Album Review: Iron Maiden – ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

A Matter of Life and Death.  Great film.  Seen it?  I expect not.  It’s not the sort of film that would be made anymore.  When it comes to Iron Maiden I’ve got to admit that I gave up on them after Bruce Dickinson abandoned ship in the ‘90s.  I was going in a different direction in my life so it would be unfair to blame Maiden entirely for my disloyalty.  However, the band did not make it easy for people like me – the fans who didn’t have the ‘Killers’ album cover tattooed on their backs.  Maiden stuck, AC/DC/Status Quo-like, steadfastly to their blueprint.  It was as if the onward progression of music could not be heard from the lofty, ivory towers of millionaire rock stars.  I like the sound people make when they take risks.  For better or for worse, at least the music an artist creates when he tries to break the mould is interesting.  I didn’t hear that from Maiden after ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’, and yet, for a while I still enjoyed their music.  Iron Maiden did themselves no favours.  They painted themselves into a corner.  Dickinson’s decision to quit was probably the right thing for him to do at the time.  Maiden’s decision to replace him with Blaze Bayley destroyed one of my favourite bands – Wolfsbane.  I had a ticket to the Wolfsbane gig that was cancelled due to the Iron Maiden announcement and I remember being in two minds about it.  I loved Blaze Bayley and thought he’d be a pretty good fit for Iron Maiden.  In Wolsbane’s early days Bayley looked like an evil, demented Bruce Dickinson.  He did.  Seriously!  He had a similar quality to his voice too, albeit eight octaves lower.  I completely understand why he jumped at the Maiden gig.  Who wouldn’t?  To be lifted from obscurity and get to play with the big boys on the world stage.  Yes please!  Except it didn’t quite work out like that.  Did Bayley make the right life choice?  Who knows?  Hindsight is always 20/20.

For great Iron Maiden albums you have to look to the period beginning with ‘Iron Maiden’ and ending with ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’.  Yes, for a little while longer they still chucked out a few useful songs, but, as the cover art began to fall apart so did their music.  Perhaps, when Dickinson was killed in an ‘Iron Maiden’ (a modern invention masquerading as a real medieval torture device) during a weird live/magic performance on TV, that might have been the ideal moment to call it a day.  I remember that gig, as friends who weren’t Maiden fans watched it with me.  It did nothing to convert them to the cause, and my abiding memory is of Dickinson’s grown-out fringe.  I never owned the Bayley-era Maiden albums and I only listened to them for the first time very recently.  I may write about them in a future post.  Maybe.  During my time away from Maiden I released my own albums and gigged around the country.  Importantly, my music never strayed close to the Maiden formula.  You’d have thought that I would have been influenced at least a little by one of my favourite childhood bands.  But no.  Maiden had become something of a joke and I steered well clear.  I’m being unfair in singling out Iron Maiden here as I pulled myself away from the whole scene.  The faithful stuck with their band and for that reason the tattooed-album-art-adorned ‘true fans’ would never really count me as one of their own.  I would however take issue with that assessment.  I am a fan.  I am just a discerning fan.  As a fan you are allowed to take issue with the actions of your heroes.  Life isn’t perfect – and it’s too short to simply follow blindly.

I was watching Football Focus one day in the early noughties and a goal was being scored to a soundtrack suspiciously like Iron Maiden.  With Dickinson singing?  Yes.  Maiden were back.  But I didn’t buy the comeback album, ‘Brave New World’ – at least not until much later. And I didn’t buy ‘Dance of Death’.  I did however buy ‘A Matter of Life and Death’.

I couldn’t resist ‘A Matter of Life and Death’.  Great name.  Great art.  I loved the idea of songs written and played with no concern as to their length.  Okay, it’s a lack of concern that can be afforded when you have a million pounds in the bank, but nevertheless, it was liberating.  Look, let’s not beat about the bush here.  I went to Maiden’s complete run through of the album at Earls Court.  I like this album.  A lot.  This is the closest Maiden have come to hitting the highs of that earlier period I was talking about.  The bloated follow-up, ‘The Final Frontier’, was the sound of a band getting carried away.  For me, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ was just the right level of self-indulgence.

The first single pricked my ears.  Iron Maiden using viral advertising methods?  Bloody Hell!  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button… no, wait, /checks the title, ‘The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg’.  A few monstrous riffs welded together like only Maiden can do.  A ponderous, beating heart of a song.  Not flawless, not even necessarily great.  But good enough.  So, what would the rest of the album be like?

The album opens with ‘A Different World’ and a song with a pre-chorus featuring backing vocals.  I like it.  I like it a lot.  Dickinson’s vocals sound back on point.  For a long while I thought he’d lost it.  Even going back as far as the ‘90s he sounded burned out.  For me, and I walk sacrilegious paving slabs here, even during the seminal ‘Live After Death’ album he was struggling.  He’s one of those singers that soars on a studio album, but can falter on the high notes live.  A song like ‘Run to the Hills’ was sung with a different chorus during the majority of Maiden’s shows.  You wonder why bands do that.  But they all do.  Including me!  I hit notes on earlier songs that I can’t even be in the same room as now.  There are workarounds, as Dickinson found (and Blaze Bayley didn’t!).  But you know what?  Watching the documentary bundled with the ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ album reminded me of what a phenomenal singer Bruce Dickinson is.  He is a total power house, and, in many ways his voice has matured for the greater good.  His voice is not ‘better’ than it was.  Nothing beats ‘The Number of the Beast’.  It is different.  It’s in a different world.  Thinner, slightly strained, but absolutely gargantuan.  Dickinson should be included in any discussion of the best singer of all time.  He would never win, ‘cause he’s ‘heavy metal’, but he should be talked of in the same breath as the greats.

‘These Colours Don’t Run’.  A punch in the face of a song.  The seeds of the song’s creation were probably sown after something Dickinson said in retaliation during the Ozzfest concert when Maiden’s set was allegedly sabotaged by Sharon Osbourne.  The song is actually more fully formed than a simple two-fingered salute and likely has nothing to do with the Osbourne incident.  It’s a good, solid song.  Marching drum beats and intricate guitar workouts.  I have read ‘clever’ critiques that say Maiden now march where once they galloped.  There is nothing wrong with marching.  What’s the point in galloping when your horse has died of old age?  You might as well just clap a couple of coconut halves together.

Next is ‘Brighter Than a Thousand Suns’, the album’s highlight.  This song is a superb, complex and heavy piece of work.  The main riff is a lumbering beast – the sound of a dinosaur being awoken after consuming a particularly violent curry.  Dickinson sounds out of control, barking over a 7/4 time signature that he seems unable to get quite right in his head.  The chorus, another of Maiden’s ‘let’s repeat the title ad infinitum’ really works, and is one of the best I can recall.  The result is a song that sounds modern – or dated, depending on your stance on prog rock.  It was the bright point of the Earls Court gig and the fact that Maiden can still pull off such a song is one of the reasons for their continued success.  In a business built on the shallow foundations of youth it is life affirming that a bunch of ‘old’ men can still produce music with at least of a modicum of relevance.  That this is one of Maiden’s heaviest songs is testament to what can be achieved by men considered ‘past it’ by the X-Factor generation.  It’s ironic now that Maiden once released an album called ‘the X-Factor’.

