Thursday 29 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 4)

In a year when the UK has become an even bigger laughing stock around the world than ever before (thanks Tories, you've done it again!), the one thing that's kept many of us going is music. Quite frankly, what else do we have? Today, I present the last batch of my 22 favourite albums of 2022 and there's a real international flavour about it. USA, Germany, Sweden, Jamaica, England and, of course, Wales are all represented.

The final seven had to be carefully whittled down from about twice that number, but I think I've made the right decisions. They are not listed in any particular order.

WIDOWSPEAK - 'The Jacket'
I was unfamiliar with Brooklyn duo Widowspeak before I heard Everything Is Simple this year, and surprised 'The Jacket' is their sixth album. More fool me. I've really been enjoying this record.

xPROPAGANDA - 'The Heart is Strange'
Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag teamed up with original Propaganda producer Steve Lipson for the first time in 37 years and made a record that is far better than it had any right to be.

HORACE ANDY - 'Midnight Rocker'
Now 71, Horace Andy shows no sign of slowing down, and his voice is as wonderful as ever. Recorded with Adrian Sherwood, 'Midnight Rocker' has been lauded as one of his best records this century.

After a few ropey overly-woke albums that verged on self-parody, Frank made a welcome return to his hardcore roots (hence the album title). He's certainly at his best when he's like this.

CATE LE BON - 'Pompeii'
It took a bit of time to get into Cate's 6th album, mainly because of its pace, but repeated listens have been rewarding. This clip of her at Glastonbury is just brilliant. The chainmail really suits her!

FIRST AID KIT - 'Palomino'
I had a feeling that the Söderberg sisters were treading water a bit after their last couple of albums, but 'Palomino' restored my faith. A really good set of songs with one or two new sounds creeping in.

Editors' output has been somewhat patchy in recent years, but 'EBM', featuring new member Benjamin Power (aka Blanck Mass), could be their best record in some time. It's certainly been worthy of a few plays here.

And a few notable extras I just couldn't ignore. In alphabetical order...

I'm not one to throw a load more negativity into an already very negative world, but for the record, I just want to state how massively disappointed I was with the following records. I had high expectations for these, especially the first one which, considering how long it's been since their previous record, is particularly poor.

YEAH YEAH YEAHS - 'Cool It Down'
GWENNO - 'Tresor'
ALVVAYS - 'Blue Rev'

And that's it for another year folks. I'm going to let the blog lie dormant again for a bit as I'm not really feeling it right now. We'll see what happens. Ta-ta.

Sunday 18 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 3)

One of the best things about 2022 is that we made it back out on the road again and took in some live shows. Not many - She Drew The Gun, Katy J. Pearson, Cud, David Gedge and Yard Act - but there would have been a couple more if it weren't for illness. We were due to see Little Simz back in the Spring, but I caught the dreaded Covid. Then, last month, on the morning that we were due to shoot off to Cardiff to see the wonderful Stella Donnelly, I got an email to say she had tonsilitis and couldn't perform. A shame, but it is what it is. Hopefully 2023 will bring a few decent shows.

With any luck there will also be some decent albums to rank alongside this year's batch. Here's my third weekly selection.

ALT-J - 'The Dream'
There's something about Alt-J. I really didn't ought to like them, but they always seem to make me not only enjoy their albums, but also make me want to play them lots of times. And so it was again this year, and I reckon 'The Dream' is my favourite since their 2012 debut.

MATTIEL - 'Georgia Gothic'
The opening track of Mattiel Brown's third album suggests a change of vocal style from her. The fantastically-titled Jeff Goldblum dispenses with her usual resonant tone in preference of something quieter and smoother. It's a really good song, but I'm glad the rest of the album has her trademark voice all over it. It's what sets her apart from other singer-songwriters. 'Georgia Gothic' is a little less even than its immediate predecessor 'Satis Factory' (which was one of my top five in 2019), but it's still packed with enough good songs to put it in my top 15 this year. Lighthouse in particular is a highlight which will spin round in your head for days. And in case you're wondering, Mattiel is now officially a duo, featuring Brown alongside writing partner Jonah Swilley, hence why they appear together in the video.

The weird and wonderful world of Aldous Harding got ever bigger and joyous this year with the release of her fourth album, her second to be recorded in Wales and her first to reach number 1 in her native New Zealand. It's got some wonderful - if often strange - songs on it; Fever might be one of the most accessible, yet it's no less intriguing.

