Tagged: new tunes

JANUARY: McCartney III

Saying that I’m a bit of a Beatles fan is like saying the Pope is a bit of a Catholic. They have been the guiding musical lights of my life. I think The Beatles were a kind of miracle, the greatest creative expression of that burst of working class energy that blossomed in post war Britain. They didn’t just change the course of music, they changed the course of culture and society. I was 10 when Lennon was shot – I remember being really upset, but I also remember that no one else my age really knew who he was. By the time I was in my early teens, I was a subscriber to Beatles Monthly. This, at the time, did not make me cool. It made me square and weird. Everyone else was listening to Duran Duran. I once saved up weeks of paper round money to buy a brick from the original Cavern Club (they were being sold off for charity).

Now here I am decades later, and nothing has really changed. The Cavern brick is framed on my wall. My daughter is called Astrid, not just because we loved the name, but also because of Astrid Kircherr, the Hamburg photographer who was so influential in shaping the band’s look. I have a cat called Ringo. My house is groaning with Beatles nonsense. I vowed to stop buying stupid Beatles tat, but my friends still buy me stuff and honestly, it’s always welcome. Astrid got me a Beatles calendar for Xmas. Of course she did.

Paul was always my favourite Beatle. Partly, I think, when I was young, his songs were the most melodic and warm hearted and easy to engage with. But partly, also, I never really had any truck with the idea that Lennon was the artist and poet, and that Paul was just the tuneful cheesemonger of the band. It was obvious to me that McCartney was the most versatile Beatle. Pastoral ballad? Mother Nature’s Son. Musical hall? When I’m 64. A song about death and loneliness written when he was only 22? Eleanor Rigby. Howling rock n roll, Little Richard style? I’m Down. Giant pop chorus? Hey Jude. Song that literally gave birth to heavy metal? Helter Skelter. Any real Beatles fan could see he was the engine of the band as well as one of its two geniuses. Sgt Pepper? Paul’s idea. Side 2 of Abbey Road? Paul put that together. It’s always a little secret when you meet another big Beatles fan – you both immediately check that you both agree Paul is your favourite Beatle. It nearly always is. John is for the part-timers.

Solo Paul was a different matter. As a teen, I lapped up the albums of the time – Tug of War, Pipes of Peace, and plenty of the Wings stuff, but in all honesty, a lot of those albums have not aged well. One or two good tunes aside, there is a lot of guff on them, and it’s the kind of guff that has haunted his reputation ever since 1970. It was telling that when we all started listening to this new album, that Joey was surprised to hear McCartney rocking out – had he been listening to Queens of the Stone Age, Joey asked? The answer, is, of course, is that it’s the other way round, but I also get that to the casual listener, McCartney’s reputation as a rocker has been lost under decades of Mull of Kintyre and Ebony and Ivory and Frog Chorus.

So yes, his solo work has certainly been a mixed bag. But there are real gems in there. Ram is, I think, his best album and one of the best solo Beatles albums. But McCartney I and II have both got really special places in my heart. They’re both totally solo efforts, with McCartney playing every instrument – as we find him doing here on III. McCartney I is a homespun and folky joy, and McCartney II is genuinely nuts – experimental and electronic and a great reminder that Macca has been a great boundary pusher throughout his life.

I’d heard rumours recently that this new album was a genuine revelation, but I was very, very nervous of suggesting McC III as our album of the month. Macca means too much to me, and I know he means an awful lot less to the rest of you, and means nothing at all to at least one of you! In all honesty, I was worried that it’d be ok but nothing more, and we’d spend the podcast ripping apart my greatest musical idol. Maybe that is what will happen, I don’t know. But this album has floored me. I never ever expected Macca to ever make another song that I really cared about, and certainly not (nearly) a whole album of them. I have listened to this album constantly since it came out. It has wrapped its arms around me and it’s now going to be part of my life forever. It’s the greatest musical surprise of the year.

So let’s talk about what works for me. Firstly, he’s relaxed and he’s himself and it just sounds honest and joyful. I’ve struggled even with the lauded albums of the last 20 years (Egypt Station, Chaos and Creation…) – to me, they sound like a shit hot producer has overproduced some slightly workaday McCartney material. None of them have really stayed with me. I think the lack of producer has completely liberated him. He didn’t even know he was making an album. You can literally hear him in the studio messing around on these songs. And bloody hell, what a musician he is – the drumming on the opening jam! The octave harmonies on Find My Way (and the harpsichord), the crunching guitars on Slidin, the crazy loops of vocals on Deep Deep Feeling.