‘The Pilgrim’ opens with the kind of riff Maiden used to dine upon in the years following ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’.  I’ve heard rumour that ‘The Pilgrim’ was considered as a title for the album.  I’m glad they changed their minds!  Terrible, terrible idea!  The song is okay.  Nothing special.  The first trough on the album, but not a deep trough… and filled with wine, not dirty water.  ‘The Pilgrim’ would have benefitted from being lowered a semitone or two in pitch.  Dickinson’s efforts to hit the high notes here sound forced.  This criticism could probably be levelled at the whole album.

The quality is shunted back up to eleven again with ‘The Longest Day’.  Dickinson hits great earthy tones on the verse and the chorus is memorable – although it makes for exhausting listening.  Given the title of the song I think we can forgive it its meandering nature.  There are a few rhythms and melodies which border on Maiden-by-numbers, but overall it’s a worthy track.

The album continues with overlong, sometimes simplistic, sometimes demanding, music.  While it is true that the album could probably benefit from a thorough edit, I think it might also lose its soul.  What we have here is an album that, due to its very construction, will split an audience down the middle.  Some will love it and some will hate it, often with venom.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not the fans’ favourite Iron Maiden album.  The lengths of the songs have been heavily criticised as have their pace.  But we have what we have.  This is a weighty, thoughtful album.  It is an album that celebrates the whole concept of what it is to be an album.  This is a collection of songs that feel ‘right’ together.  This is a collection of songs showcasing great musicianship.  Most of all, this is an unrestricted, primal scream of emotion.  Yes, it would be more commercial to edit the songs down to nice three and a half minute portions that would fit in a radio-friendly box.  But that would be to miss the point.  This is not an album full of catchy songs.  This is not an album to put on at a party.  For the world to rotate, life needs light and shade.  For every ‘Thriller’ or ‘Rumours’ you need an album that provides the battleship-grey paint.  If everyone else is listening to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ on their iPhones, don’t fret.  Iron Maiden are still writing ‘War and Peace’.

Album Review: Yes – ‘Fragile’

Fragile Album CoverI have in my hands an album that was produced in 1971.  I know because it says so inside the gate-fold sleeve.  This album has existed for forty two years.  I’ve touched upon the reasons why I own this album a number of times before. To cut a long story short it was rescued from a bin and given to me when I was a kid.  Therefore it is the first album I ever owned.  The sleeve is a little battered, and when opened, the cardboard is discoloured.  But it’s here, in all its glory.  The song lyrics set out on the left hand side.  A booklet in the middle.  The song titles and credits on the right hand side.  The image on the front cover is, for me, one of the most iconic pieces of album artwork ever.  The album is Fragile by Yes.  I sit here with a coffee.  This seems as appropriate a time as any to remove this well worn piece of vinyl from its sleeve and give it another listen.  I suggest you all make yourselves cups of coffee too!

I have probably lived with this album longer than any other.  It is kind of ingrained into my soul.  Let me make something completely clear from the outset.  I would not necessarily consider myself a Yes fan.  This is the only album I own by them.

Fragile Gatefold

This is a strange album.  You have two different things going on.  As you open the gate-fold sleeve you are presented, on the inside cover, with a list of song lyrics.  The songs:  Round-about, South Side of the Sky, Long Distance Run around and Heart of the Sunrise.  These songs are the core of the album.  They are the meat and potatoes.  Then you have the other tracks.  For some reason each member of the band basically recorded a solo song.  So you get a song to showcase the keyboards, a song to showcase the vocals… etc.  This is self-indulgence of the highest order.  But then this is Yes.  A band who went on to record albums where every song filled a side of vinyl.  Here, on Fragile, we catch them just before they lose themselves in their own sense of greatness.  I will say right now that the four solid songs on this album are so great as to make this album a classic on their own.  Anything else is a bonus.  There is more to the story, for although this is not a concept album it is tied together so delightfully that it almost becomes a concept album by default.

The album opens with a massive backwards piano chord.  I imagine Fragile would work well played immediately after Sgt Pepper‘s dying chord.  In fact, after that final chord on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band you get that weird piece of backwards nonsense in the run-out groove.  There are similarities in that nonsense to much of the music on Fragile.  Yes seem to have taken some of the essence of that flower-powered Beatles album and ramped up the complexity.  This is a frighteningly intricate album.  We have musicians at the very top of their game.  One of the all-time great guitar players in Steve Howe.  The phenomenal drumming of Bill Bruford.  The power and authority of Chris Squire’s bass.  Rick Wakeman… yes, the flamboyant and highly talented Rick Wakeman, on keyboards – has there ever been a better player?  All completed by Jon Anderson on vocals.  Anderson is certainly an acquired taste with his penchant for a permanent falsetto.  However, I think his voice is the best accompaniment to this music.  The perfect marriage.

If I could choose a few words to sum up this album, among them would have to be the word ‘dated’.  This album always sounded old fashioned to me, even when I was young.   I imagine it would have sounded dated even on its day of release.  Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely complex, adventurous and in many ways ground-breaking.  But it still sounds quaint and of another time.  I suppose you have to bear in mind that around this same era Led Zeppelin were singing about Gollum and Mordor.  It was a time of drugs and fantasy.

After that initial backwards piano chord you have a beautiful piece of acoustic guitar.  One of my favourite sections of guitar playing ever.  Very inspirational to me.  Then we are into the first song, Roundabout, or Round-about depending on the variety of ways it is written on the gate-fold sleeve.  I think this song is one of Yes‘ better known tracks.  It is certainly one of the only songs by Yes I hear played on the radio along with Owner of a Lonely Heart.  It is hard to reconcile the Yes on display on Fragile with the Yes that recorded Owner of a Lonely Heart.  Anyway, I do not have to try and do that.  I am here to review my one and only beloved Yes album.

Roundabout is supposed to be the big single on the album.   A single that is over eight minutes long and not particularly radio friendly.  But then nothing on this album is radio friendly.  This is prog rock.  It’s too ‘clever’ to appeal to the average man on the street.  This is music for Oxford and Cambridge students.  And me.

The lyrics throughout the album are often impenetrable.  But I love them.  They taught me that songs do not have to have simple lyrics about love.  To fully appreciate this album however you are going to have to get into a mindset that accepts mountains, eagles and snow storms.

So, the ‘single’ finishes.  We are then greeted by the first solo spot on the album.  The mighty Rick Wakeman guides us through his take on Brahms’ 4th Symphony in E minor (Third Movement).  This is Fragile‘s first wrong step.  The piece may well show off Wakeman’s skills, but it does not fit in with the overall theme and texture of the album.  If I could jump into a time machine and zip back to 1971 I would tell the young Wakeman to erase the bloody thing off the album.  It is not bad per se.  It is just unnecessary and spoils the flow of a side of vinyl that otherwise sounds completely together – completely as one – singing with one voice.

Bloody hell.   I need a Jack Daniels after that.  Screw the coffee.  Lots of ice, better make sure I don’t spill it over my computer!

