Thursday, 28 July 2005

B-Sides and Rarities compilations

On the way to work this morning I gave a listen to Nick Cave's B-Sides and Rarities compilation triple CD that was released recently.

Now normally I am an album guy all the way (which is one of the reasons I haven't purchased an iPod yet), but I definitely think there is room in any good CD collection for rarities compilations.

It's different to "Greatest Hits" or "Best Of" releases which essentially become redundant when you end up liking the band and buying all of their albums. Not only does it become redundant because you end up having multiple copies of the same track, but it can deter from the enjoyment of the proper albums when you get them, because you already know so many songs from them.

With classic British band The Jam, I made the mistake of buying two (!) compilation albums before buying any of their albums. The first one I got was Beat Surrender, a sub-par compilation of pretty average Jam tracks with a few exceptions like the brilliant A town called malice and That's entertainment. I should have gone for one of their albums at this point, but instead I stupidly decided to go for another compilation, The Jam Collection. This was a much better compilation, but by the time I got around to purchasing their best album All mod cons, I already had six out of the twelve tracks on it! Considering one of the remaining six tracks was a Kinks cover (David Watts), it definitely detracted from my initial enjoyment of the album. It's like seeing bits of a movie in a hotel room at different times, and then trying to watch it all from start to finish. Why not just watch it from start to finish up front?

But, I digress. I don't see B-Sides and Rarities compilations as having the same issues as best-of compilations. Firstly, there's generally the lack of redundancy. Even if there are album tracks on it, they are generally scarce and usually they give you a different version than the album track (e.g. a demo or acoustic version). Listening to the first disc of the Nick Cave set this morning, there were acoustic versions of two of his classic cuts - Deanna and The mercy seat. I have both of these on the Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds CD, but it's great hearing these different versions of the songs. Whether they are works in progress, or just alternate versions, they give you a window into the artistic process that the artist goes through when recording music.

I think Nick Cave is one of those artists who suits the "rarities" compilation format really well. His music has such a rustic and shambolic feel to it, and hearing bits and pieces on a compilation like this is a great way to experience his music. There's also an alternate version of The moon is in the gutter from his debut album From her to eternity. I always loved this song when listening to that album even though I wasn't a huge fan of the album as a whole. But hearing the alternate version on the rarities compilation made me start to appreciate the song again.

Finally, here are some of my favourite "B-side and rarities" compilations:

Oasis - The Masterplan

Quite honestly, this B-Sides compilation has some of Oasis' best ever songs on it. Their B-Sides are better than many band's A-Sides. And the trilogy of Listen up, Rockin' chair and Half the world away could be the best set of three consecutive songs that I know on almost any album.

Suede - Sci-fi Lullabies

In hindsight, disc two is pretty shite (with a few exceptions). But disc one has many of the best Suede songs ever released. Some of my personal favourites are To the birds, and The living dead and the best of the bunch -- the utterly beautiful My dark star.

The Smiths - Louder than bombs

Amazingly this actually comes close to being the definitive Smiths "album". So many classics on this one, I don't know where to start. Of course, there's Please please please let me get what you want (which could have been a contender for one of the longest song titles until Sufjan Steven released his recent album Illinois), Half a person, Girl afraid, William it was really nothing, You just haven't earned it yet baby -- the list goes on. With only one dud in the bunch (the shocking cover Golden lights), and only one song that overlaps with their albums (a different version of Hand in glove from their debut) -- this compilation is a great complement to their four proper studio albums.

Crowded House - Afterglow

It was sad when Crowded House broke up, but luckily this compilation was released shortly afterwards to help ease the pain. Sacred cow, Help is coming and Recurring dream are all classic Crowdies songs. My telly's gone bung (written and sung by the late Paul Hester) is not without its charm. A very solid compilation.

