Roland and Nina’s DECADES IN MUSIC – 1973 – LATTE E MIELE – Papillon

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

 

What I lamentably discovered at the tender age of 17 is that generic prog albums aren’t exactly a commodity that’s hard to find. And in the internet age, they’ve crawled out of everywhere and are cool once again. For some reason. And while Latte e Miele get bonus points for singing in Italian (possibly due to the fact that they themselves are Italian) and therefore making this album at least slightly distinct, I feel Papillon suffers from the general syndrome of interchangeability of 70s prog records. Yes, Latte e Miele, you play it really well and I bet you have meticulously arranged like every second of this and that you have precisely thought out how to use bombast to bring out the instrumental intermissions in “Terzo quadro l’incontro” for instance or taken care to have the fusion breaks in “Quatro quadro l’arresto” but what new and breathtakingly unexpected are exactly trying to tell us here?
No, this record unfortunately still remains in my mind just as “70s sounds”, even after a couple of listens. It’s cool, I guess, but I don’t see why anyone would waste time listening to this when there’s so much else you can be enjoying and oohing in surprise and delight at.
Oh, there are the classical pieces reinterpretations too… Vivaldi and Beethoven. Why? Who knows, who cares.
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KEITH MOON – Two Sides of the Moon (1975)

Review by: Michael Strait
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

There is a deluxe edition of this. It is two discs long.

Heaven help us.

Crazy Like A Fox: Kinda does sound like mid-70s Who, actually. What that means is that it sounds like forgettable, bland 70s rock except for the vocals – done by Moon, presumably – which are kind of sassy and sardonic in a way I can kind of like. There’s a decent bassline. In fact, the instrumentation is quite lush and varied really, and there’s a perfectly competent guitar solo. The question is why does this exist? This is really just a karaoke performance, innit?

Solid Gold: Some sort of sarcastic spoken word intro. Oh wait, this is actually the whole thing. Some pretty female voices harmonise some vocal chants as Moon drunkenly stumbles over the lyrics of this tune, like he’s going through some sort of terrible impressions game at a pub. Is this a comedy album? No, worse – this is a NOVELTY album, where the novelty is “Keith Moon sings the classics”, as if he’s some children’s cartoon character or Kardashian and the prospect of him singing is inherently funny. :/

Don’t Worry Baby: String section shit. Meh. He’s actually singing this time, though not particularly well. ‘Course, worse singers have been great vocalists before, but then mostly they’ve actually been singing over worthwhile music. This is still just karaoke nonsense. Utterly pointless, like the other album I was assigned this round – not offensively bad, nor intriguingly bad, nor even depressingly bad, just sort of confusing. Why would anyone ever listen to this? Why was it made? Actually, I take that back – I’m imagining Moon singing this in the studio now, imagining his face contorting into soulful expressions as he sings his heart out, and it’s very depressing.

One Night Stand: Slide guitar an’ all. His vocals are buried under so many doubled layers of themselves that I can barely make them out. Is he trying to put on an American accent? Oh Christ, he is, isn’t he? Has anyone in world history actually listened to this for pleasure? Are there people in the world who sometimes think “yeah, I’ll just listen to Keith Moon sing One Night Stand”? Perfectly competent guitar solo here, again – it’s all just so confusing to me that this exists.

The Kids Are Alright: Loud guitar chord opens this one. Siiiiigh. OK, he really is butchering this one with his singing – he CAN’T sing, or at least not well enough to sing songs that require actual singing. He’d make a great frontman for a band like, say, The Clash or whatever, but he just hasn’t got the skillset for this kind of music so why is he misapplying himself? The band actually does sound kind of incompetent here, for ones – the entire thing sounds like it’s tripping and stumbling about, and it does NOT sound natural at all.

Move Over Ms. L: A Lennon track! Well, here comes Moon to do his best to ruin it by singing it almost exactly like a punk rock singer, except more middle-class. This song has lots of brass instruments on it. I don’t like it. This isn’t one of Lennon’s best efforts anyway. Apparently Moon drummed on that track. Barely noticed.

Teen Age Idol: Melodramatic nonsense! Moon can’t sing. People DO call him a teenage idol, though. Or did, at least. R.I.P Keith Moon. It sounds like it’s trying to be a gahdawful movie song except Moon just can’t sing. Oh my god that was horrible panning. Made me feel sick.

Back Door Sally: :/ :/ :/ :/ :/ :/ :/ :/ :/ He kind of DOES have the chops for this kind of singing – just raw charisma, no actual tunefulness, which sorta fits with this song, except it still doesn’t quite work because the end result still sucks. At least it sucks on its own terms though. Oh Christ he’s starting to sound like a glam metal vocalist. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Lots of brass on this song again. Kinda sounds like good-old-fashioned British glam rock except garbage.

In My Life: The Beatles, eh? That piano sounds horrible somehow. Moon can’t sing. Moon can’t sing. Moon can’t sing. Well, he’s REALLY ruining this melody. The entire thing sounds bargain bin and phoned-in – he’s making this Beatles tune sound like a shitty generic showtune, and that takes a sort of perverse anti-talent. Really over-egged melodramatic choral backing vocals don’t fucking help matters.