In the wake of Wakeman’s solo spot we have Anderson’s.  A song built around the foibles of his unique voice.  A huge leap from Wakeman’s, this piece has a right to exist on this album.  We Have Heaven works perfectly in the context of the ‘strange’ atmosphere created by the main songs on the album.  Loop after loop of Anderson’s vocals.  Layers which become increasingly garbled to the point of noise.  Then…

A slammed door.  Footsteps between the speakers accentuating the S T E R E O.  Then a distant explosion.  The wind starts.  You begin to physically feel  cold.  The drums kick in.  A grindingly heavy riff churns and that unique vocal re-enters the scene of the crime to continue the unified sound of this great journey.  South Side of the Sky is a superb song.

“the moments seemed lost in all the noise

a snow storm a stimulating voice

of warmth of the sky of warmth when you die

were we ever warmer on that day a million miles away

we seemed from all of eternity”

After slating Mr Rick Wakeman I now have to applaud him.  Two minutes into South Side of the Sky Rick Wakeman comes into his own with some outstanding piano playing.  Piano and cold wind.  I defy anyone to listen to the middle section of South Side of the Sky and not want to grab Wakeman and give him a kiss.  Amazing melodies. Complex.  Then the drums enter.  Fabulous jazz drums.  And those silky smooth vocals.  The song becomes a tour de force of conceptual music and mathematical harmonies.  Moments on this album would fit perfectly with what Brian Wilson was doing around the time of Pet Sounds.  Then the song kicks back in with riffs so heavy they would have given Black Sabbath a run for their money.  South Side of the Sky is oh so good you just wonder how they will follow it.  And they don’t.  The side of vinyl ends.  I need to turn the record over.  Time for another swig of Jack Daniels.

Fragile Vinyl

Side 2 starts with another solo piece.  This time built around the whims of drummer Bill Bruford.  It’s okay.  I appreciate the skill.  But really, it’s thirty seven seconds of unnecessary sound.  It doesn’t help progress the album.  It stands out a bit and distracts.  However, having lived my whole life with that piece of music stuck there at the beginning of side 2 I suppose I might miss it if it were gone.  Or not…

Long Distance Runaround.  Another of the album’s proper songs.  More sensational lyrics.  Lyrics I didn’t really understand when I was younger.  I was used to ‘pop’ lyrics.  Fragile‘s lyrics sound ‘quaint’ in comparison.  A noticeable element of this album’s impact is just how powerful the ‘riffs’ are.  This is an album built on strong melody lines.  There are few thrashed chords.  Listen… especially to Long Distance Runaround, and you’ll hear what I mean.

I’m enjoying a JD with ice.  As we enter the realms of Fish, Chris Squire’s bass guitar song.  The song makes its entrance slowly – like Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia.  It works just fine in the context of the album and you would be hard pressed to notice that it is supposed to be a showcase of all the different sounds of the bass guitar.  That should never have been the purpose in the first place!  Talk about ways to spoil a classic album!

Fish is followed by the final solo spot, and the penultimate song, Mood for a Day.  This is an acoustic guitar piece played by Steve Howe.  It is stunning.  No more really needs to be said.  But I’ll say some anyway.  My favourite part is at 1:27 where Howe plays one of the most memorable guitar lines of all time.  Perfect.  Just perfect.  I love how I can hear Howe breathing as he plays.  The piece actually reminds me of Dee by Randy Rhoads, another fine guitar player.  There should always be room for a spot of acoustic guitar on an album.  Just lovely.

Then my fine people.  Then… oh my do we have a treat for you.  The final song.  The best song on the album.  Yes‘ best ever song?  I can’t really be the judge of that since I don’t have enough terms of reference.  But if they have written a better song it must be mind-blowing!!!

Heart of the Sunrise is one of my favourite songs of all time.  One of the most powerful intros you will ever hear.  It out ‘thrashes’ a thrash band.   It out ‘deaths’ Cannibal Corpse.  It out ‘metals’ Spinal Tap.  It just kills.  Then we fall off a cliff into another superb riff.  The time signatures mess with your brain.  Wakeman’s keyboards layer in heart-wrenching, cinematic agony.  Bruford plays some of the best drums I’ve ever heard.  He reminds me a little here of Bill Ward.  Solid and yet on a different planet.  The guitar lines weave back in.  We hit two minutes and our heads hurt!  That riff again!  Like a brick to your brain!  How the hell did they even play it?  Their fingers must have been on fire!  Yes, over the last forty years music has been progressed further.  Louder, stronger, faster, more difficult.  But this song still stands tall above all others.  I think a lot of bands have this song on their turntables… like an obelisk.  They pray.

Three and a half minutes in and the song takes a turn.  Anderson enters with his best vocals of the album.  Beautiful.  Windswept.  Epic.  How long did it take for me to say ‘epic’?!?  This song is the definition of EPIC.  I’ve mentioned it before.  I told you to listen to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son to hear EPIC.  Well… scrub that.  Listen to Heart of the Sunrise.  This song is so good it alone makes Fragile an essential purchase.  I don’t know that I can listen to any more Yes – because I’m pretty sure it will seem insignificant after my years of listening to Heart of the Sunrise.  I keep hearing new things.  Just when I think the drums are the best thing, I hear a new bit of bass guitar.  Or I hear a bit of guitar that I’d previously missed.  Then Wakeman plays something and reminds me that he’s there!  These musicians are so at the top of their game that it makes you feel absolutely inferior if you too are a musician.  Every musician except me that is!  I know I could take them! 😉

Towards the end of the song Jon Anderson soars.  He sings so high and so true he sounds like an angel.  You almost feel you are lifting off your chair.  (Or that you’ve drunk too much Jack Daniels.)

Fragile Rear CoverThe door opens again.  You know, the door that slammed closed earlier.  We Have Heaven is back again.  Just to complete the ‘theme’.  The concept album.

The classic album cover by Roger Dean just adds more fruit to the pie.  This is an album you could listen to before you die.

If I could knock off Wakeman’s Cans and Brahms and Bruford’s Five Percent for Nothing then this would be a ten out of ten album.  Perhaps it still is?  Look, I admit that Fragile might be a step too far for some of you.  Although it is an elegant, intelligent, thoughtful, precise, exceptionally played album – it is also a difficult listen.  Perhaps you just need to give it a chance?  Go on.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Album Review: Iron Maiden – ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’

25 years since Iron Maiden‘s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.  Bloody Hell?!?  Where did time go?  Where did my life go?  Ha ha!  Anyway… Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.  An important album for me.  Maybe THE most important album of my entire life.  This album made me the man I am today (that is meant in a positive way!).

I was at school.  A friend in my class suggested I listen to Seventh Son.  I think his sister had bought it.  I actually bumped into that friend relatively recently after not having seen him for twenty-odd years.  We exchanged pleasantries.  I didn’t remind him of his album recommendation.  He probably wouldn’t have remembered and I’d have just felt stupid.  Besides, it wasn’t an important moment for him.  It was nothing for him…  but eventually everything for me.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is an album I have wanted to review and ‘push’ on other people for a long time.  However I could never find a reason.  A ‘review’ of this album would seem a little ‘out of nowhere’ and unnecessary.  But today I just read a tweet mentioning that the album is twenty-five years old.  So why not!

