The biggest surprise about Michael McGear’s first solo album was probably the fact that it didn’t sound like Michael McGear. Far more familiar as a member of the Scaffold et al, than a “serious” (his word) songwriter, McGear prepared to step out of the comedy milieu first by recruiting the likes of Andy Roberts, Zoot Money, Brian Auger and Gerry Conway to his side; and then by delivering a clutch of songs that are genuinely, and evocatively, the children of their time. The opening title track even feels a bit like “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
Less commercial than its better-known (brother Macca produced) follow-up, less raucous than its McGough & McGear predecessor, Woman is nevertheless a rocking little beast, all hook and hot musicianship, and highlighted by everything from the maddeningly catchy “Jolly Good Show” to occasional echoes of big brother’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” courtesy of McGear’s daughter Benna reciting nursery rhymes between the songs.
There is a great sense of humor at work, of course - “Edward Heath” is titled for the UK’s then-Prime Minister, and would have made a great party political broadcast if you didn’t get the feeling it wasn’t quite as respectful as it might have been. And “Bored as Butterscotch” has such an irresistible title that you can’t help but love the song.
There’s a sense of 10cc in the air, which cannot wholly be down to the use of their Strawberry Studios for the initial tracks - that same aura of man-eating lyrics disguised as precious melodies; that same mood of exquisite musicianship being wrapped around an air of fun (as opposed to the po-faced smugness that normally accompanies it); and just one thing spoils this edition - the removal, apparently after the artwork was produced, of two of the intended bonus tracks, the b-side “Kill” and an alternate version of the same song. “Censored by Mike (McGear) McCartney,” reads a handwritten note, which is odd because there really isn’t much about this minute-forty-five excerpt from the album’s closing medley that demands censorship. Or anything else, for that matter.
It’s a petty irritant, though, and it ultimately makes no difference. Woman is a terrific album, and one hopes that there’s more McGear on the way. Beginning, perhaps, with McGear?
Odessey & Oracle (50th Anniversary Edition) (CD, LP)
Considering how few people bought this album at the time, it’s sobering to imagine how many have picked it up since. There may or may not be a chart that tabulates the best-selling flop LPs of all time, but if there is, the Zombies’ farewell is surely up there with SF Sorrow,Village Green Preservation Society and the Velvet Underground catalog among the albums that nobody wanted until everyone did.
And rightfully so, because - like those others - it’s a wonderful record, all engaging harmony and mellifluous melody, diverting imagery and eccentric pop, and it winds up with, contrarily, one of the biggest hits of the band’s entire career, the ageless “Time of the Season.” To which have been added seven bonus tracks, none that you’ve not been offered before, but chosen well enough to send you searching for the rest. Assuming, of course, that you don’t already own this album in any of the umpteen other guises in which it has already been released.
In a perfect world, of course, it is Odessey and Oracle that would be getting the six disc reissue this summer, and Sgt Pepper that would be clinging to a single CD. (Instead, it's available across a string of separate items: the CD, the LP, a hardback book and a hits collection). In a perfect world, it’s the Zombies, not the Doors who should be seeing their entire life flash by in remastered deluxe format (although a couple of decades of reissues might already have done that.) And, in a perfect world, the Zombies would never have reformed because they’d never have gone away, and Odessey & Oracle would simply have been the first in a long line of deathless classic albums.
But it’s not a perfect world, and this is what we get. So get it.
Live 1971, San Francisco (CD)
The greatest Almost Were but Never Was story of seventies American rock, the Groovies here howl out of the Fillmore, the best band you never paid attention to, and the closest thing to the British Invasion since the last of the invaders traded their PG Tips for pills.
The sound quality is chunky clunky, distorted in that wonderful way that makes you feel like you’re actually there, and Cyril Jordan’s liners, while not zeroing in on the precise date of the show, at least remember that it was Roy Loney’s final Groovies gig, the latest in the litany of bad luck slices that seemed to afflict the band that year.
