My Record Collection 119

Golden Earring – are a Dutch band who have been going for about 50 years now.  I saw them back in the Seventies and bought their hit album.  Since then they have dropped off my radar.  I did buy a double disc of 2 of their later (80’s I think) albums; Paradise in Distress – is okay (if you like straight rock, which of late I have really tired of).  A few good melodies but a quite conventional sound.  Better was a live album Naked 2, quite good versions of their few hits plus a good version of Dylan’s ‘Wheels On Fire.  I also have Radar Love – which is a Greatest Hits, best of which are the title track and ‘She Flies On Strange Wings’.  I went through a phase of quite liking hard rock bands but nowadays I find them more than a bit boring.

Goldfrapp – are a twenty-first Century electronica duo.  Alison Goldfrapp sings and Will Gregory provides the music. I was really impressed with their first album Felt Mountain (2000).   There was nothing quite like it, a very distinctive and weird but compulsive sound.  I saw them a couple of times and the shows were very theatrical with Alison donning an Alsatian head and strange dancers.  However though I have followed them for a few years it has seemed to give slightly diminishing results with each passing record.  The debut didn’t sell very well but on reflection I think it was their best work.  Of course, with the multitude of music out there already it must be hard to come up with anything remotely new.  Best songs on Felt Mountan are the ethereal ‘Lovely head’, ‘Human and ‘Utopia’.  There is a timelessness about the album, the music both modern and almost classical at the same time – and Alison’s voice floating above the melody like an angel.   2003 saw Black Cherry – and a significant change in style.  Gone was the weird vibrato and in came a harder disco sound on half the tracks.  Not that it was unattractive, or unpopular, in fact this was quite a hit record, combining electronic folk on the slower tracks with an infectious updated 80’s feel to the fast ones.  Best tracks ‘Crystalline Green’, ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Forever’, but really the album was all good.  Even me, ever the sceptic concerning 80’s synths and disco, managed to enjoy it.  As ever it was down to the quality of the song-writing; Will Gregory’s melodies and Alison’s lyrics and off-kilter imagery.  In some ways this was a more successful record than their debut, but Felt mountain retains a special place for me.   They followed this with another disco-ish album Supernature, which was another commercial success.  Not so sure I liked this as much – best songs: ‘Ooh-La-La’ and Ride a White Horse’.  2008 saw a complete reversal and Seventh Tree was a far quieter, more ambient album.  I liked it, but felt it lacked any real variation and was too samey.   At least they had dropped the 80’s disco stomp – best songs ‘Happiness’, ‘A and E’ and ‘Cologne, Ceronne Houdini’.  Head First -came out in 2009 and was a return to more dance-oriented music.   Not that this is a bad reord, the tunes are quite good, but there is nothing new here….and fatally nothing that remains in the brain once the CD ends.  Best song is the lead single .Rocket, but even this is instantly forgotten ten minutes later.  The last album of theirs I have is Tales Of Us from 2013.  A return to the pastoralism of Seventh Tree, but slightly better arrangements and songs.  The songs are all named after characters and apparently there is a concept behind them, though what that is appears as obscure as some of the sound on the record.  Lots of orchestra and soft piano and guitar, which I should love, but somehow the album had never gelled with me, although on a couple of re-listens it does begin to grow on you.  I am always expecting more – and maybe the truth is that there is no more – no new styles to discover, no new feelings to emote, no new genre…. But the sounds they created on Felt Mountain were so unique they could have gone further along that new trail. Instead they sought popularity and began retreading old themes.  Oh well..

Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie.  A Scottish band I know almost nothing about.  It started with my buying a CD single of theirs, more for the interesting cover because I had never heard of them – but the name, a title of a book by Jean Rhys, intrigued me too.  I liked it and bought a couple of others and then the album Hammer and Tongs. (1991).  This was their second album, they had some bad luck with record companies and struggled to get a decent deal.  Anyway, as a curio I quite like it, they had an enthusiasm and wrote good songs.  Strangely both their albums and CD singles are now rarities and hard to come by.  Girl backup singer Shirley Manson went on to form Garbage (see G) but the rest of the band drifted into other groups with little success.  Best songs  ‘Now we are Married’ and ‘Love Child’.  I also used to have their debut album Good Deeds And Dirty Rags on vinyl, and it is very hard to find now on CD, but it was just as good as Hammer and Tongs.  One of those mysteries why they never made it; makes you realise just how many really good bands failed and have been lost.  

