MATT ELLIOTT – The Mess We Made (2003)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

Labels such as “incredibly sad” or “probably the saddest album ever” were stuck upon The Mess We Made like they’ve been welded. The album was also labeled as an electronic music album by a dark folk guitarist and singer from England. Too many labels, huh? And pointing to the same sad thing. I braced myself. 

“Let it play, already!”  – My mind screamed.

However, when I first listened to the record, I didn’t find it as depressive as it seems. Strange. It was the right moment, the mood was there. After waiting for a while, I opened a beer at a particularly cloudy dawn. 

“Let it play, again!” – I needed to try once more.  And I did. 

Matt Elliott’s oeuvre is an amazing piece of art. Technically, he’s amazing. Complete instrumentals, be it either creative riffs who never get too much repetitive or cohesive melodies whose progression and tempo flows like a cold winter breeze. Yeah, the labels were kinda right. It is, by all means, a completely sad record. It was imagined that way, designed that way, recorded that way. I can picture Mr. Elliott reminiscing at a particularly cloudy british day, lazily strumming his guitar and getting ideas for those melancholic riffs and vocals. Lyrics point to the same place as well, always full of loneliness and regret but, as every sad album should have, there’s the “light at the end of the tunnel” in the track “The Sinking Ship Song”.

Full instrumental tracks, distorted vocals, melancholic lyrics and melodies are the labels I give to The Mess We Made. Strangely, a potential candidate to “the saddest album ever” didn’t made me sad. Instead, I found myself thinking about what inspires Elliott to compose like this, to express himself that way. I checked some of his other works and these moods were there over and over again. Regardless of the themes, his contemplative melancholy seems omnipresent like he is a man with one single intention, to pass these feelings on. After all, art is supposed to make you feel something, right? 

A Young Person’s Guide to… Nina Hagen (Part II)

Nina Hagen (Part II)

By Tommy Mostalas 

The music video that first opened my eyes to the extent to which the *right* sort of visual imagery can directly affect how you experience, and most of all, how you can subsequently hear a piece of music, was Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’. It wasn’t that up until that point I had seen music videos as essentially disposable, mere promotional vehicles for songs that should and would stand on their own musical merits or that I hadn’t grasped that on rare occasions they could qualify as pieces of art in their own right. It was more that having grown up without satellite or cable, I had never experienced MTV as the all-pervasive cultural force that so many of my early to mid 90s peers had, and I therefore failed to realise just how integral to the listening experience music videos had become. Beyonce’s supple but muscular cavorting to the accompaniment of a song I already loved, but which I began to love exponentially more after seeing the video, was enough to convince me of the necessity of something like the Wagnerian idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, but scaled down and tailored to contemporary popular music: a concept that would explain the appeal of modern pop by encompassing everything, words, music, dance, visuals (and all of this is highly appropriate given Queen Bey’s Wagnerian-scale ego, but anyway). A growing appreciation for Bollywood song and dance numbers around the same time helped to further cement this conviction (I used to hate it when they broke off into song at the end of a scene, but then later realised that the musical interludes were usually the best thing about the film). 

All of which brings me to the music video that triggered my current fascination with Nina Hagen and that ultimately led me to undertake this series of mini Hagen reviews, since it strikes me now that which first drew me to Nina was precisely her success in marrying the visual together with the musical. I say ‘the’ music video but in fact there were two, though the first of these can’t really be called a music video per se. Instead what we’re talking about is some black and white footage of a very young Hagen singing ‘Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen’ (the title means ‘You have forgotten the colour film’), which was taken from an East German broadcast from back in the days when Nina was still a citizen of the good ol’ DDR. Truth be told, I was only vaguely aware of Nina prior to stumbling onto this video; I think I’d previously dismissed her as some variety of crazy screaming German goth lady or other. But Hagen’s manic star quality, even as a seemingly demure young woman in a sober dress, sitting all prim with her knees placed together, shone through so brightly that I was in no doubt that this was an artist I urgently needed to find out more about (she dropped the whole innocence thing pretty quickly upon defecting to the West).

