Friday, 17 March 2017

Nirvana - Sheep LP

So in an alternate 1991 – probably visited at some point by Marty McFly in a DeLorean – Nirvana released their second album for the SubPop label – ‘Sheep’. Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic & Chad Channing select Butch Vig to produce the majority of the release which garners positive reviews in the music weeklies. Due to SubPop’s ongoing distribution and marketing problems, it barely equals the 40,000 sales of ‘Bleach’. Channing quit the band with the remaining members attempting to recruit ex Scream tubthumper Dave Grohl but losing him to Pearl Jam……

Back in our timeline – April 1990 at Smart Studios, Madison, Wisconsin, Nirvana recorded 8 songs for their proposed second album on the SubPop label but these tracks would be used by the band to score a new deal with a major label. Naturally once Channing was replaced with Grohl, the material was re-recorded although the arrangements and lyrics often remained the same. With the addition of other tracks from the period this bootleg album attempts to give a taste of what was lost. All of the tracks are now officially available – scattered across the CDs and box sets – but this track-list is seemingly based on scrawl in Cobain’s posthumously published journals.

The versions here aren’t necessarily “worse” or “better” than what ended up as Nevermind – the whole feel is punkier and looser, it’s more the sound of a band in a room than the airless final NM mix. The performance of Polly actually ended up being used on the finished album as there is real magic at work on that recording. However what is clear is Chad Channing’s limitations as a drummer fail to make the songs really punch through like Grohl does. He often gets the beat but not the feeling, the attack is missing, it’s not just Grohl’s power but his dynamics.

Despite that, ‘Imodium’, or ‘Breed’ as it would become, is a powerful sound – a roaring snarling bugger from the off. Sliver lacks the urgency of the later live versions with Reading 1992 being a particular favourite of mine with Kurt veering from goofing off to primal screaming. You often hear bands talk about their “sound” not being right until they were all in a room together, that magic extra member. Well that in evidence here but also the “loud-quiet-loud” Pixies trick is less in evidence too.

There is a punk 101 conventionality to how ‘In Bloom’ is here as that orgasmic rush is faked. It’s still puzzling how ‘Sappy’ never made it onto a Nirvana release while they were active, only as a hidden track on an AIDS benefit compilation. It’s likely that their cover of the Velvet’s ‘Here She Comes Now’ would probably never have feature on the 2nd SubPop album but its a great version with Kurt doing a spot on Reed drawl. I just find this stuff a fascinating alternate view. Artists hate studio bootlegs or even reissues because it lays their sketches bare (REM voiced such concerns over the ‘Out Of Time’ demo CD) as well as prevents them deciding how their work should be heard. For us obsessive or devoted nutjobs its like seeing a 1st go at the Mona Lisa or a rough cut of ‘Citizen Kane’ – it adds to not subtracts the magic therein.

As I said, all these tracks are available legally but if you do happen to see this particular release floating at a record fair or market near you then I’d recommend it. Well mastered and mixed, ace cover art and the sort of thing you’d expect a record label would have done themselves by now. Lazy bastards.

In that alternate 2017 maybe Krist is working for the UN, Dave is playing with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Kurt a self published poet and outsider artist. The grass is greener over here

Oh well, whatever, nevermind.

Side 1:
Imodium (Breed)
Been A Son

Side 2:
In Bloom
Pay To Play (aka Stay Away)
Here She Comes Now

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Paul McCartney ; 'Flowers In The Dirt' Deluxe Edition

AKA I Saw You Standing There With A Bootleg In Your Hand.

Beatle Paul had a variable 1980's - kicking off with the drugs bust and the death of his teenage best friend \ nemesis \ rival, John within the first 12 months, followed by a technical nightmare live appearance at Live Aid, Ebony & Ivory, Give My Regards To Broad Street, the 'Press To Play album, losing out owning The Beatles catalogue to Michael Jackson, the theme song for 'Spies Like Us' and - no I'm not going to say "The Frog Song" because a) it's called 'We All Stand Together' and b) it's a fucking brilliant children's song.

On the other hand - a memorable video for 'Pipes Of Peace', 'Coming Up' with its fab multi-Paul promo, Take It Away, Wanderlust, No More Lonely Nights, the inventive McCartney II album, Here Today, Choba B CCCP and a triumphant live return at the end of the decade off the back of one of his most successful and critically acclaimed albums in years - 1989's 'Flowers In The Dirt'. Paul's reissue projects slightly haphazard sequencing lands there this month with a 2 CD, 2LP and a 3CD & 1 DVD Deluxe Edition with a lavish book stuffed with photos, lyrics and other ephemera. The central feature of all the various editions are the demos and sessions recorded with Elvis Costello in 1987 with the songs ending up on the album, Elvis' own records or remaining unreleased....until now.

