“Litanies of Satan” by Diamanda Galas
Now, to break up the monotony of reviews on either a) classic 60’s pop bands or b) classic 80’s-00’s era pop bands I will review one of the most avant guard performers to ever get a deal with a reasonably big record label and who pushed the boundaries with her vocal and instrumental intensity.
I am, of course, taking about Amy Grant.
Wait! No. I’m talking about Diamanda Galas. Does the name not ring a bell? That’s okay: her peak period was in the early 80’s to about the mid 90’s and she never hit any sort of commercial success.
That isn’t so say that she wasn’t infamous: former drug addict, prostitute, classically trained pianist who wrote album length mourning pieces to AIDS victims, the insane, beaten down women, marginalized prisoners and more she was also arrested for blasphemy for performing “The Plague Mass” nude from the waist up, shrieking “Sono L’Antichristo!” and being bathed in sheep’s blood in a CHURCH.
However shocking Galas may have been (she once remarked she wanted to “rape Snoop Dogg” in an interview and wrote a (playful and light hearted) song about women ganging up to kill a rapist male) she has always stood out amongst the crowd for her sense of righteous MORALITY not immorality. She cavorts, shrieks and shocks to bludgeon her audience with a stunning sense of right and wrong and of the amorality of the treatment of the victimized.
In other words, there’s always a POINT to her work beyond simple noise making. She’s saying something.
I realize I’ve gone 300 words without mentioning her singing voice. Galas was actually forbidden by her parents to study vocal work in college so she would perform her own unique style when she had the chance.
Basically, Galas has something like a four octave vocal range: she goes for the deep, dark spots when singing the kind of heart wrenching blues that make up her numerous cover albums. But she can also shriek (and I mean shriek) in a high, high soprano tone that should send shivers up and down the spine of even the toughest man.
And her vocalization goes beyond simple singing: she babbles, stretches out her vowels, strains her vibrato to the stretching point, gasps, grunts, mumbles and chants all for the sake of expressing the inner torment that lies not only in the heart of all of her work but within heart own heart.
That’s 408 words without mentioning the album, her debut album called “Litanies of Satan.” This album, released in 1982, was released before the moment that helped focus and define her career for decades: the AIDS related death of her brother, renowned playwright Philip-Dimitri Galas in 1986.
Diamanda and her brother were intensely close and influenced each others work and his death (the painful, dementia suffering wasting away that took early AIDS victims) shocked, troubled and appalled her in that nobody seemed interested in helping; millions of people turned their backs, plugged their ears and sang hymns as thousands and millions died agonizing deaths, murmuring under their breaths that perhaps these victims “deserved” their fates for their sexual deviancies (remember, AIDS was primarily thought of as a ‘homosexual’ problem at the time).
Okay, okay fine: that’s all great to know but what about this album? What is IT’S concept? Well, honestly, it’s basically an adaptation of “Litanies of Satan” by Charles Baudelaire, the celebrated decadent poet and semi-satanist. Naturally, he was Galas favorite poet.
This adaption is a 17 minute (not 12 as indicated on the CD reissue which messes up the titles of the TWO tracks on the album) tone-poem that…well, it truly sounds like the Demons of Hell are crawling out to Kill You.
It starts out with muted, looped Diamanda babble-screams that slowly build in intensity, overlaid with other sounds. Incredibly, she did this type of material live (with multiple microphones linked to various effects, leading to the incredible sight of her clutching three microphones and screeching) but one wonders about this particular track.
As it builds in intensity it eventually stops with a percussive “THUD” as a loud, slow, slow percussive beat begins. Galas begins reciting the poem in a mock demonic tone as if she is, indeed Satan Him (or Her) self.
Then she begins chanting a specific passage (I don’t know French) over and over again as deep, deep, bowel moving, pitch shifted voices layer underneath her basic chants as a synthesizer swirls in the background, low, deep and moaning.
Yes, there are variations throughout the track but this is its basic pitch: hellish, twisted, boiling, turning and sounding like a particularly GREAT horror movie soundtrack (as there are times when it locks into a truly scary groove) that mimics the ideas of the power of chants (Galas spends minutes at a time repeating key phrases) the hair raising power of a true, guttural shriek and the seemingly instinctual revulsion at deep, deep bass tones.
It keeps doing this till the end.
The second track, “Wild Women With Steak-Knives (The Homicidal Love Song for Solo Scream)” (seriously) couldn’t possibly live up to that as the looking effects are minimal and its mostly just Diamanda screeching out insane lyrics about wanting “steak! Steak steak steak steak steak” and exploring the furthest possible limits of her voice.
So is this worth hearing? I think so but with some serious reservations. If you’re a religious person this may somewhat offend you (but I think you’d have to be pretty fundamentalist for that to occur) or may even truly terrorize you as a truly satanic work.
It may also give you a headache.
But if you’re looking to get into some of the most “out there” music released in the last 40 years, you could hardly go wrong with ANYTHING by Galas. Later albums bring in more music, more composing and even a weird flirtation with “rock” starring John Paul-Jones that got her onto late night television.
However, her basic sound, approach and singing styles are completely realized on this debut. Listen it with the lights off.
Tracks to YouTube:
Honestly, you can find the whole album on YouTube. Give it a listen. You can even find her performing this LIVE though the quality is shoddy at best.
“Live at the Fillmore 1969” by the Move
The more I listen to the Move, the more I frigging love them. Case in point: I have now given all four of their studio albums a single listen and am currently listening to the second disc of the 2012 live album “Live at the Fillmore 1969” the only document (and only likely document) of a full concert by “The Move” on their only tour of America in 1969.
Nominally, my new review style is supposed to avoid repeating bands too many times but I simply have to comment on this album: it really proves to me the fantastic nature of the band and really makes me lament how overlooked and under valued they are in general.
The story behind this album goes as follows: singer Carl Wayne held onto the tapes of the show for decades hoping that they could be cleaned up as recording technology improved. And they were: the sound isn’t exactly “crystal clear” but it’s clear enough to be enjoyable with a minimum of muddiness or dissonance. The only problem that bothered me was the balance between vocals and instruments: when all the band members start singing in intricate harmony, it tends to overshadow the instruments.
Nevermind that. Let’s go on to the good signs of the album, which are many.