The second video, and the one that made me go even crazier for Nina, is a promo for the song ‘Hold me’ taken from her eponymous sixth album, the follow up to In Ekstasy (and don’t worry I’m about to get to the album itself, I haven’t forgotten I’m supposed to be reviewing her discography). This time round the video is a full on showcase of her extraordinary, kinetic show(wo)manship: that superlative combination of the comic, the voluptuous, and the absurd that is uniquely Hagen’s. The video itself is shot in Paris and brazenly so; it’s the City of Light in the late 80s we’re talking about here: the Paris of Mitterrand, and er…whatever else was going down in Paris during that not particularly celebrated period. It starts off with a swift pan down from a street sign (‘Rue de Rome’) to Nina in a gold lamé jacket and a black mesh umbrella with a strapping blond angel in tow; then cut to Nina in an octopal-turban on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur, executing a busy vogue-type weaving gesture with long lithe black-clad arms; then we’re treated to a derriere shot as Nina gyrates towards a wall with her rather impressive arse waggling and poking up in the air; next, cut to our Diva giving a warm and welcoming smile; then a close-up of Nina shaking her head in an exaggerated succubal pout and emphasising her gorgeous silent film star eyes; then finally cut to a shot of Nina flapping her tongue out rather suggestively and also rather ludicrously. And this is all just for starters, the rapid succession of clips a perfect visual accompaniment to the intro to Hagen’s brash version of this gospel number. Nina’s in particularly fine form voicewise and the song, despite its cheesy 80s europop stylings, is brassy without being vulgar. But it’s the combination of saucy video with saucy music that really gets you going, that is wondrous to behold: Nina’s extraordinary repertory of facial ticks and exaggerated childlike expressions — pulling her beautiful, elastic face first one way, then the other — and the way she manages to flesh out and give body to the music with her whole physical presence.

What is absolutely not wondrous, on the other hand, is the LP that the video was trying to promote — and here the contrast between the efficacy of the video with the rest of the album is glaring. But the news gets much worse: for Nina Hagen was only the first in a succession of thoroughly second-rate albums that Hagen released after In Ekstasy,  and that, barring a few stand out songs like ‘Hold Me’ (which in no way redeem these albums as a whole), are best avoided by all but the most ardent of Hagen completists. It takes a while to get accustomed to the mediocrity of a record like Nina Hagen — like eyes adjusting to the darkness and the murk of a dimly lit room — but regardless of how far you manage to lower your expectations, you can never really escape the feeling of the pointlessness of it all. How, for instance, anyone could have ever felt that there was any sort of motivation for inflicting Hagen’s miserable, dead in the water, cover of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ on the world is completely beyond me. Her vocals sound lacklustre and her performances seem dialled in for the most part. Fair’s fair though, I’ll admit to a bit of a soft spot for her version of ‘Ave Maria’ (3/10).  

Trust me when I tell you that the best thing about Street, Hagen’s unimpressive 1991 follow up to the truly dire Nina Hagen is the cover: simply put, you get three beautiful avatars of Nina — looking utterly spectacular, mind, all dressed up in Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood — rather than just the usual, though still really quite awesome, one. Once again Hagen manages to wield her visual allure forcefully and so demands your complete and undivided attention: promising so much but failing to deliver anything that comes close in terms of musical stimulation. However if you periodically suffer from pangs of nostalgia for early 90’s techno-lite euro pop — and by now I’m convinced there must be a substantial contingent of us out there — then there’s a certain pleasure to be had from an album that sound wise so clearly dates back to that heady cultural moment.  In particular, if like me, you have fond memories of listening to the BBC top 40 chart rundown of a Sunday and dancing about in your pyjamas to the pseudo-house keyboards of the C+C Music Factory, ‘Stars’ era Simply Red and the Ace of Base, then Street might well be right up your… street.  Don’t get me wrong, the album is not completely without its other merits (and I was going to give the album a much lower rating until I realised just how cleverly ‘Divine Love, Sex und Romance’ had managed to sneak its way into my psyche), still, ‘Street’ comprises yet another staging post on Hagen’s ongoing musical journey from subversive and avant gardist to full-on soulless commercial banality; and it’s worth giving a wide berth to, if only to spare yourself Hagen’s feeble cover of ‘Good Vibrations’ (4/10). 

