Return to Cookie Mountain – a Review


In a decade punctuated by revivals (garage rock, post punk) it is rare to come across a band with a completely original sound. TV on the Radio are one of those rare bands. Hailing from the same New York art/music scene as Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem, TV on the Radio’s first album ‘Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babies’ received glowing reviews around the world. The band’s combination of complex vocal arrangements, intelligent lyrics and industrial/electronic sounds, as well as a mixture of music styles, was new and exciting.

After a change of labels, the recruitment of new band members, and innumerable delays, the follow up to ‘Desperate Youth’ is finally here. The oddly titled ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ is a progression for the band in every sense. There is a greater variety in sound and mood, while the songs are more complex and, at the same time, more accessible.

The album opens with a sequence of songs that is as good as anything I’ve heard in recent years. Unlike ‘Desperate Youth’, which maintained a slow and ponderous pace, ‘Cookie Mountain’ features a number of uptempo tracks. ‘Wolf Like Me’ rattles into life with the force of a locomotive. Vocalists, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, trade lyrical blows over layered guitar and droning synths, until a shift in tempo halfway through the song ushers in a chorus of music box sounds.

‘I Was A Lover’ starts with a stuttering mechanised beat, wheezing synth and clanging guitar sample. The mood is dark and unsettling. The lyrics suggest paranoia and schizophrenia.

I was a lover before this war
lived in a luxury suite
behind a barricade door

Later, the narrator confronts a clone who ‘wears a brownshirt’ and whom he ‘seduces when there’s no one around’.

‘Province’ is a love song of sorts. Messrs Adebimpe, Malone, and a certain Mr Bowie, harmonise about ‘autumn leaves’ and ‘memories precious as gold’ over shuffling beat and sparse piano.

Hold your heart courageously as we walk into this dark place
Stand steadfast beside me and see that love is the province of the brave

‘Province’ is followed by another uptempo track, ‘Hours’. The song is deceptively simple – trademark vocals over crisp, militaristic drumming. Yet the space around these sounds is filled with hints of saxophone and guitar, glistening keyboards and electronics.

These four tracks set the musical and lyrical tone for ‘Cookie Mountain’. It’s a formidable opening. But by starting with such a strong set of songs, the band sets expectations high for the second half of the album. Briefly, it seems we might be disappointed.

‘Playhouses’, builds on the claustrophobia of ‘I Was A Lover’, with layers of noise, voice and increasingly frenetic percussion, while ‘Let The Devil In’ varies the template with the addition of a playful bass melody. The second of these, in particular, is more than a little laboured.

After this minor mid-record slump, ‘Dirtywhirl’ introduces another series of remarkable songs, each built around a simple melody, each given moments of light and dark. ‘Whirlwind’ itself starts slowly, just tambourine and vibes, before the drums kick in. The lyrics are ominous – ‘there is a murderess among us’ – with Adebimpe and Malone harmonising to great effect over an almost swinging rhythm.

‘Tonight’ is a quiet melancholic tune, with just chimes and electronics keeping the vocals company. The lyrics too, suggest resignation and decay, citing suicide, ‘dusty portraits’ and ‘blooms falling from the vine’. The third song in this trio, ‘A Method’, starts with little more than whistling and handclaps, before erupting in a storm of percussion. It’s a thrilling moment. Once again, the song is propelled by a simple, even naive melody, with each vocal or instrumental layer adding colour to the mix.

There are two more songs on ‘Cookie Mountain’, the sax and clatter of ‘Blues From Down Here’, and the apocalyptic drone of ‘Wash The Day’, but by this time the album’s worth has already been well established. Seven of the eleven songs here are exceptional, and only one (‘Let The Devil In’) is really less than noteworthy.

I played ‘Desperate Youth’ again after listening to the new album a dozen or so times, and it seemed somehow crude and incomplete. The basic elements – vocals, guitar loops and effects, percussion – were in place, but the songs themselves seemed a little one-dimensional. ‘Cookie Mountain’ uses these same elements to create far more dramatic, complex and colourful pieces.

It might be only be June, but ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ is an early contender for ‘Album of the Year’.

PJ Harvey on Tour – a Review

Not long into this new dvd release Polly Harvey confesses to hating the average live album or dvd. She says her aim with this dvd was to do something different, a ‘patchwork quilt’ of images and sounds. ‘PJ Harvey On Tour’ is certainly different to most other dvds of this kind, whether or not it achieves Harvey’s goal of making an authentic live document, rather than a ‘slick package’, is another matter.

