A Flock Of Seagulls [With The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra] / Ascension

Ascension

Ascension is the sixth studio album by the band A Flock of Seagulls, and was released on 6 July 2018.[1][2] It is the first album since 1984’s The Story of a Young Heart that features all four original members. It contains twelve songs (eleven from the first three albums and one new song) rerecorded with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Analysis—-

I Ran—-Let me say, first off, as a die-hard fan of this band from the very first day, I met this project with trepidation and the slight dread of a possible disaster. Joyously, I announce that this release is a triumph….a return of magic and a new appreciation for old songs I never tire of. Of course, the most famous song of the 80’s, what could you do to improve on it? Wait 35 years…..add oboes…strings and horns and the ageless voice of Mike Score…..that’s what. This is just magical…the song retains every key element as the original…but is even larger in this format. This is really incredible. Like time has never passed.

Modern Love Is Automatic—-This orchestrated version bolsters this track, but still manages to keep the quasi-pop-punk sound of the original. The swirls of the added instruments make the song so much larger…the crisp recording when listened to in headphones, transports you into some other world. Mike Score sounds so good on this recording…no altering of the vocal…no down key delivery….the enunciation is even better than the first go around. This is just fantastic.

Telecommunication—-One of my very favorite tracks from this band…I approached this with caution. But there was no need….the slight re-working makes it faster and edgier than even the original…and back in the day, we thought this song was really something. The jaunty strings and drums from the Orchestra are incredible. This is just a moment in time not to be forgotten…wish everyone could hear this release.

Space Age Love Song—–This has been ‘re-produced’ in the most fantastic fashion possible. I actually prefer this version over the original and countless re-recordings. This is epic…in sound…delivery and spirit…..I can’t say enough good things about this….check out the video at the end of this post….please!!!!

Ascension—-This instrumental is the only new track on this release, but it gives me hope for the future. while it can’t come close to DNA…it still has a very nice updated sound and is catchy to my ear…especially with all he added string…pomp…and circumstance.

Wishing [If I Had A Photograph]—-This remains pretty true to form as the original….there are momentary swirls of grand music…but the song remains remarkably untouched….Score…sounding a bit strained here but still masterful and true to form. You catch every word…his enunciation is so much better these days. A remarkable rendition.

Nightmares—-True to form, the strings that are added to this track manage to make things even more dramatic than originally planned. Score sounds fresh and remarkable in his delivery….the synth lines are still there…..bolstered by the slight swells of strings and woodwinds. This is fantastic.

DNA—-Always a very, very favorite instrumental of mine, I consider this almost pure perfection in the pop world of instrumentals. This remains true to form but becomes even larger and more magnificent. The release would not be complete without this included…after all…this 2:30 won the band a Grammy. Pure magic.

Electric—-This at times, sounds a bit watered down to me…but it was never on my top 10 list. I like the energy of the whole damn thing….I can only imagine that the Orchestra must have had a blast with this recording…it just sounds like fun. The vocal is a little removed….but still sounds like it did 30+ years ago.

Transfer Affection—-This rendition is pure magic. The mellow feel of the song is bolstered by the strings that lie in the background of the song….there are subtle horns that give a body to the song. Meanwhile the synth line remains in overdrive…but never overpowers anything. This is a perfect meld of classic and current coming together to create quite a moment. I will listen to this over and over.

The More You Live, The More You Love—-This track becomes quite literally epic with the strings and the swells of the symphony. The synth line rides on top of the swells of music….but the pieces fit together like a well cut jigsaw puzzle. this was a recording meant for this type of treatment. This is another real high point on this recording….just magical.

Man-Made—-This rendition of the song becomes even darker and melancholy…more ominous and havy on your brain with this recording. The original was always pretty deep in sound and intense….this just grows with the added instrumentation. Another really stand out track on this release. It is amazing how the future has come to pass 30 years on…..maybe the band knew what they were doing after all. This is a must have recording if you are a fan of this band or the 80’s!

***** out of 5

Echo & The Bunnymen / Nothing Lasts Forever

Nothing Lasts Forever

Echo & the Bunnymen are an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1978. The original line-up consisted of vocalist Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant and bassist Les Pattinson, supplemented by a drum machine. By 1980, Pete de Freitas joined as the band’s drummer.

Their 1980 debut album, Crocodiles, went into the top 20 of the UK Albums Chart. After releasing their second album, Heaven Up Here, in 1981, the band’s cult status was followed by mainstream success in 1983, when they scored a UK Top 10 hit with “The Cutter“, and the album which the song came from, Porcupine, hit number 2 in the UK. Ocean Rain (1984), continued the band’s UK chart success, and has since been regarded as one of the landmark releases of the post-punk movement, with the single “The Killing Moon“.

After releasing a self-titled album in 1987, the next year, McCulloch left the band and was replaced by former St. Vitus Dance singer Noel Burke. In 1989, de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident. After working together as Electrafixion, McCulloch and Sergeant regrouped with Pattinson in 1997 and returned as Echo & the Bunnymen, before Pattinson’s departure in 1998. The band has been touring since, releasing several albums since the late 1990s, to varying degrees of success.

