Monday, 28 November 2011

Japan - Tin Drum

I Love 1981 - pt. 22
It really is quite amazing how many great albums were released in this latter part of 1981. Not that I wish to play down any albums released earlier or mid-year but there just seems to be a concentration of greatness in these last couple of months. Must be something to do with the stars and the planets. Maybe not.
Moving swiftly on from The Human League's Dare (and missing out an all important album, leaving it until last, can you guess what it is readers?) here we have Japan's magnum opus Tin Drum released at the end of November.
As most of you will know it was their last studio album (until the Rain Tree Crow project a decade later) and their most successful commercially. Quiet Life (1979) and Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980) had gained much critical acclaim and had done quite well for the Catford glam-boys, but ironically it was Tin Drum which took them to super-stardom, albeit briefly, and mucho chart success - both with the album and no less than 4 singles taken from it - and then on to cult status.
They'd got off to a slow start with the new sound in the summer with The Art of Parties single which enjoyed modest success, and is the album's opening track albeit in a remixed form, the sound now blending in better with the faux-chinois and electronic sounds of the album. I say 'electronic' but to classify it as synth-pop (as some do) is both crass and unjustified. Apart from Sylvian's now characteristic voice (somewhere between Bowie, Ferry and Iggy Pop) the Japan sound is also characterised by the late Mick Karn's bendy fretless bass, the steady but creative drumming by David Jansen and, last but not least, Richard Barbieri's 'electronics'. (Guitarist Rob dean had since left the band)
Japan: just having a laugh out of the studio. 
Problem was however that although Japan had at last 'found' an amalgamated and unique sound, as a band itself they weren't working. Basically (or so it has been said several times) each member of the group was going into the studio, doing their own thing then leaving again, without even so much as a 'howdya do' or a quick cuppa with fellow members. It was then obviously up to producer Steve Nye to put it all together.
While today in the days of 'e-mail bands' and swapping ideas and lyrics over the interweb and such that may not seem so difficult, back in the day it would have made for a very disjointed and tedious process indeed.

However the album itself does all come together quite wonderfully, and may even be considered a kind of concept album taking in sounds, moods and lyrics with an oriental theme. The band had finally come to write an album that - almost - befitted their name. Titles like Canton, Visions of China and Cantonese Boy may sound corny especially when listed on an album by a band called Japan, but they represent some of the finest pop moments of this and indeed any other band of the time. Oddly, Visions of China as a single didn't do very well chart-wise. Previous label Hansa had hastily re-issued the 1979 Quiet Life single over the summer, as well as a retrospective album Assemblage, perhaps creating some consumer confusion and pre-empting sales for the new album and material. (Japan's singles back catalogue is rife with re-issues and re-purposed tracks). In fact it wasn't until the release of the superb Ghosts as a single in March of 1982 - and that TOTP performance - that things really got going for Tin Drum, giving it a longer run for its money in the charts. From its release right up until the end of June 82, Tin Drum was rarely out of the Top 40.

As already mentioned the album spawned four hit singles, plus a fifth if we consider the live version of Canton released from Oil On Canvas in 83, although my favourite remains the marvellously tongue-in-cheek Still Life In Mobile Homes, an up-beat number which opens side 2 and has everyone on fine form, as well as some gorgeous female-nipponic wailing and a great screechy guitar solo. Enjoy!

Berliner Bowie

Falling behind with all regular posting I'm afraid, not least the David Bowie Story ones, depsite the fact that I've been getting through David Buckley's book quite quickly.
Anyway blog-fans we're up the the "Berlin years" now, ie. the famous "Berlin-trilogy" albums Low, "Heroes" amd Lodger which take us up to 1979. Much to my disappointment Low wasn't actually made in Berlin, or not all of it at least. He started it off in rather more luxury surroundings in Switzerland before moving up to Berlin, thus meeting up with Brian Eno and various Krautrockers and local musikers.
It's probably my (and many others') favourite Bowie period as the music really does seem to gel at last, and although much removed from the punk/new wave scene emerging during those years these albums are a wonderful melange of solid rock and electro-experimental doodlings. He also did two albums with Iggy Pop in this period, so is also one of his most artistically fruitful to date.
Anyways to cut a long-ish story short here's a selection from each album, avoiding the more obvious songs, apart from Boys Keep Swinging off Lodger, mainly because it's the only one I like plus there's a zany performance/sketch off the infamous Kenny Everett Show from 79.

from Low:

from "Heroes":

from Lodger:

Thursday, 17 November 2011

One I made earlier

video: Watching A Bulding On Fire - John Foxx And The Maths
Here's a video I started putting together some time ago and finally got round to finishing off. It's a mixture of footage from Truffaut's film adaption of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and John Foxx's video for He's A Liquid, from 1980.
For those who don't know, Bradbury's novel is a story set in the not too distant future, where books are basically banned off the face of the earth and any that are found have to be burned, and those responsible for reading or keeping them duly punished. The story follows the relationship between 'fireman' Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) and his relationship with Clarisse McClellan, played by the ever gorgeous Julie Christie. 451°F is the temperature at which book paper burns. Enough said.

