The 13th.3 - TDWS #19 Podcast - 20 tracks and some natter. A couple from The Trusted, Lana Del Rey, a pair from the Volstead Orchestra, Laura Marling, Lambchop sing Prince, Rosalie Cunningham sing The Beatles, At The Drive In, Brett Anderson, Steve Gunn sings The Smiths, JoBoxers, Madeline Peyroux and Rickie Lee Jones sing David Essex, two from Beck, Strand of Oaks sing Phish and The Stone Roses, The Everly Brothers and Radiohead.
Here be the 13th.2, TDWS #18. Within you will find, Underworld, the full length T2 tracks, The Jesus and Mary Chain album preview, Loads of anti trumpism from Gorillaz, The Arcade Fire, the new protest song from Depeche Mode, a further track from Ryan Adams new LP and Ryan sings Radiohead, Paul Weller's soundtrack song. New stuff from BNQT, Future Islands, Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales, and Goldfrapp. Benjamin Clementine sings Nick Drake, the Thames Delta's Cheap Joint, A couple from Martha Wainwright, U2 from the telly in 1982 and the mystery of Television and Brian Eno.
My daughter Amy, Martha Wainwright and me.
This is ‘The 13th’, or you might want to call it Thames Delta World Service #17. A new podcast for a new year. Enclosed within, Muse sing the Cramps, George Michael Sings the Beatles, Mark Kozelik sings Bowie, Bruce Springsteen sings U2 (with U2). There’s classic b-sides by the Stray Cats, Joe Jackson, Embrace and Suede. 2017 album previews from Laura Marling, Ryan Adams and Elbow. There’s also some Martin Stephenson and the Daintees, Paul Simon Unplugged, The early Pink Floyd, PJ Harvey, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Depeche Mode. And of course there’s Bowie.
The Twelve Days of Bowie
This coming 8th January would’ve been David Bowie’s 70th Birthday. So, let’s shake the seasonal cobwebs away with a dubiously seasonally linked ‘Twelve Days of Bowie’ call to action. Starting Wednesday 28th December finishing on the 8th January post your twelve most favourite Bowie songs and tag ‘30Day David Bowie Song Challenge’ and #12DOB so others can find your posts. 28th – 5th can be a bubbling under selection, some of your faves in no particular order. 6th -8th post your 3,2,1 so the great man’s birthday itself will find the internet chocca with Bowie’s finest. Post video links if you wish, but say a little as to what the song means to you or why it’s such a favourite. Tell your Bowie loving friends, spread the word!
This is Martha Wainwright’s fourth album of original songs since and including her 2005 eponymous debut, and until now her career highlight has arguably been 2009’s album of Edith Piaf songs. As a fan since her early releases I’ve always longed for an album that carried the quality of the early EP’s ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole’ title track. And at long last here it is. Made with her long-time producer, collaborator, husband and father of her children, Brad Alberta, her powerful voice is given free rein to pour from these songs in the fluid, languid way that more often than not has seemed at an arm’s length away.
Opener ‘Around The Bend’ is an end of year mixtape cert, an organic, high on drama and melody with a bitter sweet lyric killer of a song. There’s a tip of the hat to Patti Smith, but it stamps Martha Wainwrights personality as the indisputable core of this album, a point that is driven home with ‘Franci’, a mother’s love song to her child. This kind of song can easily be mawkish without effort but this song avoids these pitfalls, mainly as it is such a wonderful tune and lyrically avoids becoming to sugary, despite it repeated refrain ‘Everything about you is wonderful’.
‘Traveller’ is song about a friend who passed way from cancer, bandmate Thomas Bartlett’s brother and in particular how dead people stay with us after they’ve gone. It’s touching and fragile, but powerful and understated too. It’s a fine piece of crafted songwriting and carries the line ‘And you won the race and you were furthest from last’ without making you cringe. ‘Look Into My Eyes’ is a family composition with Martha’s aunt Anna McGarrigle and cousin Lily, it floats over a trickling synth hook and a French refrain, with jazz infused piano and saxophone. The album is both contemporary in that it sounds fresh but timeless in that it could have been written and recorded and any time in the last forty years or so, something that only the best music can claim to pull off. ‘Before The Children Came Along’ is an autobiographical love song about Martha and husband Brad. Vocally it is supreme, it encompasses jazz, folk, art rock leanings and vocal gymnastics without a sideways glance and just as you wait to see where it takes you next ‘Window’ returns us to Martha’s children, this time eldest son Archangelo, a song written in response to his jealousy at Martha’s brother Rufus’ song about his younger sibling, ‘Francis’. The song moves around on a winding uncertain path but is infused with focus and purpose.
