Love is growing in the street,
Right through the concrete

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Burt Bacharach - MAKE IT EASY ON YOURSELF (1969)

Listening to Burt Bacharach's arrangements on his own-name releases always reminds me of what marks these recordings as a league above the ranks of singers he farmed his compositions out to. The Bacharach style of melody-driven pop is as ubiquitous and distinctly pastiched as whole genres of music, but even now, after his influence is perhaps finally waning, it's clear that Burt was still an absolute original.

Take one example of the sort here, in the form of a clip from 1970's 'The Phantom Tollbooth'. All elements are there; the flurries of strings, the infectious, sunny vocal melody, the walk-on solos, the woodwind, the call-and-response instrumentation... however you can always tell the well-intentioned imitators from the real deal. Where a melody like 'Milo's Song' strays; repeating its key melody with neat efficiency and soft glides, you're left wanting in Bacharach's own recordings. With fine tact, they avoid the caricatured tunes which drowned the charts in his wake. For an example (not from this album), the first time I heard Bacharach's '(They Long To Be) Close To You' was a revelation for how different the emphasis was when compared to the famous Carpenters version. With the latter you remember the sweet main refrain and its indelible lyrics. However, with the former, this bouncy, saccharine opening section is a slow horn section, with vocals as no more than a supporting instrument. The emphasis of the song is shifted completely to Bacharach's avuncular croon on the chorus - a gorgeous melody which is downplayed entirely in The Carpenter's rendition.

His most famous lyrics are often completely absent from his solo-albums, in fact. The emphasis is much more on the instruments, with the lyrical melody replaced rather than simply replicated. Not anchored to just the one instrument (voice), these versions draw attention to the great expression possible from contrasting the bold, big-band instruments he had at his disposal. Seemingly to underlie this relegation of vocal melody from 'lead' to 'support' is Bacharach's decision to have a chorus of uncredited soul singers deliver the majority of lyrical content on this album.

His own voice is rough and unpolished, but its appeal is in its sincere, comforting timbre. On the title track, 'Make It Easy on Yourself', Burt sings solo for the only song on the album. The qualities of his singing voice really shine on account of the affecting simplicity of the lyric's repeated aphorism: "Make it easy on yourself... because breaking up is a hard thing to do". The sentiment may seem corny in writing, but the pathetic mood which the track evokes makes the futility of the humour in such a situation the more moving. Similarly, the reflective 'This Guy's in Love With You' and, with an even more desperate refrain, 'Wanting Things', both step back from overselling their emotion. The songs share the same strengths as (avid fan) Brian Wilson's songwriting for the Love You Beach Boys album in 1977. Both succeed for their realistically ineloquent portrait of infatuation.@160kbs


1. Promises, Promises
2. I'll Never Fall in Love Again
3. Knowing When To Leave
4. Any Day Now
5. Wanting Things
6. Pacific Coast Highway
7. She's Gone Away
8. Whoever You Are I Love You
9. Make it Easy on Yourself
10. Do You Know The Way To San Jose
11. This Guy's in Love With You

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Todd Rundgren - TODD (1974)

Rundgren fans are divided over this album. To put it in context, it was the second of a three-album arc which began with 1973's playfully experimental, occasionally astounding, A Wizard, A True Star and ended with 1975's dense (but noodley) prog-rock exploration, Initiation. The albums are comparable to Neil Young's 'ditch' trilogy; an iconoclastic reaction to mainstream success. 1972's Something/Anything? was very much Rundgren's Harvest (released in the same month no less). Some think this trilogy of albums represents Todd's best work, but others, perhaps in greater numbers, believe that they were an interesting tangent which spun a great deal of essential tracks, but far more which were dull and masturbatory.

Whilst A Wizard, A True Star and Initiation are both very fine albums, Todd is by far the best album to come out of this experimental detour (before recapturing the pop/rock sound which made him famous with Faithful and Hermit of Mink Hollow). The album is a schizophrenic and uneasy mix of genres - something which is often cited as a shortcoming. It does not ease you in, beginning with a severely monged crescendo of unintelligible spoken word, buzzing and repetitive electronic noises, a perfect build up to the first killer ballad, 'I Think You Know'.

With the exception of the slightly abrasive (but titularly-inspired') 'In and Out The Shakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space)'', this album features some of Todd's most tight and appealing instrumental tracks, featuring the density of 'Initiation's compositions, but succinct, groovier and, like on A Wizard A True Star, of a curious, playful personality. The superb 'Sidewalk Café' is the best on the album, but the ambient waltz of 'Drunken Blue Rooster' and the colourful dizziness of 'The Spark of Life' are also great instrumental tunes.

