Thursday, 26 April 2007

Upcoming 2007 album releases

Just a quick post (for a change). Please check out MetaCritic's list of upcoming album releases.

I've said it before, but 2006 was a big disappointment for me music-wise. But look at those big names who have albums scheduled for 2007 (categorised for my amusement):

Artists who have never let me down

Elliott Smith (posthumous collection of rarities and B-sides)
Blur (with the exception of their patchy debut Leisure)
Noel Gallagher (first solo album, very exciting stuff)
Oasis (actually...Standing on the shoulder of giants was pretty shite)
Super Furry Animals

I have at least one excellent album of theirs, and I'll be keeping my eye out

Massive Attack
The Notwist
The Polyphonic Spree
The Streets
The Wrens
Wolf Parade

Clearly past their prime, but they could surprise me

Manic Street Preachers (could they release another classic?)
Travis (expectations set very low)
Coldplay (will they continue down the commercial road?)
The Cure

Reunion albums (where have they been?)

Crowded House
The Pixies
Guns 'n' Roses (not interested, but worth a mention)
The Eagles (not interested, but worth a mention)

Artists who have already released albums (* are the ones I have)

The Shins* (not as good as Chutes too narrow, but a solid album)
The Arcade Fire* (up there with Funeral, a fantastic album)
Apostle of Hustle
Art of Fighting
Bloc Party
Modest Mouse


Seriously, I can't remember a year with so many anticipated releases in a long time. C'mon artists, don't let me down. Let's make 2007 another killer year for music! It is a decade since 1997, and that was a brilliant year for music (one of the best). Will 7 be a lucky number again?

What are your anticipated album releases for 2007?

Monday, 9 April 2007

Rodriguez gig [8th April 2007 @ Corner Hotel]

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez is one of the most enigmatic musical cult figures of recent times. Born in Detroit in 1942, he released two albums in the early 1970's -- the cult classic Cold fact from 1970, and a follow up Coming from reality released in 1971. I have talked about Cold fact many times on this blog (see my review here); there is no need to reiterate what I have said before about it. It is a lost classic which deserves to be heard by as many people as possible.

Sixto (who has also gone by the name Jesus Rodriguez, and just plain old Rodriguez) never made it in his home country. He did, however, develop a fairly significant cult following in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia and New Zealand, even going platinum in South Africa. But Rodriguez was unaware of his popularity overseas, and had already decided to give up the music business after failing to crack the big time in the United States. He played a few shows in Australia in the late 70's and early 80's (his 1981 tour in support of local act Midnight Oil) before returning to Detroit where he continued to lead a normal life raising a family and working various jobs including a petrol station attendant and labourer.

In the late 90's, Sixto's daughter realised her father had an overseas fanbase when she discovered a fan website dedicated to him. In the meantime, his cult following in Australia only became bigger; Cold fact had become a word-of-mouth classic and his popularity continued to grow. He was eventually tracked down in an internet campaign in the late 90's, completely oblivious to the fact that he had such a huge following. To add to the mystery that is Sixto Rodriguez, there were also rumours that he had committed suicide while on stage; rumours which he was completely unaware of.

When I heard that he was touring in April, I was very excited at the opportunity to see the man live. I wanted to go because he is a brilliant musician, but I also wanted to go to unravel the mystery that is Rodriguez. I wanted to see the genius who had written and recorded Cold fact, this mysterious man who had recorded such a classic and then faded into obscurity. I wanted to get some answers.

Rodriguez was supported by Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience from New Orleans, and they were one of the best support acts I have seen in a long time. Here for the Blues & Roots festival in Byron Bay, they were an incredibly tight 6-piece band, incorporating accordion and different types of percussion (including an interesting metal vest) into an awe-inspiring New Orleans sound. While most giggers tend to kick back during the support act, I was impressed by the amount of people watching these guys; they definitely deserved it.

Rodriguez took to the stage with some help from a roadie amidst cheers from the crowd. He is 65, and clearly a frail man. Opening with the classic I wonder from Cold fact, his demeanor throughout the 90-minute set could only be described as languid, taking a few minutes between songs to either regain his composure, work out what song to play next or say a few words to the audience. When he did speak, he spoke in fragments, dropping a few odd comments: "Don't trust women. You know why? Because you can't trust men!" and "The zeroes are the heroes" (referring to those born after 2000, from what I could understand).

