Music Opinion Blog

Opinions and occasional rants about the state of the music scene. The views expressed are entirely my own, and do not represent those of any artists or publications with whom I may be connected.

Judas Priest – 10 of the best

judas-priest

The Guardian Music Blog has another one of mine in their Ten of the Best series, this time for The Black Country’s finest, Judas Priest.

I’ve covered much of their career, going from Sad Wings of Destiny to Nostradamus. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to include anything with Tim “Ripper” Owens; though “Cathedral Spires” was in my shortlist, “Jugulator” isn’t on Spotify, so I couldn’t include the song,

One or two people have said they can’t take Judas Priest seriously. Whatever gives them that idea?

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Can you sum up Prog in 50 albums?

Prog Magazine have a listicle that attempts to show the history of prog in 50 albums. It begins with the proto-prog of the mid-60s, continues with the defining albums of the greats of the 70s and ends with some of the groundbreaking redefinitions of the modern era.

Only Pink Floyd get more than one entry, and that’s because the Barratt-led 60s psychedelic rockers and the Waters-led stadium act were really two quite different beasts. You could quibble over the relative lack of women; though Curved Air, Renaissance, Fairport Convention and Kate Bush all get a mention there’s nobody from more recent eras. What about Nightwish, perhaps? Or are they not considered prog enough?

Who’s missing?  Aside from Nightwish, the most obvious omission is probably The Mars Volta.

What do you think? Who do you think is missing, and is there anyone who doesn’t deserve to be there?

Posted in Music Opinion, Uncategorized | Tagged | 5 Comments

Showtimes?

This is a bit of a rant.

Why do so few venues publish the stage times and curfew times of their gigs? London venues are generally good at this, but it’s a very different story out in the sticks. Does it not occur to them that some rock fans in niche genres are willing to travel significant distances by train? Knowing whether or not the show will finish before the last train home is a significant deciding factor on whether or not to attend. Even if it’s “must see” gig by a favourite band, it’s useful to know whether or not you need to book a B&B; there’s been one gig where I could have saved a lot of money if I’d known about the early curfew.

Even if most people either go by car or live close enough that a taxi home is affordable, surely every single extra punter through the door is worth it? Especially those who don’t have to drive home and might be able to spend more money at the bar?

That’s before we get to the ridiculous guessing game over whether the advertised start time is doors or the actual start of the show. Rock clubs and provincial arts centres seem to have entirely different definitions on what it means, so you either end up spending half an hour in freezing rain outside the venue, or risk missing the beginning of the show.

What does it cost venues or bands to make this information available?

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged | 6 Comments

Cult heroes: Mostly Autumn

gu-mostly-autumnMy “Cult Heroes” piece on Mostly Autumn is now published in The Guardian Music Blog.

It’s both a great honour and more than a bit scary to be asked to write about a favourite band for the online section of a national newspaper, especially when I’m on first name terms with many past and present members of the band. They have always had a few noisy detractors, mostly jealous fans of less successful acts. They also had some very defensive obsessives who used to take the mildest criticism as an personal attack on the band. There was always an outside chance of the comments turning ugly.

I wanted it to read authentically rather than something fanboyish, so I covered the downs as well as the ups; mentioning the mis-marketing during the Classic Rock Productions years as well as the wobbly period when Iain Jennings (briefly) left in 2006. But I hope those are balanced by more than enough strong positives.

With a word count of a thousand words give or take a hundred, there wasn’t room for everything I wanted to include. One thing I’d like to have said more about was the extended family of related bands in their orbit. That includes side-projects like Odin Dragonfly and Josh & Co, as well as separate creative projects by past and present members, such as The Heather Findlay Band, Halo Blind and Cloud Atlas. Or Breathing Space, the side project that took on a life of its own before being reabsorbed back into the mothership. They’re all part of the Mostly Autumn story, and they’re a part of what the fandom is about.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mostly Autumn – Ten of the Best

Heather Findlay and Olivia Sparnenn at Gloucester Guildhall in 2009

Another Ten of the Best for a band which have featured a lot on this blog ever since the beginning.

As you should have come to expect by now, this is ten of the best, not the “ten best”, and omits some of most the obvious standards in favour some of the overlooked diamonds in the back catalogue.

Continue reading

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The Ignobles of Rock Lyrics

Classic Rock magazine responds to Bob Dylan’s nobel prize for literature with some suggestions for Rock’s Ignoble Laureates.

There is the inevitable Noel Gallagher, who as ever sounds like somebody fed the Bumper Book of Bad Clichés into a random text generator.