SSOASS (see what I did there!) is Maiden‘s seventh album.  It kind of ended a run of ‘classic’ albums.  Starting with the Di’anno sung Iron Maiden and Killers through the ‘classic period’ albums including Powerslave, into the slightly tired Somewhere in Time.  Each of those albums warrant thousands of words in their own right.  But safe to say that Iron Maiden‘s album, tour, album, tour, album, tour schedule had left the band a little burned out by the late eighties.  All Maiden fans have their favourite album and their favourite period.  Many will in fact cite Somewhere in Time as the best album – that’s the power of Maiden.  For me however, that sixth studio album got a lot of things wrong.  Of course, I come to all these conclusions in hindsight.  SSOASS was my first Maiden album, my introduction – bought on cassette!  Therefore the very first thing I ever heard by Maiden was the acoustic intro of this album.  Very, very unrepresentative of Iron Maiden.  But there you go.  That’s life!

Thinking back, what first struck me was the ‘weirdness’ of Bruce Dickinson’s voice.  THAT vocal!  That strange, effortless vibrato.  Remember, I was coming from a position of listening to A-ha.  Actually, that’s a bit disingenuous.  I wasn’t really into music at all.  In any case, A-ha were great!  They will probably get a ten thousand word essay from me at another time.  What was I saying?  Yes… Bruce Dickinson’s voice, to the uninitiated is something to be pondered.  But once you’ve taken it in you just have to appreciate the sheer wonder of it.  His voice is an instrument.  Yes, I know a lot of people SAY that.  “My voice is an instrument.”  But, really, that’s bollocks.  Dickinson’s voice is the real deal though.  Just listen to this album.  It is a marvel.  The eighth wonder of the modern world.  Now, during live performances around this era (the Maiden England gig/video for example) Dickinson’s voice was shot.  Totally ripped to hell.  But on album he was still a god.

“Seven deadly sins

Seven ways to win

Seven holy paths to hell

And your trip begins…”

Moonchild, the first track on the album, kicks in.  A magnificent opening.  A great showcase for the epic bombast of the frowned upon power chord.  When Dickinson enters with his first words he pierces you to your heart.  He growls, and yet has a crystal clear voice which could shatter a chandelier.  Moonchild, based on the works of Aleister Crowley gives you a taste of what to expect from this album.  This is a work laced in mysticism and witchcraft.  If you like Hammer Horror (I do!) then you’ll love this album.  This is a concept album.  Yes, I know, the songs don’t necessarily tell a complete story.  But it is a concept album.  There is a consistency.  It’s like the argument as to whether Sgt Pepper is a ‘concept album’.  What is a concept album exactly?  Well, if the songs flow, and feel connected then that is the concept right there.  Feed the donkey.

Bruce sounds deranged.  He cackles.  Before we know it we’re listening to Infinite Dreams.  This is one of the first songs I ever learned on the guitar and I can still play it to this day.  I can also sing it absolutely off by heart.  I can recite the lyrics word for word, even after years of not having listened to it.  Great lyrical lyrics.  This isn’t an album to play in your car while you make the suspension go up and down at the traffic lights.  This is an album to learn from.  Does anyone still appreciate that sentiment?

Adrian Smith’s guitar playing on this album deserves a special mention.  He actually became so disillusioned he ended up leaving, but here, he sounds great.  He always brought something else to the party.  Dave Murray’s signature ‘ultra-fast-widdle’tm may be the defining feature of Maiden’s music, but Smith brought some thoughtful, technically precise playing to the forefront.  He was later replaced by the opposite kind of guitar player in Janick Gers – but, again, that’s a subject that warrants its own dissertation!

Can I Play With Madness?  Maiden‘s best hit single?  Maybe?  No.  It is.  Fact.  Forget Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter.  I’m still embarrassed about that song even now.  Mention Iron Maiden and the ‘common person’ will think Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter.  Arrrghh.  I could pull my hair out I really could.  Please understand, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with BYDTTS (see what I did there again! 😉 )… it was a song written by Dickinson for A Nightmare on Elm Street.  It was a solo track.  It was supposed to be a ‘funny’ song for a silly horror film.  But apparently bass player, Steve Harris (Harris IS Iron Maiden) heard it and thought ‘I want that for Maiden‘.  Now, when it comes to Maiden, Harris is rarely wrong.  That is how they became the best  Heavy Metal band in the world.  But this decision was wrong.  BYDTTS should never have been a Maiden song.  It has made it difficult for me to talk in a serious manner about them ever since.  Honestly… kids at school mocked me.  Members of my own bands laughed at me.  It did Maiden no favours… yes, yes, apart from a number one hit single.  So, again, where was I?  Oh yes, Can I Play With Madness?.  Yes, a great single.  Quite unlike Maiden to start a song with a burst of the chorus vocal.  They must have been aware of the significance of this song even as they were writing it.  I love the song.  I hear new things in it all the time.  Layers of sound.  The whole album is like that.  Layers.  I would say like an onion… but what does that really mean?  Perhaps if an album made your eyes sting you could truly draw the comparison.

The Evil That Men Do.  Great intro guitar line.  De de de.  Nicko McBrain’s right foot on that bass drum pedal.  Awesome.  One of the greatest drummers of all time. Another galloping beat, a stampeding bass.  More of Dickinson’s growl.  Then into the chorus where Dickinson displays his famous ‘air-raid siren’ voice.  Another song that I love and admire.  The lyrics are just superb.  The lyrics throughout the album are intelligent and memorable.  “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”  Shakespeare.  Maiden are the most well-read of bands.  Sometimes too much so.  After reading a book, Steve Harris seems compelled to write a bloody song about it.  This habit has had a few embarrassing results.  A few horribly drawn out, meandering ‘epic’ songs.  But not here.  No no no.  The title track is the defining moment of the album…

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.  Okay, Iron Maiden had pulled off epic before (just listen to Rime of the Ancient Mariner), but with this song they cracked it.  Totally blew the opposition away.  A band at the very top of their game.  Perfect instrumentation, perfect singer, perfect theme, perfect lyrics.  Bruce gets to do some of his best “ooooooooohs” in this song.  He gets to play his ‘characters’.  He gets to sound evil.  But, here’s the amazing achievement – it all sounds so clean!  This is a heavy metal band pulling off bad-ass imagery.  A group who have pounded the world and been responsible for some of the greatest British rock music.  But this song is clinically polished.  Not in the negative way the word ‘clinical’ is often meant.  This song is like a surgeon’s blade.  It will cut you.

“So it shall be written

So it shall be done”

Choirs.  Well, synthesised choirs.  The ‘choir’ keyboard preset that Maiden used then and have continued to use ever since is just fabulous.  Yes, it’s dated, but screw that – it’s just ‘right’.  Enter guitars steeped in delay.  This song IS epic.  If you ever have to explain to someone what an ‘epic’ song sounds like then just play them Seventh Son of Seventh Son.  Job done!

More acoustic guitars.  The Prophecy.  For me, the weakest song on the album.  But its redeeming features are just so totally redeeming.  This ain’t no Maiden filler as found on some of their other albums (and come on, they all had them… be it Gangland, The Duelists  whatever), this is another great song.  The beautiful, windswept, woody, earthy guitar outro is worth the price of admission alone.