Sadly the situation doesn’t really improve much with 1994’s Revolution Ballroom — well, apart from the fact that this time round the cover art is even more terrific than on Street.  Here Nina is clad in glossy black latex and tied with rope to her chair, two magnificent raven ponytails sprouting from the top of her head and a look on her face that’s somewhere betweenindignant sex doll and social realist art mural (the kitschy soviet font at the top also contributes to the effect). If it had stopped there, if Nina and the gang had gone as far as just making a mock-up of the cover and left it at that, we could have passed right onto FreuD euch, which SPOILER ALERT is actually quite a good record. But no, Hagenonly had to go and make a record that, if anything, manages to outdo her previous two efforts for blandness. And you might think it strange, if I follow that up by affirming that the songs on the actual album are much more memorable than on Street and especially than on Nina Hagen — but that’s what makes it all worse, as promising as these songs are, they’ve been smothered at birth: the arrangements and the production are simplistic and Nina’s lackadaisical vocals are underwhelming throughout. I mean, I ask you friends, how can a song called ‘Berlin’ and sung by Nina Hagen possibly be so fucking dull? (4/10)

Nina’s all round devotion to Babaji and the higher powers, which she was so eager to demonstrate on her previous albums, seems to have eventually paid off because the following year (on New Year’s Day 1995 to be precise) she released FreuD euch, which was by far the best thing she’d done in ages. Indeed the record feels like a reinvigoration, long overdue, of Hagen’s very singular talents after years and years of putting out substandard product. This doesn’t mean that FreuD euch is Hagen’s long hoped for return to the riotous bedlam of nunsexmonkrock, far from it. Ultimately it’s just a very enjoyable, but fairly conventional punk rock record, and although she’s in fine fettle voice wise — almost enough to make you forget the apathy that crippled her previous three albums — Nina’s vocals (sadly) never come close to scaling the transgressive heights of years gone by. But you know how the saying goes, never look a gift horse in the mouth. With FreuD euch Hagen produced the kind of straight-ahead punk record that — setting aside the fact that she’s supposed to be the mother of punk — she’d never actually attempted before. And boy, does it work well. Presumably we have Dee Dee Ramone, listed as rhythm guitarist and with a co-writer credit on four of the songs on here,  to thank in large part for this, one of the most convincing entries in Nina’s discography since nunsexmonkrock. And fuck me, even her cover version (in German) of ‘Sunday Morning’ is actually quite decent, which given Hagen’s miserable track record with covers is an exceptionally pleasant surprise. The whole album is in German and maybe that’s ultimately what makes it so convincing: Hagen is always at her most credible in her native tongue. But still, this Hagen’s for everyone: it gets a well earned (8/10).
Next time round Nina Hagen in the New Millennium!

RICHARD THOMPSON – Rumor and Sigh (1991)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

I am travelling while writing this review, on a hot spring day, oddly calm and just a tad older than Richard when he wrote these songs. In a way I feel we’re travelling together. And it’s a fantastic trip. 

There’s a thing about solo artists in the days after the Great Music Decades. The nineties are a blur for me sometimes, I gotta admit. But many artists found their feet then by the end of the Bad Production Party of the late eighties. And I feel that as years go by it is more sensible to think of artists doing things on their own terms, their own timing and resources. After all who’s buying records? Play for the Torrent Kids. They’re the here and now. If the 80s were the Ego Decade these are the NobodyElse Times.

Richard is supposed to have made a great “mainstream friendly” album here. A deceiving trick I would say, as he reaches great heights in terms of subtlety while adhering to friendly hooks that only Fleetwood Mac might dream of. “Grey Walls” is an immense achievement in that category, and “I Dream Too Much” is the great tune Lindsay Buckingham never dreamt of. He stays on that nice tone, keyboard glares here and there, a shy secret weapon,  guitar-shaped. 

And after such mundane joy,  I arrive to my destination, evening starting to fall and shadows beginning to unfold, and Richard just manages to win my heart too. And he teaches me..

“Why must I plead with you darling/
For what’s already mine”

And I’ve done that too, yeah… And he brings me an anthem for the years to come (“1952 Vincent Black Lightning”) or he reminds me how “God loves a drunk”. Who else would he love? A banker? Come on.

And he manages to end the affair with an awkward song, “Psycho street”, which ably marries a bass-laden part with poignant lyrics.. To move into the sweetest musical box chorus ever. Genius.

And that’s the feat you know, that’s the trip. A little joy, a little nastiness. And a shy guitar, and a voice of your own.

Oh I’ve arrived, lucky me for the brilliant company.  Wish you all the same and the trip is worth it. Godspeed!

