Prince: Chaos and Disorder (1996)

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - chaos and disorder

In amongst everything being written about Prince (my thoughts here), this album hasn’t had much of a mention – even this review was largely written up before the news of his death.  A pity, as Chaos and Disorder really is an unjustly overlooked gem which is well worth searching out, particularly if you’re a fan of his rockier tendencies.

Part of the career-damaging run of contractual obligation releases towards the end of his symbol/AFKAP phase, Chaos and Disorder was not a success.  It spawned only one minor hit single and barely troubled the album chart here in the UK.  However, of all those releases, from 1993’s Come to 1999’s The Vault: Old Old Friends For Sale, this is by far the most interesting.

Opening the album, the title track is in-your-face heavy funk rock at its best, the arrangement having started life as the end-jam from early live versions of Peach.  Lyrically though, it’s a social commentary-led close cousin to the likes of Sign O’ the Times and Lovesexy‘s Dance On.

Prince as guitarist is to the fore throughout – Zanalee is straight-up blues rock while The Same December and Into the Light are spiritual psych-pop numbers which would not sound out of place on Around the World in a DayDinner With Delores, the aforementioned hit, is more of the same, a great wee track cut from the same cloth as Starfish and Coffee.

Of the eleven tracks only the more overtly commercial, poppier funk number I Rock Therefore I Am and the bizarrely cod-country tinged Right the Wrong don’t quite cut it but there’s still enough outrageous instrumentalism going on to keep things interesting.  The closing track Had U (a slight song, built on a Mellotron-like guitar and vocal), is ostensibly a relationship number but we know it’s really about Warners, with the last words on Prince’s final album under his original contract for the label being “fuck you – had you”.

PCADA

1996 tape in good order, £8 online (late 2015).  Unavailable in any format for a while but look out for that cynical reissue programme anytime now …

 

 

AC/DC: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)

I’m pretty certain that every vinyl collection, no matter how modest, contains at least one copy of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. I know mine does – at least I know now, after noticing it last night. Unnecessary cassette purchase number 33 and-a-third, then. Oh well; as good an excuse as any to revisit a classic.  The tape is another with a rejigged running order and it seems odd on first listen that it doesn’t kick off with the mighty Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap itself (instead it’s the big finish). However, there are various versions of the album with differing tracks on other formats anyway, so it’s pointless being precious about the sequencing. Clearly the band wasn’t. Regardless, it all adds up to nine tracks with exactly the right kind of no-nonsense production.

AC/DC, during the Bon Scott years, was the perfect rock band. Pure rock and roll, unadulterated and uncompromising. The rhythm section was gnat’s-chuff tight and, in Angus Young, they had one of the great firebrands of lead guitar. As if that wasn’t enough, the lyrics, delivered in Scott’s demented schoolboy snarl, were often several cuts above average. The Chuck Berry archetype of storytelling on a girls-and-cars template viewed through a dissipated alcohol-fuelled haze.

Most of the songs here are classics in their own right. Squealer is gleefully mean-spirited, Ain’t No Fun Hangin’ Round to be a Millionaire lives up to the promise of its title, Rocker is a manic 12-bar gem and Problem Child is what I believe the young people nowadays would call “awesome”. The closest thing the album has to filler is There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’, and I could handle a whole album of that. The only sour note struck is on Love at First Feel, its amorality writ large. Another great song title to be sure, but nearly forty years on in a post Operation Yewtree world, it’s hard not to wince at lines like “I didn’t know if you were legal tender but I spent you just the same”.

There are a couple of atypical standouts. Mellow blues Ride On is a surprisingly melancholy exercise in self-reflection (“Got another empty bottle/ And another empty bed/ Ain’t too young to admit it and I’m not too old to lie/ I’m just another empty head”). In contrast, wilful puerility and double entendres are the order of the day for Big Balls: “Some balls are held for charity and some for fancy dress/ But when they’re held for pleasure they’re the balls that I like best/ My balls are always bouncing to the left and to the right/ It’s my belief that my big balls should be held every night”. The fact that Frankie Howerd never covered that one still rankles with me. Life is often unjust.

Tapes For My Walkman Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap AC/DC

So. Classic album. Original tape, paper labels and all that, plays perfectly. £2 off the internet. Can’t complain.

