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The Best Of
The Membranes - CD
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I'm not sure you can apply 'Best of' to the Membranes. It doesn't fit cosily with their world view.They, and the kind of 'industry' that promotes 'Best ofs' are not comfortable bedfellows.
The Membranes were cheerfully awkward, sniggering-ly belligerent and in their own minds anyway; sexy, subversive and vital.They made unnervingly loud pop music without conscience or deference. It's the kind of sound scientists invent to set off earthquakes. A helicopter gunship attack on Las Vegas. You don't wonder HOW they're doing it, you're just glad they do.
From modest alt-pop beginnings ('Ice-Age' sounds like a failed Dr Who theme) through the fine Rondelet singles 'Muscles' and 'High St Yanks', stopping for a deranged 'I Am Fish Eye' on the way to the final lunacy of 'Kafka's Dad' and 'Tatty Seaside Town'; 'Best of' (I'm starting to like it, it could catch on...) just about works.
It's not a certified 5-star classic by a long way, some of the stuff (particularly in the middle ) just doesn't work however hard you chew it, but as a whole it has enough goodly racket to keep the slavering wolf nailed gorily down (although some of this row is monstrous, the Membranes' are less the big bad wolf - more the three little pigs).
Some of it's overtly political, though this particular nobelium's raison d'etre isn't to render you unconscious by dogma. It's a side order, to go with the main course of raw, red meat, but through it all, you get a vivid sense of singer John Robb's corrosive bite and juvenile humour. It's kind of anti-fashion, bombastic Benny Hill for people who REALLY wanna wind up their Springsteen playing neighbours.
Very much an ugly sister to Adam's 'Friend or Foe', there's a definite air of something worthwhile emerging from abject failure.Like Adam, a long-gone caring/worrying about critical appraisal (unlike Morrissey who's obsessed with it) leads to previously maligned artists, released from the pressure, producing class.
Forever tongue-in-cheek, forever laughing at the grimmest of life-scenario's, the Membranes deserve to be remembered for more than just coming from Blackpool and touring behind the (then) Iron Curtain for 50 weeks of the year,I wouldn't mind betting it was the bassy rumbling of 'Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder' that initially loosened the bricks of the Berlin Wall, not diplomacy.
I'm not sure how influential they were, I can hear them everywhere, but that means nothing, just that I miss them.
Fantabulosa! The Kenneth Williams Story
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The trials and tribulations of Kenneth Williams: has there ever been an existence so finely suited to a dramatization? Has there ever been a span of life screaming so loudly to be explored and dissected?Confused, unfulfilled, excessively complicated and psychotically frustrated - both physically and artistically.An actors dream I would imagine; along the lines of King Lear or Joan of Arc...
Obviously, there's more to playing Williams than pulling faces and saying "stop messin' about" in a silly voice and Sheen is well alive to this. His representation in 'Fantabulosa' is intimate, amusing and warm. There's not many actors physically suited to playing Williams, never mind getting inside his ever expanding psyche, but Sheen manages both. Impressively and colourfully.Whether he's displaying cheerful disdain to an adoring public or subtly exploring the dark corners of a desperately awkward and eventually solitary sexuality, Sheen is superb at every asking. There is no hint of accidental rightness anywhere; either in Sheen's performance or in the body of 'Fantabulosa' itself.The awards speak for themselves.
The script is a tantalizing mix of license, anecdote and extract from Williams own word - primarily his famous diaries. Sheen's voice-over is tremendous, possibly the highlight of the film: delicate, accomplished inflection replacing the bawdiness and ribaldry of elsewhere.
The only minor criticism is, of course, 'Fantabulosa's length. Major characters are whipped past (his association with Joe Orton, for example, is worthy of a film in itself), in order to keep the whole shebang moving, but as it's as much the Sheen Show as it is the Williams Story, even this is not damagingly detrimental. It is slightly vulgar that so much of such an entertainingly full life should be omitted to the appeasement of time (Williams is furious, wherever he is), but maybe that's just reviewer greed.Leave 'em wanting more....as they say.
'Fantabulosa' is something we often do brilliantly in this country - being done brilliantly again. Moving drama with humour and guile; gripping from the off, and not letting go 'til the final haunting sequence.Superbly mounted, staged, filmed, scored, cast and directed.You don't really need to be told to buy this, do you?
Thames Valley Leather Club
Always - CD
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Courageously operating on the borders, Always - along with Klaxon 5 - were probably the best of the 'el!' groups. Certainly the most representative and recognisable of the rock orthodoxy - whatever the implications of that are.Always are always Richard Wright, who looks like a young, un-fat Steve MacDonald. He's a delicately polite, un-savage man; far removed from the vagaries of the world-of-rock apes and cheerfully peddling his particular, darting innuendo with so much nonchalance and mirth.
Contradiction? Wright has some great songs: how fantastic it is to hear 'Amateur Detection' again. I can only pray you get some sense of it: delicate, ironic, slight... the list is long and pointless. You need to feel that aching bass-line; taste those sparse strings; drown in those florid lyrics...But 'TVLC' isn't a one-trick pony. It brims with ideas and decadent creativity. With fingertip control, Wright picks his way through stormers (ok, quiet stormers) , cheeky ballads, pop, weaving instrumentals, jazz...he's bloody heroic!
The mid to late 80's became all a-quiver with loud, mountainous rock, which has pretty much continued until now. The brilliance of post-punk could never have lasted because in general, rock musicians are inordinately thick and idle. Meaning mosh-pit diving, crass lyrics and staunch fist-clenching are a lot easier to achieve than worth, stately-ness, and refreshment. In other words; you would never have seen Always being pompous and idiotic at Glastonbury, V or any other music crematorium horror-show. Too dignified ..too much up top. Too much The Monocled Mutineer.
