Thursday, 23 February 2006

iPod random mixtape #002

Time for another post, and I'm going to take the lazy approach. So it's time for another iPod random mixtape!

1) Here comes a regular - The Replacements

Paul Westerberg sings this song about a guy who wastes his life away in the pub. It's not clear if this is song is autobiographical, about guitarist Bob Stinson, or about nobody in particular. What's clear is the emotions that Paul's vocal and lyrics stirs up inside you while listening to this song. Add to this some fantastic lyrics:

You’re like a picture on the fridge that’s never stocked with food
He says opportunity knocks once then the door slams shut

and you have the makings of one of the most brutally honest and emotional songs of all time. This is the perfect closer on their Tim album, and a perfect example of how the 80's weren't all that bad.

2) A poem on the underground wall - Simon & Garfunkel

This is actually the bonus version of the song from their Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme album - I think it's another take. It starts with Paul Simon saying "listen carefully to this thing because...I wanna go with on the arrangements" (the ... is where the producer or someone interrupted him).

It's a short song not unlike anything else they recorded, with some nice finger pickin' guitar pluckin', and an interesting lyric about what seems to be a graffiti artist writing a four-letter poem on the wall of an underground train station. Was it love? Was it a more rude word? Paul Simon doesn't give much away in this song. I suspect there's a deeper meaning to this song, but maybe I'm too shallow to see it.

3) Heaven can wait - Meat Loaf

I remember that when I bought Mr. Loaf's Bat out of hell album I thought it was one of the best albums I'd ever heard. But that was my 77th album purchase, and now I'm up to 906 albums. Yes, you could say I've come a long way. The songs from Bat out of hell can be divided into two categories: over-the-top rockers and over-the-top ballads. This is one of the latter.

It's cringe-worthy stuff, it's dated, but it's not without its merits either. The arrangement shouts out Broadway musical. The lyrics are overdone, like a bad meatloaf. But amidst all its daggy-ness you still gotta respect a guy who takes his schmultz so goddamn seriously.

4) All nighter - Elastica

I bought Elastica's self-titled album when I was really into Britpop. While a lot of Britpop albums have aged remarkably well, this one hasn't done so well. There are some good songs on the album, but this is a 90-second throwaway song that isn't particularly memorable.

5) Circus - Tom Waits

I have to admit that I found Tom Waits' latest album Real gone (the album where this song is from) a little disappointing. It had a too-difficult opener (even by his standards), a momentum-killing 10 minute 3rd track, and the absence of piano didn't help either.

Circus is a typical Tom Waits spoken word piece, with spare circus-like instrumentation and surreal lyrics that only Tom can muster. It's an effective track, harking back to his Franks wild years days both musically and lyrically. But it works more as a mood piece than a song, and probably works better in the context of the album than as an individual track.

6) I shot the sheriff - Bob Marley & The Wailers

Everyone knows this track, so I'm not sure what to say about it. Eric Clapton covered it, but the old adage that "the original is the best" definitely applies here. It's a typical early Wailers tune (from their rootsy Burnin' album), with political lyrics and falsetto backing vocals during the chorus from Bob's fellow Wailers.

7) Manmade horse - Something For Kate

This is not what I would consider a standout track from their excellent Echolalia album - but that says nothing about the quality of this track, just about the quality of some of its peers. This could quite easily be a standout track on another album.

Paul Dempsey's songwriting skyrocketed on this album, but credit needs to be given to the producer as well. While their previous album Beautiful sharks sounded quite murky in places (despite the great songwriting), Echolalia truly sounds like the work of a professional band.

This is a great tune, its lyrics are intelligent without being pretentious and Mr Dempsey puts in a fine vocal performance. Add some nice piano tinkling and you have a song which really should be a standout.

8) The ids are alright - Guided By Voices

I have 147 Guided By Voices songs in my CD collection (and therefore iPod). That's almost as many Beatles songs as I have, but most people probably haven't even heard of Guided By Voices. Why do I have so many GBV songs? Because they are so goddamn short, that's why! Robert Pollard writes pop music and doesn't waste any time. He gets his hooks in, and he gets right outta there before the songs grow tired. Many other artists could learn from his school of thought. The problem with the GBV catalogue is that so many of their albums are hit and miss affairs. For every pop nugget like To remake a young flyer you have to put up with a throwaway song like Big chief chinese restaurant.

So where does this song fit in? It's a typical short GBV number at a little over a minute. Robert's faux-British vocals sing about something that I don't really understand, which is also a GBV trademark. The tune is kinda nice but it doesn't seem to really get anywhere. I'd like to say that this is the kind of song that fits better in the context of the album, but last time I listened to Universal truths and cycles I remember thinking that it was pretty much all over the shop. So I'm not sure how listening to this song in the context of an album would help its cause.

9) Back to back - The Replacements

The 2nd 'Mats cut to make this random mixtape. This is from their penultimate Don't tell a soul album, which many consider to be the nadir of their catalogue because it has a commercial sheen and a lot of fans thought that it was a bit of a sellout.

Personally, I consider this album to be better than their last album All shook down. Why? Because it has good songs, and nothing on All shook down is as memorable as most of the songs from this album. Bad production can kill good songwriting (it happened on Elvis Costello's Goodbye cruel world). But good production can't improve average songs.

So, back to this song. It's not unlike a lot of the 'Mats earlier stuff, it's just a bit more pop and a bit shinier. Still an enjoyable listen, even if I wouldn't put it in my top ten 'Mats songs.

10) Something about England - The Clash

Sandinista! is a holy mess of an album. It's a double album (triple on vinyl) which is absolutely begging to be cut down to a brilliant single album. There's way too much filler on it. And despite its filler, it's also a true genre-hopper. It jumps from punk to waltz to dub to hip-hop all within the space of a few songs.

This is quite a "pop" song by their standards, with a typical Joe Strummer lead vocal and Mick Jones backing him at key parts of the song. Not one of the best songs from Sandinista!, but definitely in the above average category.

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