Ten tracks veer between classic covers and soon-to-be-classic originals; there’s a delightfully growling “Slow Death” staggering out of sixty-seconds worth of tuning before being introduced as a new song; a “Teenage Head” that sounds even dirtier than you expect it to; and, of course, eight minutes of “Louie Louie” because why would anybody even contemplate playing it for less than that?
By which time, your ears have acclimatized themselves to the sound, and the furniture’s stopped rattling and is dancing around the room as well. This might be the ugliest sounding CD of the month. It’s also the most thrilling.
White Horses (CD)
Ah, Jackie. Best remembered, among those who remember such things, for a couple of cult UK children’s TV themes, but worth enough to merit a respectable recording career, Jackie Lee released her debut album in 1968, on the heels of the title tack’s television fame. The cover art (pictured) is repeated here, but that’s not quite what we receive this time around.
Two songs are shorn from the LP, to be replaced by a clutch of stray 45s, both solo and with her beat boom era band, the Raindrops. But no complaints because it’s all tight, bright, sixties pop, the kind of CD which should be released with the light scratch of vinyl and the sound of a period disc changer built into the grooves.
Hey kids, we’re having a teenaged dance party down at the youth club, and Brian’s big brother is bring some cider! See you there!
Peter Hook & the Light
Closer Tour 2011 - Live in Manchester (2 CDs)
Unknown Pleasures Tour 2012 - LIve in Leeds (2 CDs)
Movement Tour 2013 - Live in Dublin
Power Corruption and Lies Tour 2013 - Live in Dublin
(all Westworld Recordings)
Four shows, six discs, and how many decades worth of memories are here?
Say what you like about the sanctity of art; ask till your eyeballs pop whether Picasso whiled his old age away painting remodeled versions of his earliest artworks; or did Dickens remix The Pickwick Papers every time he had a fresh bill to pay?
Rock, pop, call it what you will, entered the recycling game almost before it had anything to recycle, and the best we can hope for is that the perpetrators treat our memories kindly.
A founder member of Joy Division, and New Order in their aftermath, Peter Hook quit the latter in 2007 and launched, ultimately, onto a whole new project which… well, how new is it? Four albums here are pulled from a lengthy list of live releases, as Hook and his current cohorts, the Light, toured the world replaying his old bands’ greatest discs - Unknown Pleasures and Closer by Joy Division, and the first two full-lengthers from New Order. And they’re faithful, fun and, occasionally, just as fumbling as either band ever was in concert in their heyday - catch, if you can, a tape of New Order playing Heaven in 1981. It’s hell.
By comparison, the Light get through every show with aplomb, supplementing each album with a host of related material (b-sides, singles, compilation tracks etc), and gorgeous packaging too, and if the vocals (by Hook and David Potts) do waver and sometimes collapse, then that just ups the authenticity quota.
Maybe discs like these are unnecessary from a purely musical point of view - if you want to hear Unknown Pleasures, wouldn’t you just play the original album? If you want to relive that awkward yelp that used to punctuate “Age of Consent,” wouldn’t you just play the studio version? Well, maybe… and maybe not. Because there’s no doubting the energy or the commitment that’s on show, and nostalgia nods approvingly along to each of them in turn.
And no, Dickens never did remix Pickwick, or any of his other books. But right up to the end of his life, he took them out on reading tours and, from all accounts, he put on a jolly good show. So does Peter Hook.
Kopf Musik (3 CDs)
(Fruits de Mer)
Preliminaries first. Kopf Musik is the album we’ve been expecting Fruits to release all along, tracking back to the earliest days of the label’s dalliance with all things past and preservable and gathering up every entrant in an omnipresent obsession with Krautrock.
Five releases are plundered for the occasion, including the horribly out-of-print Head Music and its Shrunken Head Music counterpart, and three CDs shatter the label’s traditional disdain for non-vinyl format because… well, because three hours of music would devour a lot of vinyl.
Still it’s a limited edition, bargain priced, and if you have even a glancing familiarity with the Fruits family, then you’ll recognize most of the conspirators: Jay Tausig, Palace of Swords, Frobisher Neck, Heads South by Weaving, Earthling Society, Black Tempest, Vibravoid, Cranium Pie, Helicon, Vespero, Astralasia, Bevis Frond, Ax Genrich and Sunhair.
