told Musician magazine in 1982, “We started out as rank amateurs with a belief that you could use technology to make up for the fact that you hadn’t acquired any skill, that you could use computers to make up for the fact that you hadn’t any keyboard players, that you could use sequencers to do rhythms rather than employ a drummer”. Certainly sounds like it Phil. “Dare” get touted as one of the best albums on the 80s because it was one of the first pop albums of the 80s the use only synthisizers. The band were proud of the fact they weren’t good musicians. Phil Oakley has also been quoted as saying that the writing style of the lyrics is deliberately obscure because he “wanted the band’s lyrics to provoke thought and get people talking about their songs”. I’d say it’s because he was not only a shit musician but also a bit of a shit lyricist. I couldn’t find one redeeming feature on this album. Human League were simply in the right place at the right time. If we are going to talk about musicians who blazed the way for synthpop I think we are better served looking in the direction of artists like Kraftwerk and Devo, who I adored in the 70s. Human League are the overly watered down pop derivative of such artists. Heck, even Gary Numan deserves more praise. They were palatable to the masses, so they lucked out and moved a lot of units. I’d like to argue that it doesn’t mean its good.

Ok so this is a joke album, right? This is just Ang making me listen to a terrible album because she thinks it’s funny. I hope so, because this is the worst thing I’ve ever heard. Let me preface my review by saying this: I get it. New wave was experimental. There was this whole avant garde thing with electronic music. I understand that in order for a new genre of music to be made, somebody has to break the ground first. When you’re venturing into uncharted territories there’s going to be missteps. Unfortunately, “Dare” is an almighty misstep. Honestly, there is nothing good about this album. No redeeming features at all. The vocals are that depressing new wave moaning, there are no traditional instruments, just four people playing synthesisers. Synthesisers have their place, but it’s amongst real instruments for effect. God, I’m listening to it as I write this and it’s just making me angry. Why is ‘Get Carter’ even a track? It’s one minute of noises. Most of these tracks sound like the sound effects on terrible low-budget 70s science fiction music. The ridiculous part is that music journalists actually loved it. Some idiot from NME said, “Dare is the second intoxicating intervention to be produced out of the great split, and already it’s the first Human League greatest hits collection”. Greatest Hits. God almighty… You know what a Human League Greatest Hits collection would be? ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’. That’s it. Because it’s actually a song, though admittedly not a very good one. “Dare” also makes me angry at England, who up until this point has decent taste in music. It went to number one in their charts almost immediately and stayed in the charts for 71 weeks. Piss off, Human League, you’re scaring my cats.

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Guns n Roses – Appetite for Destruction

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Guns n Roses – Appetite for Destruction
Released July, 1987

 

This week’s review is brought to you by Dan Forrestal, a member of the Melbourne-based band Fourth Floor Collapse. The group originally assembled in Perth during the late nineties, but shifted across the country in 2005. Dan knows his way around several instruments and can craft melodies from raw musical materials. He’s no stranger to reviewing albums, and listens to hundreds of new releases every year. You can read his blog here or follow his musings on Twitter under the genius handle of @workingclassdan

“You know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby”

A few seconds into this album there is no doubt where you are. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ doesn’t just welcome you with one of rock’s greatest intros, it throws you into the deep end of G’n’R’s sleazy world of sex, drugs, and danger.

Ever since Elvis shook his first hip, danger has been a hot commodity in rock. And even though the “bad boys with a truckload of hairspray” act was getting old by the time this album dropped, with Guns you feel everything was somehow more legit. On Appetite, the dirt feels grubbier, the grooves are sleazier, and even the house they lived in was more debauched, criminal and filthier than Motley Crue’s similar group residence.

“Appetite for Destruction” is an intravenous shot of adrenaline, blood-pumping and thrilling, as good rock music should be.

‘Welcome to the Jungle’ itself contains many of elements that made Guns great; a thrilling start to this roller coaster ride, a giant rock roar from Axl Rose, huge riffs, guitar solos that are more than just flash, and a snaky hip-swinging groove. The lyrics take you into a society gone feral with the story of an innocent arriving in the big smoke just as Axl had arrived in LA from Indiana in the early 80’s. Counterbalancing that are moments of sweetness – albeit sweetness that quickly sours – but just listen to the subtle backing vocals on the chorus of Jungle and you know that someone here knows their way around a pop song.

“When you’re high – you never, ever wanna come down…”

This was a brief moment of sweetness for the band too. Everything was in place; and they were on their way to becoming the biggest band on the planet. Part of that ascent was fuelled by the way they understood image and the power of perception. The original album art was controversial, but the replacement was a masterstroke: the band members were instantly iconic enough to be recognized by their hair and headwear perched atop of skulls sitting on a crucifix – how could this not become huge? They had that combustible element of parent-baiting, teen-hooking danger.

All the band members make significant contributions to “Appetite”, this isn’t the Axl show just yet. Axl and Slash are the dominant players of course, but the album’s unsung hero is Izzy Stradlin who makes songwriting contributions to nine of the twelve tracks. Duff McKagan’s basslines add melodicism that goes beyond straight down the line hard rock bass playing. It’s significant that many of the best songs from the “Use Your Illusion” albums were debuted around the same time “Appetite” was recorded. The group was fully functional here in a way that didn’t last much longer.

The album kicks along at a fair clip, with punky kiss-offs wedged against epic multi-section singles. The ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ opening riff is as classic as ‘Smoke on the Water’, and its outro rivals ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for its dynamic and potential for air guitar. (They’d stake another claim for ‘Stairway’s’ crown a couple of years later with ‘‘November Rain). It also showed a softer side to the band – rockin’ enough to get the hard rock dudes, sweet enough to get the chicks, pop enough for radio and hot enough to scream them directly to world fame. Like AC/DC, GNR understood that the secret to crossover hard rock appeal is to get the ladies to dig it. You do that by creating a hip-swinging groove. They slow the pace a touch to let the band swing, then put the dirt into the vocals and the lead guitar.

‘Paradise City’ is another dynamic shapeshifter of a song. The verses are down-and-dirty boogie about “an urchin livin’ under the street”, but the chorus was the planet-sized. It’s no wonder the video showed them playing it to a stadium crowd of what looks like about 80,000 people. In an aside, my daughter recently asked me to sing her ‘Paradise City’ as a lullaby (classy parenting there).

It wasn’t all sweetness of course. ‘Night Train’, a song about cheap booze, was one thing, but when they sang about ‘Mr Brownstone’ you knew they weren’t kidding around. It’s one of rock’s great heroin songs and features another killer riff in an album overflowing with them.

Elsewhere, the album is held together by punk-edged hard rock tunes (‘It’s So Easy’, ‘You’re Crazy’, ‘Anything Goes’) that could have been forgettable, but there’s continual menace and energy around all of them that is inescapably infectious. If “Appetite for Destruction” doesn’t get your blood pumping you might want to consult a healthcare professional.

I can still remember seeing the video of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ for the first time. One early Saturday morning I was watching RAGE and I saw a man with long curly hair coming out from under a top hat hold his Les Paul up to the screen and play the song’s opening guitar riff. I remember not being hugely impressed until the song shifted gear after the last chorus and that hat-totin’ shredder let loose. It struck mecas being fairly heavy at the time and I liked it. When I borrowed a friend’s taped copy of “Appetite For Destruction”, the beginning of ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ slayed me; another great riff! It was such a relentless listening experience with the added bonus of being full of swears! After giving it few spins for this review, a lot of those feelings returned and I was reminded of the thought that I just had discovered music that was dangerous. The songs’ subject matter dealt with the seedier side of life – drugs, crime, booze and fast women -.which compared to the safe pretty-boy hair metal of Poison and Bon Jovi was straight out nasty. Although the tracks are all credited as being written by the entire band, most of the material came from rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, according to what I’ve read. If that’s true, it makes sense that the band went downhill after the “Use Your Illusion albums” in 1991. What I used to love on this album, I still love, namely ‘Mr Brownstone’, ‘My Michelle’ and ‘Think About You’. I’ve never really warmed to ‘Out Ta Get Me’ or ‘Nightrain’, but they’re still listenable. This is remains one of the highest selling debut albums of all time, and still packs a punch nearly thirty years later. Taking the primal bluesy-rock grooves of AC/DC and Aerosmith to mix with the punk attitudes of New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols, Guns N’ Roses made a record that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve.