The Analysis—-

Going Up—-The brilliance of this band live can not be denied. The sound is perfect and the delivery is the best record in the universe. Ian sounds just remarkable. The post-punk energy on this song is addictive…..the music seems to play in a land by itself…..and Ian still seems to sing to himself. This is brilliant.

With A Hip—-Melding from the previous track, this introduction of the band on stage is seamless. Ian sounds like a man half his age. The voice and the powerful band are just incredible. This is a throw back release that sounds like it was recorded yesterday. I love this band!

Stormy Weather—-This is just fuckin magical. Bright and shiny pop music that shines like the sun on a bright sandy beach…allowing you to lose hours at a time daydreaming of a perfect life and a shiny bright future. Ian sounds magical…..wishing I could go back in time and change some things. This was a magical moment in my history for me.

Show Of Strength—-Rapidly going from one song directly to the next, time never diminishes the magic of the music or the time it was produced. For a live recording, the sound is bright and shiny…truly a stellar performance. Ian sounds like a man half his age….it never gets old. This is magical for me.

Bring On The Dancing Horses—-Such a classic track…..full of every 80’s sound you could imagine. The slow and smooth vocal delivery from Ian s literally priceless. The sound here is a bit muddled….but it rises above and lives in your head for days after you hear it. This was a priceless time…..I thank Ian and Co. for such great memories.

 

The Disease—-Whispering at the onset…..and then the magic clear vocal from Ian…..it still lulls me into a kind of daydream…this is just literal magic. The almost spoken word delivery can be heard….but you hear the audience too…..we know every word. This was a pure genius of a band. A wonderful time full of memories and positive thoughts for the future.

Scissors In The Sand—–Coming alive in a raucous almost punk delivery, Ian is almost drowned out by the instrumentation…but that is ok…because the energy is so damn contagious and catchy. This is a bookmark for me…..a nice cross of what was….and what was to come.

All That Jazz—-Ian has such a fantastic accent when he sings/talks through his songs. This is a bit muddled in sound….but it is the energy of the delivery that is contagious. The drums are fantastic….the guitars right in your face. This is fantastic!

The Back Of Love—-The sound here is so crowded, it is hard to even catch one particular sound….but that is the price of live recordings sometimes. Ian seems pushed way to the back of everything…..but I will take it for posterity…lol

The Killing Moon—-A true classic. Sounding like yesterday. the recording and delivery is wonderful. I feel the smile start inside and I can;t stop it from spreading as Ian sings…and indeed, that is the power of music. This is so magical and well done…I have no complaints.

 

In The Margins—-A steady guitar hum soars through the song…..takin some of the brightness from the song. But once Ian opens up his mouth….you are again transported to a different place and a different feeling about life. I have such good memoies…they all come back alive….in the margins.

Never Stop—-This is a bit jaunty and fun……the sound although muddled still comes through. The bright keyboard sounds shine through Will’s guitar chords…..it all seems to create a perfect storm.

Villers Terrace—-Such a dirty production sound takes away from the ‘wonderfulness’ of the song a bit….but Ian still shines through with his vocal….at times it is too deep….but live is live.

Of A Life—-Such a classic Echo sound on this song….the sound that really fefined them and made them a stellar part of the Brit movement. Ian sings in a rather joyful way that sucks me right in….I love the memory of the song more than the song itself…if that makes sense. Brilliant!

Rescue—-a classic echo song that sounds even more powerful live. Ian sings in a rather cocky way that makes my inner self smile….I love this trip down memory lane. The chorus never fails to inspire….and the crowd singing along makes it awesome.

The Cutter—-One of the all time stellar hits, this still plays so well in my brain. This was the beginning of so many things…Alternative….Goth…..Mopey Rock……and to this day still defines and out defines all definitions of culture.

Nothing Lasts Forever—-Such a brilliant and poignant song…..this cannot be described by me….because it surpasses all definitions. The sentiment and the vocal literally takes you to another place….This is brilliant…..a band that will live forever.

Lips Like Sugar—-Perhaps the song that defined these iconic lads…..I can’t find joyous enough words to describe my elation. This is the soundtrack of my youth….and my hope for the future.

Ocean Rain—-A fantastic and apt closer, I could not ask for anything more……beautiful…..stark……boisterous and joyous….everything I needed today.

***** out of 5

Berlin / Best Of Berlin 1979-1988

Best of Berlin 1979-1988

Berlin is an American new wave band. The group was formed in Orange County in 1978 by John Crawford (bass guitar). Band members included Crawford, Terri Nunn (vocals), David Diamond (keyboards), Ric Olsen (guitar), Matt Reid (keyboards) and Rod Learned (drums). The band gained mainstream-commercial success in the early 1980s with singles including “The Metro“, “Sex (I’m A…)“, “No More Words” and then in the mid 1980s with the chart-topping single “Take My Breath Away” from the 1986 film Top Gun.