The disc features sixteen songs from PJ Harvey’s ‘Uh Huh Her’ tour in 2004, representing, one assumes, a typical PJ performance. However, rather than just run through a show from start to finish, this collection pieces together snippets of different performances, even slipping from one to another mid-song. Interspersed with the songs are various behind-the-scenes clips – sound checks, rehearsals, interviews, backstage drinking competitions.

PJ Harvey has always shone as a live performer, and her efforts here are as good as might be expected. She swaggers, shakes, pouts, howls – in fact, the transformation from quietly spoken, shy Polly, as seen in some of the interview footage, to sexy, dangerous PJ on stage, is quite remarkable.

The songs from ‘Uh Huh Her’ in particular (which sounded somewhat muted on cd) are especially good. Other highlights include ‘Dress’, ‘Down By The Water’, ‘Victory’, ‘A Perfect Day Elise’ and ‘Harder’. Most of Harvey’s albums are represented here although, surprisingly, there is only one song – ‘Big Exit’ – from her most successful album, ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’.

While Polly is undoubtedly the focal point of proceedings, she is ably supported by an enthusiastic young band. Guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer, plays as though either blind drunk or in the midst of convulsions (or both) – he staggers, stumbles, falls over; while the Mohawk-haired bass-player, Dingo, stalks the stage like a man possessed.

Long term Harvey collaborator and director, Maria Mochnacz, has chosen to shoot the dvd in a variety of ways – fuzzy focus, grainy black and white, stark documentary-style realism. She also tries to capture the performances from as many angles as possible – front, back, above, below – even from cameras mounted on the instruments themselves. Altogether, this enormous range of shots helps to achieve PJ’s ‘patchwork quilt’ of images.

The only thing I did wonder about this approach – the melding together of so many different shots, from different locations and different performances – was the distance of the finished product from the original live show. The end result sometimes more closely resembles a promotional video rather than a live performance.

The ‘bonus feature’ on this dvd release is a 30 minute interview with PJ Harvey, during which she offers insights into the ‘Uh Huh Her’ project – recording techniques, artwork, working methods and so on. As Harvey has offered little in the way of such things in the past, it is all fascinating stuff.

‘PJ Harvey On Tour’ is an entertaining and insightful dvd release from one of the most original singer-songwriters of the last 10-15 years. Of course, it doesn’t come close to actually seeing PJ in concert, but then nothing does…

Belle & Sebastian at Thebarton Theatre – a Review

When Stuart Murdoch came on stage wearing a bowler hat and sipping a cup of tea we knew we were in for a different kind of rock experience. Indeed, given the beatific smiles soon decorating the faces of the crowd, and the warmth and good humour generated by Murdoch and co, we could have almost been at a Christian Youth rally. There was an intimacy too, with band members chatting amongst themselves and the audience – telling jokes, stories, borrowing cigarettes. Belle and Sebastian are the sort of band you wouldn’t be afraid to invite to your home.

The band opened with a lovely rendition of long-time favourite ‘Stars of Track and Field’ from their second album ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’, before launching into a string of songs from their latest album ‘The Life Pursuit’. While songs from ‘Pursuit’ provided the bulk of the set list, one of the pleasant surprises of the evening was the appearance of so many older songs – ‘We Rule The School’, ‘Dog On Wheels’ and ‘She’s Losin’ It’ among them.

One of the highlights was a lively version of ‘Electronic Renaissance’, which had Murdoch and lead guitarist, Stevie Jackson, pogoing about the stage like puppets. Another older tune, ‘Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie’, provided the band with a rare opportunity to ‘rock out’ (or as close to ‘rocking out’ as Belle and Sebastian are likely to get).

Of the new songs ‘Funny Little Frog’, ‘We Are The Sleepyheads’ and, especially, ‘Dress Up In You’ stood out, while audience favourites ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ and ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ also sparkled.

As principal songwriter and band founder, Stuart Murdoch certainly comes across as the ‘man in charge’. But one gets the impression that Stevie Jackson’s contribution to the group is particularly important. Apart from being a skilled guitarist, he also takes on lead singer duties for ‘Song For Sunshine’ and ‘Jonathan David’, while his unassuming Buddy Holly-meets-George McFly persona (and robotic dance technique) provides an entertaining focal point.

With eight people on stage, and most called upon to play several instruments over the course of the evening, there was always something happening. In fact, given the number of people and instruments squeezed into the space, it is perhaps surprising that everything ran as smoothly as it did. The evening’s few hiccups gave the band an opportunity to joke around. When keyboard player, Sarah, left the stage for a toilet break, Jackson entertained the audience with an impromptu version of a song called (appropriately) ‘Adelaide’.