LIFE - 'North East Coastal Town'
Hull. I've never been there, but it's always had one or two decent bands. The Housemartins were apparently the fourth best band from Hull at one point, and they had Fatboy Slim in them, so they couldn't have been half bad. Life certainly appear to be putting in a good case for being in the North East coastal town's top 4. Their newest album continues their tradition of impactful punk with plenty of wry smiles and dry humour, only they're now beginning to sound more accomplished, and all the better for it.

WET LEG - 'Wet Leg'
Hands up who didn't expect to see this pair in the list. Thought so. Has a new band ever had such an immediate impact as Wet Leg? They've been everywhere in 2022. Love 'em or hate 'em (and there's surprisingly plenty of the latter), there's no denying that Rhian and Hester don't take themselves terribly seriously. Maybe that's the problem with the haters - they object to people having fun. So they just sit alone in their cold dark rooms and post shit on social media in an attempt to feel a little better about themselves. That's what this song is about. It sounds silly on the surface but it's actually about the effect of social media, the people who use it and, more pertinently, how Wet Leg themselves react to it. And how do they react to it? They make a really daft video and layer tweet after tweet (mainly negative ones) over each other as a way of saying "We don't care! Fuck you!" And so say all of us!

Next Sunday is Christmas Day and you'll no doubt have far better things to do than read my plop, so the fourth and final part of my rundown will appear a few days later when you've all calmed down a bit.

Merry thingy, everyone.

Sunday 11 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 2)

After last week's somewhat male-dominated selection, it's the turn of the ladies to shine. And yes, despite what some people might say - a transgender person who identifies as female is, as far as I'm concerned, female. So to anyone who wants to argue against one of these inclusions - don't bother; my blog, my rules and you're wrong!


EZRA FURMAN - 'All Of Us Flames'
While I've long been aware of Ezra, I've never really been grabbed by her music for some reason. All that changed this year with the release of her 9th (NINTH!) album, in particular the single Forever In Sunset which is right up there with my very fave songs of the year. It's a fascinating document of her fears and challenges - being a transgender, queer, Jewish woman - set to some of her most confident-sounding music to date.


KATY J. PEARSON - 'Sound Of The Morning'
Katy's second album continues the pop-folk sound of her debut, but with an extended pallette. She's branching out, though it's not obvious where she's going, so that's going to be a fun journey for those of us who love her. We caught her live in the autumn and she is every bit as good as a live perfromer as her records suggest. MrsRobster is a big fan of Talk Over Town, one of her fave songs of the year.


THE BETHS - 'Expert In A Dying Field'
This makes my rundown despite it being my least favourite record the Beths have put out to date. There's even a track I tend to skip on it. That said, the rest of it is strong enough to warrant inclusion as it seems whatever they do, they always manage to inbibe it with a great tune and excellent production (all their records are self-produced). I've already bought tickets for their Spring Tour next year.


THE BIG MOON - 'Here Is Everything'
Three albums in and the Big Moon are showing signs that they might just become rather huge in the not-too-distant future. Following their last record, Juliette Jackson had a baby and the result is an album reflecting on pregnancy, childbirth, fears, hope and unconditional love, though it's done in such a smart way that you can still take something completely different from each song.


PLAINS - 'I Walked With You A Ways'
You know how much I adore Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee), so I was eager to see what would result from her collaboration with a singer-songwriter I'm not familiar with, Jess Williamson. Fortunately, it's a gem. It's an unabashed, old-school country album, and a very good one. Both take lead vocals and songwriting duties, but they clearly work so well together, it seems such a shame they've already stated Plains is a one-off project. I'd love to hear what else they could come up with. Here's one of Katie's numbers.

Another five next week...

Sunday 4 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 1)

2022: the year of continual crises. A megalomaniacal leader starts a war with its peaceful neighbour and threatens nuclear destruction of the world. Fuel shortages caused by said war and the world's insistance on sticking with fossil fuels that serve only to make a handful of people extraordinarily wealthy. The rising cost of living in the UK, which is making just feeding their family unaffordable for many, caused by both the above, increased taxes, Brexit and a terrible government. And said government making the UK a laughing stock whilst clinging to power, despite being more divided than any ruling party should ever be, and a staunch refusal to do the right thing and call a General Election to allow someone else to take over and attempt to sort out the whole sorry mess they've caused after 12 years of total neglect and contempt for the people they purport to serve.