In the studio up to this point (1969, before the simultaneously heavier and more intricate days of the Jeff Lynne era) the Move had been more…delicate in the studio. They had only released one album, 1968’s “The Move” which was a masterpiece of pop songwriting, diverse arrangement ideas and bizarre lyrical ideas.
It also showcased a tight band that had mastered a solid interplay of rhythm guitar, lead, bass, drums, lead vocals mixed with four and five part harmonies. It was the only album to feature original rhythm guitarist Trevor Burton and bass player “Ace” something or other who suffered from a bad acid trip that caused an early departure that switched Burton to bass.
By the time the band travelled to America, Burton had departed to be replaced by Rick Price, who stayed with the band for two more years. Burton departed due to the “softness” of the singles that he felt betrayed the band’s hard rocking roots.
One wonders how Burton would have felt hearing the band performances on this album? The set starts with the riff heavy “Open My Eyes” by The Nazz and the band fully adapts to the purpose, stretching it out to nearly seven minutes with wild Wood guitar (who knew the guy was a super star?) and wild, wild drum bashing by Bevan (nearly Moon level, which makes me feel the man is severely under rated as a drummer) with solid bass from Price and Wayne…
I feel like Wayne is the big discovery listening to this album. Wayne always had a great voice but always seemed more set to “croon” (as he pushed the band to the lucrative cabaret circuit) but he really roars on the album in a way I wouldn’t have expected from him.
He really reminds me of Rod Evans from the first period of Deep Purple: a rather smooth, yet powerful voice that fits in well with the general style of the band. It may not be the “Gillian-esque” or “Dio-style” scream that has set the style for heavy metal vocalization but its no less powerful for its intricacies, subtlety and power.
Another huge discovery is hearing Wood unleash on guitar: it’s no shock that this band was as big as they were on the touring circuit. Wood is a minor master on guitar, more in the vein of “Hendrix” or garage rock superstars as opposed to the flash of Ritchie Blackmore and his tone is satisfyingly thick, his leads and solos solid (and integrating direct classical approaches from time to time) and leads the band through song-after-song with an amazing fluency and grace while maintaining a steady, hard rocking groove.
Fivesongs from the 1970’s “Shazaam” are highlighted here: “Don’t Make My Baby Blue,” “The Last Thing On My Mind,” epic length Ars Nova cover “Fields of People,” reworked Wood classic “Cherry Blossom Clinic” and new Wood original “Hello Susie.”
Three tracks go over 10 minutes and two stretch to 14 minutes and 17 minutes. A highlight for this reviewer is closing “Under the Ice” one of The Nazz’s hardest rocking, tightest written tunes stretched to a bizarre 14 minutes.
“Fields of People” remains a classic as its a tightly written psychedelic classic extended with wild Wood ideas (including bizarre, near sitar style sounds from a “banjo-tar”) and bashing drums from Bevan that at times remind me of a less bass heavy Who…which is a huge, huge compliment from me.
The set is closed out with a further three songs from a second night at the Fillmore, repeats of “Don’t Make My Baby Blue,” “Cherry Blossom Clinic” and “The Last Thing On My Mind.” They’re good but don’t differ incredibly from the previous night’s versions. It’s still good to have them though.
Closing out the set is a great 10 minute interview from the intelligent and insightful Bev Bevan, reflecting on the tour with a humorous and self deprecating style that holds the attention all the way through.
I can’t recommend this enough to fans of hard hitting, yet ambitious, well played and tastefully arranged raw guitar rock. There are other drawbacks: the song set isn’t ideal for fans of “The Move”’s earlier, gentler singles and was in fact designed as a way to impress west coast audience; the endless jamming, while entertaining, can become a bit wearing after awhile if one isn’t ready for it; it’s not representative of the first line-up of the band which is said to have burned even tighter and brighter.
However, it’s highly unlikely that very many other shows were recorded by “The Move” (especially the first lineup which wasn’t around long) and in the absence of any other live album (not to discount the EP “Something Else by the Move”) this may be the only live set we ever get by the band.
Thank God it’s great! Get it.
Songs to YouTube:
Both Nazz Covers are phenomenal and blow poor Todd outta the water.
“Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” was always one of Wood’s best tunes and the rearrangement is great.
“Fields of People” may be the longest song of the set but its melodies are amazing and the band pulls them off with pizazz.
“I” by the Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields is the springboard for the sonic experimentation and songwriting skills of Stephin Merritt, a rather odd, baritone voiced fellow who espouses a rather morose yet humorous lyrical bent that he backs with catchy and straight laced melodies that are influenced almost equally by synth pop, folk, rock, experimental music, bubble gum pop, Tin Pan Alley and even country rock
Merritt made his name with a serious of synthesizer dominated albums that he tended to play all the instruments on but really made his name with the classic, triple album “69 Love Songs” which was exactly that: 69 songs, 23 per disc, that explored a wide range of musical emotional, lyrical and arrangement ideas that broke him through to a wider critical and (somewhat) wider commercial world. It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of his busy career and the album that he’ll likely be remembered for 100 years from now.
However, Merritt didn’t retire from music: he even expanded into other bands with The 6ths, the Gothic Archies and even solo work taking up much of his time. However, the Magnetic Fields remained his most celebrated and renowned band and each new disc seemed to explore new ideas and concepts such as 2004’s “I” which was the first of several to ignore his normally highly synthesizer based style in favor of a more folk, acoustic guitar and piano oriented direction.
Merritt is a smart guy and doesn’t do things in half measures: the album is filled with guitars, banjos, pianos, harpsichords and a variety of other appropriate folk based instruments that explore a variety of moods and styles but which focuses on a single letter throughout…I…
The name of this album is no coincidence: Merritt thoroughly explores a more introverted, highly personal style which contrasts heavily with his more story telling based songwriting style of the past. Every single song starts with the letter “I” and eight of twelve songs would seemingly point directly at Merritt himself.
So many people want to point out the “introspective” albums as the obvious “masterpiece” by a songwriter or band: alternatively, people (like me) often find introspective albums to be a lame grab at getting critics to hail your album as a masterpiece.
I find this to be true of “Sea Changes” by Beck which, while a great album, felt a bit stiff and fake to me. A bit too much like a Bowie-esque change of style (which Beck had made a career pulling) and now, after his breakup, it was time to “get for real.”
