By Dave Thompson
Across a career that spanned fifty years, Tangerine Dream established themselves as probably the pre-eminent electronic music act of the age.In that time, they both blueprinted and then transcended a host of associated sub-genres, while maintaining a musical vision that was thoroughly their own.
For reasons that will doubtless be discussed ad nauseum once the long-awaited Virgin Years box set arrives (later this year is the current reckoning), it is their mid-late 1970s that are most audibly lauded by the fan club.But their so-called Blue Years a decade later (1984-1988), also has its adherents, and a new reissue of its crowning Live Miles (Culture Factory) is a timely reminder that popular opinion is not always an accurate barometer of musical success.
Spread across two discs (appropriately colored blue) and sounding superb throughout, two live shows feature on Live Miles. The first, devouring sides one and two, was recorded in Albuquerque, on June 8 1986, and it epitomises the broadening pallet that characterises the Blue Years.Having spent their early years exploring the furthest reaches of space (inner and outer), they were now more interested in scoring imaginary action films and wildlife documentaries.
Which is not a criticism.It’s just what comes to mind as you listen.There is the same ability to build and dismantle drama in which the group has always specialized, but with it comes the sense that the pictures in the musicians minds were now being painted in far more vibrant hues.
The second show, an open air concert staged in West Berlin on August 1, 1987, retains this same sense, but it feels moodier and tenser and for “classic” Tangs fans, it’s probably the closest to the albums of yore.There is also the sense that this really is the end of an era - this was the band’s last show (and, therefore, album) with Chris Franke, a regular in the line-up since 1971, and there’s at least one passage here that sends the mind reeling back in time, across the rest of the best of Tangerine Dream.It’s a remarkable album.
There’s more live music this month from Johnny and Edgar Winter, and a reissue of 1976’s Together LP (Culture Factory). Recorded in San Diego and pressed, this time around, on translucent green vinyl, it’s a sizzling album. True, it’s just seven tracks long, but it’s hard to feel short-changed as the pair rip through a collection of covers that reaches from “Harlem Shuffle” (Bob and Earl) to “Baby Whatcha Want Me To Do” (Jimmy Reed).
It peaks, however, with a rock’n’roll medley that feels like a 1950s jukebox on overload, eight songs in a little over five minutes that insist you crank the volume up to stun, and feel the temperature soar.Elsewhere, “You’ve Lost Lovin’ Feeling” receives the kind of airing that the songs always felt like it demanded, a duet for balladeer and bluesman that soars in all the right places.And then there’s “Let the Good Times Roll” which, with a title like that, has no choice but to live up to everything you want it to.
An early highlight of Rhino’s annual Start Your Ear Off campaign, Alice Cooper’s first Greatest Hits album reappears in silver vinyl, and it remains the ideal summary of the original Cooper band’s bright burst of mega hits; just as an orange vinyl repressing of The Monkees’ 1976 Greatest Hits collection mirrors their mightiest moments with nigh-on unimpeachable accuracy.
There’s no room for “Alternate Title” or “Porpoise Song,” which is disappointing.But it’s hard to find fault with the remainder of its contents, from the TV theme to “Shades of Gray,” from “I’m a Believer” to “Listen to the Band,” and - like the Cooper set - it’s a reminder of just how overweight so many modern anthologies are.Yes, it’s nice to get more bang for your buck.But sometimes you just cannot eclipse a good single LP Very Best Of.
The latest, second, album from France’s Christine and the Queens has just materialized, a double vinyl package that includes both a poster and a CD. Chris(Because Music) is Héloïse Letissier ’s second album, and it’s easy to write the both off as simply the latest instalment of an eighties revival that has been gnawing at the underground for the last few years.
Maybe it is, too, but Letissier’s writing and vocals both overcome any misgivings that might provoke - and, if her accented English is still not your cup of tea, the album is available in both French and English language versions.
There’s nothing here that’s as immediately captivating as the last album’s “Titled,” but “Girlfriend,” with a guest appearance from Dâm Funk, is solid pop dance, and the opening “Comme si” is skeletal funk which just happens to have all your favorite MTV memories draped over it.