Guns n Roses have A&R man Tom Zutaut to thank for their career. He signed them to Geffen Records after only seeing them play two songs live. “Appetite for Destruction” was a slow-burner when it was released and for the first year it barely sold. Video had indeed killed the radio star and the only way they were going to move albums was to get MTV to play the film clips. With their reputation MTV quite rightly didn’t want to go anywhere near them. Geffen were ready to pull support when Zutaut convinced head honcho David Geffen to get MTV to play the film clip for ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. He managed to pull enough strings to get them to play the video once, at 4am on a Sunday.  Despite all the odds thrown at them, that one airing was enough to light up the switchboard and MTV immediately put them on high rotation. The rest is history folks. “Appetite for Destruction” delivers exactly as the name suggests. For all of the sex, drugs and debauchery, Guns n Roses were phenomenal at what they did. Axel Rose was the charismatic front man. Slash was the guitar god for a new generation. Whilst there were other metal bands before them, Guns n Roses were the real deal. And they knew it. Even if you don’t like this style of music, it’s hard not to be enthralled by “Appetite for Destruction”. I was more familiar with the polished “Use Your Illusion” albums, so it was great seeing a rawer side to the band. Guns n Roses are definitely a band that is a sum of its parts, evident by the dismal offerings once the band fell apart. Songs like ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ still sound as fresh today as they did when they were released. It’s with good reason it’s the biggest selling American debut album of all time.

Is there a better way to start an album than with ‘Welcome To The Jungle’? I’d say no. Imagine you’ve never heard of Guns N Roses before. You’re in a record store in 1987. There’s a new record out called “Appetite For Destruction”. Sure, you think, I’ll give it a go. You take it home and put it on your record player. That guitar intro fires up. They’re not making any bones about what you’re in for. ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ sets the tone for the whole album immediately. “Appetite For Destruction” has gone down in history as one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time, and rightly so when you consider it has ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and ‘Paradise City’ (it was also supposed to have ‘November Rain’, but they decided against that due to already having a ballad in ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’). That’s not to say every song is a winner. I didn’t particularly enjoy ‘It’s So Easy’. To me it just doesn’t seem to quite fit with the rest of the album. Maybe it’s Axl Rose singing in a much deeper voice than we’re used to. The thing I enjoyed about this album is that every band member is equally important. Ok, maybe Slash is a little more important. The drums in ‘Paradise City’ are iconic, and the bass in ‘Rocket Queen’, though a much less known song, is fantastic. Also, those sex noises in ‘Rocket Queen’? They’re real. That’s Axl banging his drummer’s girlfriend in the recording studio. Totally normal. “Appetite For Destruction” is the epitome of sex, drugs and rock and roll. It’s one of those timeless albums that will always be listened to. People will always be discovering it and people will always be inspired by it.

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The Go-Betweens – 16 Lovers Lane

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The Go-Betweens – 16 Lovers Lane
Released August, 1988

Week 16 of the 80s bring us a little band from Brisbane, Australia called The Go-Betweens. Formed in 1977 by Australian song writing royalty Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, they were soon joined by  Lindy Morrison on drums, and later on Robert Vickers on bass guitar and Amanda Brown on violin, oboe, guitar and vocals. Wait a second, a female drummer and a female who plays the oboe on enough tracks they list it on Wikipedia? You bet your bottom dollar! If you are thinking we are in for something a little bit different this week, you would be correct.

The Go-Betweens have a really interesting background, which involved a lot of line-up changes, a lot of labels signing and subsequently dropping them and time spent doing the hard yards chasing fame in London and back home in Australia. The constants of the band were always Forster and McLennan. They released five albums before “16 Lovers Lane”, but I’ll spare you the minute details of those, other than to say that you should check out their single ‘Cattle and Cane’ from their second album “Before Hollywood” to get an idea of the genius of the band. It details Grant’s upbringing in Far North Queensland and is innately Australian in its feel. It also showcases how interesting the band was musically, showing the stretch between Grant and McLennan, but also the simplistic drumming style that Morrison brought to the duo giving it structure and depth.

What’s important for this review is that by the time they released “16 Lovers Lane”, Forester and Morrison had been a couple for 7 years and at the time of recording “16 Lovers Lane” had recently broken up. McLennan and newcomer Brown had also became lovers, with a lot of the album lyrically inspired by this new relationship. Morrison’s father passed away during the recording of the album, which meant she wasn’t around much for the recording. On a lot of the songs you can hear a blend of Morrison’s actual drumming blended with drum machines which she sequenced, which influenced the over-all sound of the album. The band had also just returned to Australia from London, with bass player Robert Vickers parting ways. He was replaced with John Willsteed, who is credited with giving the band a more commercially successful sound but he also caused a lot of tension between the band due to his regular intoxication and general disbelief in the band and their abilities. The expectations were high for this recording. They never had the success they had expected, overseas or in Australia, and the return to Australia to record the album saw them with some money behind them and a push to record a commercially successful pop album.

There’s definitely a duality happening on “16 Lovers Lane”. Firstly you have two songwriters, who equally write the lyrics and take on vocal duties. These are two guys who have been friends since high school, so there is that relationship that is very apparent in the recordings. You then have a couple who have recently broken up, evident on tracks ‘Love is a Sign‘ and ‘Dive for Your Memory’, and another in the heady beginnings of a new relationship, evident on tracks ‘A Quiet Heart’ and ‘The Devil’s Eye’. That sort of intensity will inevitably spill across into the music, which is quite thrilling as a listener. The addition of Willsteed added a new texture and pop sensibility to the band, and it added a lot of depth to the songs.

Whatever occurred during the recording and touring of “16 Lovers Lane”, and the theories amongst fans are rife, was enough to cause the band to crash and burn. Grant and McLennan sacked the band in December of 1989 and they went their own separate ways. They reformed in 1996 and recorded more albums under the Go-Betweens names, but Morrison and Brown were not to be a part of that.

This album is definitely a grower. I liked it upon first listen, but mainly because it reminded me of some of my favourite Australian artists, who were obviously influence by the band. After repeated listens though it’s charm won me over and I started to get why it is so revered by other song-writers. I’m not sure that The Go-Between’s were ever cut out for big pop success. Their sound and lyrics were way too smart and out of the square for that. They were at times their own worst enemy. They did however find their niche and to the people who love their music, they really do matter.

So I have a question. Did people really like this album? At the time, did people actually enjoy the work of The Go-Betweens? If they did, it certainly didn’t reflect in the charts, with ‘The Streets Of Your Town’ being their highest charting song at number 30, in New Zealand. People must’ve like them, because I don’t imagine I’d have to listen to turn if they didn’t, but I just don’t understand it. They remind me a lot of a less produced Clash, and I did not enjoy The Clash. I honestly struggle to find anything I like about “16 Lovers Lane”. The whole thing is fairly unremarkable from start to finish. It’s the same jangly guitar (Wikipedia even classifies The Go-Betweens as “jangle pop”. Ugh.),the same basic drum beat, and the same terrible vocals. ‘The Streets Of Your Town’ is the only song by The Go-Betweens I’d ever heard before, frankly I’d have been better off that way. I guess it is a bit poppier then much of the album, lending itself to commercial radio play, and it’s got a bit of a catchy hook, but it’s still an unimaginative snoozefest. “16 Lovers Lane” has forced me to bring out the old AFYCCIM adage HSP: High School Poetry. This album is like an homage to HSP. ‘In Clouds’, “once chopped my heart the way you chop a tree”. ‘You Can’t Say No Forever’, “You can’t say no in December a piano played by a child’s hand drifts over the verandah and I’m your man”. Come on. Some music “journalists” put this album at number 12 in their 100 Greatest Australian Albums book. You must be joking. There’s at least 50 albums that are better then this one. Thanks, but no thanks, The Go-Betweens. I was better off without you.