What I also love is that he’s showing his full range – folk ballad (When Winter Comes), hard rockers (Lavatory Lil, Slidin’), pop song genius (Find My Way), slow tempo melody (Pretty Boys), hell even a song that – as Joey points out – sound like it has a Mac Miller RnB vibe (Deep Down). It’s an extraordinary range he’s showing. The album’s centrepiece, Deep Deep Feeling, goes even further, an astonishing 8 minute delve into tape loops, gorgeous soulful vocal experiments that feels raw and beautiful, and for me, justifies every second of its length. I do wonder if that song might divide opinion big time – it’ll be interesting to discuss.

The other surprising strength is his voice. I remember hearing him sing at the 2012 Olympics and being sad that his voice was clearly ‘going’. Well, he’s no longer trying to hide that. He’s 78. He’s an old man, and his voice sounds gruff and aged, but to me, at least, it’s an integral part of the album’s charm. It was when I was listening to Women & Wives that it hit me – this is very similar to the Johnny Cash albums he made at the end of his life with legendary Def Jam producer Rick Rubin. This is an old man wearing his age on his sleeve. You can hear it in the stoic lyrics of Pretty Boys – he was once one of those boys a long time ago. Not anymore.

Not everything works, let’s be really honest. His lyrics are a mixed bag, and I probably like them a lot more than the rest of you, but I can see that if you’re not digging all 8 minutes of Deep Deep Feeling, you might find them a bit cloying. The Kiss of Venus is a very ordinary song, and the one stinker on the album for me is Seize The Day – a naff sub-Beatles pub tune with bloody awful lyrics about being nice and something about eskimos. It’s a reminder that he’s never that far away from Mull of Kintyre if you’re not careful with Macca. But for me, that’s the only song I actively dislike. There is joy and musical interest to be found in every other tune, though I do also agree the opening jam could lose a minute or two.

I’m fully aware I’m writing as a fan of a man who has defined my life. I can’t imagine what this album feels like to a casual listener, or someone who’s not that bothered about The Beatles (also, what is WRONG with you?!). But I hope there is something in there for everyone, even if you don’t have quite the response I’ve had. Think this could be a really interesting discussion, anyway!

I wonder if this is his swan song. It certainly feels like a last race round the block – a chance for him to flex his musical muscles and remind everyone of his range. Or maybe, even better, this is just what Macca does when he’s locked down – write better songs than anyone else can. The comparison with Bowie’s Blackstar is interesting – obviously Blackstar is a much darker, existential record. That’s partly because Bowie was facing death and he knew it and that’s what he was writing about. But also, Bowie is a more existential soul. Macca is an optimist who believes that things are ‘getting better all the time’. Maybe this is what’s inside him at this age – a man who still wants to be there for you, who still delights in nature and the simple life, but also feels the pain of ageing and being in love. A lot of those kind of things aren’t very cool anymore, if they ever were, but I don’t think he cares about any of that now. He’s done everything. He’s written everything. He’s just the most famous musician in the whole world, jamming around in his studio for fun, and somehow out pops an incredibly coherent album, a last little musical present from the master. I couldn’t be happier about it.

JUNE: RTJ4

Cometh the hour, cometh the album.
Sometimes a record captures a moment in time so perfectly, it becomes a symbol of that moment. I honestly believe that RTJ4 might be one of those records.

I don’t want to be a big review like we normally do, I’d rather we used this as a kicking off point for discussion – this is a ‘free album’ month after all, and we’ll get back to the proper AOTM for July.

But…I was thinking a lot about what Brother Nolan said on our live chat the other week, that he thought it was one of RTJ’s weaker releases. I don’t know about that. I know that I’ve listened to this RTJ’s album more than any other that has come out. BY MILES. Now, maybe it’s the times we’re living in, maybe it feels like even more of a reflection. But this is a lean, mean beast. Clocking in at 39 mins and 11 tracks, it’s the length of an album from the 1960s, not a hip hop album in 2020, which, let’s face it, is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS TOO FUCKING LONG.

That brevity seems to give the Killer Mike and El-P a laser focus, and honestly, I don’t think there’s a wasted moment on this record. No, not every track is out there political. Yes, the conceit of them as two outlaws on the run (referenced on the opening and closing tracks) is a little obvious and they don’t go anywhere with it. Yes, Ooh La La is a total throwback tune (but come on, WHAT a tune).

But seriously, there are four or five cuts on here that are essential to anyone at any time. Guests are used really well – like, they bring something to the table every time. Pharell’s collab (along with a great cameo from Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha) on JUST is as good a thing as he’s done in a long time – what a fucking smart track that is, expressing something complex and angry at the same time, . And a banger too. PULLING THE PIN is straight out astonishing, the addition of Mavis Staples voice adding so much pain and anguish to the track. And the Gangsta Boo tune WALKING IN THE SNOW is, to my mind, as good a track as they have ever made. It’s so angry and articulate and it smacked me sideways when I first heard it.