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND THE MAGIC BAND – Doc at the Radar Station (1980)

Review by: Alex Alex
Album assigned by: B.B. Fultz

Captain Beefheart (hereafter Cb) is a maker of capitalistic things: music (1), paintings (2) and poetry (3). In the Year of Water Dog, having realized (1) and (3) require an industrialized workflow which could not, at that time, be sufficiently provided by an individual, Cb retired (1) and (3) from production, concentrating solely on (2).
The object of the review is the #11 in the (1) + (3) output, consisting of 0xC entities in two groups of 6 (see Fig. 1).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C
Fig 1. The layout of the entities.

The lengths of the entities vary from the minimum of 60000000000 to over 38039985927014 ns.
7 human beings are credited: Cb (DVV), JMT, EDF, RAW (not to confuse with JPEG), BLF, JF(D), GL.
(*) Cb plays: the reed wind instrument, a transposing instrument on which a written C sounds like B♭, a woodwind instrument with a high F# key and a range from A♭3 to E6, 鑼 and several others.

The lyrical contents of the album is, due to its analogue nature and as usual with any poetry, difficult to almost impossible to translate. For those interested, I can only give you a fragment of how it sounds to the author of this review, personally: “Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги!” which, hopefully, is instructive enough for any further attempts at the studies.

Fig. 2 presents one of the possible layouts of the human beings involved in the production of the entities.

Fig 2. A possible layout of the human beings

As an addendum and following the long-established reviewing tradition we present eight random words from a single product review in the ascending order of their lengths

a to the over Vliet singer vampire because
Fig. 3 Eight random words from a single product review in the ascending order of their lengths

Fig. 4 presents the possible ratings of the product on a hypothetical 5-stars scale. Further studies seem to suggest that the same algorithm can be applied to any of the separate entities, as well.

☺ ☺☺ ☺☺☺ ☺☺☺☺ ☺☺☺☺☺
Fig. 4. The possible ratings of the product on a hypothetical 5-stars scale.

(1) Design a thumbs scale
(2) How does “Беги краска беги! Беги краска беги!” sound to you and your friends? Discuss in groups.
(3*) Estimate art compression boundaries if JPEG is used instead of RAW


Review by: Joseph Middleton-Welling
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

“Coltrane for tryhards”- Blob Nayld, PhD

Like a door creaking. Not in a good way. Sounds like fucking ass. This is a bad album. Right i like some free jazz but this is a load of wank (“its pretty wank”). Oh Coltrane was apparently on LSD during the sessions, probably thought his saxophone was a snake or something. Honk honk honk. Like elvin jones sounds like he has no idea whats going on. The best bits on this record are the chants. Sounds a bit like magma. It’s a fucking horrible album. 

IAN ANDERSON – Homo Erraticus (2014)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Alexander Shatkevich 

Although owning most JT albums up to Heavy horses, for the last 20 years, I have grown ‘unused’ to Ian’s voice. The snarling sounds hurt my sensitive ears. So it was with some trepidation that I looked up this recent solo album.
For better and for worse, I can say that nothing much has changed: still very much in the folk rock genre with proggy flourishes (courtesy of that flute), and a pretty good use of dynamics (quiet, slightly melancholic parts interspersed by louder, hard rocking parts). We have here a collection of songs that is still sometimes marred by that voice. It is, to my inexperienced ears, firmly in the Jethro Tull vein, to the extent that it is indistinguishable from what I imagine a 21st century JT record would sound like.
But! To my surprise (I’m not ashamed to admit) the quality of the song writing is actually very good. I keep thinking “What could Peter Gabriel, or Jon Anderson do with this material”? And Ian’s voice still distracts me, but imagining the music with different singers is, in this case, a big compliment to the actual music. 

But, to be honest, just as in classic songs like Aqualung and Locomotive Breath, sometimes Ian’s soulful pleading vocals or cynical almost sadistic vocals (think Roger Waters) DO match the music. Some songs are a bit more rocky, like Doggerland, the impressive start of the album. Others are more proggy, such as Tripudium ad bellum, even if it lasts not even 3 minutes. 

I like it. Ultimately, if you like classic Tull in any way, this (solo) incarnation will not disappoint!