Best of all, though, is the almost-eerie “Goya Soda,” and if there’s any real criticism of Chris, it’s one that a lot of albums these days suffer from - the fact that, even with a running time of around forty-five minutes, someone felt it necessary to spread it across four sides of vinyl.A waste of plastic, to be sure, but a distraction too, as you hop up and down every ten minutes or so minutes to flip the record over.
Back in the bad old early days of CD, bands seemed to feel duty-bound to stuff those little coasters with as much noise as they could hold, regardless of quality.Today, they’re making albums that have returned to a sensible length, and we’re stuck pogo dancing between couch and turntable because there’s not enough music to fill each side.First world problems, don’t you love ‘em?
Goat Girl, on the other hand, are a south London outfit whose eponymous debut album (Rough Trade) effectively incinerates everything we wrote in the last paragraph, by cramming twenty tracks onto two sides of vinyl.
And how do they do that?By playing everything at precisely the speed it’s meant to be played, coming over a glorious collision between Elastica, Hole and the Libertines, but with a sense of sonic fun that makes the entire record feel like the best party you ever went to when you were eighteen.
Which is not to say it doesn’t address serious topics, whether they are throwing politicians on a bonfire (“Burn the Stake”), warning of the perils of the “Viper Fish,” or taking down the guy on the bus who thinks it’s okay to film strange girls on his phone (“Creep”).
Sundry other sources have described Goat Girl as “post-punk,” but really, that’s a term that only works today if the last forty years really did flash by in a nanosecond, and we’re all still bemoaning the demise of the Sex Pistols.And besides, the original punks are all now the age of the current new bands’ grandparents, and that’s one helluva long way to be looking back.
Rather, Goat Girl are the latest glorious spasm in that stream of musical consciousness that seizes upon the landscape, the language and the prevailing culture of the present day, and pokes well-deserved holes in its ghastly carapace.And you can call that “punk rock,” if you like.Better, though, to keep your mouth shut and simply listen.
Back to the eighties, though.Imagine a cross between The Top-era Cure and first-few-hits Pulp, with a hilarious poke at the Human League midway through “Hot Salt,” and Audiobooks come blazing out of Now! (In a Minute) (Heavenly) with one of the most insanely enjoyable albums of late last year.
A duo of Evangeline Ling and David Wrench, Audiobooks’ music is a keyboard heavy twitch and twist, yelp and squeak, scream and squirrels-in-the-box-where-you-keep-your-T-shirts, infuriatingly contagious and implausibly danceable… but only if you’re coaching chickens on a hot plate. A lot of people will find it maddening, a little like listening to Let’s Eat Grandma on the wrong speed, but it will creep in and grab you, get you in places where you least expect to be got,.
Manic passages baffle and intrigue - Wrench already has a reputation for such moments (catch his Julian Cope produced Spades & Hoes & Plows, from 2010) but it is Ling’s performance that truly astonishes, a voice that can range from a sultry Sinead to a demented Kate Bush in the space of a single syllable, without ever losing his expressive strengths or, for the most part, dampening her way with words.
Several songs feel like stories, in the same way as “Sister Ray” always has, and Wrench adds to that particular comparison with some ear-splitting sonic dishevelment.Which means it doesn’t really sound like the Cure or Pulp in the slightest.But it’s certainly one of the most enthralling albums of the recent past.
Finally, Anthony W Rogers releases One Day (A Journal)(Wildflow Records), four years of home recordings that blend exquisitely into the kind of album you wish every prog artist would record, all bending notes and briefly-twisting vignettes, chorale peaks and stark guitars, and that’s just “In the Water.”
The album as a whole is a disorienting listen, but that’s a good thing… what is a journal, after all if not a medley of moods and emotions, roller-coasting from page to page?And while Rogers’ voice isn’t the strongest beast in the room, it works against the backdrops that are conjured behind him, in much the same way as Steve Wilson’s best solo prolusions.And that, in the world where Rogers’ music is most at home, can only be a good thing.