Then we have the Clairvoyant.  A typically ‘clunky’ (and I’m specifically referencing the ‘thwack’ sound Steve Harris achieves with his fingers) bass intro.  Then more tight, thunderous power chords.  Cue one of the most uplifting guitar melodies you’ll ever hear.  Dickinson is all-powerful here.  Emotional, almost spoken verses combine with operatic sections to produce another highlight of an already brightly lit album.  Superb end to the song.  The transition to the next song is perfect.  You can imagine the band standing in the studio twenty-five years ago nodding their heads in approval.  This album was recorded in an era when the album was still king.  And there was still a place for an almighty prog rock concept album.

Only the good die young is a phrase I have often used.  I only have to watch the news on TV for a few minutes before you’ll find me uttering those words.  Another great song.  Mighty fine interplay between the guitars and the vocals.  And a rock ending!!!  Yeah!

“Seven downward slopes

Seven bloodied hopes

Seven are your burning fires

Seven your desires…”

This album, for me, is Iron Maiden‘s finest hour.  That’s not to say their other albums weren’t also great.  I think your favourite album by a band depends very much at what point you joined the party.  I love the music on this album.  I think the artwork is fantastic.  For me the music from this album will always sound ‘light blue’.  Is there anyone out there who knows what I mean?

Maiden probably had more important albums.  The Number of the Beast is likely their defining album.  A Matter of Life and Death is as consistent and epic.  But Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is the Maiden album I would take to that desert island that we sometimes consider retiring to.  If one more person on this planet listens to this album because of this review then my job here is done.  I thank you.  Oh, and… ten out of ten.

Album Review: Suede – ‘Bloodsports’

I’m sitting here listening to the new Suede LP (yes, LP – I’m listening to it on vinyl).  Feels like cracking open an atmosphere of yesterday.  For all the want of ‘new’ – it’s oh so refreshing to hear ‘old’.  One man’s past is another man’s future.  I like the title, Bloodsports.  I like the artwork.  It’s one of those albums where you open the gatefold sleeve… and what have Suede chosen to fill that 12″x24″ with?  Nothing.  Just a mainly black photograph.  How much more black could it be?  The answer is none.  None more black.

Side one has a couple of immediately killer tracks.  I got into Suede relatively early on.  One of my mates lent me their debut album.  It was all a bit fey for me at the time – I was a rocker.  But there was something about that voice, and the melodies.  It just sounded new.  Suede were accused at the time of ripping off David Bowie.  Here we are in 2013 and Suede released the first single from this album on almost the same day as Bowie‘s comeback single.  Bowie‘s comeback single which I thought was great, contrary to everyone else I know.  But then their opinions generally count for nothing.  My opinion is the only one that matters! /because I’m always right.

So I listened to Suede when I was young and it sounded intricate and wobbly.  Brett Anderson always seemed to make too much effort to be ‘different’.  Perhaps it was necessary.  You can’t re-evaluate time, you can only live it.  Suede opened the doors to what eventually became Britpop.  But for a while there was no genre, just moments of excitement bobbing in a zesty sea.  These were times when even the music I rebelled against was actually pretty creative.  I can be as revisionist as the next person, but with the advent of sampling and the over-spill of acid house those really were exciting times for everyone.  I was caught up in the Seattle ‘grunge’ thing, but the likes of Suede helped to reel me back into British music.  Suede should have had a monument built in their honour.  Their second album Dog Man Star distilled everything they were good at. Suede ran, ran with that album clutched to their bosom, ran like the wind into the sun, all but melting.  Too grandiose?  Perhaps.  But these bands, these albums – were/are necessary.

In the end Suede were buried by the next wave of bands.  Unfairly.  But well and truly buried.

So I sit here and listen to their first album in ten years.  No Bernard Butler.  But then that was always a fractious, precarious relationship – Anderson & Butler.  Still, even without him I’m hearing moments here that almost reach those young, heady days.  I sit here and I am in the nineties.  I was a Suede fan.  But they were first and foremost a girl’s band.  Girlfriend’s always adored Suede.  They would borrow (and never return) albums.  Something about Brett appealed to them.  Or was it their keyboard player (who lived for months at a time on brown rice)?  There was just something about the band that pricked a girl’s ears (so to speak).  Suede couldn’t get on-board with the Britpop scene that followed.  Yes, they were part of it – but they seemed aloof.  In fact, as far as I remember they just dissolved away.  Pulp, Oasis, Blur and Radiohead ascended.  Yet perhaps if a history was written, Suede‘s part in it should be bulked out.  Even if only with dried flower petals.

The penultimate track is playing – very Pink Floyd-esque.  This album demands glitter balls, pomp and circumstance.  If I can hear Bowie then I can hear Suede.  This is an album for people who lived through times when people bought albums.  Bombastic drums.  Guitars.  High pitched strings.  I sit here and drink my coffee.  In the dark.  Listening to Bloodsports.  It almost brings a tear to the eye.  The only thing that halts the salty droplet from running down my cheek is the happiness that Suede are still out there making music like this.  And all the other bands.  Old and new.  It only takes a moment of listening to BBC 6 Music for the realisation that there are many others out there doing the same thing to dawn on you.  Music will always live on.  There will always be artists.  There will always be new artists.  Not everyone is in it for the money.  Perhaps no-one can be in it for the money anymore?

I am currently writing and recording the second TEHI album with Bill Ryan.  Anyone who’s listened to our debut, Escapism, will attest to the fact that we hold aloft the ‘idea’ of ‘the album’ as an important concept.  We are taking this ideal to the extreme.  Our next album will be a magnificent, twisted, tortuous affair.  I just hope people like me who have their lives affirmed by great musicians will join our gang.

And so I turn the record over again.  I really like this album.  It could probably fit in the timeline somewhere just after Dog Man Star.  These tracks could have played in a club after I danced to ‘Babies‘ or ‘Do You Remember the First Time?‘.  But this is not nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake.  I loved those days.  Skinny fit shirts and sweat dripping from dingy nightclub ceilings.  When I was recording music back then it was too easy for everyone to jump on the bandwagon.  That’s what Britpop became in the end.  That’s the reason it fell apart.  For every Oasis there was a Northern Uproar, for every Blur a Nilon Bombers and for every Pulp a Menswear.  Suede may have stood aloof, but they were dragged into the party.  It didn’t really suit them.  I like this album.  It starts and ends with you Suede.  It starts and ends with you.

Album Review: Liars – ‘WIXIW’

The most beautiful day of the year so far.  Straight blue skies.  No clouds.  No breeze.  Still.  Sitting on a bench and reading a book.  Drinking Amstel.  Felt the need to enter my studio and listen to a record… just for a bit… to get out of the rays.  The vinyl is spinning the perfect album for this day.  I even have the window open – a very rare occurrence in a room that is all about keeping sound in!

So I listen to WIXIW by LIARS.  A very strange album title… apparently pronounced ‘Wish You’.  Hmmmmm… not sure which world you’d have to inhabit to pronounce such a collection of letters in that manner.  Anyway… the album starts with a delightful song.  The Exact Color of Doubt.  This song sounds like I imagine sunshine tastes.  Perfick.  Another swig of Amstel.  This bottle is a little warm now.  Luckily I have another to follow… although I opened the other a few minutes ago in preemptive preparation.  Everything’s warming.  I shouldn’t complain.

