Even the Gods are Mortal

Sad news. A week afrer Motörhead had to abandon a gig four songs into the set at Salt Lake City due to Lemmy feeling unwell, the same thing happens a week later in Austin Texas.

As reported in NOISEY.

Lemmy walked offstage mid-song; a fan-filmed video caught him saying it— ”I can’t do it”—before he shuffles off, slowly, painfully, with the help of the cane he’s recently started using. The crowd, stunned, quickly regained its composure and began cheering—not heckling, cheering—for him. A chant rippled through the venue—”We love you! We love you!”—in a display of solidarity and communal support that could bring even the most hardened metal veteran to tears. After a few moments, the 69-year-old frontman reappeared, and grabbed the mic. ”I would love to play for you, but I can’t. Please accept my apologies. Next time, alright?”

And of course they accepted. A friend who was there told me that the crowd was sad—he mentioned seing fans weeping afterwards—but “very understanding,” and I’m not surprised. No Motörhead fan—or metal fan in general—could have stood there and watched the great man falter like that, and then reacted any other way.

Lemmy is the embodiment of the spirif of rock’n'roll. If he was an In Nomine character, he’s be word-bound, and I’ll leave you to decide if he’s angel, demon or something else. But in the real world, even gods are mortal.

After releasing such a blisterinf new album, it’s sad so see Lemmy’s increasingly frail health catch up with him, and it’s time to hang up his Rickenbacker.  As the linked article says, it’s killing us to watch him die.

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They say you can never judge a book by its cover. But I think we can make an exception for The Battle of Britain by James R. Cannon. “English historian” my arse. When it comes to self-published ebooks, the downside of no gatekeepers is no quality control either.

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Got to love this accidentally-hiliarious “Where are they now” feature on the NME’s indie darlings from ten years ago.  As for the first one, if being a software developer is really more creative and exciting than rock’n'roll, it does rather suggest your failed indie band were a bit rubbish.

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Video Killed The Radio Star

Reading yet another thinkpiece about a music video, I think I now understand exactly why the years 1955-1985 were a golden age of popular music. 1955, of course, was the birth of rock’n'roll. But what happened in 1985 to draw that golden age to a close? It was time when the music video eclipsed radio as the primary means of promoting mass-market music.

What’s happened since is we’ve regressed to the days of 1930s musicals, in which the music took second place to the choreography, and is little-remembered. Today all the talk in pop isn’t about new albums or singles, it’s about the videos and their content. The actual music seems to be an afterthought.

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backpfeifengesichtI liked The Guardian far more before it started racing the Daily Mail to the bottom when it came to button-pushing clickbait trolling. Jonathan Jones’ appalling piece of the late Terry Pratchett (which I refuse to link to, Google for it if you must) writing him off as a mediocre writer of potboilers is probably the nastiest individual piece I’ve read online since Arthur Chu celebrated the Charlie Hebdo murders in The Daily Beast. It’s not often I read something that makes me want to take the German word “Backpfeifengesicht” literally, that that was one.

I guess in the wider scheme of things it’s not as serious as their misreporting of the Tim Hnnt affair, where the paper became part of a co-ordinated campaign to smear an innocent man. But still, you have to wonder quite what the editor of that section was thinking on deciding to publish that piece.

But look on the bright side. Perhaps it’s one thing that might unite the fractured tribes of SFF fandom, seeing the Rabid Puppies join forces with the acolytes of Requires Hate to rip Jonathan Jones a well-deserved new asshole?

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Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine

Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time MachineWith their blend of atmospherics, emotional depth and superb musicianship, Riverside are one of the best bands to have come out of Poland in recent years. Their last album, 2013′s “Shrine Of New Generation Slaves” was a major step forward for them, with a dense hard rock sound with strong echoes of 70s Deep Purple.

With their sixth album “Love, Fear and the Time Machine” they take something of a different direction. The opener, the strangely-titled “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?)” begins gently, Mariusz Duda’s vocal backed by keyboard drones and chiming 1980s-style guitar, building into a groove-led rocker before ending with a superlative less-is-more solo from guitarist Piotr Grudziński. The following “Under the Pillow” feels like mid-period Porcupine Tree crossed with Second Coming-era Stone Roses.

They set the mood for the album, a step back from the sound of the last album, with far more space in the mix. There are moments of hard rock with lead guitar recalling Alex Lifeson, but there are also moments with a post-punk feel, all dominant basslines and understated guitars. “Saturate Me” is a particular highlight with its masterful dynamics, alternately rocking out then dropping out to an impassioned vocal over rippling keyboard arpeggios. Another high point is the minimalist “Afloat” towards the middle of the record, Mariusz Duda fragile vocal melody backed by a repeating guitar figure and a simple but effective organ line.