Jeez, it's worse than when Bowie died! The one small glimmer of hope is the comfort I've found in music this year (well, that and my daughter's wedding, which was fairly significant...). As I said in last week's little prelude, it's actually been an OK year for good music. MrsRobster and I even went to gigs after a two year absence. So today I'm going to start my annual rundown of my favourite 22 albums of 2022 (hence the post title). This is possibly my top 5, although to be honest there's a sixth one that really ought to feature here as well, but you can't have 6 records in a top 5, so that one will feature next week.

So shake off all those heavy burdens and negative vibes and take a few moments to enjoy some rare positive energy.

BODEGA - 'Broken Equipment'
Kicking off with my (and MrsRobster's) favourite album of the year. I'm amazed on two counts really - how Bodega had escaped my attention until 2022, and that I haven't featured them here at all until today! My bad, shame on me. This album brought us huge joy this year, and we shared the love by telling friends about it. A guy MrsRobster works with on the night shift was incredibly grateful to her for the introduction, proving that something so simple as music can brighten up a life. Bodega hail from New York City. Of course they do. Where else could they possibly come from? It's a place liberally sprinkled throughout this record. There's some Talking Heads in there, some LCD Soundsystem, some New York Dolls... It's just a really, really good record and fully deserving of this prestigious placing at the top of my yearly list. Here's just one of its many great songs.

YARD ACT - 'The Overload'
Hype. Guaranteed to bring out the cynic in me, and it's why I entered into Yard Act's world with a fair degree of trepidation. But, I soon discovered it was a very rare instance of the hype being justified. Heck, even Elton John teamed up with them! Yard Act's debut album is not just another shouty post-punk record, it's a statement of the socio-political state of the world, in particular the UK. Some brilliant lyrics, occasionally touching, often funny, but pretty much on point throughout. They are also a phenomenonally good live act, as MrsRobster and I witnessed last weekend. This track pretty much encapsulates not-so-Great Britain circa 2022. Warning: don't listen to this if you are offended by certain words or vote Tory.

FONTAINES D.C. - 'Skinty Fia'
Talking of hype - Fontaines D.C. could do no wrong when their debut album topped my 2019 list. Its follow-up, sadly, failed to live up to my high expectations. Looking back though, it was clear they were in transition, shedding their first skin and becoming something more mature and accomplished. 'Skinty Fia' is the sound of that transformation having been completed and what we get is a third album which has so much depth and richness in both its music, vocals and lyrics. Opening track In ár gCroíthe go deo (trans: Forever in our hearts) is absolutely spine-tingling, and it sets the tone for the rest of the record. Fontaines D.C. have been reborn.

PIXIES - 'Doggerel'
Interesting parallels between Fontaines D.C. and Pixies. Both released disappointing albums last time round, but appear to have found their mojos in 2022. Also, Fontaines' debut album was called 'Dogrel', while Pixies have opted for the correct spelling for this one. 'Doggerel' is certainly Pixies' best record since their comeback album 'Indie Cindy' back in 2014; a good, consistent batch of songs with a nice dose of trademark Black Francis screaming. It sounds best, as all Pixies albums should, when played LOUD! It broke my heart to actually diss a Pixies album in 2019, so I'm really glad they appear to be back on form.

CROWS - 'Beware Believers'
Crows' long-awaited debut album was one of my most-played albums in the car in 2019. Its follow-up has blared out of my Hyundai's speakers rather a lot this year too. It doesn't depart much in style from its predecessor - I'd describe it as agressively melodic punk with scuzzy psychedelic guitars. Some great songs too. Admittedly I don't know much about Crows besides their music, but to be honest that doesn't matter.

A lot of loud, shouty stuff this week, and strangely for me nothing female-led. Have no fear, I have a very different pot of musical stew to serve up next week...

Sunday 27 November 2022

The 2022 round-up - a prologue

Yep, it's that time of year again. Starting next week, I'll be posting weekly installments of my favourite albums of 2022. It's not been a bad year for music, to be fair. Some really good stuff has come out.  Before all that though, I thought I'd round up a few non-album things that tickled my fancy over the past 12 months...

It's been a while since we had new stuff from our beloved David Gedge and his merry band of troubadors. Six-years, in fact, since the epic 'Going, Going...' LP. They've been busy though. A glut of songs collected over the previous few years were finally recorded and released as their ambitious '24 Songs' project. Emulating their 'Hit Parade' venture waaaaay back in 1992, '24 Songs' saw the release of a brand new 7" vinyl-only single each month. The ever-fluctuating Wedding Present line-up means there is a real range of songwriting styles on there as Gedge shared the duties with his various bandmates. I suspect some of the songs will be compiled and released in album form at some point. I have plenty of favourites among the two-dozen tracks, but one of them is September's We All Came From The Sea.

