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Friday, November 12, 2010

WHICH ONE'S PINK?


The first time I ever heard Pink Floyd was at a friend's house in the early 70s. The album was Dark Side of the Moon and the song was Time. I can tell you when the clocks started ringing, I literally jumped out of my skin. What the hell was that? From then on, I was hooked! 

Just before I started my National Service, the band released The Wall and for the next six months, I practically listened to nothing else. It seemed to make sense of the "prison" of NS that I found myself in and related totally to the alienation and isolation express in The Wall.

Of course, I basically bought up anything with the Pink Floyd name that I could find and subsequently discovered Syd Barrett. Barrett was the genius that founded Pink Floyd and gave it its signature early trippy psychedelic rock sound. Barrett's one real album with Pink Floyd - Piper At the Gates of Dawn - is essential listening to understand all the psychedelic rock that followed - and that includes the Flaming Lips, of course.

I also learned that by the time The Wall was released, Pink Floyd was a band in name only as bassist-writer Roger Waters had taken over the band and believed himself to be Pink! Waters would release a solo album under the Pink Floyd name called The Final Cut before quitting the band. Remaining members David Gilmour and Nick Mason (Rick Wright was sacked by Waters before The Wall!) surprised Waters to release two commercially successful albums - A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, much to Waters' chagrin.

With Wright's recent demise, Pink Floyd is effectively no more but its influence on rock music will never fade away. Bands from Radiohead to Dream Theater (and more) owe a debt to its progressive-space rock approach. 














Saturday, October 30, 2010

SIN CITY


Written by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, this country-rock classic was penned about LA but read the lyrics below and see if it can't be applied to SINgapore CITY as well...

This old town is filled with sin,
It'll swallow you in
If you've got some money to burn.
Take it home right away,
You've got three years to pay
But Satan is waiting his turn

This old earthquake's gonna leave me in the poor house.
It seems like this whole town's insane
On the thirty-first floor your gold plated door
Won't keep out the Lord's burning rain

The scientists say
It'll all wash away
But we don't believe any more
Cause we've got our recruits
And our green mohair suits
So please show you ID At the door.

A friend came around.
Tried to clean up this town,
His ideas made some people mad.
But he trusted his crowd,
So he spoke right out loud
And they lost the best friend they had

On the thirty-first floor your gold plated door
Won't keep out the Lord's burning rain

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

UNSATISFIED


Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
Was you satisfied? 
Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
Hey, are you satisfied? 


After albums filled with punk-fueled material delivered at breakneck speed, Replacements' singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg decided to take the foot off the pedal and reach deep inside himself to compose reflective, angst-ridden songs of sadness and disaffection. That's where Westerberg became the "spokesman of his generation" as the cliche is often framed.

On 4th album, Let It Be, the opening track of Side B - Unsatisfied - is probably not one of Westerberg's most melodic songs but boy, does it hit you between the eyes with its melancholy heart. From the acoustic guitar opening to its basic strident format, everything about the song screams the disappointing death of dreams. The wistfulness of the slide guitar underpins Westerberg's wails about The Who's mythical "teenage wasteland" as he asks his listeners (and perhaps himself), "Hey, are you satisfied?"before he confesses what he is holding in the recesses of his soul - 

I’m so, I’m so unsatisfied
I’m so dissatisfied
I’m so, I’m so unsatisfied
I’m so unsatisfied


A simple message but yet so damn powerful... the power of pop.

Monday, September 27, 2010


RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN: POSTPUNK 1978-1984
By Simon Reynolds
(Faber & Faber)
www.faber.co.uk

It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? As musical cycles go, the last few years has seen the re-emergence of post punk 20 years after it faded away as bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Editors, Kaiser Chiefs, Stellastarr*, the Killers et al begin to dominate the airwaves and the modern rock landscape.

Thus, Simon Reynolds’ tome on that particular golden age (1978-1984), is certainly timely… and timing is everything.

Speaking of timing, that era is special to me as it was about the time that I began seriously collecting albums and buying rock magazines, in particular the British kind e.g. NME, Sounds, Record Mirror. So reading Rip It Up and Start Again was a satisfying and nostalgic ride.