I’ve loved Liars since their first album.  I had that album going round and round in my car for a long time.  I remember it had a kind of ‘looped’ final track that lasted longer than the whole rest of the album combined.  A journey?  Art rock?  They Threw Us All in a Trench was captivating.  It was different in the extreme.  If I were to listen to it now it would probably sound ‘normal’… but at the time it sounded like half a band.  Slightly dislocated from what everyone else was doing.  Not the greatest album… but far from the worst.  A slightly twilight zone-like middle ground.  The kind of middle ground that is nowhere near the centre of anywhere!

Then came everything that was right… They Were Wrong, So We Drowned.  An album that changed the game.  And yet received review scores so low they could be found providing foundations for foundations.  You have to question reviews.  You have to question their purpose.  Are they a means to turn you onto good music?… or are they a means to give an individual a sense of lofty self-worth?!?  I was never quite the same after They Were Wrong.  My music felt ‘narrow’, ‘restricted’… average.  Yet everyone was out there listening to Coldplay and the Kaiser Chiefs.   Narrow and restricted was selling.  Narrow and restricted will always sell.  Since I formed COTWS I have made a point of expanding everything.  For this reason it’s nice to check back with Liars and see what they’ve been up to.  I didn’t really enjoy the albums after They Were Wrong… even the critically acclaimed Drums Not Dead.  So it is with relish that I proclaim WIXIW as containing moments of God-like genius.  Ha ha!  My album of the year so far.

I’ve lived with this album a fair while now.  I’ve always found the idea of commenting on an album immediately somewhat mystifying.  Initial opinions are historically inaccurate!  Remember Be Here Now?  Ha ha!

WIXIW works as a unified set of songs.  An album… in an albumless age.  I can’t fault the opening track.  Beautiful, swamping layers padding the exterior of your brain.  Then singing!  Actual proper singing.  Not screaming.  Really sweet singing.  This takes a little mind shift to adjust.  Realigning perceptions of what’s to come.   You expect an ordeal from Liars.   Are they growing up?  Are they getting old?  Are they relaxing?  Let’s see.

Octagon drags us back into more familiar territory.  Slightly drawled vocals across a bed of repetitive rhythms.  Distorted string sounds and (slight) abuse.  As part of the tapestry it works.

No.1 Against the Rush is the ‘hit’ on an album with no hits.  This song is the filling of the sandwich, the bread being everything else.  Although the song wouldn’t be totally out-of-place on an ’80s electro compilation album it feels new.  What’s more it feels human.  It sounds like a song Rutger Hauer would play to Harrison Ford to prove that humanity is more than simply being human.  This song is a revelation.  In an age where every mainstream band feels the urge to turn Dubstep and ‘get down’ with the kids here’s a song that forges a new path without taking a sideways glance.  Tunnel vision with a purpose.  Narrow and restricted like narrow and restricted has never been. /swigs Amstel.

This record has an outstanding A-side.  Such momentum that you wonder how the B-side will compete.  Twists and turns of rhythms.  Liars have always been a band more about rhythms and soundscapes than they have about songs.  At least on the albums that I have loved.  “You’re no better than you were”  loops on A Ring on Every Finger.  The past glitters in the new-found darkness.  This is Liars experimenting with electronics, soley, for the first time… however to my ears sonically we’re in very much the same ball park as always.  Maybe it’s like when they say that no matter which guitar you give Brian May, he sounds like Brian May.  You don’t have to chisel your mantlepiece like a genius musical butcher.  Liars can hack at sound and they hack with a clever head.  A little nod to Radiohead here and there.  Ill Valley Prodigies is in danger of a bow to the floor.  But who isn’t influenced by at least a breath of a Radiohead era?

/swigs beer, flips record.

Come on then side B.  Show us what ya got.  WIXIW comes in with hints of a Jeff Buckley 4-track demo.  Loops and singing.  Identifiable song structures… just. Perhaps this is an album for people who have previously dismissed the band as noise-merchants.  If you were of wicked mind you could hazard a suggestion that this record is tame.  However, you’d be wrong.  Maturing is becoming more at one with your goals and gaining intelligence and the ability to use that intelligence intelligently.  This record goes to those places.  For me anyway.  WIWIW is pleading exasperation over a train track rhythm.  It’s that determination again.  Purpose of spirit.  And as Lars said in “Some Kind of Monster“… “When is a song done?”.   Every artist faces that dilemma.  When do you stop layering?  When is a song finished?  Liars seem to stop one brush stroke short.  On their first album I felt they’d stopped a whole paint box short.  Here they are nearing a perfect balance.  I have in the past been obsessed with ‘Wall of Sound’tm.  To the point where I’m taking a step back with my current project and trying to create a sense of space.  Gaps don’t necessarily have to be filled.   Liars aren’t about leaving gaps.  It’s not the old Eric Clapton adage about what you don’t play being what’s important.  It’s more about knowing when to stop.  And knowing why.  That important, eternal query.  “Why?”

The B Side is flying by whilst I type.  A side of rhythms.  Reminds me of  ’60s Alice Cooper.  Like it’s testing you.  Beautiful programming, intricate tapestries, audible vocals.  Messages.  And real instruments – that’s a description of this album by the way… not ’60s Alice Cooper!!!  For what was purported to be a wholly electronic album I’m a little confused.  In a good way.  But confused all the same.  Nothing wrong with being confused.

Who is the Hunter is the lynchpin of side B.  I can feel Jim Morrison.  Then a driving bass drum enters.  Then a massive ’80s arpeggiated synth.  Empty and full.  This album quietly blows me away.  It has bombast without ramming it in your face.  Can you even have quiet bombast?  I’m not sure… but listen to this album to experience.  Experience.  Now strings.  Strings can be conventional.  But they can also be timeless.  I love strings and I’ll always use them.  Nice to hear such an awkward band make such unawkward use of them.

Brats is a bit of a head turner.  It sounds like a Madchester song.  Honestly… you could be listening to the Happy Mondays.  Not sure it fits the ‘spirit’ of the album.  Luckily there are some really cool Faithless-style keys that lift the song.  I would personally knock Brats off the album.  But perhaps that’s simply because it followed such an awe-inspiring song.

And so… before you know it we’re at the end of side B.  The end of the album.  So… what have they got for me?  How are we going to end this partnership?  Annual Moon Words sounds a little Madchester/Trip Hoppy again (with the tiniest hint of Dirty Diana by Michael Jackson?!?).  Not negatively this time.  Comes across as a genuine goodbye.  Goodbye Liars.  Perfect last note.

If I was forced at gun-point (dangerous place.. gun point) to compare WIXIW to one of my albums I would probably say The Galton Detail.  That same kind of aloofness but still keeping an eye on the concept of ‘the song’.  I suggest booking your place on a sunny bench and listening to WIXIW.  Or just drink a few beers in the sun.  Cheers.

Radiohead – The Bends… a swift listen

Over the last couple of years I have been listening to a lot of music online.  Streaming the 010100101010000111111s.  But recently I have taken a step back from the new, the fresh, the vital and I’ve been basking in the dusty, spinning black circles of music history.  I actually think it’s having a positive influence on my own recorded output as I’ve been putting a nostalgic bent on the new Eleventh Hour tracks – but more on that another day!

I so enjoyed listening and commenting on Abbey Road as it played I thought I’d do something similar with the next record in the rack.  And that accolade goes to…. /spins chair around and grabs next album in line… hmmmm.  Interesting.  The Bends by Radiohead.  Ha ha!  Discussions of Radiohead can be more than your life’s worth!