Well not quite.

For in 1998, the prolific bootleg label Vigotone who published Beatles and solo Fabs titles a-plenty dropped 'The McCartney McManus Collaboration. a single CD featuring 8 out of 9 demos from that initial 1987 session plus various Paul and Beatle related chunks live and on disc. This includes a rare appearance of the pair onstage performing 'Mistress & Maid', another co-penned song that featured on 'Off The Ground' alongside a fun romp through 'One After 909'. There is some piracy with officially released material making up the numbers but it all helps to give a well rounded picture to their short working time together and Declan's fondness for Paul's 60's band.

Listening to the official release of the full eight 1987 demos next to the bootleg there is no discernible difference, maybe a little tweaking in volume but it's a work in progress guide with all the flaws of what was meant to be a private record. 'Twenty Fine Fingers' works so much better here as an acoustic little bit of rock n roll fluff that you wish Macca had just left as is. 'Tommy's Coming Home's tale of a widowed fresh wartime bride is very Elvis and I've always liked that 'a broker awoke her from a fitful slumber' lyric.

A large section of the interviews for the project discuss how EC and PM wrote together and how they found the experience which is fascinating stuff. Macca often says that critics latched on to a remark he made about how their writing sessions felt like when he wrote with Lennon which made him uncomfortable but it's clear that Elvis wasn't afraid to push at his hero when he felt it was needed.
The handwritten lyrics & doodles in the accompanying book seem to suggest that the songs were perhaps more or less solo written with some small alterations. A letter from 'Elvis The C' to 'Mr Ramone' underlines the former's keenness to continue their collaboration and there is some great detail on how they came to collaborate and how it panned out.

The demo for 'You Want Her Too' has far more bite and bile than the version that ended up on the finished record with Elvis audibly spitting the line 'So why don't you come right out and say it, stupid?' like a snarky Scouse scally. 'That Day Is Done' retains some of that real Aretha tinge that got lost in the production. It is suggested, although not here, that Elvis and Macca clashed over the album's sound with Paul not sharing Costello's vision of a more stripped back approach. Slightly ironic as both of Elvis' albums around this time 'Spike' & 'Mighty Like A Rose' are often criticised for being too 'busy' production wise. Elvis perhaps got the song to sound his way when he recorded it with The Fairfield Four vocal group for their 1997 'I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray' album

One last Elvis mention and then I'll talk about Paul McCartney in this review of a Paul McCartney release. I have never liked 'Playboy To A Man' which eventually surfaced on 1991's 'Mighty Like A Rose'. Costello's vocal is shrill and at times painful and the demo bears out that it's clearly more suited to the Little Richard yelps and scream of the artist once known as Paul Ramon.

Also here are demos of 'Shallow Grave' , the aforementioned Mistress & Maid and 'I Don't Want To Confess' although irritatingly, along with the 1988 sessions with his band alongside Elvis these are only included on the deluxe set and that controversial download only section of the set. All of that would easily fit on a single CD giving the hardcore as well as casual fan a real insight into the making of the album. As it is unless you go all in on this release you don't get the full picture.

The controversy about the b-sides and other previously released mixes being download only (and that bloody cassette) gets in the way of the main issue - who is this for? The devoted may buy it whatever, it looks nice on the shelf next to the rest but they are really getting very little bang for their buck. The casual fan may not have heard the bootlegged demos and may be nonplussed by the slightly low fi quality.
McCartney has mused that it would be interesting if The Beatles session tapes were released in heir entirety so we could hear how those songs came together - wars and all. Yet his own solo output appears to have an eye on creating a blemish free photo-shopped and overly expensive image.

The book that comes with the set has exclusive photos by the lovely Linda that have an intimacy, access and skill that few others could hope to achieve but like the music section there is a lot of wasted blank space. Macca's peace and love ethos doesn't seem to extend to the world's tree population. Yes, I'm sure it's printed on the best recycled paper but I feel the music takes a back seat here.

As an album, Flowers In The Dirt, has a similar feel to another of that year by a fellow 60's survivor, Bob Dylan's 'Oh Mercy' in that it's someone who has been leaning on old familiar ways for too long and a younger artist gives them a kick up the arse. That might be simplistic but if only for the suggestion that Paul dig out his Hofner bass from the MPL vaults, take him back to the beginning of his song-writing then giving him a fresh outlook, the album is a success. Aside from the songs and singles already mentioned - 'Distractions' is the effortlessly wistful chugging ballad with artful arrangements that Paul excels at. 'Rough Ride' tries too hard with it's funky slap bass, electronic drums and whooping to sound down with the Madchester lot. And the album should have finished with the appropriate 'That Day Is Done', the remaining two (or three) songs feel superfluous.

