Prince: Chaos and Disorder (1996)

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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 …

 

 

Motörhead: No Sleep ’til Hammersmith (1981)

I’ve deliberately avoided writing an obituary-style piece on Lemmy.  There are many of those out there, better and more insightful than anything I might have contributed.  Suffice to say I am a huge fan of Motörhead.  As a musician, they’ve long been a massive influence (I’ll Be Your Sister was a regular part of my solo blues set for a fair few years and the Dog Moon Howl track Punching Walls was intended as a cheeky wee Motörhead nod).  I was looking forward immensely to seeing them in Glasgow this month.  Sadly it wasn’t to be.  Lemmy’s death took the wind out of my sails somewhat, half expected and yet utterly inconceivable – the unstoppable force that stopped.

I’ve been trawling through the albums and various live videos and the likes and in the end the best way I could think of to remember Lemmy was to listen to No Sleep ’til Hammersmith with a Jack Daniel’s or two.  So I did …

Jesus, what a band Motörhead were.  Proof?  Not only did they have Ace of Spades in their arsenal but they could open with it – a great version at that – and not have the gig go downhill from there.  The many highlights here include: Stay Clean, with its awesome bass solo, those great slightly-psych leads from Eddie Clark on Iron Horse and then there’s No Class with its riff lifted from ZZ Top’s Tush, improving on perfection.  Overkill, the template for the entire thrash scene and still the best.  Furious.  Phil Taylor’s drumming.  Oof.  On We Are the Road Crew, Lemmy’s lyrical skills and knack for looking at things from an unexpected perspective bring us a “rock’n’roll excess” song but from a roadie’s vantage point (“Another bloody customs post/Another fucking foreign coast/Another set of scars to boast/We are the road crew”).  Capricorn is a heavy slab of moody psych-rock.  A real favourite of mine, betraying Lemmy’s Hawkwind roots (and, as per his introduction, his idea of a “slow one”!).  His war/militaria obsession comes to the fore in Bomber, as classic as it gets with this version giving the original studio cut a run for its money. Motörhead, the song, finishes things on a high.

No Sleep ’til Hammersmith is one of a clutch of live albums from the ’70s and early ’80s which were arguably their respective artists’ definitive statements.  Certainly, it stands with Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous and UFO’s Strangers in the Night among the greatest of live rock recordings.  It might be perfect.

I always knew – the only way
Is never live – beyond today
They proved me right – they proved me wrong
But they could never last this long
My life – my heart 
Black night – dark star
Capricorn

Tapes For My Walkman - No Sleep 'til Hammersmith

The original Bronze tape refused to play so a Castle reissue made do.

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.

Deep Purple: Who Do We Think We Are! (1973)

I never quite “got” Deep Purple or Ritchie Blackmore as a kid. In retrospect that seems odd as my youthful listening centred around Queen, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Rush with side orders of Prince and The Doors.  As an aspiring guitarist, I would regularly hear Blackmore’s name invoked in hushed tones alongside Hendrix, Beck and Page by my guitar-playing chums and yet … I just didn’t get it.

I didn’t mind certain tracks, quite enjoyed the occasional Rainbow thing but that was about that. Then, suddenly, just a few years ago, (creative writing lecturers the world over must surely be rending their cardigans in frustration at a sentence beginning with both “then” and “suddenly”) I watched an early live video of Purple from an old British TV show called Doing Their Thing and I got it.  With fireworks.  Boom.

So, over this past three or four years I’ve been gradually expanding my Deep Purple library, realising quite quickly that the classic ‘Mk.II’ line-up is the one for me.  Certainly, there’s some ’60s fun to be had from the original line-up and Mk.III had their moments but the chemistry between Blackmore, Jon Lord, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Ian Paice is where it’s at. The albums Deep Purple In Rock and Machine Head are obvious stand-outs but I reckon Who Do We Think We Are!, Mk.II’s final studio album before their ’80s reunion, belongs on that list.  I first-and-last checked it out a couple of years ago while enjoying some light refreshments, becoming so refreshed, in fact, that I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it.  This time, stone cold sober, I was blown away.

Before getting to the sounds themselves it’s worth noting that this old cassette (looks like a ’73 original, the gold cover is well worn, yellow paper labels on Purple Records) features a re-jigged running order to give each side an even running time. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in these virtual pages, that used to piss me off but in this instance I think the tape’s track sequence is actually better.