I could be wrong about that album (and most people tell me I’m a complete idiot for that opinion and I’d rather not dwell on it) but I do feel that drive for creating a pain filled, heart wrenching masterpiece to be a bit at odds with reality.
I have a feeling that Merritt does too: he is obviously exploring more introverted music and lyrical approaches here but he’s not quite bleeding his heart the way I see other artists pull. He still sings his plaintive, simple (and some would say, awful) monotone baritone that doesn’t really pull any heart strings but gives each song a distance.
On the one hand, this avoids the problems with “heart ache for the sake of heart” that I feel from so many albums but on the other hand it makes it hard to really “feel” for Merritt on these songs. Merritt often skirts with emotionality (and the song “I Shatter” makes me cry every time) but it’s usually a more formal, songwriting emotionality rather than a true confession.
Which is why I enjoy this album more often than not: he isn’t puking his emotion all over an overly emotive audience but simply singing simple (but not too simple) songs with introspective (but not too introspective) lyrics giving you a slight glimpse into the mind of one of rock’s true curmudgeons.
For example, take a look at “I Thought You Were My Boyfriend.” Merritt, one of rock’s most “whatever” homosexual artists (he never hides it but never forces it in your face and did name is record label “Big Gay and Loud” or something to that effect) addresses a lover who loved and left him directly. He’s had similar songs but not one where he seemingly addressed a lover in such uncertain terms.
And in songs like “In An Operetta” he combines his love of non-rock music with a seemingly sincere desire to watch a beautiful operetta that soothes his aching heart with its plaintive melodies and simple minded lyrics. Of course, all this talk of “Violetta” makes one wonder if Merritt had somebody in mind or if he was stretching for a rhyme.
“I Wish I Had an Evil Twin” is an intensely darkly humorous song that finds Merritt wishing he had an evil twin that could do all the things to people, the dark things, that he wished he could do himself. You laugh along with him but part of you believes him which makes it rather disconcerting and one of the more effective songs on the album.
In the end, there isn’t a bad song on the album (Merritt is one of our most consistent writers) and while it lacks the “epic” feel of “69 Love Songs” it maintains a similar vibe (without synthesizers) while probing a bit more deeply and touching lightly on unhappy and heart wrenching emotions.
Does it feel a bit like a “Sea Changes” time-to-get-serious moments? In a certain way: the formal conceptual idea of “I” means Merritt probably forces a bit of the introspection that highlights the album. However its diversity of approach and high melodic and lyrical content helps it rise above the doldrums, similarly to “Sea Changes” but without the same sense of “trying so damn hard to break your heart” that I get from “Sea Changes” meaning it actually hits me a bit harder.
Maybe I’m a freak. I dunno. Both are good albums. Own both.
Songs to YouTube:
Any of the songs I just mentioned work fine although “I Was Born” is worth a spin due to its morbid lyrically concept. I won’t ruin it for you but it should give you a feeling of what it would be like to hang out with Merritt for a few hours.
“Looking On” by The Move
Since I just reviewed Jeff Lynne’s “The Idle Race” and am currently listening to a wide range of Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood related products (having purchased the discography of both men recently) I decided I’d try out a review of the first of their “The Move” collaborations: 1971’s “Looking On.”
I actually listened to the first two albums by “The Move” before getting to this one and thought of reviewing them first but I decided to stick with “Looking On” because a) it was the first of three collaborations between these two talented men b) it’s rather underrated and ignored throughout both men’s careers and most importantly c) I’m currently listening to it. Talk about “real time” reviewing!
“Looking On” came at a point when the original line-up of “The Move” had completely collapsed, leaving just Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and replacement bass player Rick Price left to pick up the pieces.
Wood had been trying to seduce Lynne to join “The Move” for a few years but was unable to due to Lynne banking on the success of “The Idle Race.” After the failure of their superb second LP, the Lynne written and produced “The Idle Race” it became clear to the ambitious Lynne that he had to change things up. And moving to a highly successful band like “The Move” was a great idea.
In theory: Wood was already moving past “The Move” (pun not intended) as a sonic idea and wanted to integrate strings and classical ideas into rock and roll. He and Lynne were on the same page (“Come with Me” from “The Idle Race” should be all the proof you need of that) and both were ready to create a group called “Electric Light Orchestra” to explore those ideas.
But contract obligations ruined their plans: “The Move” owed their record label a few albums. So the two decided to stop touring and crank out the albums they needed to finish their contract. “Looking On” was designed as a swan song but they would record one more album before retiring “The Move.”
Wow! Sorry to drown you in so much history but I think it’s important to understanding this rather…unique album. “The Move” were a highly successful psychedelic pop band that had been turning towards a heavier sound for some time (being in the band’s natural inclinations) and Lynne was fresh out of the idyllic “Idle Race” and was perhaps hungry for a…more ballsy sound.
So, “Looking On” sees the two (Bevan and Price are good at their instruments but aren’t exactly key creative forces for the band) creating a heavy, heavy, heavy sound that completely betrays their past styles. Of course, going “heavy” made sense with the times but…not the way these guys went heavy.
They basically go heavy while betraying their pop sensibilities.
Opening “Looking On” starts as a plodding, mastodon of a song with heavy, heavy guitar tones and a slow, slow tempo. Wood was never a great “riff” writer so the song sort of sits there looming at you angrily without affecting you for quite some time.
Thankfully, the band was smart enough to throw in an excellent, emotionally engaging instrumental section with wild guitar solos, sitars, saxes and an epic, moving melody that helped end the song on a high note and get the listener engaged.
Basically, “experimentation” is the name of the game here and the band goes all out. “When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” starts out as a precursor of Wood’s later “Wizzard” group: it starts with a heavy, slide riff with a bluesy, nearly “country” feel that is nice without being incredibly catchy.
Then, out of nowhere, the music stops and a striking and loud cello riff pops up for a few seconds. Why hello, ELO! I knew you were coming. Roy then overdubs an army of saxophones during the verses and choruses that has to be hard to be believed.
And then there’s the infamous “Brontosaurus” with it’s “Lady Madonna” rip riff that lumbers along like a…brontosaurus with the insane and inane “you know she can really do the brontosaurus” chorus gradually transforming into a completely convincing and exhilarating fast paced rock and roll jam.
