Saturday, June 26, 2010

Falling Down

Usually well-regarded (or notorious, depending on one's viewpoint) for their drolly straightforward, no-frills trad-rock values, Brit-pop institution Oasis opted for a more varied approach around the time of the new millennium, incorporating more eclectic influences into their basic artistic blueprint. Erstwhile band mastermind Noel Gallagher developed a more catholic musical palate, taking in a myriad of hitherto untouched genres like electronica, psychedelia, folk and prog-rock. This newfound aesthetic resulted in a fair bit of experimentalism in Oasis's music, and surprisingly, even won over a sizeable coterie of new fans. A prime example of this experimental methodology is 'Falling Down', taken from 2008's 'Dig Out Your Soul' album, which nicks the all-too-familiar skittering, compressed treated backbeat of the Beatles' legendary 'Tomorrow Never Knows', and uses it as the rhythmic foundation of a neo-psych-rock epic about disillusionment and psychosis. Check out the compelling, narrative-driven video clip, which shows the debauchery-speckled travails of a fictional member of the British Royal Family.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hounds of Love

'Hounds of Love' from 1985 remains reclusive British chanteuse Kate Bush's most realised effort, an ambitious, experimental yet accessible collection of forward-thinking art-rock pieces that instantly became the magnum opus of her career. It rightfully became Bush's first number one album on the British charts, and spawned a series of hit singles that all made it to the Top 20, and also became firm fan favourites. It's worth any self-respecting music student's time to go over the original tracks to discern how Bush effectively harnessed her creative energies to create such a tour de force.

'Hounds of Love' kicks off with the propulsive 'Running Up That Hill', a driving rocker with a kinetic rhythm that builds up to a strong climax. The nervy title track is up next, a leftfield pop number with an orchestral tinge, while the expansive 'The Big Sky' is as wide-screen and cinematic as its title suggests. The measured 'Watching You Without Me' is a diversion into angular electro-pop, while 'Under Ice' is a shimmering neo-classical showcase, anchored by dramatic violin pizzicatos.

'Mother Stands for Comfort' provides a moment of solace in the scheme of things, before the pace picks up again with the richly textured 'Cloudbusting', a hypnotic mantra that is anchored by an insistent cello-driven melody. 'And Dream of Sheep' is a quiet Celtic-informed ballad, while 'Waking the Witch' is a piece of intentionally complicated art-rock. 'Jig of Life' is a jocular knees-up of a song, living up to its mirthful appellation, and 'Hello Earth' is a bagpipe-permeated seven-minute epic. The closing 'The Morning Fog' makes for the perfect coda, a carefully contented, brightly coloured celebration of life and all its diversities.

So, even if Bush is blissfully enjoying the fruits of her labour these days, content to languish in semi-retirement, she can rest easy, for 'Hounds of Love' has long ago cemented her name in rock-music history. This is, by all means, an outstanding 1980s-era art-rock classic, and solid proof of Kate Bush's innovative and singular artistry.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Veteran Goth-rockers The Church have never been more commercially successful than they were in the late 1980s, when they shifted temporarily to the decidedly alien surroundings of Los Angeles to lay down tracks for what would become the 'Starfish' album from 1988. Up to that point, the outfit had only tasted cult success in their native Australia and a few other limited markets, with a handful of modestly charting singles that consolidated their reputations as competent exponents of psychedelic rock. However, it was 'Starfish' that constituted their real breakthrough in the all-important American market, managing to reach the Billboard Top 40, with the lead single 'Under the Milky Way' creeping into the Top 20.

'Starfish' also marked a noticeable change in the band's basic sound, moving from their usual jangly-guitar template to a wider canvas of various sonic colours and wide-screen production values. The band also tightened their songwriting focus, laying some of their most engrossing and engaging tunes on record, a discernible break from the hazier textures of their preceding efforts. This translates into a wonderfully dynamic and resonant record that successfully bridges the gap between critical acclaim and commercial achievement, while greatly improving the band's creative sensibilities.

'Starfish' opens with the expansive 'Destination', which detailed a disquieting journey through a harsh and surreal landscape. 'Destination' also helped to set the pace for the rest of the album, which seemed to be a musical travelogue of the band's American sojourn. But it was the next number that was the indisputable highlight, the uneasily dreamy but highly atmospheric 'Under the Milky Way' (complete with a synthesised bagpipe solo as a middle-eight). This well-constructed and elegant tune was a surprise entry into the American Top 40, and remained The Church's signature song.

The rest of 'Starfish' doesn't let up for a minute. The quietly menacing 'Blood Money' practically brimmed with cunningly concealed venom, while the assuredly charging rocker 'North, South, East and West' showed off the band's electric-guitar riffing skills to considerable effect. 'Reptile' was another standout, being as sinuous and snaky as the title suggested. Rhythm guitarist Peter Koppes laid down a rhythm-guitar riff that slithered stealthily, punctuated by lead guitarist Marty Willson-Piper's quick lead-guitar stabs, which sounded like the musical equivalent of a serpent's bite.

Elsewhere, 'Antenna' was a sea-shanty guitar waltz that danced along at a stately pace, while the whimsical 'A New Season' is a mid-tempo number with wailing seagull-guitar effects. The closing 'Hotel Womb' was another winner, a confident rocker garnished with ringing guitar riffs and carefully modulated synth effects that detailed the end of the journey started in 'Destination'.

It's no overstatement to say that 'Starfish' has truly stood the test of time, even more than 20 years after its initial release. The performances here are uniformly excellent, and the band has never sounded more artistically confident than on here. Truly the work of a band at the virtual height of its powers, and arguably the Church's most commercially realised record.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Come Talk to Me

Given veteran art-rocker Peter Gabriel’s enduring propensity to mount elaborately themed concert shows (an obvious holdover from his nascent days with legendary progressive-rockers Genesis), it came as no surprise that his extensive ‘Secret World’ tour of 1994, in support of then-current album ‘Us’, boasted rather ornate onstage trappings. Working from a dual-stage concept (the ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ platforms), Gabriel put on invariably aesthetically pleasing performances that drew consistent kudos from press reviewers and diehard aficionados alike. Check out a brilliantly executed rendition of the widescreen ‘Come Talk to Me’, whereby Gabriel initially began singing in a mock classic telephone booth, then slowly emerged from it, being tethered by the receiver cord, and then pulled back into the cubicle again at the end of the rendition, thus giving a slyly literal meaning to the song’s central message of communication breakdown.