His setlist covered most of the songs from Cold fact (highlights being Crucify your mind, Sugar man and pre-encore set closer Forget it); the only notable omission for me was Hate street dialogue which is one of my favourite Rodriguez songs, but he may not have a personal connection to this song because he didn't write it. He played quite a few songs which I didn't know, and I presume that they were either from his second album or his best-of compilation At his best. He also did a few covers -- a great medley of old rock 'n' roll songs including Shake, rattle & roll, Subterranean homesick blues, Have some fun tonight and Hound dog; and a nice version of At last by Ella Fitzgerald.

Did this gig unravel the enigma that is Rodriguez? Well, yes and no. I can now truly say that he is one of the most truly humble musicicans I have ever seen. What was most apparent when he spoke was how simultaneously bewildered and appreciative he was of his fan following in Australia. Here was a man who was completely unaware of his own popularity, and it was so refreshing seeing someone of his popularity exhibit such a modest persona. This made the gig an emotional experience for me as a fan; while most gigs are very much one-way in their audience->artist connection, I couldn't help but feel that our applause and cheering meant as much to him as his performance meant to us. But while I did finally got to learn a bit more about the man, there's still something incredibly puzzling about him and you can't help but feel that there's more to him than he lets on.

After the gig, I said goodbye to Pete who was with me, and as I was heading back to my car I noticed a small crowd gathering outside the back entrance to the Corner Hotel. I realised they were queueing up to catch a glimpse of their idol, and since it wasn't a school night I thought I'd hang around as well. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between the front and back of the Corner, we discovered that Rodriguez was at the merchandise desk signing copies of posters which they were selling. I joined the queue and managed to get a card signed, as well as two ticket stubs (one made out to me, one to Pete). I also had a brief chat with him, telling him that Cold fact was my favourite album of all time (only a slight exaggeration, as it's almost up there), to which his typically humble response was "Oh thank you, thank you so much. Are you a musician?". "No", I said. "Just a big music fan."

Here some notable photos and videos from the night:

Rodriguez posing with me after the signing.

Terrance Simian & The Zydeco Experience in action.

Some other members of The Zydeco Experience.

One of the more common poses adopted by Rodriguez while on stage.

Rodriguez performing I wonder.
Pretty poor video and audio quality, because I took this with my digital still camera.

Rodriguez performing Forget it. Ditto about the video and audio quality.
Unfortunately my camera ran out of memory while recording this, so it cuts out before the end.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

A musical milestone

I reached a significant milestone two weeks ago which I feel deserves a mention - I purchased my 1000th CD*.

Yes, you saw that * next to CD. That's because I have some very specific rules about what I define as a CD - it's not always the physical disc that I'm counting.

A CD could be one of the following:
  • Album (LP using the old-skool terminology)
  • EP (Bigger than a single but smaller than an LP)
  • Single
  • Soundtrack
  • Live recording
  • Compilation (Same artist or various artists)
  • Miscellaneous release (e.g. interview disc)
Now for some of my rules:
  • Double albums on CD (e.g. The Beatles, Being there) are counted as a single CD in my statistics. This is because they are sold and marketed as a single release.
  • Sometimes artists released 2-for-1 CDs -- i.e. 2 albums on the 1 disc. Some examples of this are Big Star #1 record / Radio city, Pixies Surfer rosa / Come on pilgrim and several Beach Boys releases. These are counted as 2 CDs, because when originally released they were separate; it's only the record company who have decided to release them together on the same disc. They are listened to and reviewed as separate releases.
  • If a CD comes with a bonus disc, it is not counted as a CD. Some examples of this are Live Four songs (which was bundled with my version of Throwing copper), and the Guided By Voices Tigerbomb EP (which was bundled with my version of Under the bushes under the stars). This is because although the CD often has a sticker on it such as "Buy me now! I come with a bonus disc!", they are generally not releases which have been previously marketed separately; they are a bonus and deserve to be treated that way.

Since this is a significant milestone, I thought I would unload some interesting (well, to me anyway) stats about my CD collection.

My century milestones (nth CD):
  • 100: Portishead - Portishead
  • 200: Elvis Costello - Imperial bedroom
  • 300: Sting - Fields of gold
  • 400: Weezer - Pinkerton
  • 500: Nirvana - Nevermind
  • 600: David Bowie - Scary monsters
  • 700: Spiritualized - Lazer guided melodies
  • 800: The Replacements - Let it be
  • 900: Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
  • 1000: Tom Petty - Greatest hits
Note that these numbers are valid as of this moment. If I ever end up selling an old CD on eBay, it would cause a shift in the numbers (and I have done this in the past).