The Analysis—-

Blowin’ Sky High—-For me, Berlin was one of the under-rated and under appreciated bands of the early 80’s. The tight musicianship, combined with the strong and flexible voice of Nunn helped to create a landscape of material and helped the band become mainstays on MTV. Crawford had an unmistakable guitar style that ebbed and flowed around the vocal. This track, never a huge hit…which I don’t understand, has that rhythmic guitar song that drives it to great heights at the chorus aided by super strong drums. This is a standout track.

No More Words—-There is always a remarkable power and slight anger to be found with many of the songs from Berlin. Nunn delivers a huge vocal….full of an underlying rage and betrayal that makes it instantly approachable. The song…full of trademark 80’s synth sounds comes across now as a bit dated. But if you zero in on the vocal and all of the power from the band, you will find yourself hooked all over again. The ‘breaks’ in the song are classic.

Like Flames—-I have never understood the fickle ways of American pop music listeners! For me, this may be one of the best tracks the band ever produced…but it received little or no attention from fans and/or radio. The vocal is so full of emotion…the band plays with a renewed intensity…the hook of the song stays in your brain for days after just one listen. The galloping musical intro of the song is shattered with a ballsy yell from Nunn. The vocal that follows is so strong and filled with emotion…this is by far my favorite track from this band. It literally makes me want to jump up and down and lose control.

 

Take My Breath Away—-Taken from the blockbuster film Top Gun, this track is largely considered to be the reason for the demise of the band. A mega-hit all over the world, it moved from the traditional sound of the band into a sound the rest of the band was uncomfortable with. Berlin was never really known for the ‘love song component’ and this really did not fit the image the majority of the band had set for themselves. I can take or leave this track..it became too huge, too overplayed and too worn out. The vocal is a bit to whispery for me…the arrangement robbed Nunn of that powerhouse alto she had become known for.

Sex [I’m A…]—-The single that primarily brought the band to the forefront of the New Wave movement in the early 80’s, this is laden with a synth line and effects that drive you to the dance floor. The trademark sounds of the song…full of everything that defined the time period, the song was just interesting enough in content to have us all paying attention. The two vocal delivery is really nice and seldom heard from the band. the synth line is straight out of the Moroder playbook. Still plays really well.

Now It’s My Turn—-Driving synth lines introduce the song and finds Nunn delivering another slight wispy vocal that takes a bit to grow on you. there is a strength in the subtle approach she uses, and the double track lay out gives a bit more bolster and power to the song. Not a favorite…but it plays really well with this release. The chorus is catchy and well delivered….combing a perfect mix of drums, guitars and synth lines.

Masquerade—-Another really favorite track of mine, I love the end of the song the most off all…when all the double tracks of the song play at once…giving it an irresistible hook appeal you can’t ever forget. Again, the band finds a brilliant middle ground that is able to deliver fantastic guitars and drums with the requisite 80’s synth sound. The vocal is at the very front of the mix…Nunn truly shines here. A remarkable testament that the band had a true direction and ability to deliver.

 

You Don’t Know—-As the track begins, there is a slight throwback sound to the 60’s style music….it seems to fall away as Nunn begins her vocal. This is a bit of a weak track for me. The sound is less power packed and seems a bit airy to me. I’m glad to have it, but I generally skip over this track.

Matter Of Time—-A nice jaunty synth line opens the track. as Nunn begins to sing in an almost robotic style vocal, it fits perfectly into the 80’s playbook of Pop/New Wave songs of the time. the guitars and drums are much more pronounced and up front in the mix. The chorus is a double track affair that sticks in your head and reminds me of something right off of a Josie Cotton record. This is superb.

The Metro—-Another track that allowed the band to continue stacking up hits and plays on MTV, this is a track that can be found on about every 80’s hits compilation. Recognizable from the very first note, the schizoid synth line is addictive as hell. Nunn delivers a mysterious sounding vocal that as the song progresses really shows the power that she is able to emit. This is addictive…it has that perfect recipe of lyrics…vocals and synth line that still sounds incredible today. A true classic.

Will I Ever Understand You—-Much more powerful and guitar based than the past few tracks, this was the kind of stuff that helped to propel the band past the ‘New Wave’ era of the early 80’s. You can’t listen to this and possibly deny the power packed vocal style that Nunn delivered later in the band’s career. There is such a subtle slight angry edge to her vocal….it is sublime but damn effective.

For All Tomorrow’s Lies—-A bit of a lackluster performance for me here. I much prefer the band when they have that more aggressive sound that attracted me to them in the beginning. This is sappy, syrupy sweet and laden with too much melancholy. The vocal is nice…but lacks a true emotion for me.

**** out of 5

 

The Go-Go’s / Beauty And The Beat

Beauty And The Beat (30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

The Go-Go’s are an American rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1978. The Go-Go’s rose to fame during the early 1980s as an all-female band that both wrote their own songs and played their own instruments, rising to the top of the Billboard album charts.