I’m very glad that we’re reviewing an Australian album this week. The GoBetweens are praised the world over, but I don’t remember hearing much of their music when I was a kid. The only song of theirs I was familiar with until recently was ‘Streets Of Your Town’, which is arguably the biggest highlight on “16 Lovers Lane”. A few years back I took a chance on the GoBetweens tribute album “Write Your Adventures Down”, which was made after the death of founding member and co-songwriter Grant McLennan. I really enjoyed it and I meant to have a bit of dabble through the band’s back catalog, but never did. I was pretty excited about spinning this record, as it always seems to pop up on album polls, local and international. The first listen didn’t really grab me, and although I enjoyed the production and the hooks of some of the songs, I thought the monotonous vocals let it down. The book 1001 Albums You Must Listen To Before You Die offered up the suggestion that this was “the most heartbreaking album of all time”, but it just wasn’t reaching me. After a couple more spins I was feeling that this was a record where you ‘kinda had to be there’. When I got to my fourth or fifth listen I started to enjoy it a lot more, particularly ‘Quiet Heart’, ‘Clouds’ and ‘Was There Anything I Could Do?’. The haunting final track ‘Dive For Your Memory’ is another song I really like, having first been familiar with ex-Custard drummer Glenn Thompson’s rendition of it from the tribute album (Thompson joined the GoBetweens in 2001 shortly after their reformation). It took me a fair few listens to start ‘getting’ this album, and I’m glad I persevered. Vocally, I can now appreciate the melancholy Steve Kilbey-esque, via Lou Reed, delivery and each subsequent listen has revealed new aural textures in the record’s sound.

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George Michael – Faith

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George Michael – Faith
Released October, 1987

 

This week’s review comes from one of our regular touring musos – Megan! She was a full-time member of afyccim in the 60s & 70s, but went solo to pursue other create avenues. You can see what she’s up to on her blog Homecoming or follow her on instagram at @homecoming_aus.

George Michael was born George Kyriacos Panayiotou on 25 June 1963, in North London to a Cyprian father and English mother.   As a child Michael aspired to be a musician and busked regularly on the London underground.  As a teenager he met Andrew Ridgely, who also shared Michael’s dream. Later, he commenced working as a DJ in nightclubs and at school dances, and formed a ska band with Ridgeley and other friends. In 1981 George Michael formed the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgely . The pair were successful from an early stage, with their first album reaching number one in the UK and second album spawning number 1 hit singles in the UK and US, including ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’. Releasing catchy bubble-gum pop hits, Wham! had a reputation for being clean-cut and  cookie-cutter, an image that Michael became increasingly frustrated with, wanting to be taken seriously for his craft. He commenced working on solo projects, including singing on the original Band Aid recording of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and releasing highly-successful solo hits ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘A Different Corner’. Wham! dissolved in 1986, leaving Michael free to pursue his solo interests. He commenced his solo career with a bang, recording a duet with Aretha Franklin. ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’ would go to number one in both the UK and US markets. George Michael’s first solo album, “Faith”, was released in 1987. Shedding his vanilla, boy-next-door persona, Michael re-invented himself as an adult, a serious songwriter with songs that were sexually-suggestive, emotion-filled and straddled important social issues of the 80s era, such as AIDS (‘I Want Your Sex’), domestic violence (‘Look at Your Hands’) and addiction (‘Monkey’).

The first single to be released off ‘Faith’ was the ambitious ‘I Want Your Sex’. It was made up of three parts (‘Rhythm 1: Lust’, ‘Rhythm 2: Brass in Love’, ‘Rhythm 3: A Last Request’). ‘Rhythm 1: Lust’, was the version released for radio play. The song was the first ever released to include the word ‘sex’ in the title and was initially met with uproar, with many thinking it irresponsible to be condoning promiscuity in a time when AIDS was a huge issue. The song was banned from airplay on BBC Radio altogether. Despite its rejection by UK radio, it still received significant airplay in the form of a censored version in the US, and eventually placed at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in August 1987. He sold more than 1 million copies of the single in the United States alone. The music video for ‘I Want Your Sex’ sought to clarify that Michael was referring to sex between two people in a monogamous relationship, and therefore safe sex, with him writing messages like ‘Explore Monogamy’ on then girlfriend Kathy Jeung’s back in lipstick.

In the year that followed, “Fairh” continued to climb the charts, fuelled by the success and controversy of ‘I Want Your Sex’ but also by the popularity it gained on the US Billboard charts with top 5 hits ‘Faith’, ‘Father Figure’, ‘One More Try’ and ‘Monkey’. It was the best selling album in the US in 1988 and has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. In 1989 “Faith” won a Grammy Award for Album of the year, and took home three wins at the American Music Awards.

“Faith” is a patchwork of multiple genres, including soul, pop, jazz, R&B and Funk.  I feel that placing the uber poppy and upbeat (title track) ‘Faith’ at the very start of the album was a very clever strategic move;  it created a foil to draw in the existing fans before introducing the more intense themes of the album, and easing into the more soul-infused tracks like ‘Father Figure’ and ‘One More Try’. It certainly worked on me, sucking me in and leaving me wanting more.

I was 2 years old when this album was released, and wasn’t really aware of George Michael until around the time of ‘Freedom’, in 1990. I’ve been introduced to his work through friends over the years and some of his songs are linked to fond memories of past housemates and good times. For as long as I have loved George, I’ve adored his ‘Blue-Eyed soul’ moments like ‘Father Figure’ and his heartbreaking ballads like ‘One More Try’. So naturally, for me the highlights of “Faith” are the softer heart-felt moments, rather than the ground-breaking, controversial songs.  Michael has a beautiful voice and to me it was made for these types of songs.

Overall, the album doesn’t really have too many stand-out moments for me. I think it’s because “Faith” really is an album that is contextual. The reason it was so popular at the time was because it broached taboo subjects, making social commentary on things that you just didn’t talk about openly in music – until then. That’s why it resonated with so many people on a global scale. A good album, but not in my top ten.

And we all thought that Wham! were big, huh? Their farewell concert at the old Wembley Stadium in June, 1986 was a massive event, and brought the duo’s career to an amicable end. There was no doubt that George Michael would go it alone, having released singles while still a part of Wham!, but little did we realise just how huge he would become. “Faith” was one of the highest selling albums of the 1980’s and yielded six singles; five of them reaching the US top 5. I remember when ‘I Want Your Sex’ was released and how much controversy it caused. Radio stations banned it and the film clip was rarely shown on TV; but when it was, it was usually edited. Rather than beating about the bush like most pop songs did (excuse the euphemism), the track lay Michael’s urges bare. This was also one of several cuts from the album where he played every instrument and sang all the vocal parts. The lusty ditty hinted at something of an image change for Michael and when the title track was released at the end of 1987, we were introduced to his new persona. Dressed in denim, aviator sunglasses and stylised facial stubble, Michael shimmied and shook his way through the music video strumming on an acoustic guitar. So strong was this image that it spawned many imitators and parodies. Despite a couple of dull tracks, this is a great album of its time that showcases Michael’s amazing talents. My favourite songs, ‘I Want Your Sex (Parts I & II)’, ‘Kissing a Fool’ and ‘Monkey’, all display a highly versatile range and style. Michael wrote all the songs on “Faith”, except for one co-write, and produced the record as well. His appearance at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992 proved that he was nearly untouchable, vocally, among his peers. He was one of the few singers who didn’t change the key of the songs he performed and his ability to emulate Freddie was unmatched.

