Friday, January 31, 2014

In the Name of the Father

One of the most striking collaborations of the mid-1990s is the 1994 team-up between U2 frontman Bono and alt-rock enfant terrible Gavin Friday on the title track to Jim Sheridan's biopic of the Guildford Four, specifically Gerry Conlon, 'In the Name of the Father'. An invigorating and rousing musical melange of pulsing bodhran cadences, corruscating, distorted thrash-guitar riffs, and a keening, sampled Uillean-pipe solo, this remarkable modern-rock composition also received a compelling and suitably gritty video-clip treatment, featuring requisite selected footage from the film, interspersed with stock images of the Irish Troubles of the 1970s.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Big Log

Erstwhile Led Zeppelin frontman and certified 20th-century music legend Robert Plant has greatly benefited from an eclectic career since the dissolution of the rock heavyweights back in the early 1980s. Starting with 1982's eclectic 'Pictures at Eleven', Plant has successfully mined various genres. While a lesser mortal might falter at the thought of tackling such diverse disciplines, Plant has had no difficulty in taking on courses like hard rock, bucolic folk, singer-songwriter pop, and even tasteful 1950s-style R&B (having done a cover of the immortal 'Sea of Love' with the ad hoc group the Honeydrippers). All done with the customary Plant aplomb and panache. Check out one of Plant's more well-known solo standards, the ethereally oblique and achingly nostalgic 'Big Log' from 1983, supported by an equally low-key, yet suitably widescreen narrative-driven video clip.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Black Man Ray

China Crisis constitutes a genuine anomaly in the New Romantic community of the early 1980s. The China Crisis songwriting formula basically comprises contemporary, if safe and unpretentious new-wave cues, enriched with relevant elements from the past like impassive Steely Dan sophistication, arch Roxy Music artiness, and the more accessible aspects of Berlin-era David Bowie. It’s not a blueprint that lends itself to instant commercial appeal, especially given the stiff competition put up by China Crisis's more illustrious contemporaries. However, they did have their fair share of followers, even if those same fans have slowly dwindled away as the years went on, eventually consigning them to their present cult-act status. Check out the rather pedestrian video clip to what could be the group's signature tune,'Black Man Ray', a pleasant, polite pop ditty that abounds with clean-cut synth chords and courteous guitar melodies.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Experiment IV

Kate Bush is, without a doubt, one of the most reclusive and secretive singer-songwriters to emerge from the loopy British art-rock surroundings of the late 1970s. While Bush’s works have only been mildly successful, with regards to commercial-chart performance, she has managed to garner a rabidly loyal coterie of true blue fans who have unequivocally worshipped every note and word she has put out on record. Bush's songs are objects of rare art and merit, intricately structured, instrumentally complex compositions that touch upon domestic violence, emotional frigidity, recurrent psychosis and other entertaining subjects unique to the human condition. Check out the propulsive 'Experiment IV' from 1986, one of Bush's lesser known but no less potent singles, which comes with a disturbingly surreal narrative video about a secret military experiment gone horribly wrong.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Of the plethora of muso guitarists who emerged from the 1980s, Eric Johnson genuinely stands out from the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani with his brand of axe-wielding, which takes in a blend of Hendrixian rock firepower, Delta blues influence, post-bop jazz chops and straight-ahead poppiness. This has earned Johnson a bevy of critical accolades, commercial acclaim, and perhaps most importantly, proper recognition from contemporaries like Johnny Winter and Jeff Baxter. Johnson's commercial appeal was given credence by the performance of 1990's high-water mark, the astonishingly well-rounded 'Ah Via Musicom', which spawned three hits on the Billboard Top Ten, and earned him a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental for the blazing, mercurial 'Cliffs of Dover'. Check out one of Johnson's signature tunes, the insistent but carefully paced 'Trademark', which is backed by a humorously surreal video clip.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Time Heals

Peter Hammill, ostensible leader and chief singer-songwriter of prog-rock legends Van der Graaf Generator, has quietly cultivated a parallel solo career for more than forty years, one that might not have reaped any significant commercial rewards, but has considerably bolstered his reputation as one of the bona fide elder statesmen of art-rock. Hammill's approach to his solo work is markedly different from his day-job material with Van der Graaf Generator: while the latter's aesthetic is to take in dark-hued instrumental moodiness and extended, complex song arrangements, referencing impending global apocalypse and humanity's litany of failures, Hammill's artistic range is decidedly more personal in nature, wrapping poetic, measured vignettes in simple, mostly acoustic-based layouts, making for a cerebral brand of rock that resonates with a quiet elegance. Check out the nine-minute 'Time Heals' from 1977, with its multi-segmented compositional structure and keenly observed lyrics that describe the aftermath of a failed romance.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The End