The deluxe version of FITD is currently £135 quid from the Tax Dodgers which for 3 barely half full CDs, a DVD of home movies, mp3 download and a coffee table book is quite steep. In comparison the deluxe version of Nick Cave's career retrospective with similar music, DVD and book count is more than half that amount (or a third if you got in quick). OK it's Paul bloody McCartney and not the Aussie goth king but still.

Before I heard the deluxe version, just on the contents listing, I would have recommend you go with the 2CD edition and I still do.  You get the main meat of the set but you deserve more and it's not worth the upgrade. Box sets are moving more towards catering to the uberfan who wants all their pudding at once until they are sick. This just feels old hat - it even has a hidden track on the CD for all you 90's kids - and if this isn't aimed at me (a fan of both PM & EC) then, I ask once more, who is it for?

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Point into the middle distance and howl

As a child of the 80's I have memories of this distinct atmosphere that was the lounge after 9pm at night. If you stumbled downstairs, with a bellyache, thirsty or just unable to sleep the television always looked and sounded a certain way - this fuzzy tone to all the scenes as if being played via a cushion and the films (and it was always a film) were lots of talking in rooms. At first glance the opening scenes of this 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers perfectly sums up that feeling. Weird outdoor scenes followed by 70s young people having conversations while a TV blares sport in the background and a bit of snogging.

I think it's probably really hard to come to this film afresh as it's been parodied and ripped off despite being a remake of a 1956 B-movie itself. The original was (despite claims to the contrary later) a thinly veiled allegory about McCarthyism, reds under the bed, small town paranoia and cold war fearmongering. By reimagining events in a city like San Francisco it perhaps makes the film more relatable but also taps into the alienation and disconnection people in a metropolis can feel.

We meet Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) and her dickhead boyfriend - we know he's a dickhead cos he breaks off some serious lovin' to applaud sporting prowess on the TV and later tries to get down and dirty when she is trying to do some work. He's a total git and we really don't mind that he's one of the first people we see "bodysnatched". Meanwhile Donald Sutherland, all perm and 'tache is trying to raise the quality of the city's restaurants via health inspections. As the film progresses he slyly uses the fact that Elizabeth's boyfriend is a) a dick and b) a pod person to cop off with her a few times. And frankly we can't really blame her.

I think I last saw the film around 20 years ago in one of those student all night horror VHS binges and it has aged particularly well. It has that physical body horror style that David Cronenburg would soon make his staple diet which in these days of CGI have a realism that computers can't quite replicate. Yes it's slightly jerky and basic but it's, well, sticky and ookey too. The scene with a set of pod people being hatched and slowly becoming replicas of the main protagonists is eerie and unsettling stuff.

The sound mix - not muffled and dense like my childhood memories - is superb as is the slightly unhinged and avant garde electronic score that soundtracks fleeing, hiding, hatching and general mayhem.
The 'pod scream' is the stuff of nightmares yet it is the slimy, pulpy sounds of the pods that truly catch the ear.

I'm guessing viewers in 1978 would regard this in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate a metaphor for government surveillance and wrong doing. The authorities seem to be the first to fall under the invading powers sway with the police, politicians and even the refuse workers making the project run smoothly by clearing away the bodies of the original people quickly.

But its also a film about what it is to be human, what makes the self. The old Chinese dry cleaner who knows 'that is not my wife' - it looks like her, talks like her but the woman he loves is missing. The humans once sublimated by the pods lose all individuality and become just vessel, oversized puppets driven by a hive mind. Like insects they swarm after their prey, consume and then revert to type but always watching and waiting.  Sutherland's character has to inflict injury on his close friends but are they still human once they have been overtaken by the pod people? Once we become just part of regular society, part of the rat race, just drones for those in charge, how do we hang on to ourselves?

Yet whatever the social commentary it's still a genuinely unsettling and creepy film. Again am rewatching this via Arrow Blu Ray (£6 from Fopp) and it has some lovely extras including a great "pub table" conversation between Horror dude Kim Newman and directors Ben Wheatley & Norman J Warren.

I highly recommend it but whether buying it online or in store, don't look at the newly designed cover art too closely if you haven't seen the film as it contains a major SPOILER!!!!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Don't ask how I'm feeling unless you have a spare half hour

You know that all is not as it should be when you are googling in the early hours of the morning and this is at the top of your results.