George Michael was half of enormously famous pop duo Wham! in the early 80s. They released three albums, sold out a boat load of stadiums and then broke up so Michael could go solo. I mean, Wham! were super popular but the music was pure bubblegum. It was obvious from songs such as ‘Careless Whispers’ and ‘A Different Corner’ that Michael wanted to head in a different direction. Fun fact, those songs were billed as a solo Michael tracks on Wham! records – douche move mate. In 1987, a more grown up and sexier George Michael released “Faith” to great acclaim. Musically it was much more sophisticated, steep in soul and R&B. Lyrically it was edgy and sexy. Sex sells right? Certainly in this case. On paper I shouldn’t really like this album, but damn it if I didn’t fall in love with it. It was a good reminder not to write off music based on the things you think you know about it. Sometimes you just have to let yourself get immersed in the sounds and enjoy it for what it is. The writing on “Faith” is solid and musically it ticks a lot of boxes. Michael cemented himself as a brilliant musician and songwriter with it. 6 of 11 tracks were released as singles and they all stand up today. I couldn’t help but think of Justin Timberlake as I listened to “Faith” this week. Former golden boy of pop goes solo and does good. This stuff is manufactured for the masses, but every so often you get a gem amongst the piles of crap. George Michael deserves his place in this list, not only because he sold so many albums but because he is really good at what he does. I dare you not to want to get up and have a little dance when you listen to it. Now excuse whilst I go and recreate the ‘Faith’ film clip in my lounge room.

I must admit, I’ve made a lot of fun of George Michael over the years. Who can blame me really? He’s basically asked for it. Well, things might’ve changed a bit after listening to “Faith”. Probably not actually, but it’s a really good album. I’ve got a reputation as a heavy rock kinda guy, so I hope this review won’t damage my image. The album kicks off with the song most people immediately associate with George Michael (well, I do anyway). ‘Faith’ is about as poppy as you can get. It’s dynamic, energetic and fun. It even has some incredible playing for such an innocuous song. There’s a bunch of layers to it, from the vocal harmonies down to quick bass fills you barely notice. The next song was somewhat of a revelation for me. ‘Father Figure’ is a brilliant track, packed full of soul and rhythm. It’s this kind of track that saw this album debut on the R&B Chart at number one, making George Michael the first white guy to accomplish such a feat. Now, ‘I Want Your Sex’. If there’s ever anything in the world that doesn’t need advertising, it’s sex. Yet here we are, listening to George tell us how not everyone does it, but everyone should. Cheers for the advice mate. Maybe don’t look in public toilets though. Sorry/not sorry. Musically it is fun though, with some killer Latin beats. Apparently, George Michael himself played every instrument on part one of ‘I Want Your Sex’. Mighty impressive. Evidently I have to take back a lot of the things I said about old mate George Michael. I had a lot of fun listening to “Faith”, from the hyper title track to the old school swing of ‘Kissing A Fool’. He is an exceptionally talented musician.

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Faith No More – The Real Thing

faith no more

Faith No More – The Real Thing
Released June, 1989

 

According to his twitter bio, Mark is the following: “Stoke City fan, Dad. PS4 enthusiast. Watches far too little TV. Would be a guitar hero if he had time. Dual Citizen. Full Time Employee. Open University student”. He also wrote us a cracking review for Faith No More’s album The Real Thing. Say hi to him on twitter – @stokegriff

“Faith No More” were pretty much around for all of the eighties under different guises. Starting life in 1981 as a post-punk hard-core thrash band by bassist Billy Gould and drummer Mike Bordin, later adding Roddy Bottum on keyboards, FNM went through a stack of singers (including a certain ex Courtney Love) and guitarists before they settled with dress wearing monophonic Chuck Mosley on vocals and ex Metallica bassist Cliff Burton’s ex bandmate “Big” Jim Martin on guitars. During all this, they had somehow evolved from their thrash beginnings into a sort of funk rap metal crossover band.

Putting together their savings they were able to record five songs intended for their debut offering. Independent label Mordam records were able to finance the rest and released the resulting album “We Care A Lot” in 1985. They managed to get some airplay on college radio for the title track, which lead to FNM inking a major record deal with Warner Bros subsidiary “Slash Records”.

In 1987 FNM released “Introduce Yourself” on the new label, an album which many consider to be their true debut, largely due to the difficulty in getting a copy of the previous album. “We Care A Lot” was rerecorded for this album with updated lyrics and did become a minor hit on MTV. Unfortunately for the band, it was becoming obvious that front man Mosely’s behaviour was becoming very unpredictable, and amongst incidents such as falling asleep on stage and rumours of substance abuse he was fired in 1988.

With the majority of their next album already written, Faith No More set out on a search for a new vocalist, and hired Mr Bungle front man Mike Patton. This was a masterstroke as the band had not only found a singer whose attitude suited the style of the band; they had also hired someone who could sing. Patton wrote the lyrics to the tracks in less than a week, and FNM recorded and released the album which was to become “The Real Thing” in 1989.

Now the first time I came across Faith No More wasn’t until the beginning of 1993. A school friend had lent me his copy of the compilation video they had released on VHS “Video Croissant”, and I fell in love with them immediately. It contained a compilation of clips from their early videos right up until present day, and it was the tracks that were recorded for “The Real Thing” that grabbed my immediate attention. I had already heard these tracks played numerous times on the student nights at the local nightclub, but in a world with no YouTube or Spotify getting into new bands took time.

The Real Thing wasn’t an instant success. The first single and album opener ‘From Out of Nowhere’, an absolute corker of a track made a minor dent on the UK charts, and barely a scratch elsewhere in the world. A crowd favourite (well mine anyway), with Billy’s bouncing bass line, Roddy’s energetic keyboards, Big Jim’s chugging guitars and Mike’s vocal range,  this was a perfect introduction to the new Faith No More. Track 2 and second single ‘Epic’, backed by a grammy nomination eventually became the bands most successful song ever and put the band on the map. With its funky rap verses, sing a long chorus, and piano outro, also helped by a controversial video which sadly features a fish in distress, radio stations lapped this song up. Follow-up single ‘Falling to Piece’” follows the formula before FNM do a complete about turn with the Jim Martin written thrash classic ‘Surprise! You’re Dead’. Clocking in at less than two and a half minutes, Mike spits out the lyrics at a frenetic pace and gives an indication of the band we are going to see in the future. ‘Zombie Eaters’ and ‘The Real Thing’ bring us to the albums midpoint, and with their intricate guitars and atmospheric keyboards, they are in my opinion the albums true highlights.

The rest of the album sadly doesn’t match up to the first half. The songs aren’t terrible, but with a set of songs as good as the first six, they just aren’t as memorable. Concluding with an instrumental and a Sabbath cover, you have to wonder if they had spent their load and were just trying to fill the album up.

“The Real Thing” generally holds up well, and is one of my favourite records. Without the success this brought, they may not have become my third favourite band ever, or is it the fourth? Hrmmm.

Excellent. I’ve missed real rock music. Faith No More were a band that I never really paid much attention to. Obviously I knew of ‘Epic’, but that’s about it. I kind of lumped them in with that 90s alternative grunge scene that didn’t particularly interest me, but given the last few weeks on AFYCCIM, “The Real Thing” is a breath of fresh air. This album contains a lot of elements from a bunch of different rock genres. There’s heaps of prog rock, heavy metal, alternative rock and even some funk thrown in for good measure. It took me one full listen to “The Real Thing” to decide that I liked this album. But I’d 90% made up my mind after hearing ‘Zombie Eaters’. It’s this style of prog metal that I love. The acoustic guitar and synth string sounds in the background that builds up to a grinding, driving guitar and machine gunning drums. This song in particular makes me feel like I’m listening to a Dream Theater light. If I’m honest, the only thing I don’t love about ‘Zombie Eaters’, and the rest of the album I guess, is Mike Patton’s voice. It gets a little nasal at times and I feel like heavy rock like this needs a big strong voice. ‘Surprise! You’re Dead!’ was another ripper, and I’d like to talk about it more, but imagine my surprise when track ten starts. Generals huddled in their masses… I was not expecting a Sabbath cover! There’s a little something lacking from the Black Sabbath original version of ‘War Pigs’, a bit of roughness, but it’s definitely a serviceable cover, and a welcome surprise. I enjoyed “The Real Thing” more than any other album we’ve listened to recently. I was much too hasty in writing Faith No More off.