After a rapturous response from the crowd, Belle and Sebastian returned for a three-song encore, which included an improvised (and dubious) version of Bryan Ferry’s ‘Let’s Stick Together’, as well as latest single ‘The Blues Are Still Blue’ and a soaring ‘Sleep The Clock Around’.

It’s not often that I leave a concert with a grin on my face. I wasn’t the only one. As the audience streamed out of Thebarton Theatre into the cold night I noticed everyone sporting the same blissed-out expression. It takes a special kind of magic to send people home in such a state, and Belle and Sebastian seem to have such magic in bucket loads.

I’m guessing it might have something to do with the tea.

The Generation Rap, Part Two

When I read my dad’s article there were a number of points I disagreed with, the first being that the idea that “teenagers must disagree with their parents”. It is true to some extent, but it was never intentional for me to disagree with my dad about music. I don’t do it on purpose… unless it is to stir him up when he is clearly irritable. For example, I have recently taken to watching Big Brother, not because I like it, but because there is nothing else on. And if Dad didn’t complain about how awful the show is I doubt I would watch it at all.

When I was younger I saw how similar my dad and sister’s taste in music was. And I don’t know if it was because I didn’t want to be like them, or if I just wanted be “part of the crowd”, there was just no way that I could have the same taste in music as they did. However, a small part of their taste in music has crept into mine. This has resulted in me being a fan of all sorts of music (not just rap) – The Beatles, Kanye West, The B-52s, Ben Folds Five, The Spice Girls, Bette Midler, Death Cab for Cutie, Kate Ceberano, and Eminem (just to name a few).

The other correction that I have to make is Dad quoting me calling the music he listens to “Dad’s music”. The term my sister and I actually use is “depressing man music”, and it usually consists of some guy, not singing, but whining, to a really awful downbeat tune. The music isn’t played quietly either, it blares and echoes from his room. I can’t provide an example of this type of music, as Dad doesn’t seem to have used any of them in his list of songs.

When Dad asked me to participate in his project I was more than happy. And when he asked me to provide him with a list of favourite rap songs I will admit I did choose ones that I knew he would find a challenge to listen to objectively. I don’t know why but for some reason I couldn’t help it.

Anyway, here are my comments on some of Dad’s favourite tunes:

1) Pixies – Gigantic

I don’t mind this song. It starts off well anyway with a mix of guitar and the tapping of drumsticks. I like the singer’s voice as well – it’s quite unusual and for some reason appeals to me. Although this could be because it sounds very similar to the music played on The O.C. The song becomes dull towards the end as the chorus is repeated way too many times, and I have a very short attention span.

2) Bjork – Human Behaviour

I have nothing against Bjork. I love her voice. It is so unique. The clicking mixed with the drums as well as the vocals makes a very interesting combination.

3) Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy

For some reason this song reminds me of my childhood. I don’t know if it is because of this, or if it is the combination of different sounds, but I like this song. I enjoy the sound of the voice and its echoes. I also love the rhythm. The lyrics are easy to follow and as I listen to the song I find that I am bopping my head…. that’s got to be a good sign.

4) The Cure – Love Song

I can’t like this song. It starts off well with the drums and the guitar but I find the voice so frustrating. A lot of the words are lost in the singer’s exhalation. It just doesn’t appeal to me.

5) The Smiths – Panic

This song is a definite reminder of my childhood. My sister and I used to spend alternate weekends with our mother, and when she dropped us back home, this song, and others like it, would be blaring from the house while Dad did the weekly ironing. I quite like this song. I really like the lead singer’s voice and the overall rhythm of the song.

6) Belle and Sebastian – The State I Am In

The fact that the song starts with the vocals is quite intriguing. The lyrics don’t really appeal to me, but I’m not sure why. I don’t mind this song, but it is definitely not something that would voluntarily listen to.

7) Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees

I don’t really know what to say about this song. It is slow paced and doesn’t appeal to me straight away, although I do like the sound of the voice. There is something I just don’t like about it… I just can’t say what it is.

8) Kraftwerk – The Model

I am sure that I have heard this song before. No doubt it would be due to the paper-thin walls that separate my room from Dad’s. The electronic sounds are different, although I don’t think I like it. The song reminds me too much of the music that my dad and his friends used to write and record. I know this is probably the sound that the artist wanted to achieve, but it is definitely not something that appeals to me.