That said, Simon Reynolds’ evaluation of what was worthy of inclusion in this book probably coincides rather faithfully with what the NME was championing in those halcyon days. Therefore, the likes of PiL, Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, the Fall, Gang of Four, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu, The Pop Group etc get loads of attention whilst personal favourites of mine (e.g. XTC, The Jam, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, The Police etc) get very short shrift. So, déjà vu then…

Other than that reservation, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who may want to know more about the roots of the current revival. Not only that, it is a wonderful introduction to many obscure bands that deserve closer examination like The Associates, Magazine, Japan, Meat Puppets, Mission of Burma (who have a new album out!), Minutemen etc. A-


(from 2006)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


POWER OF POP INTERVIEW: STEVE WYNN

I actually managed to get in touch (via e-mail) with the subject of our attention - singer-songwriter extraordinaire Steve Wynn and he graciously agreed to answer certain queries I had to make this edition of POWER OF POP INTERVIEW a special one indeed!

Wynn is perhaps best known for fronting the seminal alternative rock outfit The Dream Syndicate, which have been described as “at the foundation (alongside the Velvet Underground, Stooges and REM.) of contemporary alternative music.” When asked about his feelings about that part of his life, Wynn responded – “It was a very exciting time.   If you are lucky enough to have a long music career you gain various skills and perspective and friends and workmates but you never regain that wild thrill of the first time you saw a record you made or the first time you saw your name in a newspaper article or the first time you played to an insanely enthusiastic audience.   Those thrills remain in various forms but never as heady as the first time. And we (the Syndicate, REM, Green On Red, Bangles) were all sharing it at the same time.”

The Syndicate’s debut platter, Days of Wine and Roses was critically lauded but their subsequent albums viz. Medicine Show and Out of the Grey were given short shrift as Wynn adopted a rootsier sound, exchanging Lou Reed inflections for Neil Young, prompting the more caustic critics to remark that “Wynn indulged an embarrassing Bruce Springsteen fixation on later releases,” though with hindsight the Syndicate (together with Sid Griffin’s Long Ryders) certainly pre-empted the “No Depression” movement of the 1990s.

Wynn’s own view on this development - “Ah, people always are fearful of change and don't begin to fully accept the change until you change courses once again and build nostalgia for the intermediary change (follow that?)   I think anyone who has been around for a long time gets used to the constant evaluation and then reevaluation of the career.    I can't say that I had that much of an influence on the “No Depression” movement (though I think the Long Ryders are one of the biggest influences) but I am glad to see that great bands like Luna, Yo La Tengo and others took some of the things we did just as we took various things from bands like the Velvets, Stooges and Modern Lovers.”

But Steve Wynn is now a bona fide solo artist and with the 1999 album My Midnight, he had actually released more albums as a solo artist (six) than with Dream Syndicate. Does it bother him that his name cannot be mentioned without some reference to Dream Syndicate?

“I remember thinking that I would make one, maybe two solo albums and never have to see the words 'Dream Syndicate' attached to any of my shows or records.   10 years later the band is still part of my calling card and I am neither surprised or disheartened as I have come to realize how much that band meant to so many people, me included.   In fact whenever I am asked in interviews about the 'record that changed your life' I always say 'The Days of Wine and Roses,' which is the obvious truth."

Having spent a decade as a solo artist, Wynn feels that he is “always trying to get better.  I do honestly think that 'My Midnight' was my best album which is very heartening.  I am going into the studio in September (2000) to make a new album and will feel the challenge to go one step further once again.”

Indeed, My Midnight is a wonderful album. “Nothing but the shell” is a great opening track with its sheer power – “just the sound of a good band moving together in a very natural way.” Wynn offers and the placing of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and ”Neil Young & Crazy Horse” in the same verse, Wynn attributes to “just some perverse humor and a take on dysfunctional families.”

The main strength of “My Midnight” is its eclecticism ("Cats & Dogs" – a prime example, a great pop moment that changes the mood from the first track. This is important to Wynn – “I'd rather be hated than boring.    Not that such a sweet song about such sweet animals could inspire hate.   I do see albums as some kind of narrative journey and have always felt that sequencing is as important an ingredient as any part of the record making.”