Their 1981 debut album, Beauty and the Beat, is considered one of the “cornerstone albums of US new wave” (AllMusic), breaking barriers and paving the way for a host of other new American acts. When the album was released, it steadily climbed the Billboard200 chart, ultimately reaching No. 1, where it remained for six consecutive weeks. The album sold over 2 million copies and went double platinum, making it one of the most successful debut albums of all time. The Go-Go’s have sold over 7 million records worldwide.

The Go-Go’s broke up in 1985, but reconvened several times through the 1990s and beyond, recording new material and touring. Though their 2016 performances were billed as a farewell tour, the band remains active on a sporadic ad hoc basis, most recently appearing as guests on a March 2017 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

Beauty and the Beat is the debut album from Californian new wave band the Go-Go’s. Released in 1981 on the I.R.S. Records label, the album was preceded by the single and signature song “We Got the Beat“, which became a massive club hit in Europe and, later, the United States. When the album was eventually released, it steadily climbed the Billboard 200 chart, ultimately peaking at number one, where it remained for six consecutive weeks, ranking second among Billboard’s Top 100 albums of 1982. The LP sold in excess of two million copies and reached double platinum status, making it one of the most successful debut albums of all time. Critically acclaimed, it has been described as one of the “cornerstone albums of American new wave”

The Analysis—-

Our Lips Are Sealed—-There are such remarkable memories in my brain when i hear this song…really, having embraced the New Wave movement as a kid. I fell in line with these girls from the very first listen. This was remarkable…post-pop-punk music from an all girl group that conjured up the beach…the 50’s…the 70’s and the 80’s all in one song. this was a fantastic introduction to New wave…and MTV loved these girls…..Just a wonderful moment.

 

How Much More—-Fully embracing the Beach sound of the huge girl groups of the 50’s. this was addictive as hell for me. The vocal harmonies that are led by Belinda but by the guitar from Jane as well made this an infectious and fum romp through the yesteryear…but a look to the future as well. god…this song had everything.

Tonite—-A bit more aggressive in the guitar delivery. even the vocal from Belinda is more driven. this was really pure pop perfection at the time. I can only try to describe how much stuff like this meant to a kid in the 80’s…this was a whole new world. The song has a dark mysterious element to it…the guitar and the bass line from Weidlin are masterful. This was an is still incredibly well delivered. these girls were not afraid to party…lol

Lust To Love—-Really one of the overlooked songs on this release, it remains a centerpiece for me on the whole release. There is a remarkable dark element to the music and the lyrics..letting you know that this is not all pure fun pop madness. Belinda delivers a vocal that at times is damn dark and menacing. The remarkable magic of the band is still strong…there is a strong pop element to the entire thing…but if you lift the covers and look underneath. you can find the dark and aggression clearly. a pure masterpiece.

This Town—-This was designed to attract everyone from every town…because this song could be about your very home town right? The girls deliver an almost dirty track that is aggressive in nature…but the bass line from Jane gives the entire thing a punk/new wave feel that stayed true to where the girls started. the vocal harmonies almost make it too pretty….the underlying message a but more aggressive than I imagined it back then. This is a pure pop masterpiece…every element…the guitars….the drums…that bass line…the vocal….just incredible.

We Got The Beat—-Meant to be commercial and a massive hit, this kind of steered away from the true message of the band. Of course, it had kids po-going all over the nation. But the song has a dark message to it as well…this fell back into the roots of the band…fast…aggressive and meant to cause mayhem. This is perfect…but I guess I missed the real meaning at the time.

Fading Fast—-Returning to the darker nature of the band….so many of the songs really spoke of Female Empowerment, this is a remarkable track. The vocal harmonies are like a wet dream…never have voices together sounded so incredible. The disappointment that the lyric describes are perfectly transposed in Belinda and her delivery. This is a huge song….the sound…even in 2017 sounds incredible…the harmonies…the bass line…..the drums. This is brilliant.

Automatic—-And again, we keep the concept clear and concise. The dark feel of the song is remarkable…the vehemence that the vocal is delivered with can be no mistake….these might be really pissed off girls…delivering pop mastery set to a wonderful beat. This just shows…that if you trace the roots of the band back to the very beginning….this huge record really never steered far from the original message they were delivering. This is fantastic…..huge…dark…but damn contagious.

You Can’t Walk In Your Sleep [If You Can’t Sleep]—-I love the pop-punk element of this song. The music is jaunty and the joined vocals provide a nice layer to the dark element of the lyrics. The band is so well rehearsed and delivers a stellar performance. Everyone heralds Belinda so much with this band….but damn Jane Weidlin is a fantastic musician. This is a fantastic track.

Skidmarks On My Heart—-Without a doubt, my favorite track on this release. Belinda sounds so damn pissed off when she delivers her vocal. The drums are fucking incredible. The vocal harmonies add a huge feel to the song…but here…yeah…Belinda is the star and she is pissed at the stupid ass Hetero dude….lol.