Lynne makes two huge contributions with the slowly building, immaculate, melodic epic “What?” that serves as a precursor to his ELO approach to writing ballads. It builds in a slow, slow way as Lynne pops out great melodies, one after another while he and Roy overdub as many manic instruments as possible to create a near symphonic sound without the use of a symphony or mellotron.
Even better is Lynne’s “Open Up Said the World at the Door” which is highlighted by a wild multi-part song structure, great Lynne melodies and harmonies that sound EXACTLY like Queen (who had yet to emerge on the scene, I remind you) with great drum performances from Bevan (including a drum solo highlighted by a section being played backwards). Later in the song, a pounding piano riff is balanced with a delicate yet hard hitting oboe part by Wood that sounds EXACTLY like Roxy Music (who, again, hadn’t yet emerged).
A stern piano, bass and guitar rhythm pound out an epic coda as Wood shows off some epic guitar moves that illustrate how sadly underrated the man is in ever aspect of his musical career.
“Feel Too Good” is basically Wood’s version of “Open Up” and features some of his wildest guitar playing of all time and an out of nowhere and mind boggling accapella“doo wop” outro.
The whole album is like that: if the song is under written or potentially unengaging (which most, frankly, are), Roy and Jeff throw in wild instrumental sections, weird slide guitar solos, overdubbed saxophones, odd chanting voices layered with special effects, thick, thick bass tones and wild, ear catching melody and rhythm changes.
Does this sound like a head spinning, exhilarating art metal experience? It mostly definitely is all of that and more. However, those looking for the delicate melodies of the earlier “The Move” albums, the quaint psychedelia of “Idle Race” or even the ambitious classical stance of “Electric Light Orchestra” are going to be sorely disappointed.
And this lack of pop sensibility is a flaw: none of these songs will stay in your head for very long unless you sit around and listen to the album for days on end, which I would avoid: you may end up going quite mad and end up in the “Cherry Blossom Clinic.”
But weird sonic details will stick around in your head, like the odd moog bass that pops up out of nowhere in “Brontosaurus” and thickens the sound even further. Or the relatively simple yet hard driving boogie of “Turkish Tram Conductor Blues.”
And then there is the lyrics. You won’t really remember any lyrics or song concepts beyond “She can really do the brontosaurus” which should give you a sense of the lack of lyrical sense common throughout the album. Which is a shame, as both Wood and Lynne have some minor, yet solid lyrical insight: gone are the intriguing looks into insanity and obsession, replaced with…odes to dinosaurs.
Roy and Jeff were obviously more concerned with fully expressing themselves for the first time without the interference of a record company or the confines of writing pop singles. They quite obviously focus on the music arrangements before anything else (including, concise, clever melodies and biting lyrics).
However, fans of weird, wild music that maintains some sense of focus without dipping into pointless avant guardisms or dissonances should really enjoy this album. Especially if they like early “Led Zeppelin” and “Blue Cheer.” An obvious must buy, along with everything else by “The Move.”
Songs to YouTube:
“What?” should give further evidence to “Lynne Haters” that the man does have godly talents.
“When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” gives a little insight into the future development of the first Electric Light Orchestra album.
Finally, “Open Up Said the World at the Door” is worth it just to hear the sounds of Queen and Roxy Music before either existed.
Television “Adventure” Review
The last 70’s was a magical time for debut albums: 1976’s “The Ramones”, 77’s “Nevermind the Bollocks,” 77’s “The Clash” as well as “Talking Heads ’77.” All these bands had something to say about old guard music and that message was: fuck off, we gun do our thing now.
Perhaps my favorite debut and band from that period is “Marquee Moon” by Television. Anybody that’s heard the album can understand why: creative, sprawling guitar interplay; a non-faked sense of epicness; concise, catchy songwriting; drive, power and intensity; wild dynamics; beautifully crafted, intricate guitar solos; truly poetic (yet biting) lyrics. All of this combined with a garage rock punch that made Television stand toe-to-toe with “The Ramones” in intensity but with better chops and more diversity.
Such an album would be hard to follow in any circumstance: as a result, 78’s “Adventure” by Television is often ignored, overlooked and disparaged. “How could Television top ‘Marquee Moon’?” is a question that has haunted the band, main songwriter, singer and co-lead guitarist Tom Verlaine and their fans as soon as the album came out.
Naturally, they couldn’t and the band was smart enough to realize that fact. Instead of trying to top it, they simply made another Television album: a collection of well written, catchy songs with intricate, unique guitar interplay and great lyrics.
The big difference between this album and “Marquee Moon” really lay in one single word: softer. The band has toned down their energy and rawness considerably on this album. The rawness of the Andy Johns production has been replaced with a “cleaner” production with more “sheen” (if that makes sense) to it that definitely puts it a notch lower in the eyes of many fans.
There is also a distinct lack of “epicness” on the album that seemed to be the stock in trade of “Marquee Moon”; no longer are there 10 minute songs that seem to contain the drama of 10 songs. Instead, songs are written around self contained song structures, easier to understand melodies and simpler ideas.
So, the band has softened up, simplified and lost much of the “raw” and “epic” feel of their first album. Clearly, “Adventure” is crap right? Not even close. Tom Verlaine and Television were too smart and too good to release a bad album. Instead, this is an album of “smaller” pleasures and “simpler” ideas.
Let me put it this way: I feel its only a disappointment compared to “Marquee Moon.” If this was their debut album, it would be hailed as a masterpiece of songwriting and guitar interplay that strikes a solid balance between punk aggression and folk simplicity.
Yes, a song like “Fox Hole” would have hit much harder with “Marquee Moon” production but isn’t that song something as it is? The intricate two guitar riff and great “pinch harmonic” at the end of the riff that helps give it a unique sound; the simple but catchy riff and chorus of “Fox hole! Fox hole!”; the solid (but not exceptional) anti-war lyrics and the occasionally dissonant guitar playing of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.
Lloyd really doesn’t get enough credit for Television’s success: his rawer, edgier, less schooled style of guitar soloing is a great contrast to Verlaine’s smoother, more technically adept style. Some of the best leads on the album are Lloyd’s and help add an edge to the album.