STORMY SIX – Un biglietto del tram (1975)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Album assigned by: Joseph Middleton-Welling

Italian prog and communism! The best combination since guava and cheese! In the foreboding acoustic opener, Stormy Six already show what they came for: “on its frozen path, the Swastika knows / that from now on, Stalingrad awaits in every city”. Lovely lyrics! Lovely strings! And the rest of the songs just keep up with the style. Too bad I’ve only been able to find translations for the lyrics to three of these, because this blood-pumping leftist themes are exactly what I need to help me face these grim times of neo-fascism. I could at least understand a bit from every track. Have I mentioned the strings? They’re not attempting to be “classical” like those common progressive acts, no sir. They incarnate Italian / Mediterranean folk music, instead, and I welcome this. Instrumentation is folky throughout the record; I don’t think I’ve listened to anything electric save for the bass, which is pretty good. On the other hand, a large diversity of acoustic guitar-like instruments brings variety, always exchanging the spotlight with violins, always catching my attention. The voice is just as good, a strong baritone that brings the right amounts of intonation and feeling. The album is emotional, alternating between ominously melancholic and sombrely blood-pumping. There’s a preponderance of the former, however, so the songs where the latter appears, for example the opener “Stalingrado” and the homage to Italian anti-fascist partisan Gianfranco Mattei, are the strongest. The other tracks sort of blend with each other, but are very pleasant nonetheless. This review was made on-the-go on my first listen of this record, so maybe further listens might show me hidden depths. I don’t need any more, though, to say that this is excellent, and stands on its own amongst all the greats of Italian prog.

GOLDEN EARRING – Moontan (1973)

Review by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn 

This is an album for depressed, balding middle aged men who stagnate in their rumpus rooms behind a disused pool table, swimming with flies and their own filth, as they shoot back more beers in a desperate attempt to forget the traumas of ageing and their ageing wives.

This is an album for beige-and-tan diners on the motorways of flyover states with tattered PVC seats in need of replacement, where the cigarette ash of the underpaid and angry women who work there (some are single mothers, all are jilted lovers) falls with an angered and dissatisfied plop into the coffee percolator as they strain to wipe the thick and browned layer of fry-grease of the table tops.

This is an album for horny teenaged boys with dirty mussed hair and thin, sad lines of hair on their upper lips who see women as sex objects and have semen-encrusted girlie mags stuffed, haphazardly and rather off center under their beds.

This is an album for failures. Only the everyday ones, though.

ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN – Ocean Rain (1984)

Review by: Alexander Shatkevich
Edited by: Dina Levina
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

I think it’s symbolic that my first review will be about an album that was released in the year of my birth, 1984. The first thing that came to mind at the first listen – the album didn’t get old in any way. It’s like all those synthetic apples from supermarkets that always are red and fresh. But in a difference from apples, Ocean Rain is nowhere near to the famous synthetic and drum-machine sound of the 80’s that I hate so much.

Ocean Rain is still very fresh, and from the very first sounds it hooks you by the arse and holds you up until the very end. The mood and the atmosphere create a whole new world that you explore with Echo and the Bunnymen. On the cover of the album, the band members are knowingly pictured in a boat making their way through an underground cave. When I listen to Ocean Rain, I can’t get away from imagining them sailing in that boat and singing all the songs, though I wonder where the 35-piece orchestra is hiding. But all the musicians are there, believe me, and their sound is reflecting from the cave walls and fulfills the album with lush and charm.  

Actually, in spite of all of these cave allusions, it’s only the background on the cover – the main thing is the boat. Ocean Rain is a journey album, full of ordeals, gloomy experiences and courage. From the very beginning you’re sailing away with the band and not on a boat but on a large ancient ship. Uncertainty and storms are waiting for you, but maybe in the end you will find your Shangri-La nevertheless.

The album opens with bombastic violins and cellos, followed by the whole 35-piece orchestra and the band. The name of the opening song is Silver, just like the name of the famous pirate from The Treasure Island. Silver is filled with the mood reminiscent of great discoveries and something unexpected. The ship swings on waves, the captain gives the last orders on the bridge, ladies on the pier look at the rising sails with admiration. What’s waiting for us ahead? Silver is the kind of a song you always want to return to from time to time; and when you do, you can’t keep yourself from listening to the next one and then the whole album. It’s like with a good film, when you know the ending, but want to live thru the whole story with these characters once again. An excellent beginning, it gives a tone to the whole album.