Together: The last one. Phew. Ringo co-wrote this one with like 2 other blokes. The drumming on this track is so bad it’s actually hilarious – or maybe it’s just mixed badly; it sounds arrhythmic, like it’s spurting at random. Moon’s singing is, as usual, horrible – so horrible it’s been mixed down to the point of near-inaudibility. There are garbage steel drums on this track. Saving the worst for last, were we? Moon and Ringo are being a comedy duo now. They aren’t very good at it. This should not exist. His singing has started again now. This has made the track worse. Ends with a nonsensical fade back into In My Life’s chorus. It’s over.

Bullets I dodged by skipping the bonus tracks include songs called “Hot Rod Queen”, “Real Emotion”, “OK Mr. Starkey” and something ominously titled “Together ‘Rap’”.


P’raps this album is why God killed Keith Moon?

THE FART GUYS – The Fart Guys (1998)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

This review was a breeze! No one had to pull my finger to do it. At first I was like the constipated composer – he was stuck on his last movement. Or the constipated accountant – he couldn’t budget! Listening to this album was like a breath of fresh air. Rip roaring fun. It’s a real gas! This album is like farting in an elevator – it’s wrong on so many levels. Then again, a crowded elevator always smells different to a midget.. I’m not one to wear my fart on my sleeve, but as they say, laugh and the world laughs with you; fart and they’ll stop laughing. Confucius say, “Man who fart in church sit in own pew.” Therefore, so as not to be selfish, I would like to share some spirited poetry:

A Belch is but a gust of wind
That cometh from the Heart,
But should it take a downward trend,
Turneth into a Fart

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot

Elevator Musings: Ep. 1 – On being a metaphorical virgin

Starting point: The song “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” by Father John Misty
By Nina A

 

Believe me, no one is more embarrassed than I am for actually liking Father John Misty. I mean, “a hipster dork who despite that has a lot of sex” seems to be the main characterisation of his lyrical protagonist and yet he grows on you… on me. And it’s not like there’s subtle magic at work here either, it’s plain as day to me what attraction let’s say I Love You, Honeybear seems to have: stripped down songs that have been let soak in these “giant, deranged, impenetrable Disney-orchestra arrangements” as the man himself puts it. And of course the impeccable phrasing of these craftily put together if otherwise cringeworthy lyrics over the rolling canvas of quietly bombastic music. “Oh, I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man // I mean like a god damn marching band” anyone?
 
Which brings me to my main point and it is: 
 
I’ve never done this
Baby, be gentle
It’s my first time
 
Yeah, this is exactly the lyric that has moved me to profound realisation recently. It’s about virgins!!!! No, as genius.com notices too, our favourite Father actually goes on to subvert this lyric: “Tillman twists the phrases typically uttered when a virgin first has sex, manipulating them to instead reflect the sensation of falling in love for the first time.”
 
I’ve got you inside
People are boring
But you’re something else completely
Damn, let’s take our chances
 
is the slightly clumsier conclusion to this thought. I used to mishear the lyric — “I’ve never done this so please be gentle” but even the way Father John Misty has written it there is something about confessing plainly how things stand. Because isn’t it more often that people try to impress other people by faking it? I am sure that’s the plot to many a screwball comedy, “liar revealed” plot template, probably even to Johnny Bravo. I know I once stubbornly proclaimed to this mechanical engineer guy I used to have a crush on that I can change my back bike tire alright on my own in order to seem tough and competent when really even detaching the chain proved to be trickier than I initially supposed. But here we have the protagonist refreshingly choosing the route where he bares proverbial soul and inexperience and completely trusts the opposite side (person). Liberating, as it is currently in fashion to say. It may all sound so simple but it does indeed take great bravery to be truly humble about yourself and to stop caring about how you are perceived or how superior you should come off as. So, thanks, Father, for making me reevaluate my life with your corny songs about your sexual dorkishness. “When you’re smiling and astride me // I can hardly believe I’ve found you and I’m terrified by that” indeed.

MUSIC IN BOOKS: ALEX ROSS – The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

ISBN-13: 978-0374249397 (hardcover)
Review by Andreas Georgi

In the 8 years since I wrote this review on Amazon I’ve become a lot more familiar with modern composed (or “classical” or “concert”, or WTF) music, but I still concur with most of the content.  This book was very helpful in directing my attention to a wide range of music.

I really enjoyed it and found it a very educational resource for my musical exploration. I know the term “classical” is incorrect – call it concert music, music in the European tradition of composed music, art music, WHATEVER! For better or for worse using the term “classical” allows most people to know what you’re talking about. For that reason I will use that term in the rest of the review.

In a TV interview and in the preface to the book the author commented that he listened exclusively to classical music until college. In college he would play some things to his fellow students, who would comment that it sounded like Sonic Youth or Cecil Taylor, etc. Although I have been starting to immerse myself in the music for some time now, I am still very much a novice and this book’s release is perfectly timed for me. I am not totally ignorant of older forms of classical music, but I approached 20th Century art music not via Bach and Beethoven, but via Frank Zappa and Ornette Coleman. Frank Zappa, who became my musical idol in my teens (and remains so in my 40’s), was particularly influential in exposing me to a new world of possibilities. He made direct reference to Stravinsky, Varese and Holst, among others, in his music. Likewise in modern jazz there has been a lot of cross-pollination with this music. A jazz fan would find the harmonies in Erik Satie’s piano works not at all unfamiliar.