Queen: Queen II (1974)

Queen II is the closest Queen ever got to a concept album (with the possible exception of Made in Heaven), thematically split into Side White and Side Black – the former written largely by Brian May, the latter entirely by Freddie Mercury.  Co-produced by the band with Roy Thomas Baker and Robin G. Cable, here prog, metal, psychedelia and pop combine with lyrics rooted in fantasy to create an overall dark, gothic atmosphere.

The funereal instrumental Procession is an early example of May’s signature guitar orchestrations which sets up the first of two epics on this album, the dramatic Father to Son. With late-’60s The Who serving as an influence, an opaque lyric and layered guitars-and-vocals populate a multifaceted structure before fading through to White Queen (As It Began).  A gorgeous prog ballad, White Queen‘s fantasy imagery is lent weight by the melancholy-to-bombast spread of its instrumental arrangement.  Some Day One Day is one of a handful of great psych-pop numbers written and often, as here, sung by May during Queen’s ’70s heyday.

The side ends with the rude awakening of Roger Taylor’s percussive rocker, Loser In the End.  Apparently not buying into the fantasy themes cooked up by Mercury and May for the album, Taylor (billed here for the last time as Roger Meadows-Taylor) instead offers an acerbic take on cutting the apron strings, arrived at via a memorable drum intro and some caustic soloing from May.  Significantly, Taylor’s lead vocal serves to remind that there was more than one great singer in the band.

Side Black, Mercury’s brainchild, is full of lyrical invention and musical audaciousness.  Kicking off backwards, Ogre Battle is brutal, Queen at their heaviest, the whole band in full flight with May’s guitars commanding the most attention.  This glorious racket is still fading out when some spirited harpsichord playing heralds The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke.  Mercury’s musical take on the painting by Richard Dadd turns what is essentially a detailed description of that painting’s narrative into some entertainingly florid wordplay (“Pedagogue squinting, wears a frown/And a satyr peers under lady’s gown/Dirty fellow … Tatterdemalion and a junketer/There’s a thief and a dragonfly trumpeter/He’s my hero”). All this against a baroque mix of multi-tracked vocals, pianos, guitars, John Deacon’s impressively intricate and melodic bass playing and even Baker on castanets.

The brief piano/vocal interlude Nevermore hardly prepares us for The March of the Black Queen, the antithesis of May’s White Queen.  Long, ambitious, complex and batshit crazy, there is so much going on in there – including, I swear, bell ringing – it beggars belief.  At one point the song builds to an ear-crushing crescendo with multi-overdubbed everything before stopping in its tracks to make way for a solo Mercury vocal taking on the subjects of angels, love and joy, though lyrically it’s otherwise a character study of an evil fairy queen.  Or something.  We’ve got “Water babies singing in a lily-pool delight/Blue powder monkeys praying in the dead of night” while people are put in a cellar and tortured with baby oil and something distressingly called “nigger sugar”.  It is completely unhinged.  After six and half minutes of this mentalness, acoustic guitars start fading through and we’re in Phil Spector territory for Funny How Love Is, which ends the seamless five-song cycle.  Then it’s That Piano Riff, and the album bows out with the still-impressive Seven Seas of Rhye.  The band’s first hit single, it is a reminder that, even at their most Top of the Pops friendly, Queen could still be more than a little out there.  The song fades on an old-school organ-and-crowd singalong of I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside.  Of course it does.

Queen II marked the start of a near-untouchable five album run, completed by Sheer Heart Attack, A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races and News of the World.  Queen’s other albums are worthwhile, some of them even great, but to me that run is just about perfect.  No filler, no compromise.  “No synthesisers”!  Of the other four titles in that list though, only A Day at the Races comes close to matching Queen II‘s dark vibe, undercut as they both are with wit, measured absurdity and a rarely matched creative daring.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com  - Queen: Queen II
The tape I picked up is a crappy Fame reissue.  EMI put out no-frills versions of some of its back catalogue in the early-mid ’80s under the Fame imprint, perhaps because their existing budget label MFP was by that time mostly associated with the easy-listening and MOR of the day.  Here there are no lyrics, not much in the way of credits and even the sides are listed simply as “one’ and “two”.  Whatever, it was cheap – about a quid online – and still plays well.

Iggy Pop: Blah-Blah-Blah (1986) & Instinct (1988)

Blah-Blah-Blah marked a turn in Iggy Pop’s career, going from cult figure to telly regular and everybody’s favourite godfather of punk.  I was about seventeen then, and although I’m sure I was aware of the name, really it was this album that served as my main introduction to the man.