“Sitting upside a high chair/The devil’s refugee is gonna be blinded by the light that follows me”

But I have to defend the late, great Ronnie James Dio. They quote this line from “Holy Diver” and rather miss the point of what Dio was about.

Ride the tiger/You can see his stripes but you know he’s clean/Oh don’t you see what I mean?

I’ve always seen Dio as the Jon Anderson of metal; he plays with evocative imagery even when they don’t make any literal sense.

And this one from Krokus’ “Down the Drain” is a work of comic genius along with Queen’s classic “Told my girl I gotta forget her/Cost I gotta buy me a new carburettor”

“My mother was a B-girl/My old man was a tramp/Some say they conceived me/On a loading ramp”

Some of the others are hilarious, though the Great White lyric is too crass to post here. That appalling piece of macho drivel is actually credited to five authors, presumably so each of them could deny all responsibility and blame the others.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Yes, Journey, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Salon

A central casting too-cool-for-school hipster looks at this year’s nominations for the Rock and Roll hall of fame and asks “Why celebrate Journey and Yes? He concludes that the Hall of Fame has hit “a new low”.

Journey stands, alongside REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Styx, and a handful of others as an exemplar of one of the worst, least inventive periods of rock history — the corporate rock movement that was marked by bland playing and generic songwriting. Of all of them, Journey may have had, with Steve Perry, the most annoying lead singer. “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is lodged permanently on AOR radio, television shows like “Glee,” and in the karaoke and covers repertoire. Forget ear worms — it’s the musical cockroach we’ll never kill. But please, can’t we just agree that this band’s career was a big mistake, try to forget about them, and just leave it at that?

Yes, on the other hand, is a band that once had real musical ambition as leaders of the “art rock movement.” But their classical-rock fusions sound studied now; they never had the imagination or drive of, say, King Crimson. And they are, like Journey, led by an awful lead singer. Can we remove “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from radio forever and just pretend that ‘80s comeback never happened?

Because if you really think Yes are defined by “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, you should not be employed to write about them. But it’s Salon, which is really a leftist-hipster version of The Daily Express, a publication that exists to confirm and reinforce the prejudices of its narrow-minded readership.

There is a wider question, of course, of why exactly does anyone take the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seriously in the first place.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Desert Island Disks

The long-running BBC radio series “Desert Island Disks” asks the guest celebrity of the week to choose eight of their favourite records. The premise is that if you were marooned on a desert island, and you had just eight records to listen to, what would they be?

I’m treating “records” as albums, and for this exercise, I’ve imposed a rule of no compilations, and no live albums. So with no further ado…

pink-floyd-meddlePink Floyd – Meddle

The first album I ever bought was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. But although that album means a lot to me, there’s only room in this list for one dark angst-ridden concept album, and that’s coming up further down. And though “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” are undisputed classics. they’re so overexposed that they’ve just been worn smooth. If I’m in the mood for some Pink Floyd nowadays it’s most often either “Meddle” or “Animals” that gets played. If forced to choose, we’ll go for Meddle. It’s worth it for the extended dreamy atmospherics of “Echoes” alone, but there’s more to the album that that.

blue-oyster-cult-secret-treatiesBlue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties

Blue Öyster Cult have been one of my top bands ever since a college friend played me the live version of “Astronomy” from Some Enchanted Evening when that live disk was still almost a current album. But since live albums are against my self-imposed rules, so we’ll go for their classic third album. Fan consensus is their Secret Treaties is their best, and fan consensus isn’t wrong. It’s the final album of the so-called “Black and White trilogy” combining richly layered music with a raw garage-like sound, with high weirdness lyrics hinting at the magical origins of World War Two. Blue Öyster Cult were always far more that just a metal band, and this album is proof of that.

Rainbow RisingRainbow – Rising

Hearing “Eyes of the World” on Nicky Horne’s show on Capital Radio radio changed my life. Ever since then Ritchie Blackmore’s music has been part of the soundtrack of my life, either with Deep Purple or with Rainbow. He was at the peak of his powers when he made this record along with the greatest hard rock singer of all time in the shape of the late Ronnie James Dio, and a sheer force of nature in Cozy Powell on drums. With just six tracks and a running time of less that forty minutes it’s all-killer-no-filler, with the monumental “Stargazer” as the centrepiece of the record.