Plus, things don’t really get much better than “Glory.” What a great way to open the album: a somewhat simple but catchy riff opens things up, Verlaine pops up with a complex but catchy verse melody that leads flawlessly into a catchy and uplifting chorus and a lyrical message of celebrating the greatness of life.
And how could an album be bad with songs as effortlessly complex and moving as “Careful’? The way if shifts between simple verse riffs (with great country rock-ish leads popping up here and there) into a simple but catchy chorus and a great bridge section with solid piano, organ and even hand
claps makes the mind boggle at how easy it all goes down without drawing attention to itself.
Not everything is perfect, of course: Television had a hard time with “dirges” (“Torn Curtain” from “Marquee Moon” being perhaps the slowest and weakest song on the album) and “The Fire” is perhaps the weakest tune on the album. Its slow, slow and has a nearly funeral-esque atmosphere that doesn’t really work with Television or the album in general. And it’s six minutes seem infinitely longer than “Marquee Moon”’s 10.
Plus, the opening riff to “Ain’t That Nothin’” sounds way too close to the riff of “Marquee Moon” for its own good. Yes, it’s different and the song itself sounds nothing like that classic song but I always get uncomfortable when the song starts as I keep expecting a different song to pop out of the ether.
However, not even “Marquee Moon” was perfect so we shouldn’t hold these problems too heavily against the album: even “The Fire” has interesting melodies and guitar ideas but simply drags for far too long.
“Adventure” is a fine album with great songs, great playing, great ideas and great lyrics that is worth a place in any Television (or punk) fan’s collection. However, I do feel that the opening riff repetition in “Ain’t That Nothin’” does speak of a certain limit in Television’s sound: a third album after this may not have been a good idea. It was perhaps a good thing the band broke up at this point before they made a bad album.
And yes, I know of the self titled album but that was a long time later and was basically a Verlaine solo album. I haven’t heard it though so I won’t judge it.
“Ghost in the Machine” Review
1) Spirits In The Material World; 2) Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic; 3) Invisible Sun; 4) Hungry For You (J’Aurais Toujours Faim De Toi); 5) Demolition Man; 6) Too Much Information; 7) Rehumanize Yourself; 8) One World (Not Three); 9) Omegaman; 10) Secret Journey; 11) Darkness.
9 out of 10
“Ghost in the Machine” is the fourth album by The Police and is often criticized as the point where the band “loses” it. “Man,” says the Man, “this is where the band brought in SYNTHESIZERS and a fucking HORN SECTION and they totally mellow out and lame it up. It helps set the stage for the EVEN LAMER ‘Synchronicity’ as well as the WORST THING EVER Sting solo career. This band only had two good albums as ‘Zenyatta Mondatta” was only half good.”
Naturally, judging by my rating, I don’t quite agree with this assessment. In fact, I think this album is only slightly less good than “Regatta de Blanc” and is actually a self assured and interesting expansion of the sound of the band. After all, the sound is still dominated by guitars, bass and drums and the band plays just as hard and interestingly as ever.
Plus, it’s not as if the synthesizers and horns are New Wave lame. The horns (all played by Sting) are actually more funky than lame and more minimalistic than overbearing. Of course, the simple horn riffs are obviously played by somebody who JUST learned how to play (Sting) and there is a certain element of annoyance in hearing the same riff over and over again.
In fact, that’s one thing that can be lodged at this album in certain points: a certain repetitiveness that comes from the band hammering a more funky style in some songs. For example, “Hungry for You” seems to go on forever based on a simple but instantly memorable riff and melody. The synthesizers on the song, if they are even prevalent, are so minimal as to not be “lame.”
Let’s go through a few of the songs first. The album is a bit heavy loaded with three of the best songs at the very beginning. “Spirits in the Material World,” “Invisible Sun” and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” are three of the biggest hits the band ever had. The new “synthesizer first” approach rears its head on “Spirits in the Material World” with a reggae rhythm based out on the keys instead of the guitar. The riffs are simple but the melodies (especially the chorus) are memorable although some of the lyrics are horrendous even by “Sting-Standards” (“with words they try to jail ya/they subjugate the meek/but it’s the rhetoric of failure” ugh!).
“Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is also a synthesizer and keyboard based fiesta that still features excellent performances by all band members especially Copeland. The vocal melodies are the best Sting ever cooked up in his career and the “race to the end” ending is magical. Yes, it’s pure pop froth but it’s pop froth of the highest caliber.
“Invisible Sun” is more “New Age” than anything the band had yet done but it features an ominous atmosphere as well as “we care a lot” lyrics that actually seem sincere. The stateliness of the song doesn’t seem faked (as much of Sting’s later stuff does) but seems well deserved by well chosen chords and well composed melodies.
“Hungry For You” shows off the bands new funky style as well as Sting’s awful French. “Demolition Man” rides a simple but addicting bass riff to the point of no return. Sting’s horn arrangements are especially thick and effective on this song while Summers goes apeshit on the guitar. Summers starts coming into his own with this song, going in a more psychedelic and noise based direction as opposed to a funk direction.
“Too Much Information” features more of the simple horn riffs, funky repetitiveness, great guitar and drum works and a very simple but instantly memorable vocal melody (you’ll never get “too much information, running through my head” out of your head).
The first Copeland song follows and its one of his best: “Rehumanize Yourself.” This is one of the hardest hitting songs on the album with another excellent vocal melody, great band interplay (the band was nearly telepathic in that regard by this point) as well as reasonably decent Sting lyrics. Sting also sings this particular song, saving us from Copeland’s slightly flat vocalization style.
“One World (Not Three)” is another funky pop song with simple horn riffs that repeats the same parts over and over while remaining catchy and non-annoying. I’m not sure how the band (especially Sting) gets away with it, but somehow these repetitive melodies and riffs avoid becoming stale and turn catchy and trance-like instead of boring.
Summers turns in his best performance on the next song with his “Omegaman” one of his best songs ever. Not that Summers ever had too many great songs in the first place but this stands above them. Not because it’s really that heavily catchy or memorable but because it’s not annoying. The guitar work is some of his wildest, noisiest and most atmospheric. I especially enjoy his guitar solo here as he doesn’t go wild with finger flashing nonsense but plays with a weird tone that I’ve never heard anywhere else.