So… needle dropped.  Planet Telex.  I remember buying the single.  I think it was a double A-side.  Planet Telex and High and Dry.  I remember reading an article in a student magazine at the time where Thom Yorke was saying that High and Dry was “for the masses” and Planet Telex was the song the band really wanted people to take notice of.  I recall being somewhat offended by the comment.  And I still do to a certain degree.  Look… I think Planet Telex is a great song, a great influential song.  But I also happen to think High and Dry is pretty perfect.  Now, in hindsight, was Thom really slating High and Dry or was he just doing that thing that people do where they put down their own song as if it was soooooo easy to write?  So everyone else thinks… ‘wow, he must be amazing if he can write songs that good that he actually hates but we all love’.  Ha ha!  Or was he just a very contrary character.  Well… you know what… knowing what we know now it was probably a little of all of them.  But I think High and Dry is a high point and it was annoying to hear it being slagged off by its writer before I’d even heard it!

Radiohead meant a lot to the kids of my generation.  Especially the kids in bands at the time that this album came out.  It was a rosy time for the British music industry and epoch defining albums were being spewed out at a phenomenal rate.  But Radiohead always seemed that little bit more interesting than the others.  They were already a very contrary band.  A band that was so dismissive of its biggest hit to date, Creep.  A band that was always on the clever side of intellectual.  And Radiohead seemed so close to home.  Thom Yorke had gone to Uni just up the road from me.  I knew one of his ex-girlfriends.  They just seemed touchable… you know… within a whiskers grasp.  Then. Not now!

I managed to type right through a couple of songs there! Ha ha!  Anyway… High and Dry is playing now.  And I still think it’s one of the best songs Radiohead have ever pulled out of the hat.  Thom would probably smack me in the face for even suggesting it.  I kind of understand his position.  He genuinely wants to push boundaries.  He wants to be cutting edge.  Perhaps he felt a little embarrassed about the direction the band had taken in those early years.  All bleached hair and U2-isms.  Big songs.  Big ballads.  Acoustic guitars.  Quiet-loud-quiet dynamics.  Well… Thom it’s all here in spades.  Fake Plastic Trees is playing now.  This is the song that got all the plaudits.  For me it’s not quite up there with High and Dry but I notice that over the years the band haven’t been so coy about this track.  They seem prepared to admit it’s their song.  So sometimes a big acoustic song is alright then?  Ha ha!  Got you.

I know Thom used to DJ at Uni and was very much into the acid house scene.  I think Kid A probably gave him a much greater sense of achievement than this album. But Kid A couldn’t have happened without The Bends.  For it is this album that created Radiohead.  Without it they would have been the band that wrote Creep.  They would have been an EMF or a Charlatans.  The Bends changed the story.  Or it at least turned the page.  I suppose OK Computer not only furthered the story but actually relocated the whole damn library.

Listening to this album now it sounds relatively straightforward.  I have always held it in supremely high regard and it does still sound fighting fit… but I’m not too keen on the song currently playing.  Perhaps it says something for the album that I’m going to have to reach over for the sleeve to see what this song’s called.  Bones.  Hmmmm.  Not really feeling this song.  I suppose on a CD I might skip it but I’m sitting here enjoying the fact that the record is playing under the record player cover and it would be far too much of a task to ‘skip a track’.  And anyway… an album is an album.  You stick with it through the good and the bad.  And so far this album has been pretty good.

It’s actually hard for me to be objective about The Bends.  As I’ve already said, it hit me at the ‘correct’ moment in my life.  I needed this album.  And unlike the rest of the world I never needed the follow-up.  I think the typical ‘reviewer’ defines Radiohead as pre-OK Computer and post-OK Computer.   But OK Computer is always the fixed point in time.  The perfect album created by their perfect head-music band.  OK Computer didn’t have the same relevance for me.   I think I’m happier thinking of Radiohead as a cascading series of ever more eclectic waves.  We are the shore.

I was getting into some A-level style creative writing there!  Ha ha.  But I notice de duh shhhe de duh shhhe de duh shhhe de duh shhhe the needle is going round and round.  Time to turn the record over.

Hey this is more like it.  Just.  This brings back memories.  Remember MTV2?  I used to watch that channel all the bloody time.  And this video was on all the time.  Great video.  Intriguing video.  Anyone who hasn’t seen it – stop reading and YouTube it now!  Great quiet LOUD quiet song this.  Kind of defines the moment.  We were in the aftermath of grunge and this style of music was very much in vogue.  But Radiohead brought another slant to the style.  The guitarist playing those fast repetitive guitar stabs whilst wearing that plastic brace thing on his arm.  Honestly his guitar style was so influential.  You hear it everywhere.  You hear it in my music.  You hear it in Muse.  You hear it everywhere.

My Iron Lung.  I’m sure this was on an EP released before The Bends?  In any case, I’m not going to stray and Wikipedia anything.  I am writing this as the album plays and when it finishes I finish.  The ultimate time constraint.

So far I’ve got to say that Side 2 is kicking arse.  Big stylee!  Such great guitar work in this song.  And what a frenetic break in the middle.  Just an obelisk of a song.  This track has monkeys gathering around it aimlessly clanking bones about.  But one of those monkeys is gonna throw that bone in the air. . .

What I notice now with the space of 17 years is the varied ‘textures’ of this album.  I can hear the electronica that was to come.  I think The Bends is more of a defining moment for Radiohead than the historians would have you believe.

I like Thom’s vocals on this album.  He still had to sing at this point.  I mean sing in the traditional sense.  The band still had to achieve success.  Pablo Honey (the début album) was not a great album.  Radiohead were not destined for greatness.  Not then.  They had to work up to that point.  You can only truly experiment once you have reached a level where people WANT to hear the results of your laboratory workouts.  Mix those chemicals too soon and no one will be interested in the contents of the test tube.  In fact they will just insist that you clean up your mess.  Bands have to do this.  They have to reach a level of success and instil a certain confidence in their fans.  The Beatles couldn’t have just started out with the White Album.  And Radiohead couldn’t have just started out with Kid A.  And in any case, whether they like it now or not, Radiohead made a good stadium rock style band.  They could have been the Killers or Coldplay of their day.  Luckily for us Radiohead were much more than that.  Radiohead were a band that paved the way for anyone who wanted to experiment.  When someone asked you who you sounded like you could just say ‘Radiohead‘ with confidence – and that still holds to this day.  For while I am not their biggest fan I do appreciate that they are still the band to live up to.  A band who have touched greatness and seemingly been driven mad by it.  Radiohead almost seem to mirror the artists of the ’60s who took too much LSD.  It’s like Radiohead were Pink Floyd.  They had their Bends, Dark Sides, OK Computers and Wish You Were Heres.  But then Radiohead became Syd Barrett and Peter Green.  Radiohead took off … destination – another galaxy.  They became the Lennon that wanted tape loops involving the number 9.  But whole albums of it.  There was no McCartney to reign Radiohead in.  And in many ways they are all the better for it.  We NEED bands like this.