 

Can’t Stop The World—-Ending the release with the same aggressive pop sensibility that began it, Belinda and the band are in full pogo mode…leaving the sand splashing in your face from the beach as they go in search of the instruments that will make them giants. The drums are fucking magical on this track. Jane and that bass line leads the whole thing…by the end of this classic release…I’m in an exhausted joy.

*****out of 5

Mike Score / Zeebratta

Zeebratta

Michael Gordon “Mike” Score (born 5 November 1957)[1] is an English musician. He is best known as the keyboardistguitarist and lead singer of the new wave bandA Flock of Seagulls. He released a solo album on 1 March 2014 titled Zeebratta.

The Analysis—-

All I Wanna Do—-Let me say right out of the gate, I just ‘discovered’ this solo release the other day…..I was really blown away. I never even knew it existed but since obtaining it, I have indulged at least 50 times. I will never understand why this did not get ANY attention. This opening track is by far what I consider the masterpiece of the release.  This contains every element that made AFOS such a hit in the 80’s. Score delivers a timeless vocal that belies his age. The melody line of the song is contagious as hell. I can’t gush enough about this song…this is pure perfection. Check out the video at the end of the post.

Somebody Like You—-This 2nd track is almost as magnificent as the first. such a strong melody line…aided by the synth from Score produces a classic throwback sound that takes me right into the glorious 80’s. The vocal is clean and crisp and full of emotion. This is a spectacular track that is released back in the band’s heyday would have been a bona fide smash hit. This is brilliant.

Angel—-A fabulous synth line that reminds me of the opening strains of Safety Dance, I still sit here amazed at how crystal clear and perfect Score’s vocal delivery is. This is upbeat…very reminiscent of the glory days…but fresh and showing all the advances in technology.  This is fantastic. There is even a quasi-bagpipe interlude!!!

Xtacy—-Atmospheric and deeper in tone, the synth lines swirls around your head. The vocal is less melodic…almost a spoken word delivery that reminds me of a 80’s Industrial Starter track. Dark and dense….but still fantastic. A great actual guitar solo mid point in the song….Excellent.

The Girl With Black Eyes—-The intro to this track is a bit irritating….the high pitched synth line could easily be omitted. Score delivers a stellar vocal that is magical…once the high pitch disappears and the melody line becomes more apparent, I found myself sucked right back in the mastery of the vocal. The lyrics are intense..the mood dark….just wonderful!

Poor Boy—-More straight forward in the ‘rock sense’, the guitar introduces that song right from the onset. The vocal is WAY removed from the front of the song….placed way back in the mix of shuffling synth lines. This has a lot of layers…which is why I like it so much. This is really nice.

Take Your Time—-A bit of a weaker track, but every release has those right? I love the synth line that runs through the song…the voice is a bit too mellow fro me…I wanted that stronger delivery that attracts me so much. This is still contagious in chorus and melody…and we do get some forceful vocals as the track continues.

I Call Your Name Out—-Delivering an almost trance like feel to the song as it opens up, Score is back in the forefront of the track. This reminds me of material from Story Of A Young Heart. The pulsating beat…mixed with the shuffling synth line gives the song a lot of variety. I like this a lot.

Catsong—-With a gentle reverb filled intro, the vocal is quiet and delivered with a bit of humor to me. This is an odd song for me..it really gives me a different feel…I really think this is about a cat…lol

Home—-This is just brilliant! The swirls of emotions that the synth line produces are incredible…then Score begins to sing…delivering that magnificent dis-embodied feel that makes you feel like he is removed and cold. This has an infectious shuffling quality to the music…and the voice is fantastic. I love this.

Love In—-This has a really nice jaunty feel to it…hand claps and an upbeat flavor that makes you smile. the vocal is a throwback style that reminds me of something I can’t quite put my finger on. This is fantastic…Score seems to be really enjoying this music…that makes everything even better. This has a definite 60’s feel to it…and many references as well.

Money—-A fantastic programmed keyboard line runs through the entire track…giving a very consistent feel to the song. I love that voice…I am just amazed how fresh and wonderful he sounds. This reminds me a lot of classic Depeche Mode…the strange synth and the escalating chorus…I love it.

Valentine—-Again, jaunty and delivery a contagious melody line, this track fits well with the rest of the material on this release. I like the vocal delivery…of course. Score has a way of singing that sounds so sincere…but has a purity to it. The bass line in the song propels it…and the revolving synth line provides the miraculous melody line. The occasional beat breaks in the song keeps everything interesting.

Wasteland—-Sorry to see this release end, hoping that maybe someday, there is still fresh new music inside of the man. This leaves me a bit empty…the song has a desolate and lonely feel to it…but it is still wonderful. There is a bit more guitar noise on this track…a nice surprise….the vocal slow and steady…matching the feel of the lyrics.