Massively over-produced by David Bowie and recorded at Queen’s studio in Montreux, the synth-heavy Blah-Blah-Blah has more in common with Bowie’s then-recent output and Roger Taylor’s solo material than The Stooges.  Given that Taylor receives a thanks in the sleeve-notes “for loan of his Linn” and the album is engineered and co-produced by Taylor/Queen collaborator David Richards, that shouldn’t be too big a surprise.  Clearly, the idea was to take Iggy out of the underground with a sonic makeover inviting comparisons with the likes of Japan and Simple Minds et al, and with rock’n’roll cover Real Wild Child giving him his first major UK hit single, the formula clearly worked.  It also provided opportunity for a couple of contributions from the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, who would take a more central role on Instinct.  However, as producer and with co-writing credits on seven of the ten songs here, it’s Bowie’s influence that is all pervading.

Side one is solid if pretty underwhelming.  Real Wild Child kicks it off and it still holds up as a fun pop record (insert your own pun apology here), if some of the synth stylings now seem gimmicky.  Baby, It Can’t Fall is more of a Bowie-type thing and Shades is archetypal 80s pop with an alternative bent.  Fire Girl however is a Europop misstep, like Erasure with marginally less rubberwear, so it’s a welcome return to the Bowie-lite for Isolation.

The album really lifts its game for side two.  Cry of Love is a good driving post-punk rocker, more Iggy than Bowie, it mixes up the guitars and strings nicely and there’s a Steve Jones solo to boot.  It’s probably true to say that the title track’s use of sampling now sounds naive and overdone – again, gimmicky – but all-in, it’s a welcome burst of energy with some fine lyrical flourishes (“following my nose, I’m a bull mongrel – that’s me”). Hide Away sounds like it could be an outtake from Roger Taylor’s 1985 Strange Frontier (also co-produced by David Richards).  No bad thing, mind.  Winners and Losers, though, is the album highlight for me by a distance.  Steve Jones co-writes (he also co-wrote Fire Girl, but let’s not dwell) and it’s a lengthy, aggressive and fittingly guitar-heavy piece of Big Rock Drama.  Little Miss Emperor again sounds like a Strange Frontier outtake this time with an Arcadia twist.  It’s a good track but after the pomp of Winners and Losers it feels like a bit of an afterthought.

Following Blah-Blah-Blah’s success with the meat-and-potatoes rock of Instinct couldn’t have been an obvious move at the time.  Bill Laswell takes over as superstar producer and Steve Jones is promoted to sole guitarist, co-writing three of the ten songs.  Tellingly, the remaining seven are Iggy Pop sole-credits. Much of the album seems to take its lead from The Cult’s throwback rock outing of the previous year, Electric – retro riffing on a straight-ahead rock template.  Cold Metal and Strong Girl especially hit the spot while the more aggressive Easy Rider works a treat.  Tuff Baby is pure Eliminator-era ZZ Top and it’s kinda great.

Instinct does allow itself a couple of very slight left-turns.  Lowdown, with its cheesy keyboard augmentation, is a near pure-pop track which could have been a fit for Blah-Blah-Blah, as could High on You which sounds more than a little like Billy Idol’s White Wedding and suffers for it. Instinct and Squarehead are conspicuously punkier than anything else here.  Both great tracks, it’s Squarehead that provides a quality closer for what remains a very solid rock album.

I caught the tours for both Blah-Blah-Blah and Instinct and Iggy was brilliant on both.  The first time, to me he was still a bit of an unknown quantity with a relatively characterless band.  The Edinburgh Playhouse was stowed and the bouncers were being prize fannies.  Still great.  Second time was rockier, heavier, with a band to match.  Giving Iggy a bit of competition in the rock mentalist stakes, Andy McCoy was the guitarist (which suited me – I liked Hanoi Rocks and loved the Cherry Bombz).  Glasgow’s Barras was the perfect venue as well.  One of my favourite gigs, that one.  Iggy remains one of the greatest performers I’ve witnessed, though oddly I’ve never seen him live since.  Blah-Blah-Blah and Instinct began a strong run of releases along with the superior Brick By Brick and American Caesar, cementing Iggy’s position as an international treasure.  Quite right too.

As to these tapes they were both internet finds, a couple of quid each.  Obviously well played, mind, with the occasional drop-out to attest. ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Iggy Pop Instinct Blah Blah Blah