To assume that The Doors were solely about frontman Jim Morrison and his singularly spacey, drug-fuelled poetic vision would be doing one of the most influential bands of the classic-rock era a huge disservice. Although it was the domineering (some would say calculated) theatricality of Morrison that most people would remember The Doors by, the musical proficiencies of the other three members should never be underestimated. Appropriate credit has to be accorded to the highly innovative keyboard chops of Ray Manzarek, the gritty guitar licks provided by Robby Krieger, and the rock-solid, yet inventive drum foundation courtesy of the ever-dependable John Densmore, all working in accord to effortlessly forge the Doors' distinctive sound. This brilliant line-up can be witnessed working at the height of their powers in this rare 1967 television performance of the cinematic, nightmarish epic 'The End'.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Pearl Jam's 'Yield' might not have netted the commercial and fan-fuelled acclaim that greeted stone cold classics like 'Ten' and 'Vs.' upon its initial release in 1998, but it has steadily grown in stature to become one of the more consistently solid works in the veteran rockers' discography. Having successfully extricated themselves from the hermetic trappings of now-defunct grunge-rock sensibilities, the band adeptly laid down a sometimes-difficult, but often-rewarding mix of tightly wound rockers and restrained but heartfelt ballads that finally completed their reinvention. Check out a live reading of the driving, engaging 'Wishlist', a quietly confident piece about the power of creative dreaming, replete with an inventory of out-of-this-world images (“I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off/I wish I was an alien at home behind the sun”).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fool's Gold

For a brief period, from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, The Stone Roses were the virtual rulers of the British music landscape, lording it arrogantly over the masses of faceless house acts, half-baked indie-rock miserablists and inane pop tarts from the Stock Aitken Waterman mass-manufacturing factory. And they did earn all that hubris that they carelessly threw around like so much confetti. Not only had they made possibly the most important British debut album of the decade, they also created the inimitable Madchester sound. For the uninitiated, this particular sound can best be described as an irresistible, hypnotic combination of intricate guitar traceries, an overwhelmingly funky rhythm section, and nonchalant vocals bordering on disdain. And one of the best Roses standards to exemplify this unique sonic is the stratospheric 'Fool's Gold', a druggy, acid-drenched, too-cool-for-words rocker. Check out this definitive Madchester anthem, supported by an appropriately hazy, bleary, mutated-Technicolor video.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Another Brick in the Wall 2

Pink Floyd’s monumental and ambitious ‘The Wall’ remains one of the most essential concept albums ever, with its none-too-subtle intimations to iron-handed authoritarianism, vicious, unbridled fascism and despairing personal psychosis. Held together by the acerbic, cutting lyricism of songwriter Roger Waters and the sturdy mainstream-rock arrangements of guitarist David Gilmour, ‘The Wall’ has gone on to achieve legendary status in the annals of rock history, frequently landing within the lists of imperative records of the genre. One of the most salient and popular tracks from ‘The Wall’ is the strident ‘Another Brick in the Wall 2’, with its unnerving, but still strangely accessible playground-style chorus chant. Check out the suitably bleak, narrative-driven video clip, with its disturbing images of malicious authority figures and cowering, timorous schoolchildren.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Venerable synth-pop institution Pet Shop Boys made a rare foray into political commentary with their 2006 album, ‘Fundamental’, which took well-aimed pot shots at neo-conservative policies, religious fundamentalism, illegal immigration, and other relevant issues of the day. One of the more strident numbers on ‘Fundamental’ is the biting ‘Integral’, which lambasts the then-ruling Labour Party’s national identity card plans, neatly couched in an intentionally mocking over-the-top production underlay by veteran knob-twiddler Trevor Horn and a typically impeccable melodic overlay by the dynamic duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Check out the dystopian, futuristic video clip, which casts Tennant in the role of an omnipresent Big Brother figure in a pastiche-filled, ‘1984’-approximating setting.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Excellent Birds

One of the more idiosyncratic collaborations of the 1980s was a tie-up between venerable art-rock veteran Peter Gabriel and maverick performance artist Laurie Anderson, resulting in the single 'Excellent Birds', which first appeared on Anderson's 1984 album 'Mister Heartbreak', and later in a modified form on Gabriel's 1986 blockbuster 'So'. The song itself was a rather strange existentialist meditation, backed by an instrumental mixture of talking drums, Fairlight CMI sample-generated found sounds and twelve-string guitars, a strangely calming composition that highlighted both artists' more experimental facets. Check out the equally bizarre video, which featured some early-era, oddly charming CGI that is virtually primitive by today's standards.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

You Burn Me Up I'm a Cigarette

'Exposure' from 1979 remains perennial guitar wizard and King Crimson head honcho Robert Fripp's most accessible and realised solo album, despite its dizzying range of styles and anti-establishment demeanour. The most immediately remarkable thing about 'Exposure' is that Fripp managed to orchestrate so many diverse musical references, taking in everything from streamlined punk and pop balladry to spoken-word pieces and glam-rock, and forging them into a cohesive and fluent whole. However, artistic qualities aside, what is even more surprising about 'Exposure' is how Fripp managed to inject healthy doses of wry humour into the proceedings, tempering its inherent experimental artistry with underhanded commentary about the state of the music industry. Check out one of the highlights from 'Exposure', the superbly titled 'You Burn Me Up I'm a Cigarette', a deliberately chaotic, punkish number that features an untypically raucous vocal contribution from mainstream-pop crooner Daryl Hall.