My Record Collection 118

Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man. Beth Gibbons, vocalist extraordinaire with Portishead (see P) and bass player Paul Webb from Talk Talk under the pseudonym of Rustin man, decided to make an album Out of Season in 2002.   Portishead, for all their success in the nineties have been very slow at releasing any new material.  I know nothing about Paul Webb really, but together they have managed to make a hauntingly beautiful album.  Harking back to the quietude of Nick Drake (see D) the album drifts in and out of your consciousness, accompanied by subtle strings and woodwind and Webb’s bass. Gibbons sings strange sad songs in an often bluesy drawl.  I love this record, if only for it’s quirkiness.  Best songs – opener ‘Mysteries’, ‘Tom the Model’ and ‘Funny Time Of year’ where she sounds quite like Billie Holiday on Strange Fruit.  So far no hint of  a follow up, or indeed anything new from Portishead-though Beth has recorded with an orchestra a Gorecki Symphony (ordered but not played yet).

Dave Gilmour – he of Pink Floyd (see P).  Just one album, On An Island (2006), and pretty though it is, it ‘aint Pink Floyd.  Some nice guitar work and gentle songs but I think he needed the contrariness of Roger Waters (see W).  The album is pleasant enough but with his history we expected more.  To be honest I have just played it twice and it is hard now for me to recall anything which stuck in my brain.

Godley& Crème – There once was a band called 10cc (see T) who had quite a bit of chart success in the Seventies.  Four incredibly talented writers who maybe had gone as far as they could as a unit split in 1977.  Well to be fair Kevin Godley and Lol Crème split from the band who continued for a few more years.  Initially the pair wanted to develop a device they had invented, a Gizmotron or “Gizmo”, which basically could hold and sustain a guitar note or chord to develop a multitude of effects.  Of course this soon became obsolete as synthesisers could do the job on a keyboard where the Gizmo had to be subtly played on guitar.  Anyway, partly in order to promote the Gizmo, and partly because they had written a raft of songs and music the pair conceived a concept album Consequences, which grew and grew into a triple album.  They decided to incorporate a play within the music about a divorce settlement being hammered out in a musician’s attic, against a backdrop of the world descending into climate chaos with fires floods and hurricanes being played out on the Gizmo.  Vocalist Sarah Vaughan also sang some of the songs. I loved the album, especially the spoken excerpts where Peter Cook uses four different voices and wrote some amazingly funny dialogue.  The record was lambasted at the time as overlong and over indulgent, especially as punk was in its brief heyday.  A triumph of musicality too, with some beautiful melodies and great music.  Overlong – yes, overindulgent – I should say so.  But brilliant none the less. It was a flop, of course.  But it is one of my most treasured albums – not least because it is only available as a Japanese double CD at an extortionate price.

Two years later a single album was released of Music from Consequences.  No changes at all, just eight of the most lyrical songs from the album.  I actually got this on CD before tracking down and buying the full album a few years later on CD.

L was released the following year and was a complete contrast, mostly faster and shorter songs with more rhythm and dynamics.   Opening song ‘This Sporting Life’ is about suicide and ‘Punchbag’ subjects bullying – however this is far from a downbeat album, in fact it brims with infectious tunes.  The album appears to be influenced by Zappa (see Z) in it’s jazzy notes and time signatures.  A very entertaining record which demanded me listening three times in a row (which only some albums manage).  Other favourite songs are ‘Sandwiches of You’ and the lazy sounding ‘Art School Canteen’.  A complete contrast to the songs on consequences and the album sold quite well.  The following year saw their third album Freeze Frame, which despite an incredible starter ‘An Englishman in New York’ seems to go off the boil somewhat with a lot of instrumentals.  Mind you the last two songs ‘MugShots’ and ‘Get Well Soon’ a seemingly personal note to end the record with.  Not quite the success that L was but they were still experimenting with sounds and recording techniques, some of which worked better than others.

Two years later and they hit the jackpot with their most successful album IsmIsm. Wow, what a record.  From the opening track ‘Snack Attack’ about the desire for food to the sardonic sarcastic yet so realistic ‘The Party’ the album just rolls along. It also has two of their biggest singles hits – ‘Wedding bells’ and ‘Under Your Thumb’ – a cracker of an album.  Two years later and the disappointing ‘Birds of Prey’ came along.  Despite a few good songs the duo seemed to be running out of ideas – or maybe they were just moving into their second career as video directors for other artists.  But this record seemed as thought hey were just treading water.  Best tracks – ‘My Body the Car’ and ‘Save A mountain For Me’.   Then a gap of two or three years and a strange record emerged – The History mix – Part 1.  This was, possibly the first, re-mix album; a jumble of excerpts and stitched together and re-recorded bits from their time as a duo and also from their former band 10CC.  Well, at the time I quite disliked this; I saw it as cheating – despite the fact that it did have one original song ‘Cry’, which was a huge single.  But, as is often the case, now with the benefit of time passing I see it as quite creative really.  Still a strange record – as if they were giving a finger to the record company.  Anyway their last record in the late 80’s was far better – Goodbye Blue Sky.  A much more conventional record – almost middle of the road by their standards.  Nice melodies and easy to listen to, but a million miles away from Consequences.  And, of course, the obligatory Greatest Hits – Images.