Beatles - Past Masters Volume One & Two

For conservation of space I have only included the album cover from Volume One, but no list of classic B-Sides and Rarities compilations would be complete without mentioning these. Technically they don't really fit into this list, as they are a collection of non-album singles, but since they also include the B-sides of said singles, it can make the cut. Past Masters Volume Two almost reads like a Greatest Hits CD: Day tripper, We can work it out, Hey Jude, Revolution. Rain is a great B-Side, and Ringo thinks that this is his finest drumming performance.

Manic Street Preachers - Lipstick Traces
[A secret history of]

Looks like it isn't such a secret anymore, because you can buy this in CD stores now (and for a bargain price!). This compilation contains many underrated tracks in the Manics' oeuvre. Some of my favourites are 4 ever delayed, Socialist serenade and Democracy coma.

The Stone Roses - Turns into stone

Some stone-cold classics on this compilation of non-album singles and rarities. It's the only place you can get the definitive Roses cut Fools gold (unless you have the dodgy import version of their debut album). But there's lots of other great cuts on this compilation including Elephant stone, Mersey paradise and their paean to oral sex, the appropriately titled Going down.

Air - Premiers symptomes

Solid compilation of early non-album tracks from these French dudes who are more laid back than Paris Hilton was in One night in Paris. This compilation is notable for including my favourite Air track, the sublime J'Ai Dormi Sous l'Eau.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 27 July 2005

Go-Betweens gig [15th July 2005 @ The Forum]

It's been ages since my last post...sorry for being so slack but I've been flat out at work recently and haven't had time to post anything for a long time.

Once I finish my top 10 years for album releases list, I have lots of ideas for other posts, so please stay tuned. Only one year left, and then I think I'll focus on shorter posts so I can post more regularly without having the overhead of having to write a HUGE blog posting.

In the meantime, I've been meaning to post about the last gig I went to. I saw legendary Brisbane band The Go-Betweens a few Friday evenings ago, at The Forum in Flinders St.

For those who don't know the history behind this band, they had an underground following in the 80's even though they sadly never found commercial success. They have many celebrity fans, including Stuart Murdoch from Belle & Sebastian (who wrote their B-side Shoot the sexual athlete about them) and the creator of hit series 24 who named the firm McLennan-Forster after Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, the founding members of The Go-Betweens.

They were critically lauded despite their lack of commercial success. Their most critically acclaimed album is 16 Lovers Lane from 1988, which has become one of my favourite albums of all time. They famously broke up after 16LL, and when they reunited in 2000 with The Friends of Rachel Worth, many probably thought it was going to be a short-lived reunion. Since then they released the disappointing Bright yellow bright orange in 2003, and their new album Oceans apart was released this year to critical acclaim. Mojo magazine in the UK even awarded it Instant Mojo Classic status. It is a great album, although unfortunately it is copy controlled in Australia; luckily I was able to find a real version of it in Vancouver when I was there earlier this year.

Which brings me to the gig...

After a support stint from Sophie Koh where Pete and I wisely decided to rest our legs at the back of The Forum while downing a few Coronas, we made out way to the front of the great venue. It was a very low-key opening for a very modest band. Grant McLennan (the Paul McCartney to Robert Forster's John Lennon, if we have to make such an obvious Beatles comparison) came out for a single-song solo set, just him with an acoustic guitar singing Black Mule from the various-artist compilation Money is not the answer. I didn't know the song, and it was pleasant but not particularly memorable. Certainly not the sort of opener I was expecting. It actually took a few seconds for people to start applauding when he took to the stage. The gig had a real relaxed feel to it.

After this, the rest of The Go-Betweens [2005 lineup] joined Grant on stage. There was Robert Forster (on lead guitar), and newer members Adele Pickvance (on bass, keyboards and backing vocals) and Glenn Thompson (on drums and backing vocals). The next song was Clouds from 16 Lovers Lane. On 16LL, Robert sung this with Amanda Brown who was one of the band members at the time. At this gig, Robert and Grant sung it as a duet and it was a nice interpretation of the song. I've always considered this to be one of the most dated songs on 16LL (an album which has generally aged really well), so it was nice hearing a modern interpretation of it.