I’m familiar with opening number Rat Bat Blue as I’ve heard it regularly and often as part of an MP3 compilation.  The difference between the MP3 and the tape is marked.  The tape is bigger.  Warmer, yes, that old audiophile chestnut.  Better.  All of which helps emphasise the heavy unison riffage and mental keys solo (indeed Lord’s leads seem to take the spotlight more than Blackmore’s throughout).  There’s a recurring riff in there which I’m pretty sure was lifted by Whitesnake for their hair metal rebirth anthem Still Of The Night.  I’m not going to research that though, as I might accidentally hear Whitesnake.

Next up is Place In Line, the album’s longest track at well over six minutes, a heavy electric blues.  Even as the weakest track here, it’s far from bad.  Our Lady, by contrast, is an almost rootsy rock ballad with a hint of psychedelia helping lend it a Crazyhorse vibe.  Great song, an odd choice for an album closer, as it is on the vinyl/CD etc. but a fine way to bow out of Side One here.

Side Two has no truck with balladry of any sort.  Mary Long is unexpectedly and pleasingly spiteful (Mary Long is a hypocrite/
She does all the things that she tells us not to do/Selling filth from a corner shop/And knitting patterns to the high street queue) while driving power rocker Smooth Dancer mercifully belies its title.  Pub-rock classic Woman From Tokyo follows, laying the foundation for Kiss’ entire mid-late ’70s output but distinguishing itself with a psych-pop turn at the halfway mark.

The tape version of the album closes with Super Trooper, a solid piece of chest-beating with musical ties to Rat Bat Blue. All-in, that’s around thirty-five minutes of near perfection.

The tape is in pretty good order despite its years, with only the occasional fluttery moment and one drop-out to give it away. I paid about a fiver for this online, postage and all.  Well worth it, clearly.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Deep Purple Who Do We Think We Are

DP3

Prince and The Revolution: Parade (1986)

Picture if you will: it’s 1986 and a teenage me has a cinema entirely to himself while watching a brand new release.  This remains the only time in my life this has ever happened.  The film in question? Under The Cherry Moon, starring and directed by Prince.  His first film since Purple Rain, co-starring Jerome out of The Time, Kristen Scott Thomas and Steven Berkoff, it’s a black and white romantic comic tragedy set in a curiously timeless south of France (It’s the Eighties!  No, it’s the Thirties!).  My solo-viewing experience is apparently repeated the world over: the film dies on its arse and is now largely forgotten.

Happily the soundtrack album is something else entirely.  While the music that makes up Parade is indeed drawn from the movie’s soundtrack, lyrically and thematically the connection is at best oblique.  The character name Christopher Tracy is held over from the film but there’s no obvious link to the narrative.

In my youth I was all about the guitar and Prince didn’t disappoint, quickly becoming one of my very favourite players and it was largely his harder rocking output that drew me in.  Parade, then, should have put me off – after the guitar-heavy double whammy of Purple Rain and Around The World In A Day, suddenly there’s hardly any evidence of the man himself playing lead guitar with the album’s principal flavours being jazz, pop, psychedelia and even folk.  Of course I loved it.

The production is a massive, kitchen sink affair, bossed by dense percussion melding human (Prince, Bobby Z., Sheila E.) and machine, while horns, acoustic guitars, keyboards, strings and voices all have at it without ever sounding cramped.  Inevitably all of this is based on a foundation of multi-tracked instrumental backing by Prince on his tod. Nevertheless, The Revolution is in full flight here, with Wendy (Melvoin) handling much of the guitar work and Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss shining on “horn” and trumpet respectively.  And the songs – damn!  There’s no obvious bowing to commercialism here, the tracks fading through each other, opening with the summery Christopher Tracy’s Parade, lyrically ambiguous psych-pop at its best before giving way to the funkier New Position which in turn gives way to the almost unsettlingly odd I Wonder U, percussive and moody.  There is balladry here too but it never descends into the syrupy soul gloop Prince could be guilty of from time-to-time.  The album’s pervading quirkiness and a strong European sensibility seems to lift the balladic material – Under The Cherry Moon is effectively old-school Charles Aznavour crooning given a falsetto twist and Venus de Milo an unexpected and lush instrumental, while Prince channels his inner Serge Gainsbourg for Do U Lie?, which leaves no accordion unturned in its bid to evoke a Parisian cafe vibe.

