808 State – Spanish Heart (Ft. Bernard Sumner) (Updated 14th June 2013)

A track from their third (fourth if you count the Quadrastate EP) album, ex:el. As you might expect I was initially very interested in hearing this track as it features Bernard Sumner of Joy Division/New Order on lead vocals. Initially the track didn’t have much of an impact with me, it’s a lot slower than 808 State’s other material and is a lot more vocal driven, and if I’m honest I prefer electronic music when it’s more melodic and instrumental based rather than focusing too much on the vocal side of things. Having said that, there are still a few more dance-oriented flourishes within the song so its not totally chilled. For me the best part of the song is Bernard’s vocal, and how well it gels with the rest of  the track and ties it together. It’s ice cold (as expected), especially with the piano chords punctuating it in the chorus. The song has quite a sad tone really, and that’s reflected in the lyrics which depict a pretty bleak atmosphere. I can’t say I know for sure what the lyrics fully mean, initially I thought that the song was about a failing relationship but the mention of “you both” in the chorus indicates there is a third party of some sort. A love triangle maybe? Who knows. In any case we are made to sympathize with Bernard’s character as we discover that something he believed to be real wasn’t quite so and the character is in denial. In any case, the songs sombre lyrics really suit Bernard’s slightly melancholic vocal. I know he isn’t technically the most gifted vocalist, nor does he have much of a range, but he has an authenticity about his voice that I like and it has emotive qualities too I think. I don’t like the first minute of the song really were its just Bernard singing with some drum machines and not much in the way of melody around the vocals, but once the melody comes in it becomes actually a really lovely song. Its not the most instantaneous track I’ve heard, but its a great track and I can’t help but feel its become quite overlooked in 808 State’s body of work!

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Nirvana – Come As You Are (Live Unplugged)

So last night I watched Nirvana’s highly regarded Unplugged set as I continue to investigate their work. I have to say that it was one of the best live performances I have ever had the fortune to watch! Trying to pick my definitive highlight is very tough, I loved About A Girl, Come As You Are, The Man Who Sold The World (Bowie cover), Polly, On A Plain, Something In The Way, Plateau and Lake of Fire, the last two of which are covers by The Meat Puppets and two members of the group actually join Nirvana onstage for the performances. I know I’ve basically rhymed off all but five of the songs performed in their hour long set, but it really is one of the most consistently brilliant live performances you’re likely to see. Anyhow, I’ve chosen Come As You Are as the video here purely because the song sounds absolutely beautiful in an accoustic style, and I honestly do think I prefer this to the original! Given that the original version is one of my favourite Nirvana tracks that I’ve heard so far (I’ve heard Bleach and Nevermind but only a few from In Utero however) I think that may say something. Due to the fact that I can see myself playing this even more than the original version in the long term, this may prove to be my favourite performance from Unplugged, but if you haven’t already done so I really recommend you watch the full set. Its quite eerie to watch really given that the prominent flowers and candles make the stage take on a funeral service look (and Kurt would sadly be dead in a matter of months). Its also however, a beautiful performance by a band who would come to a sad end far too soon. Highly recommended!

Primal Scream – Come Together

We all have those songs that send shivers down the spine no matter how many times we hear them, right? In my personal music tastes, Come Together is firmly near the top of said list! At 10:25 in length, it is very much one of the centerpieces of Primal Scream’s acclaimed Screamadelica album and its also the longest track on the record. It was the first song to be recorded for the groups seminal Screamdelica album and comes in two versions. There’s the original version mixed by Terry Farely which featured Bobby Gillespie singing and it featured on American versions of the album (the full length of that particular mix clocking in at 8:06 with a shorter version being released as a single). The superior version in my opinion though is the more commonly known version which is a largely instrumental based gospel house track which was produced by Andrew Weatherall. The UK version doesn’t feature Bobby Gillespie singing during the track at all, the only two different vocals to be found in the song are an excerpt of a speech given by Jesse Jackson at the 1972 Wattstax concert in Los Angeles. I know it wasn’t written for the track, but the line in the speech “Today you will discover gospel, and rhythm and blues, and jazz…. all those are just labels. We know that music is music!” is one of my favourite lines in a piece of music ever. The second set of vocals is a repeated female vocal line, gospel in style, of “Come together as one” which lasts for the second half of the track. It’s quite a simple arrangement really, the first four minutes or so see’s the track building up, until it breaks down when the gospel vocals kick in. The part were they do kick in is absolutely beautiful though and not only is it maybe the highlight of an incredibly good album, its also one of my favourite moments in any song ever. The message of the song is incredibly simple, but its also very beautiful I think. I love how the arrangement isn’t overly complicated, it makes the message of the song that much more powerful. A gorgeous song from an amazing album!