One thing that stands out across this album is strength of the rhythm section; giving the band a sense of groove that so many of their peers lack. Michał Łapaj is less prominent on keys than on their last record, adding subtle colour rather than dominating the sound. Piotr Grudziński’s guitar work is exemplary, weaving textures around the grooves, his solos eschewing unnecessary flash or showboating. Finally Mariusz Duda’s strengths as a vocalist can’t be ignored; he’s no chest-beating rawk frontman, but neither is he the muso who ends up fronting the band by default. There’s a lot of Steven Wilson in his understated style.

Riverside often get likened to Porcupine Tree, and while that’s a fair comparison, it doesn’t do them justice, for Riverside are far more than that, and have their own identity. Imagine, if you can, a Porcupine Tree with Jon Lord on keys, Alex Lifeson on guitar, and a rhythm section of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman.

The result is not only the best album of Riverside’s career, but a strong contender for album of the year.

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Reading Festival Nostalgia

Reading Festival 1983

It’s Reafing Festival weekend. The streets of the town are full of people in wellies and the supermarkets contain stacks of cheap lager the size of Canary Wharf. It all reminds me of the last Reading Festivals I went to back in the early 1980s, when I was the same age as the people going now. Reading has always been a teenage rite of passage.

It’s a reminder of the fact I’ve been a Marillion fan for 33 years this weekend, after seeing them half-way ip the bill in 1982. They were back the following year as special guests on the Saturday night, opened with Grendel. They blew Black Sabbath and their fibreglass Stonehenge off stage. Little did I imagine their music would still be a big part of my life more than three decades laer.

It’s remarkable how many of the bands from the 1983 bill above are still around. I saw Marillion a few weeks back, headlining the Prog stage at Ramblin Man. Pendragon played the same festival. The Enid were at HRH Prog. Magnum, Pallas, Big Country, The Stranglers and even Man are still on the circuit.

This year’s Reading Festival bill includes Metallica, who have been around for 30 years. Can you imagine 1980s festivals having 1940s crooners and big band jazz on the bill?

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Hugo Aftermath

Wth a bit of luck this should be my last blog post on this subject.

We’ll start with this extract from a post by George R. R. Martin

I had picked Mike Resnick in Short Form and Toni Weisskopf in Long Form, and indeed, each of them finished above all the other nominees in the first round of voting… but well behind No Award. This was a crushing defeat for the slates, and a big victory for the Puppy-Free ballot of Deirdre Moen. Honestly? I hated this. In my judgment the voters threw the babies out with bathwater in these two categories. Long Form had three nominees who are more than worthy of a Hugo (and one, Jim Minz, who will be in a few more years), and Short Form had some good candidates too. They were on the slates, yes, but some of them were put on there without their knowledge and consent. A victory by Resnick, Sowards, Gilbert, or Weisskopf would have done credit to the rocket, regardless of how they got on the ballot. (All four of these editors would almost certainly have been nominated anyway, even if there had been no slates).

((Some are saying that voting No Award over these editors was an insult to them. Maybe so, I can’t argue with that. But it should be added that there was a far far worse insult in putting them on the ballot with Vox Day, who was the fifth nominee in both categories. Even putting aside his bigotry and racism, Beale’s credential as an editor are laughable. Yet hundreds of Puppies chose to nominate him rather than, oh, Liz Gorinsky or Anne Lesley Groell or Beth Meacham (in Long Form) or Gardner Dozois or Ellen Datlow or John Joseph Adams (in Short Form). To pass over actual working editors of considerable accomplishment in order to nominate someone purely to ‘stick it to the SJWs’ strikes me as proof positive that the Rabid Puppies at least were more interested in saying ‘fuck you’ to fandom than in rewarding good work)).

I also misliked the roar of approval that went up at the announcement of the first No Award. I understand it, yes… fandom as a whole is heartily sick of the Puppies and delighted to see them brought low… but No Award is an occasion for sadness, not celebration, especially in THESE two categories.

I can’t find myself disagreeing with any of that. Sending the Puppies packing is being spun as a great victory, but in reality it’s nothing of the sort. At best, it’s a stalemate. Nobody has won, and the rhetoric from both camps suggests the chance of avoiding a repeat performance in 2016 is very slim.

Swamping the nominations ballot by block voting a slate was a dick move that was always going to provoke a backlash. It was a major escalation in a turf war that pre-dates the Puppies’ campaigns, and goes back several years. In recent years there has been an active campaign from some quarters to marginalise conservatives and libertarians out of fandom, with concerns being dismissed as “Old men yelling at clouds”. Rhetoric like “The dinosaurs are going extinct and we’re the comet” give that game away.