The hardest-working band in rock 'n' roll (probably) released not one, not two, no not even three, but FOUR new records in 2022. Collectively entitled 'SZNS', the project consisted of a quartet of 7-song EPs each released to mark a season - one for Spring, one for Summer, etc. Each record contained a song that incorporated a 'riff' from the relevant piece from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'. Saying all that, the Winter EP isn't actually out yet (it's due around Christmastime) but that's just mere pedantry. When it does come out, they will have topped the Weddoes' output by 4 songs, so it's a very noteworthy achievement. This track - from the Summer EP - pretty much sums up my life.

And after those seasoned veterans, it's time for some brilliant youngsters...

DIVORCE - 'Get Mean' EP
Now here's a new band I'm getting rather excited about. Divorce hail from Nottingham and have so far only put out three tracks. But each one is bleddy excellent, especially the most recent, an off-beat alternative country murder ballad called Checking Out which is definitely one of my songs of the year. They don't just make great tunes though, they also make wonderful videos that show off not just a theatrical side, but a very humourous one too. All three songs have just been released together as a digital EP called 'Get Mean'. A 4-track vinyl version is due in May 2023 which suggests another song isn't far away. I have high hopes for Divorce.

And if you loved that (and let's face it - you did!), here are the awesome clips for debut single Services and its follow-up Pretty. And here's where you can buy/pre-order the EP.

PANIC SHACK - 'Baby Shack' EP
This lot also look like they're going to rip up the place pretty damn soon. Cardiff's very own Panic Shack compiled their first six songs to form the 'Baby Shack' EP which disappeared off the record store racks in less time than it takes to play it. Copies are already changing hands for more than £60 a shot! MrsRobster (who is also a big fan of Panic Shack) and I will be seeing them in their hometown supporting Yard Act TONIGHT! Should be raucous and we're both really looking forward to it. Raw and loud like good punk should be, but a lot of fun too.

SPRINTS - 'A Modern Job' EP
Dublin has become a proper hub of great music of late. Sprints are the latest ones to have emerged from the Irish capital seemingly fully formed and taking on the world without a care. 'A Modern Job' was released back in March and is their second EP, following on from last year's debut 'Manifesto' and a series of searing singles, including the brilliant Little Fix.

I also strongly recommend Sprints' latest single Literary Mind which just might be their best track yet.

Next week, the first batch of my 22 favourite albums of 2022.

Sunday 13 November 2022

Something And Nothing - a gig (of sorts)

I haven't really bothered with gig reviews this year (though I have still been keeping track of them), but on Thursday night, MrsRobster and I attended a special show by one of our all-time heroes, Mr David Lewis Gedge. The great man has just published the second volume of his autobiography 'Tales From The Wedding Present'. This one is subtitled 'Something And Nothing' and picks up where volume 1 ('Go Out And Get 'Em Boy') left off, covering the period around the release of the band's first album, the evergreen classic 'George Best'.

I've not had chance to read it yet, but in case you didn't know, it's not your normal autobiography. Gedge has always loved comics, and he has overseen the publication of a few Wedding Present comics over time, featuring different stories from the group's history. The books essentially tell Gedge's story in comic book form. Aided by the wonderful illustrator Lee Thacker, former Cinerama/Wedding Present (and Goya Dress) bassist Terry de Castro, and David's girlfriend Jessica McMillan, Gedge compiled some of the previously published tales along with brand new ones that he and family, friends, acquaintances and exes have recalled.

So a few nights ago, Gedge, Thacker and de Castro (along with current Weddoes bassist Melanie Howard) came to Cardiff on the second date of the book launch tour. The three - led by de Castro - fed us anecdotes covering not just some of the new book's content, but also some insight into how the project came together. There were some fascinating revelations.

(WARNING: If you're planning on going to one of the remaining dates, you might want to skip the next paragraph so as not to spoil things...)

Firstly, we learned that the Kevin in Give My Love To Kevin is not a real person. Like many of Gedge's songs, it was inspired by overhearing a conversation between strangers. When departing one stranger said to the other "Give my love to Kevin", and Gedge thought that would make a good song title! My favourite anecdote was related to the fact that Gedge is absolutely meticulous (read: geeky) in his record keeping to the point where he keeps spreadsheets on everything. Even back as far as the 80s, before he could enter anything onto a computer, he kept a record of which of his loud shirts he wore at which gig. This would ensure he never wore the same shirt twice in the same place on subsequent tours. "In fact, if I wore one shirt in Cardiff, I'd make sure the following year I wore that shirt as far away from Cardiff as I could!"