The album does go out on a bit of a slower note. So far, the album has had a lot of funkiness and only a slight touch of synthesized New Age style. “Secret Journey” is much closer to solo Sting than anything else yet played by the band. The “mystical” atmosphere created by the song is much closer to being authentic and much more enjoyable. I especially like the simple vocal melody in the chorus as well as the more synthetic atmosphere. The band still plays well but in a more laid back, less severe manner.
Copeland ends the album with “Darkness” another slow, downbeat song which features the great line “Life was easy when it was boring” and a lot of synthesizer based atmosphere and solid melodies and decent arrangements. A bit of a strange way to end the album in all honesty but not unenjoyable. It may be the least accomplished song on the album though.
As is obvious by now, I’m rather fond of the album. It should also be obvious that a lot of the album focuses on a more atmospheric approach and a more repetitive, groove based approach as opposed to the more dynamic, song-oriented approach from the band’s past. This isn’t a huge deal and it isn’t a major negative for the album but it’s clear that the band is better at songwriting than they are at grooving.
Perhaps this tendency to run a simple groove into the ground over and over is indicative of a lack of creativity and a tendency by the band to “rush” albums. However, it works on this album: if the band had always taken this approach, I would have liked them a lot less.
This tendency to run a groove into the ground mixed with the more synthetic and horn based style as well as Summer’s growing experimental guitar ideas turns this album into a curious mixture of “more commercial” and “more experimental.” It’s a weird style and an odd combination that somehow works here.
“Reggatta de Blanc” Review
1) Message In A Bottle; 2) Reggatta De Blanc; 3) It’s Alright For You; 4) Bring On The Night; 5) Deathwish; 6) Walking On The Moon; 7) On Any Other Day; 8) The Bed’s Too Big Without You; 9) Contact; 10) Does Everyone Stare; 11) No Time This Time.
9+ out of 10
The singles from “Outlandos d’ Amour” were pretty successful instantly, giving “The Police” a commercial success that many of their more respected and critically acclaimed compatriots struggled to obtain or sustain.
In contrast, “The Police” continued to have more and more commercial success while becoming more and more experimental and textural. A strange contrast perhaps and more of the more interesting success stories of the “New Wave” period. Of course, some argue that their last and most successful “Synchronicity” was a total bland sell-out while others claim it was their best, most experimental album.
All of this build up has a point, I promise. Basically, there are two ways to look at this band: as a complete sell-out band that jumped from a once-promising punk/reggae band into an ego-vehicle for Sting’s pop pretensions and desire for money. Or you can look at them as a cutting edge band that successfully blended light experimental and texture tendencies with a rock and pop sensibility.
1979’s “Reggatta de Blanc” is the first warning sign that this band was not going to be “just” a punk or reggae band. While there are perhaps a few instances of punk speed and reggae styling (especially the Sting-Copeland co-write “It’s All Right for You” and the hard hitting “No Time This Time”) the band expands their sound to include a more atmospheric sound.
The best example of this is the classic, immortal “Walking On the Moon.” In spite of a few of Sting’s worst lyrical gaffes (the first lines “Giant steps are what you take/walking on the moon/I hope my legs don’t break/walking on the moon” are grammatically and logically erroneous) the song creates a unique atmosphere that hadn’t really been heard in the world of rock.
The basic set-up for the song is a simple but memorable Sting bass line which creates the melodic hook. Copeland plays some of the most interesting and intelligent atmospheric drumming I’ve ever heard: his work on the high-high defies description.
And who can’t forget Summers echoey, reverbed “BAM!” guitar chord? An instant atmosphere of moon walking. During the verse, Summers plays a more reggae based rhythm but it doesn’t detract from a song that matches the lyrical message of escapism.
Perhaps the most famous song on the album is “Message in a Bottle” one of the band’s main calling cards and a huge hit. It can be easy to dismiss the silly lyrics here (“seems I’m not alone in being alone” is almost good, though) but what can’t be denied are the constant barrage of great musical ideas. The simple but memorable guitar arpeggios. The way the songs transitions between sections organically and flawlessly. The drive of the song.
Yes, the song is very atmospheric but it’s also a hard driving, instantly memorable pop song. Yes, Sting repeats his annoying tendency of repeating a single phrase at the end of the song until you want to slap him but somehow it works better here than the first album.
The band pulls off another solid instrumental with “Regatta de Blanc.” The song isn’t as “world beat memorable” as “Maskogo Tanga” but it has a great build, amazing energy and is highly atmospheric. The same is true of the semi-instrumental “Deathwish.” Both of these tunes were band co-writes, leading me to believe that they were at the very least semi-improvised.
Copeland steps into his own as a songwriter with three solo-written songs to go with his earlier co-write. His first, “On Any Other Day” shows off Copeland’s rather…blunt sense of humor. It is funny, especially to hear and Copeland harmonizing (flatly) during the chorus. However, the song’s a bit too unmemorable to be a highlight.
“Does Everyone Stare” is perhaps the best Copeland written song on the album. It starts out with a mumbled Copeland vocal supported by cabaret style piano. Later, the band comes in and supports it with an appropriate rock cabaret arrangement as Sting takes over the vocalizations. It may depart slightly from the rather “blue” atmosphere of the album but it’s still a good tune.
“Contact” is a very strange song with deep synth bass swoops during the verse contrasting with the guitar arpeggios driving the “have we got contact?” chorus. Summers plays up a storm on this song, including simple arpeggios and driving rhythm guitar that show off his skills as a rock-solid, in the pocket rhythm guitarist with an almost unlimited knowledge of chords.
Speaking of Summers, his best showcase comes with the reggae ballad “The Bed’s Too Big Without You.” The chords he’s playing are rather simple but he nails that interesting hammered on progression perfectly. He also messed with the beat, throwing in off beat chords. Sting perhaps puts in his best vocal performance on this song. You actually believe him, for once.
The list of ballads and songs ends with “Bring on the Night” another semi-reggae ballad that features pretty sharp guitar playing, excellent singing and more of Copeland’s amazing drumming. The guy isn’t exactly the king of flash but he really knows how to throw in interesting variations on rhythms to keep the song from becoming too boring.