‘Piano Music’ is a poem by author and poet Michael Ondaatje (‘The English Patient’) set to music by co-producer Bartlett. It’s faintly Brechtian and sparse, a brief interlude and a thing of heavy beauty. ‘Alexandria’ follows, written by Beth Orton, I’d love to say it’s subject matter was the broken haven in ‘The Walking Dead’ but I‘d be making that up, so I won’t. ‘So Down’ is a guitar, bass, drum laden melodramatic rock song, with a Bowieesque sax gluing everything together. It’s a change of feeling and style for the album, but the voice remains strong and impressive, and the track is somehow another album highlight, a powerful, torrent of song, that threaten to burst the banks yet never quite reaches a level of panic required to push it over the edge.
‘One Of Us’ starts with piano and powerful crystal voice, it is classic songsmith balladry in the vein of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and it has a drop dead spot on vocal. ‘Take the Reins’ is modern pop, over minimal beats, it has the ghostly feel of a latter-day Radiohead classic, and brings something completely different to the album, whilst meeting the quality set by all that’s preceded it. ‘Francis’ is the Rufus penned song for Martha’s youngest. It has Rufus’ stylings all over it, so much so you can almost hear him vocalising it. There is also a bonus track in some territories and it’s wonderful. A slow, smoky orchestral broody song, ‘Somehow’ is quite different in mood from much of the main album, but I wish it was on my UK CD, because it is splendid.
And there it is, the one of the albums of the year that I’ve always wanted Martha Wainwright to put out is finally here. There are few records this year to touch this, and with this she truly steps out of Rufus’ shadow and becomes the Wainwright sibling to be bettered. A great collection.
So here I sit on a Sunday, nearly 48 hours after my first chance to listen to what many are billing as the last new David Bowie studio recordings have been available for me to play from CD, and I still haven’t been able to listen. I mean, if I listen to them will I ever get to hear anything new and unheard from the man ever again? Maybe not, but then again maybe yes. We know there is Bowie stuff in the vaults, we know other songs were recorded for ‘Blackstar’, and a read of a Danny McCaslin interview in the current music monthlies confirm that there is at least one more mixed and mastered complete track that has not been swept up in this release and also that these tracks whilst recorded during the ‘Blackstar’ sessions with the same band were not necessarily the last ones recorded, hence I’m referring to them here as the Most Recent Studio Recordings from David Bowie as the packaging itself does, not the final or last etc. So, with that in mind I’m ready to listen. Bowie unleashed these three songs into the world via ‘Lazarus’ the musical first so that’s how I’m going to hear them first, cast recordings then onto Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ band recordings.
‘No Plan’ at track six is the first to appear, sung by Sophia Anne Caruso. It sounds like a show tune, almost Disney Princess like, a song of aspiration for peace and calm outside of the realities of the world, to soothe and ease. ‘Killing A Little Time’ (tr.12) sung by Michael C. Hall is more recognisable as a song from the pen of Bowie, there’s anger and desire to be alone but in a far different way from ‘No Plan’. People will analyse the lyrics as more death song from Bowie, but remember these were written for ‘Lazarus’ the musical, purpose written to expand on the story being told, so the lines ‘I've got a handful of songs to sing, To sting your soul, To fuck you over’ might not be self-referencing, or maybe they’re knowingly double edged? ‘When I Met You’ (tr.18) is delivered by Hall again with Krystina Alabado, it displays plenty of Bowie-esque rock song construction traits and an intertwining lyric of the effect of one person on another in a life changing way. The three tracks here in Original Cast form have certainly got me wanting to hear the Bowie versions even more and stand up us great music in their own right.