Todd's virtuosity has always lain in his penchant for immaculate rock/ pop ballads, however, and 'Todd' has its fair share. One of his best-known songs, 'A Dream Goes on Forever' is a simple but moving, electric-piano led ballad, 'Useless Begging' is an pithy and understated tune (with a memorable windscreen-wiper rhythm), and 'Izzat Love?' is a trademark Rundgren ballad, whose uplifting harmonies are capable of lifting any dark mood. ‘I Think You Know’ and ‘Don't You Ever Learn’ are slow and deceptively simple ballads, but offset with an uneasy atmosphere, with Rundgren's typically boyish croon more drowsy and cynical - eyebrow cocked and pupils dilated. The standout track on the album, however, is the epic and intimate 'The Last Ride', featuring, on the outro, one of Todd's most electrifying guitar-solos and a passionate, half-spoken lyrical delivery.

The rest of the double album does not quite match the quality of these ballads and instrumentals, but the quirky ‘An Elpee's Worth of Toons’, with it’s oblique appraisal of the music industry, the manic yet joyous ‘Heavy Metal Kids’ and the final singalong, ‘Sons of 1984’, with it’s stirring chanted chorus, are all memorable demonstrations of Rundgren's eclectic gifts. Though one has to be in the mood to appreciate Todd's wide spectrum of musical styles, It is this variety which makes it such a fine showcase of Rundgren’s talents and the crowning achievement of his very respectable repertoire. @256


1. How About a Little Fanfare?
2. I Think You Know
3. The Spark of Life
4. An Elpee's Worth of Toons
5. A Dream Goes on Forever
6. Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song
7. Drunken Blue Rooster
8. The Last Ride
9. Everybody's Going To Heaven / King Kong Reggae

10. Number 1 Lowest Common Denominator
11. Useless Begging
12. Sidewalk Cafe
13. Izzat Love?
14. Heavy Metal Kids
15. In and Out the Chakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space)
16. Don't You Ever Learn?
17. Sons of 1984

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Rickie Lee Jones - PIRATES (1981)

Though Rickie Lee Jones was always passionately vocal about the strong regard with which she held Laura Nyro's music, she was more commonly compared to the 'other' female singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell, in the contemporary music press. This comparison seems very shallow today. Pirates is far more identifiably influenced by Nyro's trilogy of albums in the late 60s than anything Mitchell released. This album stands head and shoulders above the rest as the high watermark of Jones's oeuvre.

The optimistic longing in the opening track, 'We Belong Together' is a peaceful overture to the soulful and heartbreaking 'Living it Up' (the highlight of the strong tracklist). Though it's the elegant piano which is so central to the affecting tone of both these tracks, it is the personality of Jones's vocals which make the streetwise lyrics so memorable in attitude. The sudden surge of aggression preceding the chorus lyric, "oh we're giving it up, ya we're living it up", adds some bitter ambiguity to the refrain,

The record makes a surprising tonal shift in the middle of the tracklist. After the melancholy, lullaby-like 'Skeletons' ends, the piano fades, and the sound of a funky, R&B bassline grows in the background. (Fairly rehearsed-sounding) generic party banter preludes the start of the song proper. 'Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking' dumps the listener into a spirited party jam; with its jazzy interludes and walking basslines it feels just like an old standard, and despite the phoney bandter at the start, it sounds as if everyone involved had a great time recording it.

The terrific 'Pirates (So Lonely Avenue)', which follows, starts with the same high-spirited, funky instrumentation as Woody and Dutch, sounding initially not unlike 'Chuck E's in Love' from her début, yet with another shift in tone, the mood becomes introspective again, and the keys return for the ambiguously hopeful mood of 'A Lucky Guy'. In the eight-minute 'Traces of the Western Slopes' Jones's vocals spiral upwards, adopting an airy, ethereal quality... and plenty of Van Morrison-esque scatting. At the same time, her delivery of the melody leads with confidence and a deserved sense of grandeur. The final track, 'The Returns' is a brief, more grounded finale to the album - the tone is of melancholy optimism. We hear the abrupt line, "one of these days...", and the album ends.

I think that the Jones/Mitchell comparisons were partially a result, inevitably, of the latter's comparative prominence, but predominantly that of Jones's gender and shoulder-length blonde hair. Jones's music had neither the ditzy persona or hippy-dippy attitude of early Mitchell, nor the more moody, jazz-infused, narrative qualities of her later career. Rather, Pirates shares an intensity with Nyro's heartbreaking 1969 album, New York Tendaberry. Nyro's horns on Tendaberry thrust with momentary emotional peaks, confessing all to the listener, whereas on Pirates, Jones's sounds are more warmly inviting. The album has a timeless originality and humanity just as remarkable as her hero's. @128


1. We Belong Together
2. Living It Up
3. Skeletons
4. Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking
5. Pirates (So Lonely Avenue)
6. A Lucky Guy
7. Traces of the Western Slopes
8. The Returns

S'more trouble dan i's woith (sorry for the 128)

[reuploaded 29.03.11]