The amount of musical influences on this album is just staggering. There’s prog rock, jazz, metal, funk, pop, hip hop and possibly even a little bit of punk too. It’s quite hard to classify, and I think that’s a good thing. This was Faith No More’s third album, and the first to feature vocalist Mike Patton, after they fired Chuck Mosely. I only learnt this week that Patton had already formed Mr Bungle before joining Faith No More. He’s even wearing a Mr Bungle T-shirt in the ‘Epic’ film clip. I still remember the first time I saw that video. It was such an assault, visually and aurally, and I’m sure I thought something along the lines of “What the hell is this?” Right from the album’s opening track ‘From Out Of Nowhere’, you are thrown into their sound and left to navigate on your own. The mix of instrumentation bridges the gap between the 1980’s and the 1990’s. The pop/prog synth meeting the thudding slap of the bass. The harsh vocals of Patton, sometimes bordering on rap, lying on the funk groove of the drums and the nu-metal guitar lines. As Neil Diamond once said, it’s a beautiful noise. I absolutely loved revisiting this album this week. My big favourites ‘Epic’, ‘Zombie Eaters’, ‘Falling to Pieces’ and the title track are all as good as I remember. The two non-LP tracks, the Black Sabbath cover of ‘War Pigs’ and the smokey, lounge room jazz number ‘Edge of the World’ add another couple of dimensions to a terrifically diverse work. The cassette copy I had as a teenager omitted both of these songs, although I had heard the ‘War Pigs’ version before. However puzzling I found Patton’s vocal style when I first heard Faith No More, I just can’t imagine a world without him in it. His amazing range knows no boundaries, and if you’ve heard any of his throat singing on other releases, you’ll appreciate just how amazing that range is.

Welcome back guitars, I’ve missed you. “The Real Thing” was the third release for Faith No More, but the first with singer and lyricist Mike Patton. This album only just snuck into the 80s list as it was released in June 1989, but didn’t enter the charts until February 1990 with the release of the second single ‘Epic”. I was 11 when that song came out and I remember it very clearly from that time. We would get up early every Saturday to watch the video clip show ‘rage’ and record all of our favourite songs. It’s a weird film clip, flip-flopping fish and all. Other than Epic, and feel good hit of the summer ‘Easy’, I wasn’t familiar with Faith No More at all coming into this week. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Genre wise it’s pretty all over the place. There was definitely more prog rock than I was expecting. Patton moves seamlessly from a speak-sing/rapping style to flawless vocals, albeit with a slightly nasal tone. He does however sound very young (he was) and it is reflected in the lyrics, which he wrote in only two weeks. I was at times reminded of a youthful Anthony Keidis. I was impressed enough however to want to delve further into Patton’s back catalogue to see how he sounds once he finds his chops. The band is pretty strong, and you can see they had been playing together for some time. They know when to go hard but also know when to back off and let the music breathe a bit. You can see how Faith No More really influenced the nu-metal sound of the 90s. I really enjoyed “The Real Thing” this week, especially the tracks ‘Falling to Pieces’, ‘Zombie Eaters’, ‘The Real Thing’ and ‘The Morning After’. We could’ve done without the superfluous cover of ‘War Pigs’ though. Next up “Angel Dust” and “King for a Day”!

 

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Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

eurythmics

Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Released January, 1983

 

Eurythmics are one of the biggest bands to come out of the post punk new wave movement in the 80s. Their career has gone on to span over thirty years, they’ve raked in a bunch of awards, and were even inducted into the UK Music Hall Of Fame. Their music isn’t for everyone, but apparently it is for a lot of people. There isn’t a whole lot of history from when the band began to the release of our album “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”, but let’s get into it.

The Catch were the first generation of Eurythmics, a punk rock band formed by Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox after they met in a restaurant Lennox was working at. It lasted a year, during which time Lennox and Stewart became romantically involved and The Catch became The Tourists in 1977. They achieved a little success, releasing three albums in their three year existence, before breaking up in 1980 due to personal tensions and some legal problems. Lennox and Stewart broke up as a couple, but kept working on a musical project known as Eurythmics. They decided to keep themselves as the only two permanent fixtures of the band, using other musicians when required. Their first album, “In The Garden” was recorded in Cologne, Germany and was released in October of 1981. A crazy mish mash of electro pop and kraut rock with a bit of psychedelia thrown in, “In The Garden” didn’t achieve much in the way of success, but the debut single ‘Never Gonna Cry Again’ made it to 63 on the UK single chart. So that’s nice.

The pair moved to North Western London in 1982, borrowed money from the bank and set up a small studio. They began experimenting with electronic sounds in their music, recording many tracks, including the three singles that released that year, ‘This Is The House’, ‘The Walk’ and ‘Love Is A Stranger’. Sadly, they all performed less than favourably on the charts. Though they had the freedom to do whatever they wanted musically, they were also running the whole operation by themselves. Writing, performing, producing, recording, even lugging their own gear around.

Finally, the breakout they were looking for came in the beginning of 1983, when the released ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, with the title track reaching number two on the UK singles chart and the album went to number three. The album’s release saw the title track go from a commercial failure to the band’s most well known song, with the help of the exceptionally weird video clip, in which Annie Lennox looks a lot like David Bowie. I’m not sure if I like this song because I grew up hearing it a lot, because I really shouldn’t like it. It’s too synthy and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a ‘real’ instrument played on it. But I like it, which is more than I can say about the rest of the album.

Is ‘Jennifer’ meant to be a lullaby? Because I found myself incessantly yawning during it. It even has xylophone like sounds. ‘Jennifer’ only had 19 words. We probably could have done with some more so we had a clue what the hell you were talking about, Annie. Who is Jennifer and why is she underneath the water? ‘This Is The House’ is a bit more bearable. It’s driven by bass, which gets my tick of approval. It also features flutes and horns and even a guitar! Innovative! And there’s something about the Spanish lyrics that I like, somehow makes it more fun. I don’t love it, but it’s my favourite song on this album. The opening track is one of Eurythmics most well known songs. ‘Love Is A Stranger’ is an excellent showcase for Annie Lennox’s voice, which needs to be done, because the new wave sound doesn’t lend itself to melodic singing, more often sticking to darker, monotonous sadness. Apart from that, it’s really a boring song, that does nothing and goes nowhere.

We all know I’m not much of a fan of this genre, though weirdly, if someone asked me if I liked Eurythmics, I would’ve said yes as a matter of reflex. Strange, huh?