Elsewhere there is one of the great track pairings, with the deeply funky hit Girls and Boys exploding into the thunderous Life Can Be So Nice.  Great stuff.  Mountains, kicking off side two (or, “End”, side one being “Intro”), is power pop on a Phil Spector level and Anotherloverholenyohead is surprisingly intense funk rock.  Kiss is the biggest hit here, and it holds up perfectly, the stripped down David Z. arrangement recalling When Doves Cry and Wendy’s enviable rhythm chops coupled with her classic wah-guitar break making everything just so.

The album closes with a long (near seven minutes) and genuinely affecting acoustic ballad, Sometimes It Snows In April:

Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war, just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before, a whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend – those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again but sometimes, sometimes life ain’t always the way”

Something of a left turn, Sometimes It Snows In April is a sparsely arranged live-in-the-studio performance by Prince, Wendy and Lisa (Coleman) which wears its Joni Mitchell influences with pride.  Still, it somehow manages to organically round out what really is a perfectly sequenced album.  The temptation is just to flip the tape and listen over – which I did.

Like most of Prince’s material, Parade is readily available on CD or download.  Although not in the commercial league of Purple Rain, it did sell in its millions, enough certainly to ensure that relatively inexpensive vinyl and cassette copies can be had online or from your local second-hand wreckastow.  I got my copy of the tape – in good order complete with nice fold out inner to accommodate the notes and artwork from the gatefold LP package – for just a couple of quid online.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Prince and the Revolution Parade

The Cult: Ceremony (1991)

This is the USA/Sire version of the Beggar’s Banquet release, nice condition all round, a quid off the internet.  Good.

A mate of mine once summed this release up thusly:  “An utter B-side of an album”.  At the time I could only agree.  It was certainly my least favourite Cult album from their original run but has the passage of time done it any favours?  Mostly, yes.  For a start, it’s a great sounding record – produced by Richie Zito with Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury, it’s huge and organic.

Side One starts strong with the pairing of the beefy title track and quintessential Cult rocker Wild Hearted Son.  At the time of release these seemed like little more than offcuts from previous album Sonic Temple, with Wild Hearted Son in particular a ringer for that album’s superior Sun King.  Now though, without weight of expectation they sound pretty damn good.  Earth Mofo follows and is an okay rock number but definitely from the “B-side” school, and the vibe is kept at “underwhelming” with side closer If – a trite ballad which is a clear contender for the band’s career-worst.  In between those is White, an unexpectedly weighty and worthwhile piece of psych-gothery, its impact weakened by the poor song sequencing.

Side two kicks off with Full Tilt, a fun if inessential return to the Stones-meets-AC/DC riffalong of the Electric album.  A great opening lyric (“Gunfire ricochets off my halo”) balanced out somewhat later on when Jim-Bob Sessionguy supplies the least groovy bass break in history while Astbury intones, “Superfat.  Funky.”  It’s straight back to the B-sides with Heart of Soul, coming on like a record company-led power ballad cash grab.  It isn’t all bad, with Duffy’s Ronsonesque lead flourishes lending it some class, but come on.  It’s a fine line between this and Every Rose Has Its fucking Thorn.  Bangkok Rain displays a little more grunt and Indian is pleasantly mellow, all cellos and that, with the album showing signs of rallying on Sweet Salvation.  Still in dodgy pseudo-ballad territory but with a good 70s vibe replete with Hammond organ and soulfully belted backing vocals recalling Merry Clayton or Clare Torry (or at least trying to) – but by this stage it’s a symphony in so-so.

Happily the album’s closer is also its standout track, among the band’s very best: Wonderland.  A heavy atmospheric epic building from a trippy spoken word intro (“… and this hip young dude stood passionately succumbing to the he-dog sound of the mystifying beat combo that breaks down your door …”) via quality riffage and soloing until everybody’s chanting, “Earth God Mother!  He-dog Brother!”

So, all-in, hardly a classic but better than I remembered.  Some great stuff on there and while it has its rough patches, you’re left feeling the world just can’t be an entirely awful place when The Cult is chanting “Earth God Mother!  He-dog Brother!” at you.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - The Cult Ceremony