This is my breakdown of the 1000 CDs into my categories:
  • Albums (LP) - 872
  • Albums (Live) - 18
  • Compilations (Same artist) - 64
  • Compilations (Various artists) - 4
  • EPs - 11
  • Singles - 4
  • Soundtracks - 20
  • Miscellaneous - 7
Musical phases

Now for an analysis of my purchasing history, with regard to phases that I went through. The numbers in square brackets indicate where the first and last CD purchased by the artist fit into my purchasing order, and the years that the phase covered.

Billy Joel [8-73, late 80's to early 90's]

I'm not ashamed to admit that the first artist I really got into was Billy Joel (first CD of his was purchase 8, last CD was purchase 73). Not sure about exact dates of purchases as this was before my proper record-keeping, but it was in my early to mid teens when I was into his music in a big way. Most people associate him with soppy AM radio hits like Just the way you are, but he does have more musical depth than that. Even though I don't listen to him much thesedays, he was the first artist I truly admired, and the first artist who I made my mission to collect their entire discography. I even went to great lengths to do this, purchasing his greatest hits boxset when I already had all of the songs on it (except the few standard ones tacked on by the record company to sell more copies). He was a great influence in my appreciation of music.

The Beatles [54-220, 1997-1999]

My second great musical love, and one that still carries on to this day (even if the power of their music has somewhat diminished due to overplay and familiarity). I had always known Beatles music (how can you not?), but there were a few events which made me get into them in a huge way. Firstly, there was the Anthology series on TV which tickled my interest. Secondly, I received Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band from my uncle as a birthday present. Thirdly, there was the now infamous (well, to me and a few friends anyway) Beatles night in which Pete, Brett and myself got drunk over a slab of Melbourne Bitter (and later Kahlua and Southern Comfort) and listened through [almost] the entire Beatles catalogue from start to finish. I say almost because by the time we got to the White Album and Abbey Road we were too physically drunk to listen to much more.

Anyway, Beatles were a huge influence on my love of music to this date. Just because you know a lot of Beatles hits doesn't mean you really know the Beatles -- you really need to listen to their albums so you can hear the lesser-known gems. I envy those who have not explored the music of the Beatles yet, because there is still a chance for you to experience that great feeling of discovering one of the great bands of all time.

Elvis Costello [187-678, 1999-2004]

It took me a while to warm to Elvis Costello, but there was a phase where I was purchasing his albums like they were going to go out of print. I went through a huge phase of listening to his music at the turn of millenium, and I still regard him as one of my favourite artists of all time. I have seem him live twice, with the 2nd gig at the Palais (in November 2004) being one of the best gigs I have ever been to (3rd row seats and all).

Over time, I have certainly come to appreciate some of his albums over others, and I'm at the point now with his music where I'll give a few select albums a spin rather than his whole back catalogue. Some of my personal favourites are This year's model (1978), Trust (1981), King of America (1986), All this useless beauty (1996) and The delivery man (2004).

Bob Dylan [62-961, 1997-2006]

Bob Dylan is probably the artist here with the widest gap between the first and last albums I have purchased by him. Saying that the man is an acquired taste is a huge understatement. I'm a big Bob Dylan fan but even I have to be in the mood to listen to him. But if you have an open mind musically, and you can get past his voice (personally, I'm at the point where I love his voice) then there's a huge back catalogue to immerse yourself in this man's genius.

My first Bob Dylan purchase was Highway 61 revisited, which I bought in New Zealand in late 1997. I can even picture the shop I bought it in; funny how you remember these things. Since then I have slowly acquired most of his essential albums (a sale at JB where they were selling some of his albums for $6.99 kicked this along a lot), and his 1966 release Blonde on blonde has recently become my favourite album of all time.

Tom Waits [251-972, 2000-2006]

Everyone has heard of Bob Dylan, but I'm willing to bet that there are people out there who haven't heard of Tom Waits. This is criminal; this man is a musical genius and deserves to be heard and loved by as many people as possible. Be prepared to work hard to appreciate the music of Tom Waits; with the exception of his first two albums, his music is about as far from radio-friendly as you can get.