The success of the Eurythmics proved something many thought impossible: electronic music can have soul. That soul is mostly provided by the boundless vocal talents of Annie Lennox. Her strong commanding tones and flawless harmonies lift the music above the bland and robotic electro-pop that was dominating the charts at the time. No offence, Depeche Mode and Soft Cell. To dismiss this album as purely electronic would be a disservice, as there are touches of R&B and new wave pop as well. The other half of the duo, David A. Stewart handles most of the instruments himself, and co-produced the album in their ‘primitive’ 8-track studio. Except for the Sam & Dave cover, ‘Wrap It Up’, (one of the weaker moments, I feel) the album was also written by Lennox and Stewart. The breakout title track, and fourth single from the record, is easily the standout track. That memorable opening keyboard line married with Lennox’s menacing, but enjoyable, voice is one of the best slices of synthesiser pop the eighties can offer. The album’s instrumentation even influenced its cover art; with the middle of the design resembling the graphic display of the Movement Systems Drum Computer drum machine. The stylised ‘D&A’ logo also displays the control Stewart and Lennox wield over their music. I mostly enjoyed listening to this album, particularly the tracks ‘Love Is A Stranger’, ‘This City Never Sleeps’, ‘The Walk’ and ‘Jennifer’. The repetitiveness of the latter is something that I really shouldn’t dig, but for some reason I warmed to it quite quickly. I liked that the fate of Jennifer was up for interpretation too. Some tracks like ‘Wrap It Up’ and ‘I’ve Got An Angel’ fell a big flat for me. With this record, Eurythmics became international superstars, and rightly so. I don’t want to imagine a musical landscape without Annie Lennox. I recommend using headphones to find buried parts, like Stewart’s grunts in ‘Love Is A Stranger’ and Lennox’s flute lines in ‘I’ve Got An Angel.’

“Sweet Dream (Are Made of This)” was the second offering from the Eurythmics, although Annie Lennox and David Stewart had worked together in other forms before this this band. They were romantically involved but had broken up by the time the Eurythmics formed. I’m continually fascinated by musical couples who break up but continue to work together creatively, such as Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Jack and Meg White, and well, all of ABBA. There’s a closeness that seems to lead to level of trust, which results in music that’s risky, different and in my view completely brilliant. I was familiar with the big singles leading into this album, but wasn’t sure what to expect overall. Whilst I definitely enjoyed aspects of it and can appreciate the risks taken, it didn’t win me over completely. Favourite tracks were ‘Love is a Stranger’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’ (for the hookiest keyboard riff of the 80s). I quite enjoyed the lyrics and found they almost had a poem like quality, although they did spill over into High School Poetry at times. The album does seem to work better on headphones. Whilst I think “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is important given its placing in the synthpop genre, it really doesn’t do justice to the brilliance of Annie Lennox as a vocalist. The soul and depth kind of get lost in the bleeps and bloops. I do highly recommend her solo stuff, in particular the 2014 album of covers from the Great American Songbook, called “Nostaliga”. Listen to her cover of ‘I Put a Spell on You’ and tell me you don’t feel something. “Sweet Dreams…” is worth a listen to see what the fuss is about, but I’ll stick to Lennox’s solo stuff from now on.

 

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Duran Duran – Rio

duran duranDuran Duran – Rio
Released May, 1982

 

Duran Duran’s original line-up came together in 1978 when eighteen-year-old guitarist John Taylor and sixteen-year-old keyboardist Nick Rhodes (who changed his surname after tiring of being called Master Bates) decided to form a band. Together with bass player Simon Colley and singer Stephen Duffy (yes, THAT Stephen Duffy) the group began playing gigs around Birmingham utilising a drum machine. After about a year, Duffy left to form The Lilac Time and Colley also departed. Andy Wickett, formerly of the band TV Eye was recruited as a vocalist, and they also found a drummer in the form of Roger Taylor (no, not THAT Roger Taylor; and no, he’s not related to John either). By the start of 1980, John Taylor had moved to the bass, with guitarist Andy Taylor (no relation to John or Roger) joining after seeing the band’s ad in Melody Maker magazine. Wickett had also left the group, but they were able to enlist the talented vocal stylings of the dreamy Simon LeBon, before being signed by EMI. They released their first single, ‘Planet Earth’, in February the following year.

Duran Duran quickly became a household name in Europe and Australia, as they were seen to be the leaders of the new romantic movement. Their infamous film clip for ‘Girls on Film’ got banned by the BBC, which only helped boost their notoriety, giving the band their first Top 10 hit in the UK. This also impacted the sales of their self-titled debut record, which had been released a month before, and it would hit a peak position of No.3 on the UK album charts. Striking while the proverbial iron was hot, the band returned to the studio to work on their follow-up, “Rio”, and released it less than a year after their first album. It would hit No.2 on the UK album charts and go to No.1 in Australia.

I was already familiar with three of the songs, the hit singles ‘Rio’, ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ and ‘Save a Prayer’ and I’m a big fan of all three. After a few listens, I’ve come to love most of the entire album. ‘My Own Way’ was the first single to be released, and I’d not heard it before. I loved the track’s energy, and all those hallmarks of the Duran Duran slick and sexy sound. John Taylor’s vision for the band had been to combine the Sex Pistols with Chic, and this track has the attitude of bucking the establishment, with the polished musicality of funk and pop. That energy is present on most of the album with tracks like ‘Lonely In Your Nightmare’ and ‘Hold Back The Rain’ having potential for single release. Another big highlight for me was the eerie closing track ‘The Chauffeur’, which the band revisited on their 1995 tribute album, “Thank You”, by reworking the ocarina part into the song ‘Drive By’. That track was seen as an introduction to ‘The Chauffeur’ and it blew my mind, having not heard the latter before. There were only two tracks that I found unremarkable, ‘Last Chance on the Stairway’ and ‘New Religion’, but they’re still very listenable.

“Rio” not only unleashed ‘Durandemonium’, but it also marked the beginning of the music video revolution. Promotional films for singles were not a new concept, and had been around for nearly two decades, but they would become essential for any band after the launch of MTV in August, 1981. MTV would play a vital role in breaking acts into the US market. Duran Duran’s videos were cutting edge, portraying the group as international jetsetters, immaculately groomed and fashionably dressed, surrounded by beautiful women. ‘Rio’ showed the band on a yacht cruising around the Caribbean Sea, and ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ depicted LeBon as an Indiana Jones-type figure scouring the jungles of Sri Lanka. It is quite difficult to disassociate these images with the songs, as they are now so ingrained into our psyches.

Duran Duran’s popularity began to wane in the mid-1980’s, and after they recorded the theme song to the Bond movie A View To A Kill, they went on hiatus. They would go through several line-up changes and reunions right up until 2011, but the group never recreated their huge popularity that started with “Rio”. The record was included in 1001 Albums You Must Listen To Before You Die and hit the 65th position in NME’s 100 Greatest Albums Of All Time in 2003. It is regarded by many as not only Duran Duran’s best work, but one of the best records the 1980’s has to offer.

I’ve been waiting for this week so I could make a joke about Dann being “hungry like de Wolff”. Because that’s his name and I’m funny. Now we’ve got that out the way, let’s look at the album shall we? I was three when “Rio” was released, so I was really only familiar with the singles from 80s countdown shows. What I did know of Duran Duran was pretty hair, stylish film clips, and synths. Wowsers. I was expecting quite a bit of synth, being a synthpop band and all, but this was a bit ridiculous. I get that it was an exciting time with great new instruments and as many tracks as you want, but they pushed it to the extreme on “Rio”. I guess that was kind of the point of the band though. They were lavish and glamourous in all senses of the words. Their film clips were designed to be risqué and chic so they could be shown in the coolest night clubs in town. It was all about style and selling albums, with the music being a by-product of that. It was only after a few more painful listens that I realised that this was the same Duran Duran responsible for one of my favourite early 90’s pop rock anthems, ‘Ordinary World’. I suddenly realised that underneath all of the layers of synths, cocaine, scantily clad women and frosted hair tips there was a bit of substance to Duran Duran. After scratching at the surface and a couple of more listens I could see it, but I really can’t call “Rio” anything other than throw away radio fluff. I doubt I’ll ever choose to listen to “Rio” again, but if it floats your boat, good for you! (Apologies for the boat joke in a review about Simon Le Bon. My ‘Hungry like de wolff’ joke gave me a false sense of encouragement.)