9) New Order – Temptation

For some reason I am a fan of this song. It seems my Dad has picked a lot of the songs that he used to listen to during the nineties. I like the song, but I’m not sure why, as the singer’s voice really doesn’t appeal to me.

10) The Stone Roses – She Bangs The Drum

I really do like how this song begins. But when the vocals start I just switch off.

And that’s that! I loved Bjork, but I’ve always enjoyed her music. I liked revisiting some odd childhood memories. However, I am still quite disappointed that Dad didn’t include one of the ‘depressing man music’ songs in his list. It would be nice if people knew what my sister and I were talking about, rather than think we were just being disagreeable teenagers.


To read The Generation Rap, Part One click on this
link.

The Ear of the Beholder

Sometimes I really think that reviewers have too much power. I am still scratching my head over the Weekend Australian’s review (13/05/06) of the new Fiery Furnaces album. The reviewer, Elisabeth Knowles, deemed the record to be so poor as to rate no stars at all. No stars! Isn’t that the kind of rating you might reserve for a compilation of Duran Duran b-sides, the A-ha tribute album, or Ozzy Osborne’s covers collection? The worst you can say about the Fiery Furnaces is that they are pretentious. But to say that the album has no value at all is a substantial claim.

Personally, I find ‘Bitter Tea’ more accessible than either of their last two efforts ‘Blueberry Boat’ or ‘Rehearsing My Choir’. In fact, if you can get past the inexplicable mood changes, unnecessarily complicated arrangements and backwards vocals, the album contains some fabulous pop moments.

Reviewers elsewhere have also found plenty of worth in ‘Bitter Tea’. Uncut magazine’s four-star review sums the album up as ‘clever-clever, emotional-emotional avant-pop’, while Mojo gives the record three-stars and describes it as containing ‘soft-psych gems’ and ‘a lovelorn mini-suite of baroque synth-pop’.

So what are we to conclude? Am I, and many of the world’s music reviewers, suffering from some sort of mass delusion, or is Elisabeth Knowles the only person on the planet with properly functioning ears. The sad truth of the matter is that many potential listeners will be turned off by Ms Knowles review and miss hearing something unique, stimulating and, yes, I admit, challenging.

Quite often, of course, the opposite occurs. How often have you read a rave review, gone out and bought the record, only to discover that the album far from the classic described? Only a few weeks ago, in (once again) the Weekend Australian, Iain Shedden gave the new Vines album a rare five-star review. I was, quite rightly, suspicious of such a build up and thought I’d wait until I’d read a little more feedback before buying the album. Subsequent reviews described ‘Vision Valley’ as ‘mediocre’, ‘predictable’ and ‘mundane’. Not usually qualities attributed to a five-star album.

Perhaps we should be ignoring the opinions of so-called ‘experts’? After all, what qualifications does one need to review music? Or is it just a matter of being a little more discerning when reading reviews? A matter of reviewing the reviewers? What exactly should we be expecting from these people?

I would expect a serious reviewer to be familiar with the artist’s music, as well as the genre in which the artist works. I would expect the reviewer to approach the work in question with an open mind, and at least attempt to understand what the artist is trying to achieve. I would expect the reviewer to identify both the good points and the bad, and to be able to justify a particularly bad review (or good, for that matter) with well considered arguments.

I might be taking this all a little too seriously, but a review that offers anything less really shouldn’t be in print. Elisabeth Knowles doesn’t attempt to understand or analyse ‘Bitter Tea’. She doesn’t attempt to identify anything positive about the project. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she hadn’t even listened to it all the way through, such is the dismissive nature of her review.

She might have given her friends a chuckle by trashing the Fiery Furnaces, but a ‘no stars’ review of their new lp in the country’s national newspaper is impossible to justify, and probably irresponsible.

I’ll still give her one out of five stars for the effort.

The Go-Betweens and Me

in memory of Grant McLennan

Back in the early 80s the best place (or, should I say, the only place) to hear new music was local community radio station 5MMM (now known as 3D). It was where I first heard so many bands of the era – The Cure, Associates, The Birthday Party, Laughing Clowns and many more. It was also where I first heard The Go-Betweens. It was some time in late 1981/early 1982. They played two songs, one of which was ‘It Could Be Anyone’ from ‘Send Me A Lullaby’. The track reminded me a little of Talking Heads, one of my favourite bands at the time, so I went out and bought the album. I loved it immediately. The music did possess many of the qualities of Talking Heads’ early work – a certain naiveté, a spiky post-punk guitar sound, and unusual song structures. But there was also something indefinably Australian about the record; perhaps it was the rawness of the recording, perhaps it was simply the photos of suburban Brisbane on the inner sleeve.