I suspect that many music fans are also approaching this music in a similar way, and this book will be very helpful. This is not an academic book and it is not aimed at an ivory tower readership. It does not assume an encyclopedic knowledge of all music that’s gone before, although it does use musical terminology, so if you’re not very familiar with such terms (like I am not, really), you’ll want to consult a dictionary or encyclopedia occasionally. A bit of a challenge is hardly a bad thing, I think.

Mr. Ross uses very evocative language to describe the key works of music in his book. This is never an easy task. Music hits you in places that words will never go! Still, he does a very good job. When I was reading this I had never heard most of the music being described, but reading about it I certainly wanted to!

Music does not exist in a vacuum, but is both a product of and an influence on its times. Mr. Ross writes a very compelling narrative which puts the music in the context of the places, times, politics, and the lives of the people involved. This is a fascinating history book as well as a book on music. It’s also full of colorful and entertaining character studies of these composers’ often “unusual” personalities. Their interactions with each other are not necessarily always all that high-minded!

This music has survived in relative obscurity since the early part of the 20 Century. Mr. Ross proposes a number of explanations for this, which the reader may or may not agree with, but one recurring theme is that the various movements in 20th Century music eventually seem to paint themselves in corners through an almost fanatical insistence on taking things to the most abstract and extreme (if the audience likes it, it’s a failure!). Not everyone comes out in favorable light. Pierre Boulez, in particular, comes across a bit absurd in his extreme positions. Whether this is an accurate portrayal I don’t know. Clearly the author’s personal tastes come through here, but he does a good job of describing their mindset.

The first section of the book deals with the events of the early 20th Century – the decline of the decadent old empires, the rapidly-growing role of industry and technology, and others, which led people to search for something new. One recurring theme is the struggle between the aspirations for “pure” art versus a desire to be relevant to society at large. The chapter dealing with Russian composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich’s struggles and compromises during the height of Stalin’s reign of terror is a highlight. It covers, from a different angle, the some of the subjects dealt in “the Gulag Archipelago” by Solzhenitsyn.

Sandwiched between the chapters on Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany is the chapter on music in the USA in that period. He does not insinuate that they are equivalent, by any means. He does detail how even in the US composers had to navigate through dealings with government bureaucracy and corporate sponsors, for both of whom artistry was perhaps not the top priority.

I could nitpick whether Sibelius and Britten deserve entire chapters while others get little more than name-dropping mention (The chapter on Sibelius is very good). Consequently his coverage of the second half of the century is more condensed. I wish that he might have spent more time on it.

At the end of the book is a recommended discography of 10 recordings, then another 20 more. I have ordered a number of these and look forward to going back and looking at Mr. Ross’s descriptions after actually listening to them. I will leave it to better-informed people to argue whether or not these really are the “best” versions of the pieces, but they seem as good a place as any to start. Certainly it would seem reasonable to me to start your collection of Stravinsky with a performance conducted by the man himself. Coming from a background in performer-oriented rock and jazz, it can be daunting to figure out which performance of a composer’s work is best, so this discography helps such readers get at least a start.

FOREIGNER – Unusual Heat (1991)

Review by: Julien Mansencal
Album assigned by: Nina A

 

 

Unusual Heat is the proverbial album with no reason to exist. Then again, how could it have one? When third-rate bands like Foreigner lose a key member, they rarely follow the wise path of disbanding and turning to more fitting jobs, like, I don’t know, driving trucks or something. No, when third-rate bands lose a key member, nine times out of ten they’ll go for the cheapest replacement available and soldier on. Granted, when you compare departed Lou Gramm with stand-in Johnny Edwards, the quality gap is not that noticeable, but still, they should have heeded the call. Especially since the time was 1991 and the world really had no longer any use for a band like Foreigner.
That’s not to say that they don’t try to follow the trends. Unusual Heat largely discards the cheesy 80s synthesizers that were so dominant on Inside Information in favour of a sound that’s more guitar-based but less distinctive. And Foreigner never were that distinctive to begin with, so that’s saying something. Apart from that, the band goes through the motions, ticking all the boxes on their grocery list of How to Make a Record: half-assed crunchy rockers, check. Sappy power ballads, check. Unmemorable, run-of-the-mill guitar solos, check. Lyrics ranging from the useless to the abysmal, check. Cheap, ugly cover art, check. About a dozen songs, check. And since this is the beginning of the CD era, all of them are four to five minutes long, because why the hell not? Foreigner want to waste as much as your time as they can. And now they’ve made me their accomplice, since I’ve wasted YOUR time by writing two paragraphs about this nothing.
Even a perfect sphere has more of a point than this. I won’t say “avoid it at all costs,” since I can’t imagine how anyone would face the possibility of listening to this record that has justly fallen into oblivion. It would take an absurd situation, like a reviewing contest about bad records or something.