Thursday, November 30, 2006

Left of Center

One of the catchiest and most accessible pure pop songs ever conceived in the 80s, Suzanne Vega's stellar "Left of Center" is the sort of pop song that has more hooks than a thriving fishing village. Featuring fellow singer-songwriter Joe Jackson's proficient piano chording, a suitably punchy band arrangement, and a quietly confident, subtly upfront vocal from Vega, "Left of Center" surely ranks as one of the most enjoyable moments in Vega's oeuvre. Check out the song and video here, and a great near a-cappella, in-concert version here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"I miss the innocence I've known"

Probably the most accessible and joyous moment on their groundbreaking 2002 album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", Wilco's "Heavy Metal Drummer" is an uplifting, light-as-a-summer-breeze celebration of living, loving and heavy metal bands. Check out the accompanying insouciant video clip here, taken from "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart", the band's 2003 documentary on the making of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot". Altogether now: "I miss the innocence I've known, playing Kiss covers beautiful and stoned!"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Steve Winwood: I'm a Man

Some quarters might decry the stately adult-contemporary route that music prodigy Steve Winwood embarked upon follwing his heady days with the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic, but as this storming live reading of "I'm a Man" proves, he still has the necessary chops to really rock out if and when he wants to. Originally an extended jam session done with the Spencer Davis Group, Winwood trims the fat for this 1988 version, and turns it into a lean, mean soul-rocker that fits perfectly with his latter-day sensibilities. Enjoy it here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Depeche Mode's Martyr

The sole new track on the newly released "The Best of Depeche Mode Vol. 1" is the rather by-the-numbers "Martyr", which sounds like a streamlined version of the one-chord stomp that formed the foundation of 1993's I Feel You".

While the song is nothing to shout about, its accompanying video clip does provide a good sense of the veteran synth-pop outfit's history, told through a clever montage of their promos throughout the years.

As an interesting aside, a valid visual comparison can be made between frontman Dave Gahan's innocent, clean-cut demeanour of the early days and his grungified appearance of the mid-1990s, contrasted with the sober, repentant bearing of the new millennium.

This leads to a minor complaint: there are simply too many shots of Gahan, and not enough images of Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher (and no showing whatsoever of former linchpin member Alan Wilder). Granted that Gahan is the most recognisable member of the group, but the director could have provided a better sense of intra-band balance by giving more representation to the other members.

Nevertheless, you can view the clip here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Love Songs of Van the Man

Amongst the many hats that Van Morrison wear - some of which includes reclusive Celtic mystic, old-style R&B champion, skiffle revivalist and blue-eyed soulster - is one that is not as well-known, but still as noteworthy as the others. Casual fans of Van the Man might not know it, but he has this tendency to occasionally put out transcendent, expressive love songs that speaks volumes and volumes of emotion and pathos. Here's a brief sampling of Van the Man's love songs:

Taken from the historic "Astral Weeks" album, this delicate paean to unrequited love revels in its random, freeform lyrical turns and ethereal instrumental structure. Arguably Van the Man's finest love song.

A jazzy, laid-back rumination that makes wonderful and evocative use of nocturnal imagery to create a musical wonderland for swinging lovers. Highly reminiscent of some of Sinatra's quieter moments.

An open-hearted devotional to a newfound love, "Crazy Love" is a subdued folk-soul number that is perhaps Morrison's most candid love song.

Introspective and almost hymn-like, this unadorned, acoustic-led tune resonates with hesitant hope and controlled emotional upheaval.

A stately yet joyous celebration that is almost a rewrite of that old chestnut "I Love Paris in the Springtime". The "Will you be my baby" ad-libs are perhaps Morrison's most fervour-filled vocal turns.

Undoubtedly Morrison's most accessible love song, this heartfelt, elegant number milks just the right amount of commercialism to make it a primary radio hit. Certainly a better proposition than Rod Stewart's clumsy remake of a few years later.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Artistry of Robbie Robertson

Having notched up a total of an amazing 46 years in the business, former Band frontman and renowned Americana folk-rocker Robbie Robertson has well and truly established himself as one of the foremost exponents of heartland rock, a truly visionary singer-songwriter, and one hell of a guitarist to boot. Perhaps the most noteworthy praise of Robertson's skills as an axeman comes from crusty old Bob Dylan, who once cited Robertson as "the only mathematical guitar genius I’ve ever run into who doesn’t offend my intestinal nervousness with his rearguard sound".