I bought their following record ‘Before Hollywood’ as soon as it was released. It was a giant leap forward for the band in every respect – the sound was rich and expansive, the lyrics evocative, and the tunes quite beautiful. I loved the up tempo pop tracks like ‘Ask’, ‘Before Hollywood’ and ‘That Way’, but I also loved the quieter atmospheric pieces like ‘Dusty In Here’ and, of course, ‘Cattle And Cane’. The album was one of the best of that year, and I decided that The Go-Betweens were one of my favourite Australian bands, along with the aforementioned Laughing Clowns and The Birthday Party.

I saw them in concert soon after the release of ‘Before Hollywood’. They played to a packed crowd at Adelaide’s Tivoli Hotel. I found myself crushed against the far right-hand side of the stage, but still loved the show. The band stage dynamic was already established by that time – Robert the showman, playing it up for the crowd, and Grant contrastingly quiet and shy. It was the first of many times I saw the band play live during the 80s.

I declared each subsequent album after ‘Before Hollywood’ their ‘best yet’ – ‘Spring Hill Fair’ with its wonderful pop moments; the atmospheric soundscapes of ‘Liberty Belle’; the sunny shimmer of ‘Lovers Lane’; and ‘Tallulah’ with its strings and gorgeous vocal harmonies. For quality and consistency the band’s only rivals were R.E.M. and The Smiths, yet they were virtually ignored by mainstream Australia, who were more concerned with atrocities such as Moving Pictures, Pseudo Echo, Swanee, and (shudder) the Uncanny X-Men.

Despite the indifference of the mainstream, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, along with Nick Cave, Ed Kuepper, Dave McComb of the Triffids, and others, were forging a unique, distinctively Australian music. Inspired by the Velvet Underground, Television, The Stooges, Patti Smith, punk and post-punk, they took the elements of rock ‘n’ roll and bent them through a peculiarly Australian prism, utilising local landscapes, characters and situations. Grant McLennan’s contribution was considerable, his evocative lyrics rich with detail – mudflats and mangroves, butchers and battered wives, a house of tin and timbers.

When the band announced a new album in 2000, after a break of 10 years, I was not alone in fearing for the worst. What were the chances of the band regaining the creative spark that produced a string of such great albums? How many bands had reformed after such a break and gone on to produce material of worth? I needn’t have worried, for ‘The Friends Of Rachel Worth’ was a fine album, while last year’s ‘Oceans Apart’ stands amongst their best work. There was no reason they couldn’t go on making great music for as long as they wanted.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. With Grant McLennan’s passing the Go-Betweens’ story sadly and suddenly comes to an end, and I feel as though a little part of me has been lost. The Go-Betweens have soundtracked my adult life, each album linked to a particular period, each song evoking an image, a mood, a memory. Grant McLennan wrote a fair share of those songs – ‘Right Here’, ‘Streets Of Your Town’, ‘Going Blind’, ‘Bachelor Kisses’, Bye Bye Pride’, ‘Finding You’ and many, many others. They are songs that will remain special to me for the rest of my life.

And, I guess, this is how we seek consolation in a time of sadness. In the knowledge that Grant and The Go-Betweens will live on for decades to come – through their wonderful, wonderful music…

Just like the Fambly Cat – a Review








With the release of their album ‘The Sophtware Slump’ in 2000, Grandaddy were hailed as part of a group of bands (along with Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse and the Flaming Lips) rewriting the American songbook for the 21st Century. The band’s preoccupation with human/machine relationships and societal decay even drew comparisons with the likes of Radiohead. But the follow up, 2003’s ‘Sumday’, disappointed many, with its repetitive song structures and limited sonic palette. Given the promise suggested by ‘The Sophtware Slump’ the album seemed a sideways, if not backward step.

Three years on, and we have the latest, and last, Grandaddy album. The forthcoming release of ‘Just like the Fambly Cat’ was announced at the same time as the band’s dissolution. After 14 years of recording and touring it was felt that the band had simply run its course. Unfortunately, there is some evidence of that here. It is not surprising, given the circumstances, that the album has a fragmented, incomplete feel, but there is also an unhealthy serving of filler.

That’s not to say that the album is all bad – it’s not. There is, in fact, a far greater variety of sound and mood on this release than ‘Sumday’. It’s just that there are also a greater number of less-than-satisfying songs here. Two of the best (almost) bookend the album – ‘Summer…It’s Gone’ and ‘This Is How It Always Start’. Both songs are concerned with loss and dissolution:

Summer…it’s gone,
I don’t know where everyone went or where I’ll go
Summer…it’s gone
Now it’s clear that no one is showing up here.