The Bowie disc kicks off with ‘Lazarus’ itself, the only ‘Blackstar’ track that appears in the musical, so we’re already familiar with it and its creepy, sad and humbling video. The ‘By the time I got to New York, I was living like a king…’ line is already up there with some of my favourite Bowie moments, lyrically, aurally and visually. This is the same album version, a fantastic song and prepares the way after listening to the Cast Recordings for the Bowie ‘Blackstar’ band versions of the three songs above that follow in exactly the same order. ‘Lazarus’ grinds to halt in its familiar way and ‘No Plan’ staggers in, here it’s shorn of its show tune stylings and sounds like it could’ve fitted into ‘Blackstar’ seamlessly, and more crushingly really sound like a message from beyond the grave from Bowie (I hate to draw that picture, it sounds too easy to say that, but that’s what it sounds like). How could lines like ‘Here, there's no music here, I'm lost in streams of sound, Here, am I nowhere now? No plan’ sound like anything else? A sister track to ‘Where Are We Now?’ though fuller and more fleshed out, after one listen its effect on me is more emotional than anything from ‘Blackstar’ on first listen, but then Bowie was still alive when I first played that album. ‘Killing A Little Time’ has already been written about as a nod to Bowie’s past (Ziggy type chiming guitar refrains etc.) and whilst that is there it’s also infused with the restless energy and spirit that informed ‘Blackstar’ to its roots. It’s far rockier than anything from that album, much more in line with the latter parts of ‘The Next Day’ album, but for me I would still have loved it to have been sequenced into ‘Blackstar’, it would definitely have complemented the album rather than jarred against it, perhaps at track 4 following ‘Lazarus’? Then ‘When I Met You’, (for now?) the last new Bowie song we may get to hear. Not cast here as a semi-duet, Bowie wrestles the vocal counterparts against his own deep in the mix backing vocals, it’s hard to see where this could have fit into ‘Blackstar’ though I’d still have liked it to form a part of a 10-track album. It’s thrilling, a little clunky, disordered, punky, untidy and all the more perfect for it. It’s a great affirmation that Bowie was creatively right back on it in his final years which make it all the sadder as we’d all’ve liked to see what might have happened next.
So, this final EP of four Bowie songs finishes, it is worthy of being a final offering, it’s strong and there’s no let up of the quality of the more recent Bowie recordings. I think ‘Blackstar’ would have been strengthened with the inclusion of these tracks, though perhaps made slightly more imperfect, but then that’s the charm of these songs by definition. They are great, but they can’t be perfect, because a full stop to Bowies life, career, music and creativity is hard to accept as perfect or faultless through the negative aspects of what those very words imply. But if you’ve enjoyed latter-day Bowie or simply clever, intuitive, finely crafted modern day alternative rock then you’ll love these songs.
Thirty years since they formed, the Pixies release their sixth album proper, the second since reforming in 2004 and the first since then recorded as an album (2014’s ‘Indie Cindy’ was a collection of EP’s). Despite the stop and slow start nature of their career trajectory there is still a flow to their recordings, not least visibly as British designer Vaughan Oliver heads the design of their releases still. And there is a flow in the music too.
Still nurturing the bass heavy beats and highly influential style of indie rock that they did all those years ago, ‘Head Carrier’ opens with its title track which could have been lifted from almost any point of their recording life. Lyrically not as dense as earlier songs this still manages to carry off being a song about a guy who is beheaded by a three headed monster but who then carries his head six miles down to the river before dying. ‘Classic Masher’ attempts to be just that, it’s a foot stomper with a much simpler lyric and though original bassist Kim Deal has departed, replacement Paz Lenchantin reproduces her style and backing vocal ability easily (the Pixies only do female bassists with ebullient childlike backing vocals). ‘Baal’s Back’ is much more screamy Pixies, and to me is all the better for it. The Pixies have always stood out more when at their most challenging and noisy, but this soon gives way to the more ordered ‘Might As Well Be Gone’, promising a classic Pixies quiet loud quiet ploy however it stays quiet (well melodic anyway) even as the chorus kicks in. ‘Oona’ channels its inner ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ vibe carrying it off very nicely and underlines the intent of the band to try and outperform their own best, 1989’s ‘Doolittle’. They don’t carry it off it has to be said, but this collection sits there at least with the two albums that followed ‘Doolittle’ as the original incarnation never really managed to surpass that albums promise. ‘Talent’ is again more formula Pixies, it’s OK but it’s not standout.
The albums second half (side two?) kicks off with ‘Tenement Song’ and is the most mildly paced bit of music here so far. Like many of the songs so far it’s a piece of music about music, again, it’s not bad, but it doesn’t smell of classic either. And so it is with ‘Bel Esprit’. ‘All I Think About Now’ is the song that most steals from the band past here, which says something as its sung by the bands newest member and is basically a thank you letter to founding member Kim Deal. It’s a lovely tribute, and an album highlight. As is ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ the albums lead single. When I first heard this back in July I was little (shrug of the shoulders’ ‘OK…?’, but this track has grown on me, it’s a bit more mindless, heads down boogie, and benefits from not being overthought. The album reels to a rapid close with ‘Plaster of Paris’ and ‘All The Saints’. One a sprightly pop song and the other an interesting half song. And after 34 minutes the album is over. It doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, and in that sense it is a proper album in the classic sense of the art form.