****3/4 out of 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Smiths / The Queen Is Dead [Deluxe Edition]

The Queen Is Dead (Deluxe Edition)

The Smiths were an English rock band formed in Manchester in 1982. The band consisted of vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce. Critics have called them the most important alternative rock band to emerge from the British independent music scene of the 1980s. Q magazine’s Simon Goddard argued in 2007 that the Smiths were “the one truly vital voice of the ’80s”, “the most influential British guitar group of the decade” and the “first indie outsiders to achieve mainstream success on their own terms”. The NME named the Smiths the “most influential artist ever” in a 2002 poll, over the Beatles.

Based on the songwriting partnership of Morrissey and Marr, the group signed to the independent record label Rough Trade Records, on which they released four studio albums, The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986) and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987). Four of their albums (including three studio albums) appeared on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. They have also released several compilations, and numerous non-album singles. The Smiths had several singles reach the UK top 20 and all four of their studio albums reached the UK top 5, including one which hit #1. They won a significant following and remain cult favourites, although they had limited commercial success outside the UK while they were still together. The band broke up in 1987 due to internal tensions and have turned down several offers to reunite.

The band’s focus on a guitar, bass, and drum sound, and their fusion of 1960s rock and post-punk, were a repudiation of synthesiser-based contemporary dance-pop – the style popular in the 1980s. Marr’s guitar work, using a Rickenbacker, often had a jangle pop sound reminiscent of Roger McGuinn of the Byrdsand influenced later Manchester bands including the Stone Roses and Oasis. Morrissey’s complex, literate lyrics combined themes about ordinary people with mordant humour. In 2014 and 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

During 1985 the band completed lengthy tours of the UK and the US while recording their next studio record, The Queen Is Dead. The album was released in June 1986, shortly after the single “Bigmouth Strikes Again“. The single again featured Marr’s strident acoustic guitar rhythms and lead melody guitar lines with wide leaps. The Queen Is Dead reached number two in the UK charts, and consisted of a mixture of mordant bleakness (e.g. “Never Had No One Ever”, which seemed to play up to stereotypes of the band), dry humour (e.g. “Frankly, Mr. Shankly”, allegedly a message to Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis disguised as a letter of resignation from a worker to his superior), and synthesis of both, such as in “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Cemetry Gates”.

The Analysis—-

Disc One: The Remaster

The Queen Is Dead—-Beginning with the trademark refrain of Dear Ole Blighty, I question what new I can add to the remarkable reviews of this record over numerous years. I have been a life-long fan of this band…reveling in the British humor, the disdain for the Monarchy and he subtle jabs at Prince Charles. Marr delivers such a fantastic melodic guitar on this track…the drums are a standout…all seeming to wrap around Morrissey’s golden throat…a pure masterpiece.

Frankly Mr. Shankly—-A classic track wrought in a subtle sense of British humor much like Girlfriend In A Coma, this has a tendency to land in your brain and stay there…even when you want to dismiss the beat that drives the song. Short, sweet and full of humor…I never tire of this.

I Know It’s Over—-From the very moment i heard this song, it became a favorite of mine on this release. It is sad..intense…described my feelings at the time perfectly and had a magical subtle 50’s feel to the entire thing. This was magical and I was so pleased to see it preformed live on what was to be the band’s last outing together. This song…huge and masterful, has left an indelible mark on my soul. Morrissey delivers a vocal that is heartbreaking and magical. My God….that voice is like velvet.

Never Had No One Ever—-Morrissey treads familiar ground on this track…full of self pity and the wrath of loneliness, any one is able to wrap themselves around the feel of the song. The sharp tones from Marr’s guitar are incredible…the slow plodding drums add to almost funeral feel of the song. This is magical.

Cemetery Gates—-The British accent really shines on this track does it not? I was pleased when Morrissey began to preform this song again on occasion during his live shows. The music is jaunty and brings to mind the mood of some of the material from Meat Is Murder. Morrissey calls to mind his heroes….Keats, Yates and of course Oscar Wilde. The sardonic and very dark humor of the song is exquisite. It hold the test of time very well.

Bigmouth Strikes Again—-The first proper single released from this record. This is full of a humor that is always underlying the bands songs. The masterful guitar sounds Marr produces are just incredible. You actually feel a bit of bass line on this track…and the drums although pushed to the back of the mix are so important to the feel of the song. Johnny literally makes his guitar sing as well as Morrissey. This is fantastic.

 

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side—-I would suppose Morrissey would fancy himself as the boy he warmly sings about on this track. The music that Marr produces conjures up a certain warmth and comfort…the song swells with a subtle beauty that is still wonderful in sound today. Another magical moment from the band that wanted to rule the world.

Vicar In A Tutu—-This song still conjures up in my brain some kind of silly clip from a black and white B-movie comedy. I’m sure the true meaning of the song probably sailed right over my head…I’m not much for British humor and entendres….it is still a wonderful snippet of hilarity in the history of the band.

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out—-Legend has it that this was a last minute addition to the record and really was not planned. The fact that it is still one of the most beloved Smiths compositions speaks to the genius of the band. This is so nice to hear now that Morrissey preforms it regularly in his solo outings. The music and the voice….manage to come together and create this magical moment that spoke to the kinship of these two genius minds. A beautiful, poignant moment in musical history.