The title track is slinky and feline like the night - very evocative. Wynn elaborates – “the phrase 'My Midnight' isn't time-specific but rather the moment of the darkest parts of your soul, the time when all foundation shifts and sinks and you are left with doubts and confusion.   It can happen at noon, it can last for months.”

As a finale, I asked Wynn to describe his music – “For 'My Midnight' I was very interested in big, symphonic records from the 1960s like Gene Pitney, Richard Harris, Love and even various bubblegum classics. Tried for a soundtrack feeling and I think the next record will be more stripped down and haphazard. Most likely. I always hate to describe my music to other people as I usually get it wrong.   Best to leave it to the critics and then the rebuttal from the fans.”

‘Nuff said!

(Originally published in 2000)


Sunday, September 19, 2010


THE POWER OF POP INTERVIEW - XAVIER BOYER (TAHITI 80)

"We wanted to make a modern-traditional pop album! "

French pop has not been held in the highest esteem in international pop circles compared to their neighbors across the Channel or even (of late) compared to Scandinavia BUT the improbably monikered Tahiti 80 is doing their damndest to change all that. AND based on their new shiny, funky pop album - Puzzle - they just might pull it off! In the hot seat for the band -- singer-songwriter Xavier Boyer.

How did the name "Tahiti 80" come about? Anything to do with "Brasil 66"?

The name of the band comes from a T-shirt that friends of my dad brought him back from Tahiti in 1980. Pretty simple, isn't it? We chose that name because it could be understood by anybody, in any language.  I don't know any band called Brasil 66, but I do know a British band in the late 80' s whose name was Mexico 70. I think it sounds good but what I like about our name is that it' s not connected to soccer or anything.

When and where did the band form?

We met in Rouen (the town where Joan of Ark was burnt), back in 1995. We basically met in the hall of the university.

As a French band, why did you decide to sing in English? Do you sing in French as well?

No, we don't. We tried to sing in French at some point  because of the pressure from record companies ( you have to play 40% of French music on the radio in France, it 's a law! ), but it didn't sound natural. Our musical culture is Anglo Saxon, I' ve listened more to the Beatles than to Serge Gainsbourg, even if "Melody Nelson " is one of my favourite albums. Looking back, I don' t think we decided anything, the first time I picked up a guitar I started to sing in English. I think it is the most appropriate language when you want to play pop music, like Spanish is for salsa, etc...

At the moment, the French pop scene is better known for its electronic pop artists like Kid Loco, Daft Punk and Air, are there other French pop bands like Tahiti 80?

Yes, bands like Fugu, Maarten or Calc sing in English and share with us the nostalgia for " traditional " songwriting and arrangements. Though, I wouldn't say we are prophets in our own country!

Do you feel out of place in the French pop scene?

It 's a fact that we feel much closer to Swedish bands like the Cardigans or Eggstone, or Belgian bands like dEUS or Soulwax for instance, than to other French acts. If you consider the recent years, it' s true that the electronic artists were the only ones to experience international success. I think we 're just another branch from the "new" French music scene.

What kind of music influenced the making of "Puzzle"? Who are your musical heroes?

Actually, anything from the 60's till today. We are huge fans of bands like the Left Banke, The Zombies, Big Star, XTC, The Pale Fountains, The Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, The Boo Radleys, Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers, Stereolab...and many more. Our idea was to write "classical" pop songs, yet we didn't want them to sound like they were recorded in 1968 or 1974. We wanted to make a modern-traditional pop album! That' s why we use string quartets and electronic programming on some of our songs.

How long did it take to record "Puzzle"? Was it a difficult process?

We spent 1 month and 10 days at Stratosphere, NYC to  record it. I think everything came pretty easily. The general mood was harmonious, that's quite important when you' re into melodic tunes (laughs)!

How did you hook up with American artists like Eric Matthews and Adam Schlesinger?