In making my video, the 'fire' association between the film and the song is obvious, although of course the former is more about books as opposed to buildings. The line "someone is in the room", instantly reminded me of the original Foxx video and, like most of the Maths album, the song has much of the sounds of Metamatic so the Liquid video sequence fitted like a glove, also given the man meets woman scenario as Foxx's voice interchanges with that of Mira Aroyo of Ladytron on Watching, who co-wrote it.
I had considered using the excellent new remix of Watching A Building On Fire, but it's longer and has a slightly different structure so would've meant re-doing the whole thing.

Here's the video - and the song. It's quite long but please stick with it til the end if only to see the scene as sampled below:.

original version of Watching A Building On Fire available here
original video of He's A Liquid here

Monday, 14 November 2011

Shake your Boots

Hurrah! Some good news at last on the new music front. Blackpool synth-queen Little Boots is back with a new single Shake. It's been over two years since her electro-fantastic debut album Hands, and despite some worrying moments where LB (real name Victoria) was apparently lacking some inspiration, she's back with a blinder.

It's modern, it's dance-orientated and it's instantly catchy...but despite all of that we rather like it here at LiM.
Shake has already been previewed on the net and on the wireless last week and is now up for sale at i-tunes and all those sorts of places.

Anyway you can party down and shake your boot-y right now thanks to this soundcloud thang with the radio edit ..or there's even a really cool "record player" longer version on youtube. Awwwww.


Friday, 11 November 2011

From Station to Earth

The David Bowie Story pt.5
Well it's the mid-70s and Bowie, now The Thin White Duke, continues his cocaine-fuelled L.A./U.S. trip (pun intended) and proceeds to record his tenth studio album Station to Station. He was also working on the movie The Man Who Fell To Earth, Nicholas Roeg's film interpretation of the sci-fi novel by Walter Trevis, with Bowie acting and attempting to write a soundtrack in his L.A. home. But perhaps more about the movie anon, cos I haven't seen it for years.

The soundtrack idea was however abandoned and thus Station to Station came about. Or at least that's what seems to have happened since our David was so off his head all of the time that he remembers practically nothing of the period ("I know it was in LA because I've read it was"). Apparently it was at this time however that he started to take an interest in Krautrock, especially Kraftwerk, although to be honest not a lot of that transpires on this album.

Station to Station is however very much a transition (transit?) album, taking us out of the US soul Golden Years are still firmly rooted the "plastic soul" of Young Americans. The cover of the 50's song Wild is the Wind is my fave Bowie vocal performance to date.
dance fix and back towards a more European, nay Mittel-Europa, phase. The title track itself is two songs joined together at the hip, with a very much more European feel, whereas tracks like the hit
A memorable live tour followed, for which Bowie had originally wanted Kraftwerk as support band. Sadly, this never happened for technical reasons.
The period is also notorious for Bowie's alleged penchant for all things Nazi, culminating in an apparent "nazi salute" to a crowd of fans on his arrival at Victoria Station in London in May 1976. Among the crowd was a young Gary Numan (né Webb), who also denied said gesture.  "All you need is some dickhead at a music paper or whatever to make an issue out it ...." said Bowie, which is exactly what the NME did.

Station to Station has recently been issued in a special triple CD set - original album remastered plus the legendary Nassau concert. Get it.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Scary movie

I don't really like horror films much, mostly because I don't actually enjoy being scared. The Shout looks quite good though, not least cos it has John Hurt as an avant-garde composer type, late 70s, who experiments with sound effects and various electronic sources in his secluded Devon studio, doing some pretty weird and wonderful stuff with microphones, electronics and tape-recorders. Cool.

 Hurt looks quite Bowie-esque, I thought. Alan Bates and Susannah York, who died earlier this year, also star. Be afraid.