And;

This is how it always starts
Order falls apart
Things were stable yesterday
But now they’re blown away.

Given the band’s decision to call it a day, the lyrics are especially poignant.

Elsewhere, Grandaddy demonstrate their more playful side while still addressing issues such as alienation and loneliness. The narrator of ‘Where I’m Anymore’ is lost in suburbia amid garage sales, ice cream trucks and exercise equipment. While low-fi rocker ‘Jeez Louise’ details a failed teenage romance where ‘your mom always hated me’.

One of the album highlights, ‘Elevate Myself’, opens with a Devo-esque riff before plunging into a stream of synth bubbles and electronic gurgles, over which Jason Lytle sings:

I don’t want to be a part of all the quality that falls apart these days
I’d rather make an honest sound, watch it fly around, and then be on my way

It’s a rejection of modern pop culture that cleverly employs a host of modern pop sounds.

Other tracks are not so successful. The largely instrumental ‘Rear View Mirror’ and ‘Skateboarding Saves Me Twice’ sound like sketches rather than fully developed songs, while ‘The Animal World’ is a repetitive drone. ‘Guide Down Denied’ is also dreary and repetitious, outstaying its welcome well before the track’s six-minute running time. And it’s not just this song that is guilty of running over time. The album as a whole drags on beyond the one-hour mark. The shedding of some of these lesser songs would have only been an improvement.

In the future, when we talk of Grandaddy, and their brand of quirky indie pop, we will refer to ‘The Sophtware Slump’ or ‘Under The Western Highway’, not ‘Just like the Fambly Cat’. But the new album is probably a fitting conclusion to their career. It’s jumbled, strange, scruffy, sad, sweet, patchy, moving, fuzzy, frustrating and funny – just like the band really…

The Generation Rap, Part One












Teenagers disagree with their parents. It’s a fundamental fact of life. This can apply to decisions about jobs and partners, or things as trivial as tv shows, songs and t-shirts. If the parent likes something, the teenager will not, and vice versa. Since the advent of rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s, music has assumed an integral part of a teenager’s ongoing battle against their parents.

My eldest daughter began listening to pop music in the early 90s, the era of grunge and the slacker. Unfortunately for her, I was listening to the music her peers were embracing – Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Nine Inch Nails etc – which meant she had to work harder to find something new, something that I didn’t listen to. So she went back to the 60s and early 70s and discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles and so on.

My other daughter, L, has not had the same difficulty. She has found a music all her own – hardcore rap. Angry young men with chains and tattoos and leather, singing about bitches and hoes. It is one of the few genres of popular music (along with heavy metal and all its sub-genres) that I just can’t stomach.

Of course, L is delighted by my reaction to her music. In fact, I am sure she deliberately plays it loud in order to get a complaint from me. She almost seems disappointed if I don’t complain. Conversely, she ‘hates’ everything I play. She calls it ‘Dad’s music’ and says that it ‘all sounds the same’ (funnily enough, this is what I say about rap music). I really don’t see how Belle And Sebastian, The Birthday Party, Bjork and The Flaming Lips sound the same, but anyway…

In an effort to try and bridge this generational void of misunderstanding I asked L if she would like to participate in a little ‘project’. I suggested that she give me her ‘Top 10’ rap or hip hop songs, and I would make a concerted effort to listen to them and try to see past the stereotype and cliché. I would then provide her with my own ‘Top 10’ songs and she would spend some time learning to appreciate them.

She agreed, and after much deliberation, gave me a cd of her favourite songs. I’ve made an effort to play the cd – without cringing or moaning, and with an ‘open ear’. And this is what I’ve heard.

1) Hilltop Hoods – The Nosebleed Section

This tune isn’t bad at all. Built around a nice flute/string sample and a catchy chorus. The lyrics are nonsense, of course. I’ve listened to the song several times and still have no idea what a ‘Nosebleed Section’ is. There’s some old fashioned vinyl scratching (surely a cliché by now) and references to ‘peeps’ and ‘bros’, but for the most part, this Aussie hip hop track is devoid of American slang (no hoes or gangstas). After all, Christies Beach (the home of these ‘hoods’) is hardly Compton or the Bronx.