Or not. But how about Kraftwerk, Amon Duul II, Tangerine Dream, La Dusseldorf, Faust, Brainticket, Can, Neu!… ah, now your little eyes have lit up, and now you know what to expect.
This is the Krautrock’s Greatest Hits collection that the original makers never did make, so FdM did it for them Yes, Eroc’s introduction is hideously annoying, but it lasts for just forty-two seconds, and then we’re into Johnny Vines-plays-Jane, and making it sound like Van der Graaf Generator.
Language of Light do odd things to “Mushroom” (Can) and Saturn’s Ambush turn “I Want More” (Can again) into whatever might have happened to it had Love and Rockets slipped it onto their first LP.
Running times range from truncated to epic (Bevis Frond’s twenty-two minute rampage through Electric Sandwich’s “China” tops the latter category); performances drift from nail-on-the-head (Earthling Society’s drifting “Paramechanical World”) to head-on-a-pole (Anla Courtis’s faraway radio take on “Trans-Europe Express”).
But you need to hear Vespero channeling Faust through “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” and Astralasia take Brainticket’s most eponymous masterpiece through some truly spectacular highs. Much admiration, too, for Zenith: Unto the Stars’ invocation of Popol Vuh’s “Mantra II,” and Cranium Pie’s “Black Sand,” another Brainticket jewel restudded with a whole new bucketload of gems.
Krautrock is such a disreputable term these days… and always has been, despite its ubiquity. Kopf Musik, on the other hand, fits the entire sound and scene exquisitely. Three discs, three hours. Roll on volume two.
Official Bootleg Box Volume One (3 CDs)
(HNE Recordings/Cherry Red)
Ahead of the mighty Pie’s upcoming vinyl box set, this nifty little package picks up from where Rockin’ the Fillmore left off by rounding up highlights and whole shows from four live engagements - Chicago in ’72, Tokyo in ’73 and a neat double header of Charlton Athletic football ground (opening for the Who) in May ’74, and Humble Pie’s own Rainbow headliner the following month. And there’s little to be said about any of them beyond - they’re fantastic.
At their best… a state in which Pie dwelt comfortably for at least five years (1968-1973), there were few live acts to touch them. Both with Peter Frampton on guitar and, following his departure, Clem Clempson), they were both the supreme rock’n’roll band, kicking out concise, balls-out rockers, and the ultimate jam band, not only stretching single songs out for eternity, but making every minute count while they did so. Are there any live statements more preternaturally powerful than the side long “Rolling Stone” and “Gilded Splinters” that adorn the Fillmore album? Of course there’s not.
And so the Chicago show, built around the short, sharp shocks of Hot’Nasty, nevertheless spreads out across marathon runs through “I Wonder” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” while Tokyo goes hell for leather with ”Up Our Sleeve,” nine minutes of explosive virtuosity that links, via a two minute “Tokyo Jam” into the band’s signature rendition of “C’mon Everybody.”
The Blackberries are on board for this show, upping the R&B tempo of the new Eat It album, and positively stealing the show across an epic seventeen minute “Roadrunner”; indeed, this disc might be the highlight of the box as well, and that despite the sound quality being just a little iffy. The sheer manic energy of the set burns through the deficiencies whatever the balance is doing.
But the 1974 shows, too, impress, as Steve Marriott digs “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” from his Small Faces backpack, while cuts from the (usually disappointing) Thunderbox take on a whole new life. Again, the sound is less than perfect… in fact, the Charlton show is positively horrible, which justifies the “bootleg” reference in the title, if nothing else. The Rainbow tracks, too, could be better - surprisingly, considering they were recorded for Midnight Special.
But there is also something pleasing about the distortion and distance, a reminder not only of a time when we were thrilled just to be able to hear these recordings whatever the fidelity, but also of an age when bands didn’t feel duty-bound to studio-fy their every live utterance, just in case a bit too much soul crept onto the grooves and dismayed the more sensitive listeners.
Humble Pie didn’t cater for sensitive listeners. And they had more soul than the rest of the pack combined.