Monday, September 03, 2012

Great Albums: 42 - Roxy Music (Roxy Music, 1972)

If I were giving proper credit, I'd have to give this album a more thorough analysis than a couple of paragraphs here.  In fact, there are single songs on this debut LP which deserve whole posts to themselves.  Is there a better opening quarter in music than 'Remake/Remodel', 'Ladytron', 'If There is Something' and '2HB' (well, yes, there are -  but not many)?  Is there a more ambitious single track in music than 'If there is Something' (probably not)?  Has a voice ever sounded as riddled with vice as Bryan Ferry singing 'Death could not kill our love for you' (not in popular music, no)?  Or as arch as the opening vocal on 'Strictly Confidential' (only - again - in Bowie's back catalogue)?

It's an uneven record, though not in the usual sense of good and bad.  More it's album that leaps all over the place in terms of style, tempo, tone and instrumentation both in between tracks and often within the tracks themselves.  'If there is something' starts as country twang in the style of the Rolling Stones and ends up as the sort of messianic cry that Bowie did so successfully at the time.  The frantic pop genius of 'Do the Strand' comes straight after the melancholy 'Sea Breezes' - though to be fair, the  'Sea Breezes' is as schizophrenic a track as anything else in pop, suddenly stopping the slow, sad keyboards about three and a half minutes in and changing into a different (though equally lonesome) song altogether, complete with stuttering, almost jokey vocal, jazz bassline, discordant, off beat drums and guitar feedback - then drops back into the initial sound for the final minute.  'In Every Dream Home a Heartache', menawhile is just bloody scary.

Roxy Music were the only artists in the seventies to get within touching distance of Bowie (and Ferry managed to out-louche even Dave at his most coked-up) - the fact this - their debut - is by a distance their best album possibly explains why they were never able to top him though.

Roxy Music on Spotify
If there is Something on Youtube

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Sunday, September 02, 2012

Great Albums: 43 - It'll End in Tears (This Mortal Coil, 1984)

I was sixteen in 1986.  Not a good age, really - no girlfriend, an obsession with kids' tv show Doctor Who (those two facts may be linked) and a preference for wearing diamante jewellry, white silk shirts and chains of pearls (that fact may also be linked to the first one).  Sure, I had the Smiths and Bowie but the real unflowering of music for me was still twelve months away.

Enter 'It'll End in Tears'.  Nicked to order from the Other Record Shop by the big brother of a guy at school, the tape of this album ended up in my schoolbag one rainy morning alongside that not quite Cocteau Twins album they did with Harold Budd (which I hadn't asked for) and Bowie's 'Heroes' (which I had). I can't even remember now why I wanted It'll End in Tears (possibly I never asked for that either - it was, in retrospect, quite a hit and miss operation but each tape was only a pound so even then not a huge amount of money - and the random nature of some of the stuff you ended up with was a little like an early, luddite version of doing playing random tracks on Spotify).

Anyway, in some ways this single album was as big a musical revelation as the now legendary Tape Dave Benger made the following year, but whereas the Tape was full of noisy guitar tracks by scruffy indie bands - the Weather Prophets, the Woodentops, Andy White, Rote Kapelle, the Shop Assistants, A Witness, Stump and many, many more - It'll End in Tears was full of cover versions of bona-fide forgotten classics, all of which I later tracked down and each of which added something vital and intriguing to my record collection over the next couple of years.  Two tracks stood out though - not least because they were sung by what appeared in every respect to be an actual, came-down-from-God-to-freak-me-the-fuck-out angel.  Coincidentally, the singer in question - Liz Fraser, for those who inexplicably don't know who I'm talking about - also turned up on the Harold Budd tape but while that was good, the Mortal Coil cover of Tim Buckley's 'Song to the Siren' remains one of the most astonishing vocals in music.

Even more astonishing though is the fact it's not even her best vocal on the LP.

'Another Day', a beautiful song by Roy Harper in which he sings with both male and female inflections to describe a love affair unfulfilled, is fairly wonderful in its original format, but Fraser makes it hurt, where Harper makes it pretty, and absolutely nails every one of the big moments in the song.  It's my favourite performance by her - and she's sang several of my all-time favourite tracks - and the fact that the album also contains 'Song to the Siren' (and several excellent non-Fraser covers amongst the atmospheric, string-bathed originals which fill out every Mortal Coil release) means it'll never be far from my turntable/cd player/iPod.

It'll End in Tears on Spotify
Another Day on YouTube
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