Basically, I love it. I can’t stop listening to it. It’s gonna be one of my albums of the year. Over to you, brothers…

*Bonus album* Holding on to a Dream – sir Was

While we’re a-waiting for FKA to drop, I thought I’d share an album that has really got under my skin. sir Was is a dude from a remote Swedish village and this is his 2nd album.

It was this collaboration with Little Dragon on the album that first caught my attention. You might have heard it, 6 Music have been rinsing it, and I put it on that recent comp I posted on here:

So then I checked the album out. First couple of times I listened, I thought – yeah, this is quite cool. But it’s pretty downbeat and quite minor, and maybe I won’t stick with it for long. But I did. I really did. I keep coming back to it and playing it, and it has totally got me.

So here’s the thing – it is one of the most undefinable sounds I think I’ve ever heard. It’s not dance music really, not at all, but it feels like it’s made my someone with those sensibilities. But his voice and the production also sounds like lush 70s West Coast pop. And then there are other really interesting tracks that sound like – yes, really – This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins. In fact, this album could easily be on 4AD.

It really is the most beguiling mix of stuff. And the three tracks I’ve posted on here (the only ones on YouTube) are the more obvious end of the album. But I’d be really interested in what you think when you immerse yourself in it. It’s not a long album and it’s very easy and enjoayable listen. But what I love is how it’s opened itself up, the more I’ve listened to it. It had hidden depths. I flipping LOVE it when music is like that.

So there you. An October bonus. Check him out.

MARCH: Microshift – HOOKWORMS

Sometimes you enjoy a band, but you know they could be so much more. And you will them into becoming that thing, and so often, that just doesn’t happen. They plough the same furrow with decreasingly fruitful results, until, by album three, you feel something die inside you and you know your relationship with them is over.

I’m always keeping an eye on the local music scene in Leeds. It’s not a bad scene and it always has some bands worth listening to, but often they peter out before they get going. I first noticed there was a bit new psyche thing going a few years ago, and some of it actually seemed really good. At the forefront of that were Hookworms. They’ve made two really solid albums, the first building on the first and expanding its sound. But they were solidly PSYCH albums, sounding something like this:

I’d seen them live and I’m partial to a bit of Krautrock, so it was right in my wheelhouse, but they are REALLY good live, and a lot more punky that you might think, but they weren’t exactly inventing the wheel (to complete the wheel related references). I remember thinking, rather fancifully like a twat, that they were ‘Austerity Psych’ – psych rock channelling the anger of our era in a Northern city.

And then an absence of a couple of years. And then, a month or two ago, I hear THIS on 6Music:

And my mind is blown. THAT is Hookworms? Sweet Jesus, yes. It’s Hookworms having babies with New Order, LCD Soundsystem and every other slice of dance rock heaven you could ever imagine. Everything has gone widescreen. The lead singer, MJ, one of rock’s more unlikely looking lead singers, has no longer hidden his voice behind acres of reverb, and wow, he actually has an amazing voice. The ANGER and the punk attitude is still there (this is, after all, about depression and dealing with the death of a friend), but what a canvas to paint it on.

And then came the album, and the fear that this one truly amazing song would be sat amongst a load of psych songs of old, standing out like a sore thing. Not a bit of it. STATIC RESISTANCE is probably the closest thing to Hookworms of old, but even that has crispness and urgency to it that really stands out. It’s a GREAT Track 2:

It doesn’t let up from there. ULLSWATER is another banger, to rival NEGATIVE SPACE, as is OPENER, which feels almost joyful. And then there’s the other surprise – the soft, almost balladeering underbelly of a band that with hitherto all hard Krautrock beats. THE SOFT SEASON is sweet and moving, and EACH TIME WE PASS is, well, actually quite dreamy!

I think this a major piece of work. It works totally as an album and a vision, and it’s rewarded me every time I’ve played it.

Finally, can we talk about the sequencing? Brother Joey, I know it’s a bugbear of yours and mine when a good album is badly sequenced. Just how beautifully sequenced is this? ULLSWATER as a Track 3 basically says – yes, the whole album is as good as this. And then THE SOFT SEASON is that sudden blast of tenderness that opens out the whole album’s palette. And at the back end, SHORTCOMINGS has got to be the best closer to an album I’ve heard in a long time. It’s up there with my favourite songs on the whole thing – James Murphy would be proud of that one.

It’s only March but I can’t see this not being one of my albums of the year.

So yeah, sometimes those bands you invest in do reward you by turning into something much bigger than you’d ever imagined…