Nocturnal Me begins where Silver ends. The orchestra is there, and it’s way more heroic and decisive. The ship had sailed away and it’s now ready to face the uncertainty. It’s a beautiful and atmospheric composition, full of concerns and fatalism. “Do or die. What’s done is done. True beauty lies on the blue horizon”. Powerful drums beat out the march and lead the song. After a while, the affected bravado set by Silver fades away, the pier and the admiring ladies are long gone, and you’re digging into fears and doubts. As the song continues, the fears are growing bigger and bigger. “Take me internally forever yours nocturnal me”. Now, you almost don’t hear the march, but only the gloomy orchestra and the melancholic voice of Ian McCulloch. It’s like the sound of doom that the sailors of Captain Magellan felt when they were leaving Portugal. Will they find the way to India or the end of the world? Generally, they had more chances to face the end of the world and terrible death than reach other lands. How can you reach India sailing away from it? Round the Earth? Ah, bullshit!

But after a dark night there’s always dawn. The sun is rising and rays of light are playing on the waves, and it seems there is still hope. It’s Crystal Days. For me this song is a little bit weaker in comparison with the first two. Maybe because of its light and optimistic atmosphere. But actually this lightweight feeling and hope are illusive. In the visible simplicity of Crystal Days hides the same dense sound and dim feeling of anxiety. I am not a fan of this song but it’s in its place here, and it gives a small emotional break before the new tests befall our sailors.

These tests are already there. On The Yo Yo Man we hear another dense and gloomy march. The sound of drums is so great on this album! Pete de Freitas is doing a fantastic job here and it’s a real joy to listen to him. The Yo Yo Man is wonderful and it’s one of those déjà vu feelings, when you listen to the song and you think “wait a minute, I think I’ve been knowing it for a very long time”. It’s like when you’re meeting with someone and after an hour of talking you feel like you’ve known each other for ages. Beautiful arrangement, hooks and twists are all there. It is a great song!

And after The Yo Yo Man there goes Thorn Of Crowns. It begins with eastern motives and is then followed by drum beat even more powerful than before. The drums here are not eastern, but very solid and distressing, bringing the feeling of anxiety. Drums set the mainline of the song and submit everything else around them to themselves. Thorn Of Crowns has really weird lyrics, and that’s the case when I don’t like it a lot. Stuttering McCulloch singing about cucumber, cabbage and cauliflower, what the fuck does he mean? Nah, I don’t wanna know. But on the sound scale it’s a great song. It sounds almost like The Doors. McCulloch shouts out the words just like Morrison and I always imagine him dancing one of those shamanistic Jim dances. The first side of the album ends on a mystic note and leaves us in confusion. What’s going to happen next? What will be the end of this journey?

The second side begins with a huge hit – The Killing Moon. It continues the basic theme of the album – fate, choice, predeterminancy. It’s a beautiful, melancholic song, and here the orchestra is shining once again. Grim violins and cellos bring a very dramatic and heroic sound to it. So even if the hero cannot fight fate, it sounds like he can. That’s the ideal way to continue our journey if you ask me.

The next song, Seven Seas, brings a little optimistic break to the record, as Crystal Days did on the first side. It is the poppiest song on the album, too simple for me and for this album. It’s no surprise that it was chosen as a single after all. I didn’t find any hooks or interesting bits going on here, Seven Seas is a rather plain and forgettable tune, especially after such great song as The Killing Moon. The only plus of Seven Seas is less orchestra so you can hear more guitars than strings. But as they’re not very interesting, there’s no real benefit from that, too. 

So let’s move forward to the next song immediately ‘cos it’s much better. My Kingdom has not much orchestra as well, but there are some great guitar work by Will Sergeant and light heroic vocals by Ian. The drums are powerful as usual. And as opposed to Thorn Of Crowds, here the stutter is okay. All those B-b-b-burn the skin and k-k-k-k-k-kingdom are very energetic and bring the drive to the not so very fast album. I like this song and I like the lyrics, too: “I’ve lost and I’ve gained and while I was thinking You cut off my hands when I wanted to twist”. And, thank you very much, now I know what the hell Boney Moroney is, the campaign against illiteracy is in action.