And that's good advice BTW. If you or anyone you know is feeling that way then they will listen and not judge.

It's hard to describe what it feels like in those moments.

I wrote some words down the last time it happened and hope this sheds some light

First we have intense and the super hyper reality of inability to sleep coupled with you feeling everything at once. It's hypochondria where every heartbeat is pounding in your head and feels wrong. And fast. And faster. The fastest it has ever gone. And so fucking loud.
Skin tightens throat tightens and dries, it's painful to swallow feels hard to breathe, ears ring, vision is blurred for a moment, so aware of every movement you make, skin sometimes feels itchy and you feel fragile. These are of course all indicators of a panic attack - not those ones that people say hey have when they forget to watch Strictly but the ones when YOU THINK KNOW YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

I've had a all pervading fear of death for as long as I can remember. I even used to gets the shakes when I thought of how old I would be in the year 2000. When it came around I didn't notice but at 12/13 I literally shook with fear that my life would have got so far towards completion. I guess because at that age being in your twenties was pretty much dead. Now the thought of death brings a primal scream at 3am - the thought that this is it and one day it will be nothing. I have no faith - this is all we got and you'd think I would therefore relax and enjoy it - go nuts. I'd love that to be the case.

I think it's likely I will never have a long term relationship, never have children - not that I've ever wanted them - or any of the other ways that people make a mark on the world while they are here.
So I try and make an impression on those I care about and live on in their memories and what they will say about me.

So why then do I sometimes feel like I can't go on living?

Because these moments are irrational and maybe they are just self pitying sloughs of despondency - the sound of loneliness turned up to ten. And you never more alone at the centre of anxiety in the middle of a depressed week/month when you feel numb AS WELL as everything - see, makes no sense. Everything means nothing and that nothingness means everything. The desperate feelings cloud your judgement and that ever lasting blackness seems the right option.
The thing I fear the most becomes my fondest wish.

Thing is I'm a coward. So you probably can all stop worrying.

Doesn't mean I won't be in pain, that I won't often sob uncontrollably, that I won't be horrible to be around, infuriating and just plain sad. But I'm not brave enough to be dead.


Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Dark Of The Matinee

At the moment the film world is going ga-ga over 'La La Land' : a movie that celebrates the golden age of the Hollywood musical. Awards are raining down on it like Gene Kelly pirouetting in a freak shower proving critics and studios alike love little more than a good navel gaze. Yet in 1993 Joe Dante's 'Matinee' paid homage with equal love and nostalgia to an equally beloved era of film-making: the 50's B-movie that was staple of the Saturday morning matinee.

The film didn't do great business in 1993, critics were lukewarm, the studio wre sure how to sell it and it sort of sunk without trace despite having a similar vibe as Dante's 'Gremlins' with an equally great score from Jerry Goldsmith. The backdrop of the main action is the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as the world stands on the brink of destruction, adults panic buy Shredded Wheat and boys think "If the world was gonna end, do you think that pretty girl in class would put out?" With such tension and fear in the air, the last of the celluloid showmen sees a chance to revive his flagging fortunes.

John Goodman's cigar chomping director and entrepreneur,  Lawrence Woolsey, is 20% Hitchcock with beautifully observed personalized trailers but 80% William Castle - a true imaginator who took Hitchcock's eye of film promotion and turned it up to 11. Patrons would be given life insurance certificates in case of being frightened to death, nurses and hearses would be on standby, a 'Cowards Corner' bathed in yellow light where

audience members could flee, skeletons on wires, actors in the auditorium and other gimmicks.

Most infamously he placed devices in cinema seats for 'The Tingler' which would be activated whenever the monster appeared on screen, causing random audience members to scream and jump out of their skins. This is just the sort of mischievousness that would fire the imagination of future schlock king John Waters.

At the heart of the film are fantastic performances from a young cast - new kid in town thrilled by Woolsey's tricks, a socially conscious nerdette, a sexually precocious nymphet with psycho boyfriend and wide eyed kid brother. These aren't annoying, smart mouthed brats but well drawn and acted characters with depth and pathos. Dante seems to have a great knack of picking such talent for his films and 'Matinee' is no exception. Even the crowd scenes of cinema going nuts with popcorn flying feel like genuine snapshots of a bygone era.

However the real love letter is to film itself, a wonderful trailer for 'The Shook Up Shopping Cart' featuring a 'Love Bug' type trolley that foils criminals and brings lovers together is taster for it's centrepiece: 'Mant!' - a perfect amalgamation of all those late 50's post war, nuclear paranoia, commie bashing invasion fear B movies like 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers', 'Tarantula', 'The Giant Mantis' and 'Them!'.