Okay… the last song.  Street Spirit.  I don’t have long left.  I’m typing like a banshee!!! This is no average final track.  This is a classic.  This is a defining moment.  And again… I hear what they were to become here.  This is monumental song writing.  And this is an important album.  I haven’t played The Bends too much over the years.  But it did change me.  Those initial listens changed me.  And I’m sure they worked their similar magic on Matt Bellamy.  And others.  For The Bends is nothing if not influential.  And for every reviewer who holds aloft OK Computer as the greatest thing since sliced bread I will open those slices of bread and point at the filling.  For it is The Bends.  (don’t bite into it!  An OK Computer, Bends, OK Computer sandwich has got to be bad for the teeth!  And I’m not sure anyone could survive the emotional, heartfelt, Jeff Buckley inspired indie onslaught!).

The record has ended.  Apologies if I have written a load of bollocks.  I had to type quickly.  And I was a little spoiled by the last record, Abbey Road.

I enjoyed listening to The Bends again.  A band at its peak of being “A Band”.  They were never ‘quite’ the same again.

Abbey Road – An Impromptu Review

Still a lovin’ the vinyl.  I’ve just stuck on Abbey Road.  Thought I’d type while I listen.  I do love Come Together.  For me an example of why Ringo Starr is one of the greatest drummers of all time.  A very much underrated musician and the butt of almost all Beatles-related gags.  But anyone who’s anyone appreciates Ringo’s contribution.  Understated and sublime.  I’ve always been a fan of the drums… I think my own music is dominated by the drum kit and the ‘sound’ of the drum kit.  I don’t think songwriters pay enough attention to drum patterns.  They are often happy enough to just put some chords over a drum loop.  That may work just fine for dance music… but if you’re trying to capture the attention of a headmusickid you have to give them something that excites!  I remember first hearing the Buzzcocks… specifically the Peel Sessions album.  Fantastic drumming. Likewise when Caught by the Fuzz by Supergrass first slapped me square in the jaw.  The drums can not only ‘make’ a song but they can define a band.

On a side-note… what the hell was McCartney thinking when he followed the monumental Something with Maxwell’s Silver Hammer?!?  Honestly… sometimes I despair.  I will often be heard sticking up for Macca… but I can think of nothing positive to say about this bloody song.  Abbey Road is such a HUGE album… there is no place for Maxwell’s Silver Bloody Hammer.  Even if the sodding hammer was made out of solid gold I still wouldn’t allow it to occupy the same air-space as the rest of Abbey Road.  Ha ha!  Conversely by the way, I don’t feel the same way about Octopus’s Garden.  Caught you by surprise there?  Anyway… Macca kind of makes up for it immediately with his magnificent vocals on Oh! Darling straight afterwards.

So… the drums are important.   As I was saying.. they can define the band.  I think Ringo’s drumming was the perfect accompaniment to the twin colossus of Lennon & McCartney.  It wouldn’t have worked with John Bonham bashing away behind them.

I Want You.  What a song.  This song is so heavy (very much reflected in the lyrics which proclaim how heavy she indeed is!).  So… we know she’s heavy!  Ha ha!  I love how far the Beatles took music in their short time as an entity.  They redefined music in the space of seven years.  They wrote the rule book on rock and roll and then created the concept album.  They were a band poles apart with itself.  Then on Abbey Road, their final album, they looked back at everything they had ever been and took it to a new level.  With a song like I Want You the Beatles are almost heavy metal.  They had achieved a similar (if not heavier) sound before with Helter Skelter… but I Want You repeats like a heavy rock mantra.  Such a simple song.  Repeated ad infinitum.  Amazing vocals.  Creative bass.  Smashing drums.  A band at the top of its game and yet at the end of its game.  A band that wrote Revolver and Sgt Pepper and yet ended with the relative straight line of Abbey Road.  Awwww…. just listen to that distorted ending… something I have actually (unknowingly, but now I recognise the theft!) incorporated into the latest Eleventh Hour Initiative song.  Oh well…. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and other such clichéd jargon!  Ha ha!

The needle spins in the centre groove.  I have to turn the record over!  Oh come on… even that is nostalgic and sugar-coated sweetness! 🙂

George’s second song on the album.  Here Comes the Sun is another sure-fire hit.  I’ll tell you something – people will decry George’s involvement with the Beatles’ songwriting.  George himself liked to joke about it.  When Paul suggested they write together in later years George stated “He ignored me for years and now he wants to write with me?”.  Well, honestly, don’t believe a word of it.  Count the number of Harrison’s songs on albums like Revolver and Abbey Road.  I think he fared pretty well.  In terms of talent he was certainly up there with Lennon and McCartney.  He made the Beatles the band they were. I have the utmost respect for George’s contributions.  It’s funny that Sinatra introduced his version of Something with the line “This is one of the best Lennon and McCartney songs”.  Ha ha!  I bet George had to eat a couple of extra portions of Ready Brek that morning!!!

Hmmmm… typed right through Because.  And to think I could have waxed lyrical about the vocals on that track!

So… we’re now into the medley on side 2 of Abbey Road.  The opportunity for all the songs that had never been completed to be tossed into the salad bowl and hand mixed with some expensive olive oil.  I think the medley works a treat.  In fact there are moments that blow my mind.  The beautiful vocal harmonies.  The intricate Albatross-esque guitar work.  The in-turns eloquent and silly lyrics.  And the overriding feeling that everyone involved knows that this is the end.  The last notes they will ever record as the Beatles.  The fab four’s intentions have already been spelt out.  They are gone.  They have left the building (without Elvis’ blessing contrary to the reports!).  And yet Paul, John, George and Ringo were friends for one last time to create this album.  That is how it sounds.  The work of friends.  That is why I think Abbey Road occupies a certain position in fans’ hearts.  This is the album as we want to remember the fab 4.  For so soon after the final note is played there is acrimony at play.

She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.  Another silly McCartney song… but this one feels ‘right’.  This is class… and we sense we are on the wind down.  Into Golden Slumbers.  I love Paul McCartney.  Just listen to that melody.  Just listen to that voice.  Honestly, some of his best singing.  Some of the best ever singing.  Lennon gets the plaudits, but McCartney was up there.  Lennon may get voted “Best Singer of All Time”… but I won’t forget Paul.

And now I’m just waiting for The End.  The most fitting final song of any band ever?  In my opinion this song is the perfect full stop.  The most fitting termination.

A drum solo!!!  I can forgive Ringo’s “Peace and Love” bullshit for this one perfectly played solo.  His only solo.  Okay, perhaps it’ll take a little more to completely forgive his recent antics… the bloated old rock whore that he is!  😉 And… then… a guitar solo battle!!!  This is the Beatles soloing like things possessed.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

I love the Beatles.  I think I’ve just written a pretty little love letter to my favourite band.  And it took the exact length of Abbey Road to write because Her Majesty finishes… … now.  Even the sound of the needle spinning endlessly in the groove sounds musical to me.  I could have written more if I had more time… but I think I got my point across.  Perhaps I should do this more often.  Write whilst listening to a record?  It would mean all my articles would have to be written in the space of approximately 30 minutes.  Ha ha!

*Apologies for any factual inaccuracies.  I have written this whole article in the time it took Abbey Road to spin… and I didn’t refer to the likes of Wikipedia once!  This is all my inherent knowledge on display.  I am showing you just how much of a Beatles fan I am… (and how quickly I can type!).  And relax.