2) Kanye West – Golddigger

The strength of a rap or hip hop tune will often depend on the strength of the samples chosen to drive the tune – their originality, arrangement etc. This Kanye West track uses a piece of old-time gospel (or something that sounds like old-time gospel) as its foundation, producing an unusual rhythm and rhyming pattern. It’s an original sound. The lyrics detail the exploits of the ‘golddigger’ who ‘ain’t messin wit no broke nigga’. She is ‘trouble with a capital T’, using her lover’s money to fund liposuction and dress like Michael (Jackson?).

3) Missy Elliott – Work It

I don’t mind this at all. Lots of squelchy synth, beeps and whistles, some elephant sounds, over a minimal drum track. Quite catchy. Missy seems to be rapping about sex. What else could be made of lines such as – ‘…put the pussy on ya, just like I told ya…’ and ‘sex me so good I go blah blah blah…’ Mixed in with the sex talk is a fair amount of nonsensical wordplay. It’s all fairly light and silly.

4) Nelly – Ride With Me

This has a nice, summery feel, some pleasant rhythm guitar. But it’s so damned repetitive that by the time it fades out you never want to hear it again. The lyrics are a mystery –

Fuck me good
Suck me good
We be them stuck niggas
Wishin you was niggas
Poppin like we drug dealers
Simply cause she bug mackin
Honey in the club, me in the benz

There’s something about drugs, and something about money. There’s a little sex and some violence. Beyond that I’m lost.

5) Snoop Dogg – Drop It Like It’s Hot

I get the feeling that this is some serious gangsta shit! Lots of violent imagery and talk of Crips, pimps and hoes. But then there are also lyrics like this –

So don’t change the dizzle, turn it up a little
I got a living room full of fine dime brizzles
Waiting on the Pizzle, the Dizzle and the Shizzle

It’s all very Dr Seuss. The music is also on the silly side, featuring minimal percussion, cheesy synth and mouth sounds.

6) Pegz – Back Then

Another Aussie hip hop outfit. Starts out with a nice jazzy sample. Like Hilltop Hoods these guys don’t attempt to sound like their US counterparts. In fact, if anything, they seem to deliberately accentuate their Australian-ness. The lyrics list lots of 80s pop culture events and personalities, but I’m not sure exactly what they are trying to say –

Back then wasn’t easy
Back then things worked out
Back then I wish you were now

Do they want then to be now? And which bits? The clothes? The food? Or do they wish they could go back in time?

7) Scribe – Dreaming

Scribe raps about his youth as a poor kid with dreams of becoming a star in New York. It’s a familiar rags-to-riches story about making dreams come true and never giving up etc. It’s a dreary tale over dreary music. Yawn.

8) Tupac – Changes

Whether or not you like Tupac’s ‘Changes’ will depend on your feelings towards Bruce Hornsby’s 80s FM standard ‘The Way It Is’. Personally, I can’t stand it, so that pretty much ruins the Tupac song for me. The rap lyrics are admirable though, in that they at least attempt some insight into the state of black America, rather than simply recount the rapper’s experiences with bitches or guns.

9) Eminem – Marshall Mathers

I’m curious to know who it was that first declared Eminem a genius. And I wonder if it was because of songs like this, which is simply a rant against anyone perceived to have crossed the rapper. Britney Spears is a ‘retarded bitch’, New Kids on the Block ‘sucked a lot of dick’, and boy/girl groups make him sick. He gets stuck into his mum, his ex-wife and her attorney, and doesn’t speak very highly of the gay community (to put it mildly).

And it might just be me, but doesn’t Eminem sound a lot like Donald Duck.

10) Eminem – Stan

This is a ‘story song’ in which one of Eminem’s fans, the titular Stan, kills himself because the rapper does not reply to his fanmail. This guy sure must think highly of himself to imagine that anyone would be so stupid.

The best thing about this (by far) is the Dido sample.

So there we have it. I liked Missy Elliott, didn’t mind Kanye West, Hilltop Hoods and Pegz, and couldn’t stand Eminem or Nelly. The rest fell somewhere in between. I guess, like any genre, rap or hip hop is going to have its good and bad. And determining what is good and what is bad, in the end, comes down to personal preference. I just wish that rappers didn’t do the ‘hand thing’.

Next month I’ll let my daughter dissect 10 of my favourite tracks. After reading my comments on Eminem she might not react with a lot of enthusiasm.

Fade to Red – a Review














For me, one of the musical highlights of 2005 was getting to see Tori Amos in concert. I was especially thrilled to be sitting so close to the stage. I was, in fact, so close that I could have thrown my underpants right onto her keyboard, had I felt the urge. Thankfully, there were no such ugly scenes and the evening ended with an unsoiled Tori and lots of very happy fans.