After the dynamic My Kingdom here comes Ocean Rain, the final song that gives its name to the album. It’s the end of our journey, peaceful and melancholic. When you listen to it you churn to the beginning. The blame is on the violins and cellos which are back, and they step forward once again. But if on Silver and Nocturnal Me they were powerful and broke out of the speakers, now they’re floating quietly like a river. And if in the beginning the strings were the sign of future ordeals, now they’re rays of hope that spills on the melancholic atmosphere of the song. Listening to Ocean Rain you may think that our bad feelings about the journey came true and we didn’t succeed, but the strings give hope that there’ll be another day and we’ll find our Shangri-La. I think it’s a really optimistic ending and I like this song very much.    

Ocean Rain is a beautiful album. Great arrangements, atmosphere, vocals, lyrics (exc. cucumber and cabbage, yuk). It’s very equable, which is both its strength and its weakness. Dialectic as would say Moss… or Hegel. The songs are so equable by their atmosphere, sound and rhythm, that I would say I’d like to hear some more variety. But on the other hand it has some light numbers such as Seven Seas or Crystal Days. The problem is, I don’t like them that much. My Kingdom is good, but the best songs here are melancholy and gloomy. Maybe I need the light numbers to be on the same level as Nocturnal Me, I don’t know. Even the light numbers have the same atmosphere and the viscous sound. In any case, it’s not a big problem at all. I like the concept of the album and I like that all songs are submitted to it. Anyway, almost every album has its ups and downs. And the downs of Ocean Rain are not very deep at all. Honestly, I can say that it has no weak song at all.

Ocean Rain is a great album from any side. When it was released it was marketed as “the greatest album ever made”. Of course it was not, but I think Echo and the Bunnymen had all the rights to say the opposite. It’s a truly great album and it doesn’t disappoint rock lovers even after thirty years had passed. It’s not the greatest album of all times, but it certainly deserves your attention. You don’t believe in advertising after all, huh? I don’t advise you to believe me, so if you’ve never listened to it, grab your legs and go find yourself a copy. Have a good listening!

ROBERT WYATT – Rock Bottom (1974)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Joseph Middleton-Welling

I have to start this review with a confession. I tried to crack this album for years and was never really able to get into it. I forever memorized Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom as an absolutely murky, depressing, tuneless and joyless experience, made even worse by some really pretentious atonal experimental instrumentation and very weird singing. God knows I had tried my best to appreciate this music – for instance, I read up on it, learned the background. You probably all know that story: former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt fell from a third-floor window and was rendered paraplegic by the incident. When he almost gave up on life while staying in hospital, he decided to write and record this album. And I thought the album felt… exactly like something recorded by a man who just gave up on life. It felt hopeless to me. It literally was rock bottom. I could find no pleasure or aesthetic satisfaction found from listening to it. That was what I felt about this record some time ago.
But then I was assigned it in the reviewing game. That meant I had to listen to it again (oh God! no! fuck! not again! please!), but it also meant I could try and look at it from a different angle. Which I did. And maybe I could also try to re-evaluate this album and finally find good things in it. Which, can you believe it, I also did.
Rock Bottom is indeed a difficult listening experience but everything kind of comes together when you understand that murky, depressing and uneasy is exactly what this album is supposed to sound like. The title and the water-themed album sleeve are not coincidental either – the record does feel like drowning under water with next to no hope of coming to the surface. This IS an album about pain and suffering – and very genuine pain and suffering at that. But I also discovered one more thing when revisiting Rock Bottom: there IS hope amidst all this depressing stuff. And when you finally notice these glimpses (or even flashes) of hope, you also start noticing that this album does have place for some love poetry (some of the songs are dedicated to Wyatt’s wife), some cool jazzy sax solos, some legitimately great musicianship and even some humourous and silly moments (I have learnt to especially enjoy Ivor Cutler’s nonsensical poem recital with a funny exaggerated accent in Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road)! At some point I simply understood that, even if still I don’t really enjoy this record that much, at least it’s nothing like anything else I have ever heard. It’s absolutely unique, and that probably is where its brilliance lies. As for the musical enjoyment part, well… I guess it is a matter of taste.
It is also highly possible that all music is purely a matter of taste and our appreciation of it depends on our background, current mood and other insubstantial factors. So try and listen to Rock Bottom. Maybe you’ll love it at once and it’ll become one of your favourite albums. Or maybe you’ll hate it at once, turn it off and forget about it forever. Or maybe you’ll just feel indifferent. But I still urge you to give this record a chance. It might take a lot of patience, but with some effort you can learn to at least respect this music, like I did.