Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Song in Space

Amidst the ornate, long-winded Floydian sonic layers and elaborate prog-influenced set pieces that The Church seem to specialise in these days, it's easy to forget that these stalwarts can still rock out, and how.

Take 2004's exceptional "Song in Space" as an archetypal example of how hard and smart The Church can rock: a strident, edgy rocker filled to the brim with sculpted white noise and a virtual encyclopaedia of guitar effects, couched within a truly commanding and highly assured performance. Check out its spacey promo right here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Touching Evil

The highly ominous and strangely compelling "Touching Evil", starring Jeffrey Donovan as a quirky FBI agent who developed quasi-ESP abilities after a near-fatal shooting, remains one of the most underrated crime series to have been axed before its time was up.

One of the most striking aspects of the show has to be its brilliantly eerie, super-spooky theme, which is certainly worthy of being included amongst the ranks of all-time great TV themes. Check out the highly effective and atmospheric opening sequence and theme here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Living Colour's "Type"

Rock stalwarts Living Colour defied all preordained musical conventions in their heyday, performing a unique blend of rock that merged elements of so-called “black” music types with wildly disparate genres like hardcore punk, art-rock, and even avant-garde jazz into a seamless whole.

A stellar example of the archetypal Living Colour sound is "Type", a full metal jacket of a song that is filled with regimented, lock-step aggression, perfectly suited for its denunciatory lyrical message targeting social apathy, political hubris and crass consumerism. Check out its brilliantly executed and pertinently forceful promo here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'm Afraid of Americans

A brutal, unflinching indictment of the vagaries and homogeneity of American culture and its various quirks, David Bowie's utterly brilliant "I'm Afraid of Americans" is made even more more fearsome in a terrific remixed version done by industrial-pop majordomo Trent Reznor (a.k.a. Nine Inch Nails), which ups the ante on the original's inherent extreme noise terror.

Check out the smartly done, "Taxi Driver"-inspired promo - featuring insane stalkers (Reznor as the primary psycho), rampant, uncontrolled gun violence and misguided religious orthodoxy as its main subjects - here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)

One of the most energetic numbers in veteran singer-songwriter Joe Jackson's vast and varied repertoire (he has tried on everything from post-punk power-pop to reggae-tinged dub-pop to neo-classicist symphonies), "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" is a clever modern-day update of Louis Armstrong's boisterous hot-jazz grooves. Check out a terrific, vigorous live rendition here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Various Phases of Elvis Costello

It's an interesting exercise to compare the Elvis Costello of today to the incarnation from days gone by. When Costello first started way back in the mid-1970s, the Woody Allen lookalike was a virtual, virulent firebrand, spewing bitter yet witty diatribes at such diverse subjects like conservative politics, prevalent racism, unrequited love, and working-class tedium.

However, as time went by, Costello began to incorporate a wider range of styles into his musical palette (and acquired a sharper fashion sense in the process). Absorbing everything from twangy country, Brill Building pop and modern classical to bouncy reggae, lilting folk and fervent R&B, Costello also began collaborating with luminaries of the genres like Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison and even opera diva Anne Sofie von Otter.

Here's a brief sampling of the various artistic phases of one of the sharpest pop geniuses of recent times:

ALISON (1977)
Costello's love songs are usually sugar-coated poison pills, and this one is no exception. A pensive mid-tempo ballad that hides some of the nastiest lyrics that he has ever penned, this bittersweet ode to romantic betrayal and illusory happy endings is the perfect flip side to The Police's equally vicious stalker anthem "Every Breath You Take".

A ska-influenced rocker that is arguably one of the most tightly wound numbers in Costello's vast repertoire, this refreshing blast takes careful aim at the trends of the day, targeting in particular transitory fashion fads and the superficialities of skin-deep beauty.

By the time of his third album (1979's utterly brilliant "Armed Forces"), Costello had taken on a decidedly leftist political stance. A pointed, barbed attack on hawkish Tory conservatives, their manipulative values, and the ways and means by which they control the thoughts of the ordinary working stiff, this bitter diatribe (highly applicable in this post-9/11 climate of religious ultra-fundamentalism and superpower-endorsed neo-conservatism) is paradoxically and brilliantly set to a jaunty piano riff and some marvellous harmony vocals.