A new dvd collection, ‘Fade To Red’, will bring back memories of that evening for some people. It is a 2 disc compilation of most (but, not all) of Tori’s promotional videos, from her earliest singles, to songs from her last lp ‘The Beekeeper’. A collection of this sort can make for dull viewing, but for the most part, this is a visually rich affair, from the dream-like images accompanying ‘Caught A Lite Sneeze’ to the snake-dancing and rat worship of ‘God’.

Unfortunately, the collection also highlights the drabness of some of her more recent work. Videos for ‘Sweet The Sting’ and ‘Sleeps With Butterflies’ from ‘The Beekeeper’ are among the more uninteresting. Like the music itself, they really lack the spark and inventiveness of earlier work.

For me, the highlights are the videos from the ‘Little Earthquakes’ period, particularly ‘Crucify’ and ‘Winter’. Tori looks so fresh-faced and vibrant, with her flaming red hair and scarlet lips. She even manages to make playing the piano look sexy.

The real treat for fans is the Tori Amos commentary. It’s as idiosyncratic as might be expected. We learn about Tori’s obsession with Ann Boleyn, her experiences with e-culture and what is feels like to wander through a forest blind-folded. It is also refreshing to hear her admit that she has ‘no idea’ what the video for ‘Tallula’ is about, rather than attempt some pseudo-psychoanalytical deconstruction of the work (which features Tori in a plastic box, a couple of scientists and a tightrope walker).

Other extras include two ‘bonus’ videos and a short ‘behind-the-scenes’ feature of the making of the film clip for ‘A Sorta Fairytale’. This video actually features some of the ugliest imagery I’ve seen in a pop video. (Tori’s head has been grafted onto a leg. The singing head rides a skateboard, falls into the gutter, then hops to the beach, where it meets Adrien Brody’s head (which is attached to an arm). The heads kiss and live happily ever after. Creepy!)

This is an essential purchase for fans. The uninitiated will probably wonder what all this fuss is about.

Ringleader of the Tormentors – a Review










Morrissey has built on the success of ‘comeback’ album ‘You are the Quarry’ with his strongest, most assured, set of songs since ‘Vauxhall and I’. Recorded in Rome with legendary producer, Tony Visconti, ‘Ringleader of the Tormentors’ is full of passion and drama, and features a rich blend of sounds, including a children’s choir and strings arranged by Ennio Morricone.

The album opens with ‘I Will See You In Far Off Places’, with its rumbling electronic rhythms, Arabic motif, and vague lyrics about the afterlife, but it’s the second track, ‘Dear God Please Help Me’, where the record really hits its stride.

There are explosive kegs
Between my legs
Dear God, please help me

– Morrissey implores over delicate piano accompaniment. And later, over a shimmer of strings –

The heart feels free

Indeed, the album is littered with comments that point to a happier, contented (if not perfect) life.

Another highlight, the closing track, ‘At Last I Am Born’, sees the artist declare –

I once was a mess of guilt because of the flesh
It’s remarkable what you can learn
Once you are born, born, born

‘To Me You Are A Work Of Art’ and ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ are other tracks hinting at the possibility of love, albeit in a world otherwise bereft of goodness.

The latter song is a seven-minute epic that starts moodily, a throbbing bass over sounds of rain, and ends with clattering drums and splintered guitar, over which Morrissey intones –

Can you stop this pain?
Even now in the final hour of my life
I’m falling in love again

‘To Me To Are A Work Of Art’ offers a similar view of the importance of love in an otherwise bleak existence.

I see the world
It makes me puke
But then I look at you and know
That somewhere there’s a someone who can soothe me

Amid these more dramatic moments there are some fabulously catchy pop songs – the first single, ‘You Have Killed Me’, with its references to Italian film directors, ‘In The Future When All’s Well’ and ‘The Father Who Must Be Killed’, with its menacing verse and singalong chorus.

For me, the only misstep is ‘On The Streets I Ran’, a rather pedestrian rocker amid a set of gems.

Apart from this one track, the album exudes a confidence missing from Morrissey’s music for many years. Where ‘Quarry’ was tentative, ‘Ringleader’ is assured. And his voice has never sounded stronger. The vocal in ‘I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now’, for example, might even induce ‘I Know It’s Over’ flashbacks.

The reasons behind this newfound confidence might be numerous – a new writing partner (five of the songs were co-written with new boy, Jesse Tobias), Rome, Tony Visconti, a generally adoring press, the success of ‘You Are The Quarry’ and subsequent tours.

Or maybe it is just love.