Next we had Robert singing He lives my life (from 2000's Rachel Worth) and Grant singing Boundary rider which was the first entry from their new album Oceans apart, and one of the highlights of the album. It was a nice rendition of the song which stayed pretty true to the original. Another new song followed, the Robert-led ditty Born to a family. I had never really been a fan of this song up to this point, but it really worked as a live track, and it gave me an appreciation for it enough that I actually enjoy it when listening to the album now.

A couple of Grant-led numbers followed. We had Magic in here which was a faster version of Rachel Worth's opener. Then we had Streets of your town, another classic 16LL number that worked really well in a live setting. We then followed with a trilogy of Robert's songs: there was Make her day, one of the tracks from the 2nd half of Bright yellow bright orange; Here comes a city, the energetic opener from Oceans apart (and one of the highlights of the gig) and Draining the pool for you, the first pre-16LL song of the gig. This slow burner was one of the highlights from Spring Hill Fair, their underrated 1984 album.

After a small Grant-led intermission with Finding you (another gig highlight), Robert introduced new song Darlinghurst nights from the new album by saying something along the lines of "this song takes on new meaning when we play it here". Not sure if he thought he was in Sydney, but it did strike Pete and myself as a little odd. The first set ended with This night's for you (thankfully without the distortion that is present on the studio version), Spring rain (the opener from their superb 1986 album Liberty Belle and The Black Diamond Express), Was there anything I could do? (another 16LL cut) and another Rachel Worth cut, Surfing magazines, which was dedicated to a few famous Australian surfers from history.

The band definitely like to give their fans value for money, and they did so with three (!) encores. The first encore included The Devil's Eye (the beautiful Side-A closer of 16LL), the Dylan-esque Too much of one thing from Bright yellow bright orange (which is unique in being the only Go-Betweens cut I know where Robert and Grant take turns on lead vocals) and their Australiana epic classic Cattle and cane from their 2nd album Before Hollywood. I must be one of the few Go-Betweens fans who isn't blown away by this song, but I could definitely feel the enthusiasm from the crowd after the strumming of the famous opening chords.

The second encore was a short one. It opened with Baby stones, the opening cut from Robert Forster's Danger in the past album from 1990. I can't say I knew the song, but it certainly rounded their gig off in a nice symmetrical way (1 Grant solo number, 1 Robert solo number, many Go-Betweens numbers). [For those who don't know, every Go-Between album release is quite predictable. There are always 10 tracks*, and they always include 5 Robert written/sung numbers, and 5 Grant written/sung numbers. And with a few exceptions, they are always under 40 minutes.] Okay, I'm rambling. The second encore concluded with The clock, a highlight from Rachel Worth.

And now we get to the third encore. They opened with People say, from The Lost Album. This was a song neither Pete or I knew, but it had a certain familiarity to it that made us think it was a cover. A bit of research afterwards proved this wrong. They finally ended the gig with the opening cut from one of the greatest albums of all time, Love goes on! from 16 Lovers Lane. What a great way to end a very enjoyable gig.

Robert managed to break 2 guitar strings right near the end of the gig (I'm pretty sure it was during the last song). After searching the stage for something else he could play, he ended up picking up a tambourine and in true Liam Gallagher fashion, played that for the rest of the song.

And a few observations...

Grant definitely seemed like the "quiet one" in the band, Robert Forster handling all of the talking duties. Robert (or "Bobby" as one enthusiastic audience member called him) seemed to be the more popular of the two -- even though I was never into them in the 80's (I was only 9 when 16LL came out), I take it that Robert had more of a cult following that has held up over the years. He was certainly the more eccentric of the two of the them, often wearing make-up and dresses on stage during their peak in the 80's. It's interesting that out of the two of them, Robert has become the one who has settled down with a wife and kids.

Here's to a very enjoyable gig!

* Okay, their debut album Send me a lullaby has 12 tracks. I don't actually have that album yet. Sue me.

[Sorry, I did say this was going to be a short post!]