Although dismissed as cheap thrills by the major studios, these films have often gone on to be far more influential and remembered that Oscar winners of the era. Dante picks some of the stars of those movies to appear in his spoof 'film within a film' as well as familiar stock footage only adds to the realism. It's tagline 'Mant! Half Man, Half Ant, All Terror' is funny but accurate a bit like the film itself which is played dead straight and all the more amusing as a result.

The themes of young love, nuclear panic, the last stand of a dying era - before JFK, before The Beatles, before the full horror of Vietnam are all woven into a fine comedy film that deserves to be re-evaluated and rediscovered. It's far smarter, sweeter and funnier than it was given credit in the nineties and has just been given a fresh lick of paint by Arrow Video. Their DVD & Blu Ray set features a fresh transfer and great supplementary material both new and vintage. The biggest treat is a 20 minute cut of 'Mant!' including Woolsey's introduction which really makes you appreciate the love and care that Dante poured into 'Matinee'.

Get yourself some popcorn and treat yourself

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bridget Christie @ Leicester Square Theatre 03\02\17

‘I know you probably didn’t come here tonight to hear a rape joke but on the other hand you’ve all come out dressed like you wanted to. ‘
If that quip didn’t tickle you then I guess you’re never going to be interested in checking out this brilliant hour show from Bridget.  Tonight's audience may well be Guardian reading men hating remoaners to a man \ woman \ undecided that would disappoint her as she doesn’t just want to preach to converted. 

The show’s central conceit is she had written a show on how much she loves gardening but keeps getting dragged into using it as a metaphor for Brexit, Trump & feminism. Whether done at high speed, firing off thoughts and asides or using some brilliantly realised comic conversations with well drawn characters this is a deeply heartfelt, angry, exasperated but hopeful set.

Via being mistaken by The Daily Mail for Charles II, love of fuchsias and The Ladybird Book of Brexit used to teach children what happened in simple terms all the main players including the robot Michael Gove (He’s adopted isn’t he? Bit bloody convenient…) are all skewered by their own words and deeds.

If you are of the belief that name calling and the like helps no one and just builds division then certain gags in the set might not sit well but this is a comic routine not a lecture. Bridget also goes out of her way to make people from all sides of the argument feel welcome but then unleashes a brilliant joke about pedophiles in terms of those voting leave. The political classes and media come in for as much criticism as anyone and it’s all done by such an engaging and incisive person that it’s hard to resist loving her message.

Anyone who thinks she’s one of those unfunny moaning feminist types that the tabloids like to create are missing a very warm, funny, intelligent and cutting piece of art. She is awesome.

Stewart Lee - Content Provider @ Wycombe Swan 10\02\17

Stewart Lee seems to enrage people so much so that I have opted to review his latest tour show here rather than on the blog where I usually dump my opinions.

Stage decorated with the books and DVDs of other comedians , bought for 1p on Amazon 'making them the cheapest building material currently available' he's raging against the dying of the world he knew whether it be record shops, physical live releases, bookshops and one not populated by iPhone waving selfie young idiots. 'By young I mean anyone under 40 and I hope they are not in this audience'. His childish rage at the signifiers of that generation is heart-stoppingly funny, stretched out and exaggerated. 

Of course Stew has his fall-back stand-up devices - dividing the room between a) the stalls who got tickets early so are his real audience, get the more nuanced jokes and laugh at the right things v b) the circle who will just go and see anything, don't get him and he doesn't want their repeat business because they often bring friends who have never heard of him and resent every moment. On the way out I heard one such friend ask "Is he always so angry with his audience?".

It's an approach that you'd think might get tiring if you've seen him a couple of times but it does make you doubt yourself nonetheless. Seemingly an improv piece is cut short by someone leaving their seat, he admonishes us as an audience saying there is no point carrying on with that bit but he then admits that routine doesn't have an ending and so he never does it. Doesn't make the routine any less funny but again unbalances your expectations. It's that uncertainty and ironic balancing act that led to his infamous claim - "No-one is equipped to review me".

He jokingly trumpets his "four \ five star reviews" for this show as a warning that if it doesn't go well then he's not the one at fault. He is genuinely annoyed when a couple leave 3 minutes before the end of the set, wrong-footed by a piece of audience participation doesn't go as it should but then using that to riff off for 10 minutes. Those are the bits that he probably looks forward to the most and knows he is in a position where he can make us wonder if its all part of the plan.

If you can do all of the above and make it damned funny too (I have a sore throat today from laughing) then the world is your oyster.