Adam plays bass in Ivy, the band of Andy Chase, our producer. He was often in the studio so it was easy to ask him to play keyboard on 2 songs. We are great fans of Eric Matthews, and we had one song that needed a trumpet player. Andy immediately thought of Eric so we sent him some rough mixes. He agreed to cross the States to record with us. It remains one of the great moments of the sessions. I wouldn't say he's one of our idols, but having this guy that we respect so much on "Puzzle" means a lot to us.

Do you have any problems with playing a so-called archaic style (i.e. guitar pop) in year 2000?

What for? We' d like to prove that you can still make interesting music with guitars . The difficult thing is to admit  that it' s quite impossible to invent anything, and  that the only thing  one has to do is take some risks ( i.e. not only repeating what the Beatles have already done) and  try to do something personal.

Is "Mr Davies" about Ray Davies of the Kinks? If so, what inspired the song?

When you open a Dictionary of pop music, you read Ray Davies close to the word songwriter. He wrote (writes?) great songs with great lyrics, my idea was to talk of him like he told the story of Arthur, Victoria, David Watts...It' s also me comparing myself to him. Of course, he has won the
match ! It' s also a song about all those British rock stars ( though I know Ray doesn't live there) who went to live in California, and who can't write good songs anymore. What has happened in the 70's?

Who listens to your records and comes to your gigs?

People wearing leather jackets and beatle boots...no. I don't know, it's quite varied, they can be pop fans always looking for new bands, girls who have seen our faces on T.V, guys in their late 30's nostalgic of the good old days,or 30 year old girls who watch musical channels and read the N.M.E.

How do Tahiti 80 intend to achieve world domination?

For our next effort we plan to record subliminal lines like " I wanna give all my money to Tahiti 80", or " Tahiti 80 is the best", like on those old Queen's and Led Zep 's album. It was good for them, it will be good for us.

How is Tahiti 80 promoting "Puzzle"?

The album has been released in France last October, we 've almost been on a "never ending tour" since. It still remains confidential in France but  I think something is happening here, our video is played on TV (the single is "Heartbeat"), more people come to our shows . We' re doing quite well in the Benelux, proportionally we sell more records than we do in our own country ."Puzzle" is going to be released in Japan through JVC on April 21st, and in the U.S. via Minty Fresh on May 9th .We've got also good contacts in Britain and in other European countries. So hopefully(?), we 're going to promote "Puzzle" in a lot of different countries this year.


(Interview conducted in 2000 or 2001, I cannot remember!)


THE FLAMING LIPS
At War With The Mystics
(Warners)

“If you could blow up the world with the flick of a switch/Would you do it?” 

Ladies and gentlemen, I do believe that the beginnings of a Flaming Lips backlash is upon us all. Many critics when reviewing At War With The Mystics point to the opening “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” as a sign that powers of the Flaming Lips is now in decline. Sure, it’s cheesy to the nth degree but deceptively so with a melodic structure that even Paul McCartney might chaff at but contains lyrics that John Lennon himself would have been proud to pen. No one sugar coats a protest song better than the Flaming Lips!

The funky “Free Radicals” takes a pot shot at someone with a bad attitude and who would not last without his (or her) bodyguards (anyone you might know?) “The Sound of Failure” is an apologetic exercise in soft pop dynamics – “So go tell Britney and go tell Gwen/She’s not trying to go against all of them” being particularly cryptic yet knowing. To these ears, the Lips muse is still alive and kicking…and add the space age pastoral hymn that is “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion,” the catchy cry for help that is “It Overtakes Me/The Stars Are So Big I Am So Small…Do I Stand A Chance?” and the closing hopeful ballad that is “Goin’ On” to the overall goodness and what one gets is a great Flaming Lips album.

Perhaps what has irritated these critics is the subtle shift into more familiar prog rock stylings that can be found on mainly instrumental tracks like “The Wizard Turns On…” and “Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung.” Too bad. As far as I am concerned, the Flaming Lips are now a law unto themselves and whilst At War With The Mystics  never holds a candle to The Soft Bulletin and we all expected them going in but together with Yoshimi Battles the Red Robots, indicates that the Flaming Lips will not simply fade into the psychedelic-coloured sunset. A

(This review was published in 2006)