“Regatta de Blanc” is an improvement over “Outlandos d’Amour” because it (mostly) eliminates the weird stylistic detours of the debut album (such as “Sally”) and eliminates any serious songwriting gaffes (such as “Born in the 50’s”) and tightens up the playing to the point of pain. The band plays so tight during the album it almost seems uncanny.
However, the biggest improvement on the album is that it feels like an album. Instead of feeling like a collection of songs, it feels cohesive, atmospheric and engaging. The band uses synthesizers fairly sparingly throughout the album but it often feels like there are is something creating that depressing, despairing mood throughout the album.
The band might throw in more reverb than normal and play a bit slower but the atmosphere comes not from any real production tricks but from the songs and playing. These are moody tunes that all combine to create a moody album. It’s easy to feel blue while listening to this album.
However, the band doesn’t seem to wallow in its own depression and pretensions of atmospheric mood making. They avoid becoming overbearing by making their little depressing pop tunes catchy as hell and avoiding blunt, over-obvious lyrical sadness. The songs are a little sad, yes, but Sting does his best to avoid pure unhinged sadness.
A breakthrough for the band that sets the stage for their critical and commercial success.
“Outlandos d’ Amour” Review
1) Next To You; 2) So Lonely; 3) Roxanne; 4) Hole In My Life; 5) Peanuts; 6) Can’t Stand Losing You; 7) Truth Hits Everybody; 8) Born In The 50’s; 9) Be My Girl – Sally; 10) Masoko Tanga.
8 out of 10
“The Police” debuted in 1978 with this album that was punky enough to place them in the leagues of the tamer, lamer punk bands, reggae enough to please Peter Tosh fans and Sting enough to please any fan of excessive yoga and meditation. It also has a really stupid name and I hate it. It gets 8 out of 10.
All right lets pull back for a moment and examine the above paragraph and its implications. I actually stand by all those statements (except the hating it thing) but still find the album to be a solid, fun but rough debut from a young (ha!) promising (definitely) band. Even if it has Sting in it.
Basically, the band emphasizes the pure rock side of their playing on this album more than on any other album while synthesizing it with more “mellow” reggae sounds. This potentially creates a situation where the sound will please fans of neither style but the band pulls off a nice coup by highlighting the strengths of both punk and reggae and minimizing the negatives.
“Next to You” starts the album with wild bashing drums, Sting trying to sound like a punk (he doesn’t fail but he isn’t that convincing) and the guitar and bass synching up in a great guitar groove. The arrangement is a little more diversified when compared to an average punk song but it’s still pretty simple.
It’s really the vocal and guitar melodies as well as the pure energy that make it work: the chorus is an excellent example of Sting’s once promising musical mind. When he wails “What can I dooo oooo…all I want is to be next to you!” backed by Summer’s guitar punctuations, the melody is forever stuck in your head.
“Peanuts” is another fairly punky song that seems to have nothing to do with peanuts until Sting inexplicably starts shouting “Peanuts! Peeeenuuuts!” at the end of the song. Not one of the best songs on the album (it’s a bit too shallow melodically) but it has a great drive to it.
“Truth Hits Everybody” is another excellent rocker that features hard hitting guitar lines, excellent drumming (listen to Stewart pounding the toms here) with dramatic pauses, slow downs and a frantic rush to the end. The sustained chords during “truth hits everybody…the truth hits everyone” are genius. So is the weird tolling bell just before Summer’s simple, but desperate guitar solo.
The last hard rocking tune is “Born in the 50’s” which is pretty weak: Mellencamp weak. The lyrics are pretentious, generic and arrogant. If Sting was trying to mock his generation’s self-righteous self-entitled attitude he did a good job. However, given his usual level of self involvement and egoism I can only assume (because I want to and because it’s funny) that he is not.
Next, we have the reggae stuff. I’m really reluctant to call most of this stuff reggae. For example, “Roxanne” is actually a tango. And it’s ridiculously catchy with an excellent, swinging vocal melody. The chorus is immortal but it’s repeated 80 times in the song. I find this to be a weakness: doesn’t “Roxanne…put on the red light! Roxanne…put on the red light! Roxanne…put on the red light! Roxanne…put on the red light!” get a little annoying after awhile?
“So Lonely” is much more reggae but still has a punchy rock chorus, with the title “So Lonely” repeated about a gagillion times.
And that’s what makes this band great: they combine reggae and punk in a way that feels organic. The chorus (as well as the slow down and the rave up at the end) help create dynamics that expand the song beyond its repetitive reggae rhythm and its generic guitar racket.
“Hole in My Life” is the closest to pure reggae on the album with a relaxed vibe and slightly desperate feel. But what’s up with that weird piano sound at the end of the song? Or the excellent vocalization and variations in the melodies. Not my favorite song on the album but solid nonetheless.
“Can’t Stand Losing You” is a song I sometimes get confused with “Roxanne” for the first few bars. However, I like this song better: the lyrics are more interesting, the weird mid-section features odd synthesizers and Sting going “oh!” and it features the line “I guess you’d call it suicide/but I’m too full to swallow my pride” which is ridiculous.
It also has a really repetitive chorus which uses only the words in the title. That’s true of just about every song. Sting tries to get around it by varying the vocal melodies with different intonations and phrasing and it works a lot of the time. It probably works best at the end of this song because it’s such a desperate song and the repetitions feel more like desperate pleas than desperate attempts by Sting to make his song over two minutes long.
I suppose you could say “Roxanne” is desperate too but the chorus is more annoying to me phonetically.
Following the slight gaffe of “Born in the 50’s” we have a major gaffe in the Sting/Summers co-written “Be My Girl – Sally.” The first part is obviously a Sting invention: it has a great guitar groove and a nice vocal melody that gets repeated over and over again as do the lyrics “won’t you be my girl” in as many possible variations as Sting can manage.
However, Summers decided to throw in a tune called “Sally” which is…odd. It’s a lot of semi-dissonant piano playing backing Summers reciting (as Britishly as possible) a poem about falling in love with a blow up doll. It’s played for laughs but it’s somehow more laughable in a bad way played for laughs than when “Roxy Music” played it straight in “Every Dream Home a Heartache.” There, the song was desperate. Here it’s stupidly goofy. “Be My Girl” does come back to help create the sense that the song is complete but it doesn’t help much.