My first Tom Waits purchase was Mule variations from 1999. While I enjoyed some of the ballads on it, I just couldn't get past that voice. And the rockier bluesier songs just put me off the album. I purchased his 1985 album Rain dogs shortly afterwards, and I still couldn't get past that voice, even though the music intrigued me a bit more on the album. I decided to give him another go, and decided to go for one of his earlier jazzy albums -- so I picked up Small change from 1976. This album was a bit more "normal" musically, and thus more accessible. It wasn't until I bought The heart of Saturday night from 1974 that I realised that the man started out with a normal singing voice.

To cut a long story short, I eventually got past the voice, and started to appreciate his music. I have all of his albums now (except for Black rider, which I will eventually get) and I do not hesitate to say that this man is a freakin' genius. I will also proudly say that the man has one of the greatest voices I have ever heard. He can express more emotion in one syllable than many vocalists can in an entire album. And don't even get me started on his music. He is probably my favourite solo artist of all time now.

An absolute legend, and unfortunately he'll probably have to die before he gets more widely recognised.

In conclusion

There have been lots of other phases, but they are the artists with big enough back catalogues to justify talking about.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a short post. I always end up rambling...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 1 April 2007

R2P2 - Polar Foils [2007]

Surely the most anticipated release of the year (and possible the decade thus far), the first album of supergroup R2P2, Polar Foils, has just been released.

For those who have been living under a rock for the last few years, R2P2 combines the surviving members of the Beatles (Ringo Starr on drums/vocals, Paul McCartney on bass/vocals) with the surviving members of the Who (Roger Daltrey on vocals, Pete Townshend on guitar/vocals). The band name, R2P2, comes from the first name initials of the four band members.

Former Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison passed away in late 2001 from cancer, and former Who bassist John Entwhistle passed away in 2002 from a drug-induced heart attack. After the funeral of John Entwhistle, Ringo and Paul met up with Pete and Roger, and in their time of mourning they started jamming together. What was originally thought to be a short-term musical rendezvous became the catalyst for an outburst of musical creativity that none of the individual members had experienced since their former bands' heydays in the late 60's (and early 70's for the Who).

This album could have been a complete disaster; cynics could very easily look at this as a cash-in attempt along the lines of the recently released Love (the Beatles remix album released by former Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles) or the recent Who album Endless wire. But this album is not a disaster, and I am pleased to say that this is up there with some of the classic Beatles albums like Abbey Road from 1969 (but with a slightly rockier edge thanks to the Who influence). They even managed to have a sense of humour about the whole project -- the album cover is a parody of the With the Beatles cover, with the faces of the dearly departed George and John replaced with the faces of Pete and Roger.

Opening track I don't know why I'm here features a stunning Paul McCartney lead vocal, some great Ringo drum fills, and a classic Pete Townshend windmill guitar solo (Roger Daltrey is relegated to backing vocal status on this song). The lyrics are still up there with some of Macca's finest, and if I had to compare it to a classic Beatles song it would probably be Oh! darling from Abbey road.

Most of the tracks on Polar foils alternate between Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend penned numbers. Paul handles vocal duties on his own numbers, with the exception of Return to octopus' garden where Ringo reprises the classic Abbey road song. On the Pete Townshend songs, Pete generally shares vocals between himself and the gruffer Roger Daltrey.

One thing that the Beatles and the Who had in common was their love of the rock opera -- you only have to listen to Tommy or the second side of Abbey road to hear their love of weaving a patchwork quilt out of unfinished song fragments. And on the 2nd half of this album, they do exactly that. The song cycle We are here, we are everywhere features a stunning collaboration between genius songwriters Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend, where they trade vocals, stories, music-hall brilliance and psychedelic whimsy into a suite of songs that I do not hesitate to say is up there with the classic medleys of their former bands.

For those familiar with the "Paul is dead" conspiracy theories of the late 60's, R2P2 have played on this by hiding clues to a similar conspiracy theory within the lyrics, song titles and artwork of this album (sorry iTunes people, but you may miss out on the artwork clues). Apparently even the bizarre album title Polar foils is a clue. Conspiracy theory lovers can rejoice, and musical lovers can simply enjoy one of the best albums of the past 30 years.

This album is a masterpiece, and I do not use that word lightly. If you are a Beatles or Who fan (and I know there are a lot of you out there), go and buy this album right now. You will not regret it.