Everything in me wanted to love Duran Duran. Their songs that I already know are huge radio hits. They had almost a cult following back in the day. I really tried, but, disappointingly, I really didn’t have great time listening to “Rio” (the album, not the title track). “Rio” was recorded just when several track recording was becoming commonplace. Suddenly you could have over fifty recording tracks! “Let’s use every last one of them!” – Producer Colin Thurston, probably. I guess with Synth Pop you probably can’t have too many synthesiser sounds, and I imagine if you’re a fan of the genre then you’re probably mental for this, but for me, too much of the synth covers what I know to be an exceptionally talented band. The title track starts with a frantic synthesised melody after suitably building atmosphere for twenty seconds. It goes through the parts everyone knows, and maybe that’s where it should’ve ended. It goes to a weird little breakdown, which is a nice excuse for a saxophone solo – it was the 80s after all. There is one thing that makes “Rio” much easier for me to listen to. John Taylor. My word, that gentleman is quite good at playing the bass guitar. He is outstanding through the whole album. Have a close listen, especially to ‘New Religion’. He’s doing everything; strumming, picking, slapping and popping. He sounds like he’s having a great time. It’s a problem for me when my favourite part of the album is a specific band member performance, which is the case here, because every song is so similar they all kind of blend in to one. I don’t know if I’m more disappointed in the album, or myself for not liking it. But good on them for not disbanding since 1978!

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Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

dire straits

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
Released May, 1985

Formed in 1977 in the UK, Dire Straits were five albums in when they released “Brothers in Arms” in 1985. Experiencing great success right from their debut release, they had millions upon millions of album sales before releasing “Brothers in Arms”. This however was one of the first albums that was to be directed at the new CD market. Hit single ‘Money for Nothing’ played into this further with lyrics that namecheck the newly formed MTV and a shiny pop video with revolutionary computer animations to maximise airplay on the channel, almost serving as its unofficial theme song. The album was a massive success, both commercially and critically. It is the eighth-best-selling album in UK chart history, is certified nine-times platinum in the United States, and is one of the world’s best-selling albums, having sold 30 million copies worldwide. What I’m trying to say is that a lot of people bought it.

Lyrically Knopfler sees himself as a bit of a Dylan or Springsteen, particularly evident on ‘Ride Across the River’ and ‘The Man’s Too Strong’. Unfortunately he often falls way short, resorting to High School Poetry that is full of clichés and bad rhyming couplets. Here is one such example from ‘Your Latest Trick’ – “My door was standing open / Security was laid back and lax / But it was only my heart got broken / You must have had a pass key made out of wax”. Another great example is ALL of ‘Why Worry’. The lyrics are so bad I refuse to sully my review with them. This is an album that featured heavy in my household growing up. So much so that I know most of the words to ‘Walk of Life’ without even trying. We would also play and rewind ‘So Far Away’ from me on a dinky old cassette player, over and over. To a six year old yelling out “coz I’m blind!” after the line “you’re so far I just can’t see” is pretty funny. We sung it so often that it’s etched in my brain and I can’t hear that song without mentally throwing in that line.

“Brothers in Arms” exemplifies the 80s, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. At times it feels really self indulgent, especially on tracks such as ‘Why Worry’ and ‘Your Latest Trick’. The musicianship of the band is undeniable, particularly the guitaring of Mark Knopfler, but more often than not it strays too far into ‘musak’ territory to me. The singles from the album that I grew up with gave me a false sense of security when it came to what I was expecting from this album. I can see why they would keep the slower, more moody tracks away from single territory as it would be unlikely they would chart.

In regards to their debut album, Rolling Stone writer Ken Tucker wrote that the band “plays tight, spare mixtures of rock, folk and country music with a serene spirit and witty irony. It’s almost as if they were aware that their forte has nothing to do with what’s currently happening in the industry, but couldn’t care less.” They continued this through all of their albums and you can’t deny that they do have a certain style, particularly in thanks to Knopfler’s unique guitar style and vocal intonation. Dire Strait fans seem to occupy a very particular niche, one of which I am very much not a part of. As the title suggest, “Brothers in Arms” is a very blokey album. It tells of men lost at the bottom of a bottle, the theme of war looming largely, the girl who makes everything okay, and all of it is set to a soundtrack of extended melodic guitar solos. Overall, the big singles really seem out of place with the rest of the album, both musically and thematically. There was a familiarity with some of these tracks that I was able to enjoy on a nostalgic level, but I really didn’t care for the rest. Geez I hope my dad never reads this review, he’d be gutted.

Dire Straits will always go down as one of the greatest bands of all time, and rightly so. Their ability to play hard rock, radio pop and beautiful ballads set them apart. In “Brothers In Arms”, the listener is able to experience the full gamut of their versatility. Sadly though, “Brothers In Arms” does not kick off with the start you’d be expecting from the band’s highest selling album. ‘So Far Away’ is a nice song, but that’s all it is. Nice. It’s thoroughly unremarkable, and, if I’m being brutally honest, it’s boring. Not something you’d normally associate with Dire Straits, but here we are. Fortunately, it’s immediately redeemed with the next doing, ‘Money For Nothing’. One of the band’s most famous songs, it features some vintage Mark Knopfler electric guitar work, in a guitar riff that is forever etched in the memory of humanity. The song tells the story of a working class man watching MTV and complaining that these musicians barely do anything and are rich and famous. We also get a little cameo from Sting, so that’s nice. Michael Brecker. Who, you ask? He’s the bloke who played that glorious saxophone on ‘Your Latest Trick’, and he’s apparently quite famous. Anyway, it’s the sax that makes this track, so soulful and deep, it’s just a joy to listen to. Evidently, this riff is the saxophone equivalent of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ in music stores. Don’t say I never teach you anything. ‘Your Latest Trick’ is definitely my favourite track on this album. Remember earlier when I remarked on Dire Straits’ versatility? Try out ‘Ride Across The River’. A song about guerrilla warfare that has a seriously Latin feel and even flutes! I’m not a fan of everything Dire Straits have done, but when they’re good, that were remarkable.

I remember staying up late (for my age) to listen to the nightly countdown on 6PM, just so I could listen to ‘Money For Nothing’. Co-written by Sting, it was my favourite song for ages, and I’m sure many parents have suffered through their kids trying to master that fantastic riff on the guitar. Lead guitarist and bandleader Mark Knopfler’s unusual playing technique makes this hard to emulate, as he doesn’t use a plectrum and leads with his thumb. Due to the time constraints of records, the vinyl edition of “Brothers In Arms” rang about eight minutes shorter than the CD or cassette. The differences include ‘Money For Nothing’ playing out to eight and half minutes, an intro and longer outro for ‘Your Latest Trick’ and three extra minutes of ‘Why Worry’. ‘Walk of Life’ and ‘Money For Nothing’ were the big hits, but ‘So Far Away’ and the title track also charted well in the UK. I’ve never thought there was anything spectacular about ‘So Far Away’, musically or lyrically, but it became a strong fan favourite, even making a couple of the greatest hit compilation albums. On the other hand, ‘Brothers In Arms’ is one of my favourite songs of all time, and was used to astonishing effect in the Two Cathedrals episode of US TV drama The West Wing. Knopfler’s guitar work is so passionate, and works brilliantly in contrast to his Dylanesque vocal delivery. The Dylan comparison can also be made through the song’s anti-war sentiment. ‘Your Latest Trick’ is another big highlight for me, and an essential listen for lovers of the saxophone. The remaining songs are pretty much filler, with ‘Why Worry’ the hardest, and longest, track to get through. ‘One World’ and ‘The Man’s Too Strong’ are also unremarkable. “Brothers In Arms” is still worth the price of admission for the hits though. It was the first album to sell over a million copies on CD, ushering in the age of the compact disc.

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Def Leppard – Hysteria

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Def Leppard – Hysteria
Released August, 1987

 This album is not available on Spotify.
It is available on last.fm.
If you were into downloading you could do so at your own risk here.