- thanks to Island of Terror for first pointing this film out to me.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Human League - Dare

I Love 1981 - pt 21
Well it's late Saturday afternoon in November 1981 so what better way to get the party started then getting all tarted up for the night whilst listening to the sounds of The Human League's breakthrough album Dare.
Like Speak & Spell there's already been so much written about Dare - seminal synth-pop album etc., especially in the wake of the recent electro-revival (La Roux et al) and an overall re-evaluation of the genre, now taht almost all pop music is made with electronic instruments.
Band leader and lead vocalist Phil Oakey has often described it as 'over-rated' but there's a little false modesty going on there as it still remains their most successful album to date and their most exploited during the live performances which they still seen very fond of doing. No Human League gig could ever be complete without a rendition of Don't You Want Me, and other Dare racks such as The Sound of the Crowd, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, or even Darkness which have all recently been performed live.
Shiny synth-pop aside, what ultimately clinches it for the album is its strange mixture of upbeat pop (although still not in the region of the Mode's 'ultra-pop') and darker moments as in I Am the Law and Seconds. Dare managed to carefully tread between the two creating something for everyone: Darkness is a perfect sing-along pop song yet deals with one of our deepest fears, Do or Die will have us up and dancing yet its sci-fi scenarios ("alsatians fall unconscious at the shadow of your call..") are at once chilling and just a bit daft (cf. earlier League tracks such as The Black Hit of Space). Love Action (I Believe in Love) may have one of the catchiest riffs of them all yet deals with the pain and suffering of broken relationships we can somehow all relate to. And this is Phil talkin'.

Considering all that it almost seems a shame that the cheesy yet evergreen Don't You Want Me has to close it all, although it was in fact deliberately tacked on at the end as a 'joke' song. It's a complete pseudo-American soap-opera scenario (Oakey was inspired by A Star is Born for the lyric) which translated so well into the video-with-a-stroy-line format which was just coming into vogue.

All homage of course to the late Martin Rushent's production and overall technical contribution, not least the introduction of the Linn drum machine which finally gave the League, and electronic pop, the programmable beats they so strived for in earlier years (I nearly cried when I first heard Love Action - I thought they'd used 'real' drums..).
It was still early days though: "The programming took hours and hours and we were constantly battling the primitive and unreliable technology," said Rushent in 2008. But no matter: "I spent 28 hours straight writing and programming the brass parts for Hard Times and another 24 hours recording them. Didn’t mind a bit, had a wonderful time."..which is exactly what ultimately transpires on Dare.
So just put on your best party gear, plenty of jewellry and make up (men too), add your voice and have a wonderful eighties-time to the sounds of Dare.

For more on Dare and its making, see The Black Hit of Space's excellent 30th Anniversary Special.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Black music / white boy

The David Bowie Story pt.4 which our David promptly turns his back on glam rock and plumps instead for a full-immersion in American black music in Philedelphia, USA of all places and invents 'plastic soul' (his phrase).
Gone was the glitter and make-up of Ziggy Stardust and all that the character ensued (including accompanying musicians such as Mick Ronson) and in was a more 'sobre' look and a new approach to music, adopting and adapting the American (read 'black') soul sounds to effectively create the first successful white singer of the genre. Many British white singers would emulate this approach in the not too distant future, becoming especially fashionable in the early 80s: from Paul Young to Tony Hadley, from Rick Astley to Boy George.

The ensuing album Young Americans (1975) was a big success in America of course although initially threw a lot of glam-Bowie/Ziggy fans, especially in the UK,  who were still not yet used to Bowie's habit of changing styles and persona. An edited version of the title track became his biggest US Billboard hit up to then. Despite its groundbreaking plastic or white soul style the album sounds a little dated today. His cover of The Beatles' Across the Universe, a late addition, sticks out like a sore thumb and can only be attributed to his new found friendship with fellow-Brit-in-the-USA John Lennon with whom Bowie co-wrote Fame, the album's closer and other hit.
His cocaine habit (nay, addiction) continued of course and TV appearances for which the US producers and audiences craved, were often marred by Bowie being completely off his head on coke.

He was also very thin, and very white...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

I Love 1980 - appendix 9

A rather late addition to the I Love 1980 series, but a good excuse to feature the excellent Sounds of the 20th Century which has been running on Radio 2 now for some weeks.
For those who are not familiar, the hour long show has been featuring consecutive years each week, starting from 1951, mixing news and current affairs items with popular music of the year, and usually there are some damn excellent choices too.
The series reaches 1980 this week so among news of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, the consequent US boycott of the Moscow Olympics, embassy hostages, and "The Lady who is not for turning" it's top tracks from Blondie, UB40, The Jam, Bowie, Gabriel, Abba and many more. The 1980 programme also more or less opens with the death of Ian Curtis and closes with that of John Lennon. Never thought about those two dying in the same year.

Listen again to this week's programme here until Thurs. 3rd November, when it'll be time for 1981 at 10 p.m. GMT.

Official Radio 2 page here
Unofficial series blog here
and on twitter