The Stone Roses – Waterfall (Live Other Side of Midnight)

I just love this live performance! This is Stone Roses, performing their fantastic single Waterfall on The Other Side of Midnight, which was hosted by the late founder of Factory Records, Tony Wilson. It’s interesting to see them on the show really, given Tony’s apology here for initially disliking them, and Stone Roses weren’t exactly Factory’s biggest fans either. (One of their earliest songs from late 1984, Fall, was allegedly about their dislike for the label). Tony would further apologize for his initial dislike of them in a 2001 interview he conducted with lead singer Ian Brown. You’ve also got to admire Tony including them on the show because in 1989 you could say they were rivals to Happy Mondays, which were a Factory records act. I have to say I think this is one of the band’s best live performances! The arrangement here is slightly different to the studio version, in fact I think I may prefer this version to the studio version (even though its also fantastic). The song here seems to sound more echoey and sometimes a bit similar to the 12″ version. What I really like about this version is that it allows Mani’s bass to be properly heard and I have to admit, I never actually released just how strong the bass in this song is until I heard this version. On the subject of bass, I just love the look of the bass he’s playing here, it is absolutely gorgeous! Its not just Mani though, everyone here is at the peak of their powers. Even Ian Brown, who’s live vocals have been subject to a fair bit of criticism sounds really good here, I honestly don’t think he’s half as bad as people say he is. You can find this performance on the 2 disc DVD The Very Best Of The Stone Roses. Its good that its been released I think, as its a stellar performance!

Blur – Peach

A vastly underrated song from their Modern Life is Rubbish era in my opinion. The album itself marked a big change in direction for Blur from their debut album Leisure, with the band favoring a much more guitar pop oriented sound in the vein of The Kinks and The Small Faces in comparison to their shoegaze influenced debut. Peach was originally on the original version of the album which would have been released in spring 1992 (the album wouldn’t get released until May 1993) but this version of the album was scrapped and Peach got relegated to B-side status, being released as a B-side to the album’s lead single, For Tomorrow. Musically, the track is very laid back and is in this slightly bizarre electric meets folk style. It’s one of the most relaxing songs Blur have ever done I think and is a perfect counterbalance to more punchier songs of the Modern Life is Rubbish period, like Advert. The song definitely really benefits being played on a decent set of speakers or headphones I think, as there are some really beautiful subtle parts in the course of the arrangement of the song that sometimes don’t come through. In terms of lyrics, its one that I have trouble deciphering. On one hand its easy to assume that the lyrics’ weren’t meant to make any sense, I’ve read that the song was intended as a psychedelic experiment and that explains why some of the lyrics (first verse in particular) makes little sense. Although, I think with a bit of inferring its possible to come up with an interpretation that sounds semi plausible at least. The lyrics are actually quite depressing I think, and in my opinion discuss someone who isn’t in a great mental state, or to paraphrase the song’s lyrics themselves, they’ve gone crazy. Part of the lyrics discuss a lost love and asks the question “Where is she now?”, and state that the person in which the song is about wears a locket around their neck containing a strand of the girls hair. A repeated refrain of “You’ve got a massive hole in your head, I’d let the birds nest there instead” seems to suggest that the person has ended up in such an emotionally fragile state that they’ve either shot themselves or that their mental state is merely rotting away metaphorically. They could have shot themselves considering the lyrics also state the person has a gun in their pocket. As for the opening line of “Chemical eats the best part of the peach”, I think the peach is actually a metaphor for the persons brain, and the chemicals could be a reference to drugs or something, with the eating reference possibly suggesting further how their mental state is just disintegrating. All of this is just my opinion though and I could be completely wrong. In any case, the song’s beautiful arrangement coupled with lyrics that are more interesting than I had initially thought makes this song their best B-side in my opinion, and its a contender for the top spot in my list of favorite Blur songs!