 

This week’s guest reviewer is Perth musician, vinyl enthusiast and professional appreciator Kieran Murphy. In addition to playing drums with Murphy’s Lore, The Murphy Brothers and the Wesley Goodlet Jamboree Scouts, he also fronts his own rockabilly band, The Rough Housers. We last heard from Kieran when he guest reviewed Queen’s “A Night At The Opera” Album from our 70’s list. You can follow his adventures on Twitter as @Desperate_Icon.

“Step inside, walk this way, you and me babe, hey hey!”

 Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” is a fist-pumping, gravity-defying head spin of a record. That it was made at all is a well-documented miracle. To follow up their third and most successful album, 1983’s “Pyromania”, UK glam metal up and comers Def Leppard reteamed with super producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, whose pop sensibility in a hard rock context had helped turned AC/DC from respected pub rockers into stadium superstars with the one-two punch of “Highway To Hell” and “Back In Black”.  “Pyromania” had bridged the gap between heavy metal and hard rock, Joe Elliott’s yelping lead vocals backed by impeccable, ethereal harmonies on tracks like “Photograph” had poised Def Leppard at the top of the NWOBHM pile. That’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal to you…

Mutt Lange wanted to recreate the success of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, having the same sort of impact in the hard rock genre, creating an album that could spawn as many as 7 top ten hit singles. What set Def Leppard apart from their hard rock counterparts was their collective love of British 70’s glam rock, a genre that combined the thrill of rock and roll with the catchy melodicism of pop music.

Pre-production had begun though with Meat Loaf’s offsider Jim Steinman as Mutt Lange had excused himself from involvement claiming exhaustion. By all reports, progress was slow as the band and their new collaborator struggled to find common ground. Then on December 31st 1984, drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a horrific car accident.  During Allen’s recovery and rehabilitation, Mutt Lange reclaimed the producer’s chair, armed with state-of-the-art drum programming and a painstaking approach to compiling tracks, layer by layer. Backing vocals that combined whispers, shouting and singing creating an instantly recognizable sound.

Guitarists Phil Collen and the troubled, brilliant Steve Clark brought old and new school sounds and techniques together on “Rocket”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Animal”. Other bands would kill for just one song of this calibre. Even one of the albums lesser moments like “Run Riot” or “Don’t Shoot Shotgun” are stronger than anything by Winger, RATT or Cinderella. I’ll save you the trouble of listening to anything by those bands.

Joe Elliott eased back on the histrionic vocal approach of the previous albums and his raspy lead vocals here are evocative. What’s more, he’s believable. Trust me, that doesn’t happen in hard rock that much. Combined with their almost Nordic, photogenic good looks, the mystery of a one-armed drummer and never-ending rotation on MTV thanks to single releases that spanned 18 months, “Hysteria” was a juggernaut that took Def Leppard to the absolute top of their game.

As lyrically obvious and cloying as “Love Bites” and “Hysteria” are, they’re no less effective at winning you over, while tracks like “Gods Of War” and “Armageddon It” help to create a pervasive sense of pre-millennial jitters.

Three years in the making, an unprecedented break for a major act at the time, “Hysteria” proved it was well worth the wait, topping the charts on the US and UK and going on to sell 12 million copies, Def Leppard were THE crossover act of the 80’s.

Listening to it today, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that it was immensely popular upon its release in 1987. It could have dated very badly, and in many ways it’s very ‘of its time’, but it’s cohesive and still kicks massive amounts of arse.

This is another album with a lot of memories for me. Again, I’m back in Albany, at primary school; and I remember the video clips and the catchy choruses, but now I understand the sexual innuendoes. ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ is nothing more than a hair metal booty call, but I recall seeing Def Leppard miming the song in a house that was getting demolished by very strong woman with a sledgehammer. Maybe the lyric “Demolition woman, can I be your man?” painted a vivid image in the head of the video director? Fun fact: fictional band The Archies used the lyric “pour your sugar on me, honey” in the 1969 hit ‘Sugar Sugar’. Lyrics are not the album’s strong point and ‘Rocket’ basically just name checks all their favourite songs: “Jack Flash, rocket man, Sergeant Pepper and the band/Ziggy, Benny and the Jets…”. I do, however, like the use of the word armageddon to mean ‘I’m-a getting’ in ‘Armageddon It’. The threat of nuclear war was still looming over us all in the late eighties, and Def Leppard address the issue directly with ‘Gods of War’, complete with a Ronald Reagan sound bite. One thing that really stands out on “Hysteria” is the sound of the vocal blocks. Together with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, the band have created a unique and distinct trademark that acts as an aural fingerprint. The chorus of ‘Animal’, the refrain of opening track ‘Women’, the shouts of “Rocket! Yeaahhh!” in ‘Rocket’; they would not be the same without those Def Leppardesque vocals. My two standout tracks on this fairly enjoyable outing are ‘Love Bites’ and the title track. They’re both cut from the power ballad cloth rather than the balls-out rock one, but I really like the melodies. I think the lowpoint is the lyrically weak and confusing ‘Don’t Shoot, Shotgun’…yeeeesh! ‘Women’ is a little cringe-inducing too, but on the whole, this is easier to listen to than “Back In Black”.

Ugh. If you looked up ‘cock rock’ in the dictionary there would be a picture of Def Leppard. They are by no means the instigator of the genre, but they twisted it into such a fine art that they epitomise it. The shear technicalities of this album are insane. Producer Mutt Lange really pushed himself and the band to another level of polished pop rock, not really seen before. Then there is drummer Rick Allen, who lost an arm in a car accident part-way through the recording, so he modified his kit so he could still play. That is not only insane, but a sign of the true genius of the band and dedication to the album. “Hysteria” was purposely written and recorded in a way that every track could be a hit single. To a certain extent that works. Every song hits hard with layered vocals, big beats and melodic guitar solos. I was familiar with a few of the songs from my childhood in the way that those big radio hits are tucked away in your brain somewhere… where you know the melodies and lyrics but you’ve never purposely listened to the songs before. Is “Hysteria” any good though? Well, it was all a bit too much for this listener and I had palate fatigue a few tracks in. Even after four listens I couldn’t really distinguish between the songs, other than the slower power ballads and even those sounded like each other. Lyrically it’s bloody atrocious. Back in the 60s we reviewed Leonard Cohen and I loved every second of it. Everyone else hated it and thought it was boring and derivative. I have a funny feelings the tables may have turned this week and the boys will all adore “Hysteria”. It was bad. It was so, so bad. I’ll be happy to never hear it ever again.

What’s that I hear? Over exaggerated snares? Power chords? Leather pants? Huge perms flowing in the microphones? Oh yes, the unmistakable sound of glorious hair metal. And in it, we have one of the best examples of glam rock in history. You’re in my wheelhouse now, bitches. Def Leppard came to prominence as part of the new wave of British heavy metal that came about when bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath started to decline. “Hysteria” was their fourth album and by now they’d really nailed their genre. I mean, listen to it. It’s amazing. From the hard out ‘Rocket’ to the epitome of power ballads ‘Love Bites’, there’s not a dull moment. My parents listened to a lot of Def Leppard when I was a kid, which probably explains my love for them, and there’s no doubt as to my favourite track. ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ is so over the top, so packed full of reverb and sexual innuendo and equipped with a killer guitar lick and huge driving drums that it takes me to my happy place. This song is so ingrained in my brain that whenever I hear someone say “Step inside” in my head I automatically respond “walk this way”. But it’s not just power, a fair amount of Def Leppard’s strength is in their ballads. ‘Love Bites’ is so good that it knocked ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ off the top of the Billboard 100 charts. That’s pretty good. It’s also, surprisingly, Def Leppard’s only number one song. ‘Hysteria’ isn’t just all out hard rock. It’s dynamic and doesn’t fall in to the all too easy trap of having everything sound the same. It is brilliant albums and bands like this that make me wish I played in a glam rock band. So much.

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