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 …

 

 

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ZZ Top: Fandango! (1975)

Following 1973’s Tres Hombres and released in 1975, Fandango! was ZZ Top’s fourth album. Again produced by Bill Hamm, here the 34 minute running time is divided between a live side and a studio side.   The studio cuts are a match for Tres Hombres in quality but the live element stops it quite equalling its predecessor’s status as a classic.

The three live tracks that make up the first side are good, rough and raw.  Kicking off with Texas Blues perennial Thunderbird (curiously credited to ZZ Top though it’s a Nightcaps cover) and Jailhouse Rock, it’s a covers-heavy set with the only originals a retread of Rio Grande Mud‘s Backdoor Love Affair and a new song Back Door Love Affair No. 2, both here in a medley with Willie Dixon’s Mellow Down Easy and John Lee Hooker’s Long Distance Boogie.  These are enjoyable enough, hard rocking numbers but it’s all fairly heavy-handed, particularly in Backdoor Medley, and the overall effect is one of “you had to be there”.

The six track studio side, however, is a thing of wonder – it’s no mystery that half of the cuts here made it to 1977’s The Best Of ZZ Top. The side kicks off with the brilliantly titled Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings which is a perfect piece of ’70s rock.  Then there’s Blue Jean Blues.  One of the great electric blues ballads, its melancholy air serving as a backdrop for one of the finest blues leads you’ll hear.

Balinese offers up a slice of straightforward Southern rock before the loose-limbed Mexican Blackbird, with its killer slide and affectionately unromantic lyric  (“If you’re down in Acuna and you ain’t up to being alone/Don’t spend all your money on just any honey that’s grown/Go find the Mexican Blackbird and send all your troubles back home”).

Heard It On The X is a propulsive paean to the Mexican radio stations of the ’60s, all of which were known by call signs beginning with an X.  Tush is one of those songs that always seems to have been there (it was probably the Girlschool version I knew first). A stone cold classic.

The part live/part studio format isn’t one that’s easy to get right. ZZ Top tried it again in 1999 with the underrated XXX.  Cream did it in the ’60s with Wheels of Fire, though that was a double with one disc studio and one live; in the ’90s, both Sabbath and the Stones garnished live albums with a couple of studio cuts (Reunion and Flashpoint respectively) but the only other “half-and-half” release which really got it right, that I can think of, is Loudon Wainwright III’s Unrequited (released, like Fandango!, in 1975.  Maybe it was a thing).   The two types of performance and recording often don’t really gel and that’s the issue with Fandango!  The studio side is so damn good you can’t help but want more.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - ZZ Top: Fandango!

Original Warners paper labels issue, about £4 online.

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.

ZZ Top: Tres Hombres (1973)

By 1973, ZZ Top already had two albums under their belts,  ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud, both more-than-decent slabs of blues and hard rock with the promise of something more.  Third album Tres Hombres easily delivered on that promise and proved to be the band’s first major breakthrough.  With the band hitting a career-best as songwriters and performers, the end result is for many their finest moment, both a near-perfect rock album and a definitive contemporary Texas blues album.

Classic cuts abound:  Waitin’ For the Bus and Jesus Just Left Chicago sit so well together here that they’ve stayed that way on compilations and in live sets ever since.  Both are Texas blues anthems, with Jesus… in particular a standout featuring a stunning guitar turn from Billy Gibbons. In contrast, Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers is, as you might imagine, as “straight ahead rock” as it gets.  La Grange, celebrating a famous Texas brothel, starts out as a ringer for The Rolling Stones’ version of Slim Harpo’s Shake Your Hips before owning that arrangement’s John Lee Hooker heritage and taking it down a rocked-up road all its own.

That Stones influence is apparent too on Move It On Down the Line, a sort of lightweight second cousin to Street Fighting Man. Master of Sparks and Precious and Grace are great funky hard rock tracks while Sheik is a step or two further towards hard-edged funk, quoting the riff from Curtis Mayfield’s Freddy’s Dead and likely influencing Prince and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the process (that Chili Peppers connection is most apparent in the ending, for which the intro to Aeroplane from One Hot Minute is a near soundalike).

There’s a religious element to the lyrics here and there but the themes are not shoved down your throat.  Have You Heard is a gospel number which preaches its damnation-or-salvation message softly: ‘Which way are you comin’ from?  Goin’ up or gettin’ down?”  Countryfied blues Hot, Blue and Righteous employs a similarly light touch while Jesus Just Left Chicago flat-out delights with its mix of Delta and Biblical imagery (“… muddy water turned to wine”).

Everyone here is at the top of their game – Dusty Hill’s gritty bass, Frank Beard’s tough and deceptively intricate drumming, Bill Ham’s pitch-perfect production, the mix of Gibbons’ and Hill’s contrasting vocals – but really this is Gibbons’ masterpiece as a guitarist.  Mixing fat Les Paul and wiry Strat tones, he even pioneers two-handed tapping, both with pick (or rather peso) and fingers, clearly planting the seeds for the likes of Edward Van Halen and Joe Satriani.  His slide playing is masterful too, while the bluesier leads are a clear influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan.

ZZ Top have continued to produce genre-stretching recordings of sheer class over a further four decades (okay, there was a bit of a fallow period in the ’80s when Gibbon’s commendable tendencies towards sonic experimentation led them down a synth-and-drum machine cul-de-sac, and now a new album from them is like chicken’s teeth, but still).  However, they never sounded better than on Tres Hombres.  One of the Great Albums.

ZZ Top Tres Hombres

Original Warner’s tape, paper labels and all that, decent playback, about four quid online.

 

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.

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