On first listen, I was a little underwhelmed by ‘Head Carrier’, there seemed to be not enough memorable about it, and the band seemed too self-referential. A couple of listens later and without concentrating on it fully there seemed to be an approachable easy feel to things, the hooks were coming through. Sitting down and listening to it properly again I’m certainly more appreciative than I was on first listen. Though for me, ‘Indie Cindy’, the album that wasn’t an album was more the sound of a band pushing themselves to be relevant far more than ‘Head Carrier’ is, it’s still good, but not career defining and not the masterpiece that many long-time Pixies fans would’ve hoped for, not even really paving the way for a masterpiece next time out. But that is the joy and unpredictability of music, who’s to say that Pixies album number seven won’t be chock full of great tunes and crazy words? Here’s hoping.
Amazingly, this is the Divine Comedy’s 27th year, and their eleven albums span 26 of those years. This is the first since 2010’s ‘Bang Goes the Knighthood’ although Neil Hannon has also put out a second Duckworth Lewis Method album and dabbled in opera and classical pieces in the intervening years. This though is a welcome return from Hannon in his main guise and is possibly the highest quality Divine Comedy release to date.
Everything you’d want is here, lascivious artwork, humorous history referencing lyrics, orchestral pop production and fabulous crooning. Other musicians are involved but Hannon has a go at everything himself too. The title track is a vocal arrangement masterpiece, a highlight, not just of this album but of the musical year. It’s a rich tale, almost a shanty of a pining for paradise, and the chorale refrain of ‘What are we looking for…’ is a true show stealer. The lead single ‘Catherine the Great’ is the best historical song since Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’, it ought to be on the national curriculum and has some great lyrics; “She had great hair, and a powerful gait, Catherine the Great” and “If I could touch but the hem of her dress, tell her a joke, bake her a cake, Catherine the Great” don’t get you then are paralysed from the brain down. ‘Funny Peculiar’ is classic call and response music hall pop, a duet with partner Cathy Davey and has a whistling solo. If I’ve not sold this too you yet, then you’re obviously not trying hard enough. ‘The Pact’ moves us effortlessly through the world of show tunes and ‘To The Rescue’ returns us to more straightforward pop band form whilst managing to namecheck Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara in one line.
Second single ‘How Can You Leave Me On My Own’ puts some humour into loneliness, ‘When you leave I become a beer swilling, time killing moron, I surgically remove all the green food from my diet’. It’s jaunty and sad and features a donkey noise effect. It’s nowhere near the best song here but it’s still almost perfect. ‘I Joined the Foreign Legion to Forget’ is a bar song extraordinaire, and tackles the same subject from a different angle, running away to be alone and forget. When the album hits one of it’s few lesser songs the arrangements and musicality raise it above previous albums. ‘A Desperate Man’ is a story of a fugitive in a nun’s disguise set to a tango. ‘Other People’ is a very short song, opening with a vocal only as if drifting through time from a black and white movie before becoming awash in luscious strings then ending abruptly. The closer ‘The One Who Loves You’ is another soft pop belter and has the immortal line ‘Finding the one…who is with you besotted, Is like finding the lesser spotted dodo in Soho, so rare’.
This is the consummate Divine Comedy album, a summation of all the previous parts merged into a complete one. One of the albums of the year.
If you move quick and it may already be too late, you might be able to pick up the deluxe edition which includes ‘In May’, Hannon’s second involvement in operetta, in which he scores (and here sings) the words of Frank Alva Buecheler’s play in the form of letters from a son to father as he grapples with terminal cancer. It’s in stark contrast from the main album. It’s not without humour, but it is black humour and the tale is sad and tragic and often harrowing as hope is lost, sometimes rekindled and finally extinguished. It’s a tough listen because of the subject matter but it’s gripping and very good. Song cycles (as they’re often referred to) are often hard work and a struggle to get through, this one not so though, it’s tale draws you in and you desire to see how this plays out even through the setting of constant piano and string quartet and is sombre almost exclusively. It’d be a shame if this is only ever available only via this limited deluxe CD set as it deserves a much larger audience.