If the Hugos are to remain relevant, they have to get back to being a celebration of the best in Science Fiction & Fantasy rather than a battleground in a bitter turf war between two warring tribes, neither of whom exactly have clean hands. Those who care about the award also need to make up their mind exactly what The Hugos are supposed to represent. Are they Science Fiction’s equivalent of The Oscars, showcasing the best of the genre to the wider world? Or are they more like the CRS Awards, celebrating the favourites of a small community within a much larger fandom? And the moment it’s not quite either of those things, and it can’t be both.

My position at the moment is still “A pox on both camps”. When one camp places the odious John C. Wright on a pedestal, and the other still considers a great many known acolytes of Requires Hate to be respected members of the community, both sides play games with motes and beams when it comes to guilt-by-association. I am not buying either sides’ partisan narrative, echoed in their respective agenda-driven and nuance-free media channels.

As long as this nonsense goes on, while I continue to read SF, I refuse to identify myself as part of SF fandom. My fandom is, and will remain, music.

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Motörhead – Bad Magic

Motorhead Bad MagicMotörhead are a British institution. Their name and logo have become so iconic that high street department stores sell their t-shirts to people who probably can’t name a single song with the possible exception of “Ace of Spades”. But after Lemmy’s recent health issues saw a tour cancelled not once but twice, and one or two lacklustre recent festival appearances, there have been doubts as to wether Lemmy is quite as indestructible as we thought, or that they are still the primal force they once were.

So, with their 22nd album “Bad Magic”, have the legends still got it after all?

“Victory or Die!”, growls Lemmy as they launch into the raw and dirty rock’n'roll of the opening number. “Thunder & Lightning” barrels along like a runaway train, then comes the driving guitar-driven hard rock boogie of “Firestorm Hotel”. Those first three numbers set the pace for the whole record. It’s true that Lemmy’s voice isn’t quite as powerful as it was in their 80s heyday, but the Motörhead still rock like a bastard even after all these years.

Other great moments include “The Devil”, with a suitably demonic guitar riff, and “Choking On Your Screams”, which falls on the metal side of the metal/hard rock divide with a particularly menacing vocal. The one change of pace is the slow blues “Til The End” where Lemmy drops his traditional gargling-with-broken-glass style and sings with a fragile, cracked vocal. The album ends with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for The Devil” which doesn’t quite convince, but aside from that, Bad Magic is a remarkably consistent record. Phil Campbell is economical but effective with lead guitar work, and Mikky Dee makes his mark on drums, especially his fusillade opening “Shoot Out All The Lights” and on the Maiden-like “Evil Eye”.

You can argue all night about what genre Motörhead belong to. Lemmy has always denied they’re a metal band, but they’ve been considered honourable members of the metal tribe right from the start. There’s an awful lot of the attitude and fury of punk about them too, of course, but listening to this record you can hear deep roots in the rock’n'roll of the fifties and sixties that Lemmy grew up on. They, as much as anyone else, embody the primal spirit of rock’n'roll, turned up to Eleven. Motörhead are still here, and they’ve still got it. Rock and roll will never die.

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Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle

Spocks Beard The Oblivion ParticleSince their emergence in the mid-1990s when the genre was at its lowest ebb, Spock’s Beard have become elder statesmen of the third wave of progressive rock. With their twelfth album “The Oblivion Particle”, the second to feature Ted Leonard on lead vocals, they show no signs of running out of ideas.

The sound is what we’ve come to expect from Spock’s Beard. swirling Mellotron and Hammond organ, blasts of hard rock guitar, rich layered vocal harmonies, and a strong sense of melody. If you imagine 70s British progressive rock married to the US West Coast sound with a bit of The Beatles thrown in for good measure, that’s Spock’s Beard’s distinctive musical identity. As ever they love their vintage keyboards which have become a signature sound for the band, and Ryo Okumoto adds a few vintage synth sounds to the sonic palette.

From the opening wig-out “Tides of Time” and the soaring melodies of “Minion” to the stately finale of “Disappear” this is a record that needs multiple listens before it really starts to come to life. There are times when it strongly recalls Yes, especially those moments where the instrumentation drops out leaving gorgeous a capella harmonies, such as on “A Better Way to Fly”. But this is a record with far more energy than anything Yes have done for decades. There is an exuberance about the whole thing; it’s the sound of a band who know what they want to be and enjoy being it. Perhaps the only thing missing from this album is a stripped-down ballad to balance out the rocker workouts. Something along the lines of Octane’s “The Beauty Of It All” might have lifted the record to the next level.

But once you’ve given it enough time to get under your skin, “The Oblivion Particle” is a highly enjoyable record. Spock’s Beard succeed in having one foot in the past and one in the present; a delightfully retro sound with a modern sensibility.

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