Under The Westway/The Puritan CD single

Their new single, this has five tracks. All variations of the same two songs, The Puritan and Under The Westway. I have to admit, I am not the biggest lover of The Puritan at all, but Under The Westway is a beautiful song that is one of Blur’s finest moments I think! This cost me £5 in Head, in all seriousness, in Head today I was debating whether or not to go for this or for the Oasis Definitely Maybe and Creation Record Story DVDs which would have totalled £6 for the two. What swung it for me though was that I had heard it would be stocked in Head in limited quantities so I decided to get the single, as the DVD’s are much easier to get cheap after all.

Fascinations of the minute: Nirvana/Kurt Cobain

So lately I’ve been listening to Nirvana more, thanks to a recomendation of a good friend of mine. Naturally, I’m also looking more into the life and sad death of their iconic lead singer, Kurt Cobain. I have to admit, I am enjoying their music much more than I would have anticipated, I’ve always really liked Smells Like Teen Spirit but its become clear, even at this early stage of investigating their work that there was definitely a consistent high quality to their material, and I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of the songs I’ve heard so far much more than Smells Like Teen Spirit! . A particular example is that I’ve been enjoying a song of theirs called Scentless Apprentice a lot lately, which has a sound (namely the screaming really) that I usually don’t enjoy listening to at all, yet I love the song for some strange reason. What has taken me aback most of all though, is Kurt Cobain himself. I’ve always been indifferent to both Kurt and the band, but I guess I would have expected him to be a stereotypical macho rockstar in interviews and what have you, again though that’s been far from the case, and seeing various pictures and footage of him with his daughter Frances Bean, and in particular a clip were he stands up for a female member of the audience at one of Nirvana’s shows shows there is many facets of his personality I clearly haven’t seen. I’ve currently been lent a copy of their With The Lights Out boxset kindly from my brother, and hope to borrow the Heavier Than Heaven biography on Kurt and his Journals book from my brother later in the week. So far, I’m really enjoying exploring their work and if I continue to enjoy it at this level then they’re going to become one of my favourite artists of all time!

Pet Shop Boys – Introspective (Book)

This is a new purchase I made, it arrived on Saturday. I’ve got more or less every English book on them that has been released now (well, I did discover there was a very small 35 page annual released here in UK in 1988, but its nowhere to be found on Amazon and will probably contain nothing that one of my other books doesn’t cover). As you could probably tell, this is an also an unauthorized biography, released in 1991. Supposedly, it reads like a schoolkid wrote it (considering I’m only 18 I really can’t criticize anyone for that) but from what I’ve heard of it, it gives some interesting information into their earlier years, a period where information can be pretty scarce. My copy is second hand of course, but I got lucky and ended up with an ex library copy, so it comes in a protective cover (it was in a library in London I think judging by the stamp inside). I won’t be starting to read it for a few weeks yet, I have a Beatles book to finish and then about four more books to read before I can get round to it. I’m a fast reader though (I’ve read this Beatles book in two weeks and its a good bit longer than the other books I have to read) so it shouldn’t be too long hopefully!

Performance Tour Programme

This is definitely one of my more unusual Pet Shop Boys items. This probably goes without saying, but in terms of the age of the item its one of the oldest Pet Shop Boys items that I have. Its their 1991 Performance tour program. I wish to stress that I wasn’t actually at this show (I wasn’t born until 1994) nor have I attended concert so far, but I am hoping that this will have changed by this time next year when they’re touring Elysium. I found this on Ebay for £5 which I felt was a bargain considering Performance is my favorite Pet Shop Boys tour, I absolutely love that show. I did have a phase of wanting to collect their tour programs (and if they all cost £5 each I would) but most of their  tour programs seem to be pretty expensive on Ebay. Well, not expensive as such (usually around £20) but I wouldn’t be willing to fork out £20 for a tour program that I never actually saw. Never the less I treasure this as its one of the genuinely vintage Pet Shop Boys items I actually own!