“Masoka Tanga” is a nice bass led jam (where Sting really shows off some awesome chops. No sarcasm, he plays his ass off) that has a semi-world music feel to it as Stewart bashes his drums and Andy keeps a simple rhythm. Sting intones a bunch of nonsense that he apparently came up with while hypnotized (yeah right) and it’s a fun, funny and energetic way to end the album.
I hate describing every song this way but on an album as filled with solid and diverse tunes as this, it’s hard not to go into that much detail. The band shows off a lot of songwriting strength and playing skills but were still pretty rough.
The choruses are way too repetitive often to the point of annoyance (a problem that always plagues Sting) the songwriting was a bit iffy (seriously, I can’t stand “Born in the 50’s” or “Be My Girl-Sally”) and the band seems a bit unsure playing pure rock and roll.
Plus, it’s called “Outlandos d’ Amour.” UGH! 0 out of 10!
“The Police” Introduction or The Egoism of the Sting
In spite of all of their successes (50 million albums sold world wide, groundbreaking tours, musicians who went on to bigger and better things) “The Police” have a lot to answer for in the music world.
On the one hand, there are those who praise their ability to balance experimentation with expert musicianship and well composed, catchy, short tunes. Some people believe they helped expand the range of punk music to include reggae, jazz, exceptional playing skills and synthetic textures.
On the other hand, Sting.
Of course, the band does have more negatives than just Sting (as hard as that is to believe). For example, they have accused of cultural appropriation (the use of ska and reggae rhythms) and for cynically exploiting a youth movement (punk).
After all, all three musicians were at least in their 30’s when they formed, with guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland having already achieved some degree of notoriety and success in the New Animals and prog band Curved Air. Their ridiculous bleach blonde haircuts have a lot to do with that, as do their absurd album titles.
And then there are those people who accuse them of SELLING OUT punk ideals (which they didn’t have anyways according to these critics, but I digress) by laming out, slowing down and turning into a joke of a dinosaur stadium band with the Adult Contemporary sounds and songs of the turgid “Synchronicity” a dry-run for a solo Sting career of cheese ball crap that sucked.
I can’t stress how big of an obstacle “Sting” is to enjoying this band. It’s kind of like passing a kidney stone the size of the Blarney Stone except kissing that stone will bring you no good luck of any kind.
Which of these sides do I fall on? Well, I actually really like “The Police” a lot in spite of the “Sting Factor.” In fact, the sad truth is that I like “The Police” not “in spite” of Sting but because of Sting! After all, how can you not like a band member that writes 98% of the songs for a band? Clearly, there is more to this story than a simple “Sting sucks” party line as much as I agree with the general idea.
The obvious conclusion to draw here is that Sting was, at one point, an incredible songwriter. Perhaps not in the lyrics department (Sting is pretty wonky when it comes to that, often stretching awkward for a rhyme or literary reference) but the melodies of the songs cannot be topped by any pop band of that period. Because, in spite of the band’s reggae and punk sounds, they are a pop band through and through.
Of course, I can’t way that the quality of the band rests entirely on Sting’s feet. He may have written the songs, but I have this sneaking suspicion that Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland helped arrange them into much more edgy musical compositions then they would have been otherwise. After all, Summers played in a rather…ahem…experimental edition of the New Animals while Curved Air was one of the wildest bands of the 70’s.
Sting was a classically trained jazz fan.
I have no evidence of this but I think Summers and Copeland were just fine letting Sting write the majority of the music (Copeland usually had a goofy song or two up his sleeve while Summers contributed a few instrumentals and some rather weird things) as long as they got to help arrange it.
This is probably why those first few albums are so great and alive with energy. Sting’s natural musical tendency (just look as his solo career) is for a sleepy, jazzy sound that is technically immaculate but boring as well. Summers and Stewart weren’t so into that: Stewart was a snappy rhythm guitarist and experimentalist that later stood toe-to-toe with Robert Fripp on a series of textural albums. He wasn’t much of a soloist or songwriter but his arrangement ideas and instrumental themes are solid.
Meanwhile, Stewart Copeland could probably get the award for “most underrated American drummer ever.” Copeland had excellent chops that he rarely if ever completely flashed (lots of restraint) but would often throw out if the song needed it. His tom rolls are creative as hell and the man is legendary for his work on the high-hat. Hell, on Peter Gabriel’s song “Red Rain” he is credited for just “high hat.”
So, “The Police” sound in the early days was basically a mix of pretty basic reggae ideas with punk speed and rock style. Later, they expanded into creating more textural songs (such as on “Regatta de Blanc” and “Zenyata Mondata”) before completely abandoning themselves to synthesizers with “Ghost in the Machine.”
However, the band’s continuing arrangement and playing skills (pushed by Sting’s once impeccable melody writing skills) made albums like “Ghost in the Machine” experimental tour-de-forces that actually charted. And while “Synchronicity” is their blandest album technically, it still has an experimental streak: listen to Summer’s guitar work to see what I mean.
While I fall more on the side of thinking the band was “great” I also have a few issues with them. Blanding out can be done well (as this band did) but blanding out is blanding out and those later albums are indeed a hard sell sometimes. There’s still enough edge to keep out of the dreams of blue turtles but not by much.
Plus, none of the band members really had a good sense for lyrics. Sting probably did best but he is the mind that thought “I came here seeking only knowledge/things they would not teach me of in college” was a good rhyme. Stewart Copeland is usually pretty goofy or satirical but without really any obvious thought of philosophy behind it.
The less said about Summers’ lyrics the better.
So, while I think the band was definitely worthwhile and genuinely deserves being as popular and legendary as they have become, I also cannot defend them as completely as I once did. Their faults are obvious faults (I didn’t even go into Sting’s overwhelming, unbearable pretensions as he is truly pretentious in that I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about half the time but he seems to think he does) but not unbearable and they released a high number of excellent tunes with only a few true stinkers. They also helped expand the textures of rock and roll in new and exciting ways. What’s not to like?
Well, STING for example. As I said, he’s really, REALLY hard to get around! Mostly his head of course…
I’ve read somewhere, that the collective egos of Bono and Sting would, if combined, create gravity of self esteem so intense an egotistical black hole would form that would suck the self respect of everybody in the known universe inside, never to return.