Costello goes the new wave route, with production help from the dynamic duo of Langer and Winstanley. While the tune is a tad polished, and the arrangement just a little too ornate (as befits the Langer and Winstanley approach), it's still a commendable update of classic late-1960s Motown grooves. The presence of the Afrodiziak singers on backing vocals is a nice finishing touch.

A nice little straightforward pop number that became a modest hit in the US, this Paul McCartney-assisted bauble is a sympathetic analysis of growing old and attendant forgetfulness, with a steady backbeat reminiscent of mid-period Beatles.

The Brodsky Quartet collaborated with Costello on this minimalist-informed piece, a deceptively calm paean to suicide. The surfeit of strings does threaten to overwhelm the proceedings, but it's redeemed by Costello's unerring sense of melody.

An edgy electronica-inspired ditty taken from "The X-Files" TV soundtrack, this Brian Eno-assisted effort is remarkable in its use of ambient-style patterns and Numan-esque synth effects. Not to mention the decidedly surreal lyrical imagery.

Costello is in a rare open-hearted mode on this measured chamber-pop collaboration with veteran pop classicist Burt Bacharach. Adorned with an archetypal Bacharach string arrangement and boasting a nicely matured Costello vocal, this is exactly the sort of composition that could never be attempted by the Elvis Costello of the nascent years.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Unplugged Albums

Acoustic reworkings of a band's back catalogue are oftentimes tricky propositions. How do you put a fresh and inventive spin on this frequently used and abused musical concept? Well, here are three stellar examples of unplugged albums that have distinguished themselves through sheer artistic ingenuity, by coming up with remarkable and novel takes on the traditional unplugged aesthetic:

DAYS OF SPEED (Paul Weller, 2001)
The Modfather's inherent rough and ready sensibilities are brought to the fore on this project, which allows him to present stripped-down, but no less compelling versions of his best-loved tracks. Jam classics like "Town Called Malice" and "That's Entertainment" sound better than before, while solo standards like "You Do Something to Me" and "Out of the Sinking" are refreshingly loose. Mention should also be made of the fact that a couple of Weller's straitjacketed Style Council nuggets are also set free from their exacting Northern soul bindings, for a decidedly different .

SOLO ACOUSTIC VOL. 1 (Jackson Browne, 2005)
Veteran singer-songwriter Jackson Browne is a revelation on this well-crafted album of acoustic renditions, which has classics like "The Pretender", "Take It Easy" and "Fountain of Sorrow" presented in a stark, minimalist environment, allowing them to breathe in their new acoustic refittings. Browne's between-song banter (the work was recorded during his 2004 solo tour) is also insightful, enlightening, and quirkily humorous.

Not so much an unplugged effort than a completely new listening experience. Bolstered with the inclusion of five new songs, Experimentalism is the keyword of the day, as the Goth-rock veterans incorporate subtle electronic effects, add some artful vocal trickery, and modify a few instrumental bits. Also noteworthy for the band's bemusingly wry performance of early hit "The Unguarded Moment" (whose Spanish interpretation gives the album its title), a song never played live for at least twenty years.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Meet Danny Wilson

One of the more underrated and under-recognised outfits to emerge from the fertile Glasgow-pop scene of the late 80s is the three-man Danny Wilson, who took their band name from the title of a Frank Sinatra film.

Melding classic straghtforward pop sensibilities with clever touches of Steely Dan-like jazz-rock and Celtic folk, Danny Wilson made two polished, poppish albums (1987's "Meet Danny Wilson" and 1989's "Be Bop Mop Top") which charted modestly, and then broke up. At lest frontman Gary Clark went on to have a fairly respectable career as a songwriter.

Two of their more well-known numbers can be listened and viewed here: the bittersweet "Mary's Prayer" and the effervescent "Davy".

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lesser-Known Sting

Two of the more lesser-known singles from former Police chief Sting are "Mad About You" and "Why Should I Cry for You", both taken off his mortality and aquatic-themed 1991 album "The Soul Cages". The arabesque atmospherics of "Mad About You" provide an appropriate musical backdrop to the song's take on the David and Bethseba parable, while the lost-love lamentation "Why Should I Cry for You" is presented in an evocative, windswept sea-shanty form.

Watch the "Casablanca"-influenced video clip for "Mad About You" here, and the nautical-influenced promo for "Why Should I Cry for You" is here.