Robertson's solo albums span a variety of moods, from spacey, folk-tinged art-rock (his eponymous debut, and still one of the best debut albums ever in late 20th-century rock), to measured New Orleans cadences (his second album, 1991's "Storyville"), to atmospheric Native American tonalities (1994's "Music for the Native Americans" and 1998's "Contact from the Underworld of Redboy").

However, one often overlooked aspect of Robertson's artistry is that he also does a fair amount of soundtrack work, having contributed tracks to and even occasionally scoring films like "King of Comedy", "Any Given Sunday" and "Gangs of New York".

A recent featured song can be found on the soundtrack to fire-fighting flick "Ladder 49", and the song in question is the stately, crafted ballad "Shine Your Light". While the song itself doesn't boast any of Robertson's trademark innovative production touches, it's still a strong, inspired composition that can stand proudly next to any of Robertson's past works. Check out the song and video here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Finn Brothers: Won't Give In

Neil and Tim Finn are both blessed with that rarest of gifts: singer-songwriters who can retain a genuine artistic sensibility while having a nose for commercial, chart-friendly melodies. This songwriting acumen has resulted in brilliant standards like "I Got You", "Weather With You", "Persuasion", "She Will Have Her Way", and of course, the deathless "Don't Dream It's Over".

This video clip for their superb 2004 comeback single, "Won't Give In" (their first one under the Finn Brothers name since 1995) has a similar concept to the much-celebrated "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M., albeit with a less heavy-handed approach, and a more optimistic, knowing tone. Check it out here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Bill Evans Trio: "My Foolish Heart"

The Bill Evans Trio's legendary 1961 performance at the Village Vanguard still remains the benchmark for virtually all following jazz-trio gigs. The indisputable highlight of that historic session is their rendition of the American Songbook standard "My Foolish Heart", given a pensive, thoughtful reading that skilfully draws out the inherent melancholia of the tune, and aptly displays Paul Motian's delicate brushwork, Scott LaFaro's expressive pizzicato pluckings, and of course, Evans's stirring and sterling ivory tickling. The magic is thankfully captured on the clip here.

In the Name of the Father

Bono and Gavin Friday’s title-track duet for Neil Jordan’s powerful 1994 political drama “In the Name of the Father” constitutes one of the most underrated, yet effective movie theme songs. A potent combination of Irish-folk skirlings, military-march cadences and techno-rock rhythms, the song is matched with a gripping video clip incorporating scenes from the film and other related imagery. Check it out here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

All I Want is You

Back when U2 were still earnest, unpretentious, rabble-rousing bleeding-heart liberals, Anton Corbijn made a striking video clip for one of the band's most underrated singles, 1988's "All I Want is You". Anchored by a straightforward unrequited-love narrative set in a circus camp, and featuring the main protagonists of a dwarf and a trapeze artist, the black-and-white promo for "All I Want is You" still ranks as one of the most poignant videos to ever emerge from the otherwise glitzy, excess-filled 1980s. Peruse it here.

Forever Not Yours

Featuring a hilarious modern-day take on Noah's Ark, Norwegian pop institution a-ha's 2002 promo clip for "Forever Not Yours" constitutes one of the wittier videos to be made in recent years. Check it out here, and watch out for the twist ending.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Elephant Talk

One of the most electrifying TV performances ever recorded, this rendering of the jerky, rhythmic "Elephant Talk" by King Crimson is a masterful study in performance art. Led on by Adrian Belew's intense vocalisations and quirky axe-wielding pyrotechnics, and augmented by bassist Tony Levin's brilliant stick undertones, drummer Bill Bruford's intricate polyrhythms and the legendary Robert Fripp's trademark Frippertronics, "Elephant Talk" practically takes on a life of its own, and giving ample credence and viability to this 1980s incarnation of the brainiac prog-rock legends. Check it out here.