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others—-Another of those tracks I’m not sure whether to take seriously or not. The instrumentation of the song is what does it for me though. Marr delivers a shin, jangly guitar that drives the song. The lazy but important drum line is masterful…matching perfectly with the bass line. This is magical.

Disc Two: Demos and B-Sides

The Queen Is Dead/Full Version—-Omitting the intro of Dear Old Blighty, the classic huge drum intro opens the song and delivers a fairly true to form rendition of the actual recorded track. The guitars from Marr goes on a bit longer…giving a slight psychedelic feel to the song…but for the most part this what we got in the end.

Frankly Mr. Shankly/Demo—-Not really sure the purpose of the inclusion of these so called demos…..there is very little here that is different…it is just a redux of the material we all have. This seems wasteful and a rip-off when so man other things could have been included.

I Know It’s Over/Demo—-No blaring differences on this demo…there are some subtle word differences and it seems like the phrasing from Morrissey is a bit different than on the final cut. Still haunting and beautiful…amazing how good the demos actually were.

Never Had No One Ever/Demo—-Not much variance here..although the song does seem to move at a bit of a slower pace than the final version. The subtle differences are not worthy an entire disc…just my opinion. I do rather love the horns at the end of the song…competing with Morrissey for the spotlight. Very odd ending….I take back the need for necessity of inclusion here….I was surprised.

Cemetery Gates—-Crisp and clean despite being a demo…I notice the heavier bass line right at the onset. Marr seems to have a sound that was pushed back a bit…that would later change. It is an alternate version…that I quite like a bit.

Bigmouth Strikes Again/Demo—-This version sounds very muted and lacking of the crisp clean version that would become the single. Morrissey phrases a bit differently and the music has a darker tone….Marr would brighten up the final cut a bit. There are longer interludes between verses….it is interesting to hear.

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others/Demo—-Offering a really crisp and alternative view into this track, I can’t ignore that bright and jangly guitar introduction that Marr delivers. This is a brilliant piece of music…crashing cymbals and a good minute before Morrissey is even present. Brilliant!

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side/Demo Mix—-Brilliant…but offering very little in variance from the original…..sounds like a redux of the same song.

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out/Take 1—-Again, this pretty much sounds like the track that landed on the original. This just all seems like unnecessary filler to me….are there no unreleased tracks from this band?

Rubber Ring/Single B-Side—-Jaunty and fun, this track really never got the attention that it deserved. I love the vocal delivery from Morrissey…when she delivers that lazy refrain as the chorus…it still brings a smile to my face. Again, I notice the drums and the crisp high notes from Marr…this is a masterpiece.

Asleep/Single B-Side—-Perhaps one of my favorite tracks from this band…it came at a time when my depression and desire to not be here anymore were at a peak..it was like Morrissey was speaking to me directly. This is a romantic look at leaving…but it is delivered with beauty and expertise.

Money Changes Everything/Single B-Side—-Bright and incredibly shiny, this showcases every element of the band in a well defined way. Of course you have Marr…who never made a misstep….but the bass line is huge on this instrumental….and you realize how important the drums were to the entire feel of the band. No wonder they wanted their 25%!!! This is fantastic.

Unloveable/Single B-Side—-Another under-rated track to spoke to the Morrissey persona in a magical way…this should have been front and center on a proper release. This is beautiful in feel…true to the direction of the band…and an important part of the Morrissey mystique. This is a classic and wonderful track.

Disc Three: Live In Boston

How Soon Is Now—-For me personally, this is the most important song The Smiths ever recorded. Meant to be a B-Side, who could imagine it would become a cornerstone in the band’s career. The layers and layers of emotional guitar are just as important as the pleading vocal from Morrissey. This is a moment in history…a perfect snapshot for many who instantly fell in love with the enigmatic Morrissey.

Hand In Glove—-Travelling back to the early days of the band and the magical almost rock-a-billy feel that greeted us with this very first single from the band. This was such a magical time for me as I discovered British bands and the alternative to Hair Metal that was so prevalent. This is triumphant.

I Want The One I Can’t Have—-There was a true part of my immature self that convinced me Morrissey sang this song just for me. Adolescence and young adulthood is full of wanton feelings that are never returned and this song spoke directly to me. Fuckin Brilliant!

Never Had No One Ever—-Playing very well live, the audience seems to lack a bit of a response…but at the time this was all brand new. Morrissey is able to perfectly reproduce record to live….a true plus for the band.

Stretch Out And Wait—-Besides the title track, this is perhaps my favorite track from Meat Is Murder. Again, considering the time and place the song ha a unique meaning to me…calling all of the loneliness and wanton lust from my very soul and making me feel like someone really understood.

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side—-Again. lacking a bit of audience response, the song plays very well live….Morrissey delivers a spot on vocal that is the best I have ever heard. This is brilliant.