220px-MarillionBraveMarillion – Brave

The three previous bands had been long-established by the time their music first appeared on my radar, but with Marillion I was there from the start. Not quite to the extent that I was seeing them play to thirty people in pubs before they were signed, but I did see them at the 1982 Reading Festival and bought their first album of the day of release. Since then they have released many great albums both with Fish and later with Steve Hogarth, but the favourite has to be their dark and intense 1994 concept album. As the sleeve notes say, play it loud with the lights out.

mostly-autumn-the-last-bright-lightMostly Autumn – The Last Bright Light

Anyone who knows me knows that Mostly Autumn are one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them something like a hundred times live now. Which doesn’t make it easy to choose just one album, especially when their music has evolved of the years along with changes in the make-up of the band. But if forced to choose just one, it will be their third, the high point of their celtic-folk-prog era on Cyclops records. It’s now sadly out of print, though many of the best songs appear on the retrospective compilation “Pass the Clock”.

porcupine-tree-in-absentiaPorcupine Tree – In Absentia

It’s not easy to choose one Porcupine Tree record. Sometimes it seems as if their best album is whichever one I’ve just listened to. But if forced to keep just one, it would be have to be this album, because it’s sheer variety covers many of the bases of their sound. In just the first three numbers it goes from the Zepellinesque riffery of “Blackest Eyes”, the song-focused pop-rock of “Trains” and the psychedelic atmospherics of “Lips of Ashes”.

opeth-waershedOpeth – Watershed

Perhaps more than any other band, Opeth have redefined what a metal or progressive rock band can be, with deep roots in the classic rock of the 1970s on one hand and a contemporary attitude and desire to avoid repeating their own past on the other. Few other bands can match their sense of dynamics and compositional skills. All their albums are good, but Watershed is the best, seamlessly combining intense heaviness with mellow atmospherics, often in the same song, and would be the last time Mikael Åkerfeldt would use his death-metal growling vocals on record.

Panic Room - SKINPanic Room – S K I N

Along with Mostly Autumn, Panic Room are my other favourite club-level band, and I’ve seen them live almost as many times. Indeed, the two bands were joined at the hip at one point with Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths doing double duty in both. All their albums have their fans; there are even people who think the first was the best, but for me the favourite has to be their third, which goes from hard rock to jazz-tinged adult pop to epic soaring ballads while still adding up to a coherent work. It may well be that their best is yet to come, but for now this album is their masterpiece.

Over to you. What eight records could you not live without?

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Marillion – 10 of the best

marillion

I’ve got another Ten of the Best features in The Guardian, this time for Marillion.

Attempting to condense thirty-five years and sixteen album’s worth of music into just ten songs is next to impossible, and the the list went through a lot of permutations before settling on the final ten.

As people ought to have realised by now, I always avoid the Big Hit that everbody knows, because what’s the point? There are so many other riches in the back catalogue. There’s nothing from their biggest-selling album, “Misplaced Childhood”, which is an obvious omission, but so much of it only works in the context of the whole album. “Bitter Suite”, a candidate on the initial longlist didn’t make the cut because it doesn’t work as a standalone song, ending abruptly when it seques into “Heart of Lothian”.

It was also a decision right from the beginning for the split between Fish -era and H-era songs to reflect the number of albums, which was always going to mean Fish-era songs would be in the minority. Some people will not like that.

And, just as predicted, the very first comment mentions Grendel…

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

When Critics Fail To Do Their Job

The Guardian have published an interesting article on the massive hype surrounding the release of Oasis third album “Be Here Now”, and the subsequent bursting of the bubble.

The press release declared it as having the same impact as coming of Elvis and Dylan going electric. It received fawning five-star reviews in almost every publication. And then in a space of just a few days, its reputation crashed and burned once people had the chance to hear the record and realised that what they were hearing didn’t match the hype.

The mood of the country had changed since Oasis’ first two albums; Radiohead’s “OK Computer” was the record everyone was talking about, and the cool kids were forming prog-rock bands. Oasis’ combination of the least interesting aspects of indie and classic rock has become yesterday’s sound.

This pair of quotations from music journo Paul Lester and publicist Johnny Hopkins are quite illuminating.

“I was caught up in the excitement of it all,”  Lester says. “I’m so sorry to everybody for that review, but the enormity of it was captivating. We were reviewing a moment in history and staking our part in it. It was like seeing the great behemoth of a spaceship in Close Encounters. You felt awed into submission.”

“You want the record to be good because you’re into the band,” says Hopkins. “And you want it to be good because that means it’s going to sell well and that’s going to help the magazines sell well. But I was surprised that there wasn’t a dissenting voice. When a band gets to that level, there’s always someone who says, ‘Hold on a minute,’ but there wasn’t [for Oasis].”

The whole episode is a teachable moment in the history of music criticism. It marked the beginning of the end of an era in which the mainstream music press had a huge influence as tastemakers and gatekeepers. For the NME in particular it was the beginning of their long-overdue decline into irrelevance.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , | 5 Comments