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 …

 

 

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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.

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

Chasar: Chasar (1983)

Fessing up, in the interest of transparency: the following is a comprehensive revision of a piece I wrote for an old web project called 100 Axes about 8 or 9 years ago. For a brief while in the late 80s I did some roadying for the band and I had guitar lessons from their guitarist Alec Pollock, who also went on to record and co-produce my band Dog Moon Howl‘s first album last year. I also ran Chasar’s first authorised website. For this fresh take on the review, I listened to my original copy of the tape which I bought new in 1984.

A classic power trio featuring the aforementioned Alec Pollock on guitar/vocal, Peter Marshall on bass/guitars/pedals and brother Jim Marshall on drums, Chasar were local boys done good, from our neck of the woods yet touring the country, recording for Tommy Vance at Radio One and getting regular mentions and play on Tom Russell’s legendary Clyde Rock Show. They’d also self-released their album on cassette. All-in-all, a pretty big deal when you’re from the arse-end of nowhere, particularly back then.

I borrowed the tape from a mate at school and I was blown away. There was a big Rush influence, but this was heavier, with the most obvious other influences, I would say, being Ozzy-era Sabbath and Randy Rhodes-era Ozzy.  Now, in those days, Rush and Ozzy were just about as cool as it got for your average teenage heavy rock fan. There was also a strong contingent of newer bands – the tail end of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.  I remember Mama’s Boys, Heavy Pettin, Preying Mantis and Glasgow as being of particular interest, as well as the related prog movement of the time, particularly Pallas and Marillion.  Although these days they’re considered to be part of the NWOBHM, at the time Chasar seemed to be a bridge between those two camps of metal and prog.

Listening now, this is still an outstanding set, with the indie, low budget production doing it a lot of favours by avoiding any Big ’80s Production pitfalls and leaving the whole thing still sounding fresh. The first track, Destiny, was a regular live opener and remains one of my favourite tracks. A jagged riff with an anti-oppression lyric straight out of Thatcher’s Britain: “I was never meant for here, I was born to fly/But now you’ve got me in your cage I’ve got to run, do or die …” Alec’s somewhat raw vocals, seen by some at the time as a weak point, now stand as one of the principal reasons Chasar doesn’t sound as dated as many of its contemporaries. A reluctant singer, Alec avoided the fashionable scream-for-effect histrionics associated with metal acts of the day and his straight ahead rock delivery lends the album an extra edge.

Visions Of Time is the first of the album’s epics, a great brooding beast of a thing, immediately contrasted with Deceiver, a three-minute rocker with a violent riff and girl-gone-bad lyrics. Side One closes with another epic, Kings. The first song the band ever wrote together, this sees them wearing their Rush influences on their sleeves – and a song about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, no less! Still, that doesn’t stop it being a fine tune even if much of it sounds like it could be an outtake from 2112.

Side Two kicks off with Lights, continuing the epic theme, this time with a surprisingly chirpy feel (in as much as a seven-minute power-trio rock song can be ‘chirpy’…) and a scary guitar solo.  Next, a left-turn into the full-on heavy rock of Gypsy Roller.  Always a live favourite, it leaves no arse unkicked with a big riff, ferocious, shred-machine solo and Lizzy-esque lyrics about gypsies and sheriffs and that. Gypsy Roller would be the album highlight for me but for the album closer, the epic to end them all, Underground.

Underground embodies Chasar at their best. Each band member’s strengths are to the fore – Alec’s leads switch from ‘atmospheric’ to ‘blazing’ in a heartbeat while Peter expertly treads the line between ‘solid’ and ‘flashy’ and Jim’s almost jazzy drumming is a standout throughout. The song is nine minutes long but it never gets boring due to a dramatic, multi-faceted framework (the aggressive, not to mention impressive, main riff doesn’t kick in until two-minutes into the track) with a dark lyric serving to round out the album’s overall mood. It’s intense.

My old tape hasn’t survived the decades unscathed.  Plenty of wobble and dropouts to testify to its residency in my old Panasonic Walkmanalike.  These days, I’d best stick to the vinyl.  The original tape release ran to either one or two thousand and was largely sold out by 1985, when the album was given a vinyl release by American Phonograph. A year or two later there was a European release on Mausoleum under the title Gypsy Rollers. The latter made it to CD sometime in the late ’80s. Since then, there has been at least one “semi official” CD release on a dodgy Spanish-based Euro label. The tapes are a real rarity and the last time one went online it fetched around £25. The vinyl does crop up – the American Phonograph version can go from £20+ to silly money and seems to average around £40 in the right condition. The Mausoleum version is slightly more common and is usually around the £18 mark. The Mausoleum CD’s a bit of a mystery.  If you can pick up a copy of Chasar, whatever the format (or title), you really should.

Who knows, we might yet see a reissue as the band is back together, with Iain Tait (vocalist from the band’s post-album lineup) back in the fold, also taking up bass duties after Peter Marshall’s tragic death in the ’90s.  Maybe we’ll even get Album Two … in the meantime check them out live if you get the chance.  They haven’t missed a step – still insanely good.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Chasar