'TVLC' isn't as aggressive as my review, it isn't obstinate or unbridled music; it doesn't care the world is at Reading --- Richard Wright is at home, with his hot-water bottle and Horlicks, getting ready for the umpteenth viewing of 'Brideshead Revisited'.
Intelligence is forlornly absent in many and they are therefore lost.Wright is distant Olivier to today's cave-man Jim Carrey; adroit Kenneth Williams to intimidating Frankie Boyle...It's about degrees.. Always is.
Blood On The Tracks (Remaster)
Bob Dylan - CD
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Dylans best, and one of the top albums of all time. This is up there with 'Rumours', 'Closer' and 'Astral Weeks'. If you've not bought it yet, (and there is real shame attached to that admission) you must convince youself the reason you haven't is that you're looking forward to buying it, and don't wanna ruin the expectation. And by that criteria, I envy you.Every-one else, wherever else music's played, knows 'BOTT' for what it is.A masterpiece.
Black And White (Remastered)
The Stranglers - CD
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The Stranglers finest hour, and that's saying something. Throbbing, malevolent noise, just what rock music should be all about.Full of surprises, the biggest one being a rip-roaring song about Mishima(!) called 'Death and Night and Blood'. Harsh, but there's not much ease or convenience to be found anywhere on 'Black and White'It's a challenge, and that's one reason I like it, but it also has extra-ordinarily strong idea's and no shortage of spit and nihilistic vehmence.This is a peak of peaks, but as a general Stranglers rule - first four albums superb, shun the rest like shingles.Lessons from the University of Life -courtesy of Cornwell and Burnel.
Hatful Of Hollow (Import)
The Smiths - CD
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Perhaps the greatest compilation of modern music in existence, 'Hatful of Hollow' records all the early Smiths work in it's singles, b-sides and session form. 'Accept Yourself' is the standout, but each and every song is uniquely excellent on one level or another. The Morrissey/Marr axis is murderously creative, the determination to leave a mark driving the adroit words and waspish music to levels all but a VERY few can only dream of.All Smiths albums have good stuff on 'em, but this is the only one that's consistently brilliant from the first note to the last.
76 Kids Forever
Sudden Sway - CD
Interesting, but Cherry Red should be sourcing those brilliant Rough Trade singles and ep's like 'To You With ReGard' and 'Janes Third Party' or even the baffling 'Spacemate'. There's enough SS material stuffed in a vault somewhere to make a blistering album.'76 Kids' is a typical Sway concept, jingly and laconic, but we desperately need those early releases.
CBS Recordings: Only Ones/Even Serpents Shine/Baby's Got A Gun (Remastered)
The Only Ones - CD
It must've been heart-breaking for Pete Perret and his excellent group, the Only Ones, to sit helplessly and watch as much lesser talents, again and again, zoomed past them on the debris-strewn and deeply unfair rocky road to stardom.As good as the Clash, better than Buzzcocks, nearly as good as Magazine and Joy Division, the Only Ones displayed a much greater range of influences than any of these groups. And that gives their music longevity and a deeply satisfying gritty confidence, which is alarming but delicious at the same time.It's a pity they'd split for years when they had a much deserved big hit, and even then it wasn't one of their better songs. 'Another Girl' is included here, but is easily surpassed by the rest of the music on display.'Even Serpents Shine' is my favourite Only Ones album, but it's shades of greatness really, and this 3 cd-set is astonishing value in any currency.What can I say? Superb rock music, distinctive, intelligent and powerful.Simplicity itself.
Give Em Enough Rope
The Clash - CD
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This is something resembling what the Clash could do, when they were on blob.Steely power-pop, delivered at high velocity. Nothing outstandingly brilliant, (you need 'Deny' or 'Straight to Hell' for that) but not a duff track either. I moaned about lack of cohesion in my 'London Calling' review, but this has got it by the bucket-load. In this instance, tensions in the studio were obviously channeled out positively into the songs, and they emerge 100% improved, spitting fire and defiance, refusing to lie down.This would be a 5 star album if the Classic-Clash triumverate of 'White Man', 'Complete Control' and 'City Rockers' had been originally included (some of the greatest music this country has ever produced!) but that's being greedy. It stands up ok without those gems, and is maybe only slightly, a lesser cousin.It has screamers of it's own of course, 'Safe European Home', 'Tommy Gun' 'Cheapskates' and the corny-but-good Mick Jones ballad 'Stay Free' all tick the class Brit-Rock boxes, making sure 'GEER' lives with and often surpasses other lesser albums such as 'Joshua Tree' and 'Morning Glory'Strummer/Jones, against the odds, last two in the trenches and all that, coming out fighting. Showing pride.For me, this is what the Clash were all about.
The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher (2002)
Region 1 DVD
Filmed in his garden on a digi-cam, Ken Russell's 'TFOTLOU' is a bonkers, no-budget charmer, which in no way will re-endear him to Puttnam, Forbes and all the other unimaginative prigs who run the British film industry. Forced into such dramatic action, Russell exhibits the ultimate in guerilla movie-making.He may be shorn of finance, but that doesn't dim his fearsome imagination one jot, in fact, freed from the interference of artistically stifling producers and other British Film Industry yes-men, he regains some of his old swagger, struts his insane stuff once more.The results obviously can't compare to 'the Music Lovers' or 'the Devils', but are disturbingly entertaining if you're in the right frame of mind.A Russell frame of mind, definitely something else again. More of these please Ken.