Cemetery Gates—-Brilliant….Marr brings his jangle to the live setting with pure perfection. The drums in this live setting are perfect…maturity makes you pay attention to what is going on onstage…the band is playing so tight and masterful. This was a golden time.

Rubber Ring/What She Said/Rubber Ring—-With a slight lazy pace to the music, everything seems so relaxed and fun as the song begins…the bass guitar really standing out then the barrage of drums as What She Said begins to take shape. Delivered with a vocal urgency that makes me break out in goosebumps, this is perfect.

Is It Really So Strange?—-Never a favorite track of mine, it seems like these little tracks that were emerging were beginning to show the weather taking place inside of the band. This is an acceptable rendition…it still stands up well…I have always felt it was a bit uninspired.

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out—-Morrissey sounds literally pitch perfect as he delivers this track that would become so important to the legions of fans that embraced the band to this day. This is perfection in every way….Marr….the drums….the emotional voice….it’s truly a perfect storm.

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore—-Another classic track from the Meat Is Murder sessions, this plays so well live…the sentiment of the song..plays perfectly into the ‘Morrissey World’…..this live version is a bit different…slower and with a few different chords…but still masterful and as meaningful as ever.

The Queen Is Dead—-The huge drum intro gets a fantastic crowd response. Live this song travels much faster than the recorded version…Morrissey seems almost exhausted trying to keep up with the blistering pace. This is so much more muscular and powerful…I love this live rendition.

I Know It’s Over—-Ending this live performance in the best way possible, this allows for a gentle cool down for the audience and reminds us why we love the band so. I could not possibly conjure up a better ending for this show…masterful…beautiful and haunting.

*****out of 5

 

 

 

 

Tom Petty / Hard Promises

Hard Promises (Remastered)

Hard Promises is the fourth album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released in May, 1981.

I decided to make this release my Tom Petty tribute…it was and still is my favorite release from this iconic performer. Although there were many, many great songs, for me this was a cohesive and incredibly emotional record…..so it is my choice.

The Analysis—-

The Waiting—-There is something incredibly magical about the Mike Campbell sound on the guitar. When the intro to this begins…there is no doubt what band this is. Petty delivers a vocal that is so nasally and punchy….I fall in love again every time I re-listen to this record. There is a slight urgency to the song….it moves fast and Petty seems rushed at times…but damn is it a classic!

A Woman In Love [It’s Not Me]—-Again with that trademark Heartbreakers sound! Petty delivers a nasally vocal that makes me want to tell him to open his mouth when he sings…lol. But the melody of this song….damn…it catches your brain and drags you right in…you can’t escape the lazy, bluesy feel of the track…this is exquisite.

 

Nightwatchman—-With a funky guitar delivery, the vocal still manages to shine though over the music. Mid second bar, the Campbell sound opens up the track…and then delves right into the funky free flowing delivery of the song. I love the almost ‘experimental’ sound of this track…this was all brand new to me as a Junior in High School…but I fell in love.

Something Big—-A magnificent gentle opening to the track takes you on a journey before the vocal even begins. Petty enters with his vocal…a slight echo seemingly to resonant from every word. Petty delivers a vocal that has a nice Country drawl to it that never gets old….the entire track reeks of Country…..lazy, laid back…but filled with a magical summer sunshine.

Kings Road—-Delving again into an almost Rock/Country sound, I am still amazed at how comfortable Petty sounds with the music that is being produced….no surprise considering the releases that were to follow. The guitars on this track are very big….but they never seem to overpower the vocal….this is rockabilly, rock and Country all rolled into one song.

Letting You Go—-Sounding much in the same vein as the opening track, Petty sings clearer than I had heard in quite sometime. This is a lazy….catchy…almost contagious track that lives on the remarkable chorus. This is catchy as hell…..the finest ‘mainstream’ track from Petty to date. The melody and the joined vocals give a huge 80’s feel to the song….just brilliant.

 

A Thing About You—-Instantly switching the mood and delivering  a track that screams with urgency and want, this is a favorite of mine. You notice the lack of the nasal tone on this track….Petty sings to fast to use his nose…lol. This is brilliant….strong…aggressive and delivered with an intention.

Insider ft. Stevie Nicks—-In the rock world, there are seldom to voices that blend together with the magical results of Petty and Nicks. This track is incredible…heartbreaking…..beautiful and delivered in a magical moment in the studio. This will ALWAYS remain a favorite track of mine…..above all else.

 

The Criminal Kind—-Off again in full Petty mode, this seems to hearken back to the very early days of the Heartbreaker sound. You can just see Campbell jamming on his guitar. The keyboards add a dirty kind of bluesy sound that is irresistible….a magical moment….for me, there is not one bad track on this release.

You Can Still Change Your Mind—-Incredibly poignant….perhaps my favorite Tom Petty song EVER…..this track never really truly leaves my mind…it was so relatable to me at the moment….I felt like it was a song written just for me…his is a masterpiece of a song. Brilliant….sad….touching…meaningful…..I will miss the man! And that little Nicks additive at the end…..magical!

***** out of 5