Following the interviews, the audience was invited to ask questions. I contemplated whether I should ask one. My initial idea was to ask Gedge about all the band members of the past and how some of the numerous sackings had taken place. Someone beat me to it however. So I managed to come up with the final question of the night:

"October 1988, Exeter University. My first ever gig - The Wedding Present. My mate and I were in the lobby just prior to the show and this guy walks right past us. 'That's David Gedge,' I said. 'Nah,' said my mate, 'he wouldn't be here mingling with the likes of us.' But it was you, mingling with the likes of us, and you've done it ever since. Do you think that's an important part of who you are and what you do?"

His response? "Not really no! It's just to stop the boredom of hanging around backstage waiting to go on." He did elaborate a bit though, and confirmed that he actually enjoys it.

After a short break, David, Terry and Melanie convened for a short semi-acoustic set of songs. It's interesting how well some of the material works in this stripped-back form, even those songs that are usually so fast and frantic. Something And Nothing sounded great, as did both Dare and Crushed. Along with some old crowd-pleasers (Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft, You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends, My Favourite Dress and Brassneck), there was also room for some proper deep cuts, such as Big Rat from the 'Watusi' album, Close Up, from the Cinerama album 'Torino', as well as Science Fiction, the new single due next week - the 11th monthly single of 2022.

All this in the wonderful setting of the Acapela Studios, a beautiful converted chapel in the village of Pentyrch, just a few miles outside Cardiff. MrsRobster and I booked a table so we could indulge in the venue's famous pizzas prior to showtime. It's this that helps raise the money for the venue to book its acts. It's a place you really should visit if you're in this neck of the woods.

So, food, drink, autographed books and David Gedge. Could it really get any better? I highly doubt it. If you get the chance to go along to one of these shows, I very much recommend it. Failing that, buy the book (or books, if you haven't got volume one already).

Here's a couple of tunes from the night someone I know managed to capture.

Sunday 16 October 2022

The REiMagined Albums - part 6

The final one of these that I'll do and it might be the most controversial yet. For most, R.E.M.'s records on the IRS label are sacred and should be left well alone. And to be fair, there's very little you'd ever want to tamper with on those five brilliant albums. But...

'Lifes Rich Pageant' is a big favourite of mine, yet it's far from perfect and has a couple of things that really niggle me about it. It was only the second R.E.M. record I ever heard so it's one of those I've been exposed to the most over the years. Its first four songs make up what I think is the greatest opening sequence of songs on any album I've ever owned. That's probably what makes it such a big fave. But from that point on it doesn't quite tick all the boxes.

Some history: 'Lifes Rich Pageant' sounds like something of a statement. After the traumatic process of the making of 'Fables Of The Reconstruction', which almost broke the band and caused Michael Stipe to sink into a deep depression, R.E.M. reconvened to record LRP in March 1986 with renewed vigour. It's a record which sounded like no other R.E.M. record at the time - loud, hard-hitting and, in places, very angry. It was largely the result of six years under Reagan and the political situation in America it garnered. Gone were the claustrophobic jangles of the previous records, gone were the oblique stories in Stipe's lyrics. These new songs had a real purpose about them.

Except they weren't all new songs. For some reason, the band unearthed some material dating back to their earliest period. At least five of the songs demoed for the record were written and performed as far back as 1980-81. All The Right Friends and Mystery To Me were, in fact, both played at their legendary debut gig (at the abandoned St Mary's Episcopal Church, Athens, GA. on 5th May 1980), while Just A Touch featured at their next show just a fortnight later. Both Wait and Get On Their Way (the latter of which became Why Don't We Give It Away) got their first airings in January 1981. Another LRP song Hyena was written in 1984 and was played a number of times during live shows that year before being demoed for 'Fables' but cast aside.

Exactly why the band saw fit to revive these long-forgotten songs at this time is unclear, but revive them they did and two of them even featured on the finished record. Originally conceived as a ten-track album, side one was to feature the album's loud, fast songs, while side two its slower, quieter moments. So far down the line were they with this plan, the final album's artwork was produced with this tracklisting.

At some point though, things changed. At a mere 34 minutes, it was deemed to be too short so a couple other tracks were required. And this is where I think 'Lifes Rich Pageant' went a little pear-shaped. The band chose to record one of their newer original songs and a cover version. Underneath The Bunker is a short, silly bossanova piece with few lyrics. Superman was a bubblegum pop song by The Clique which Mike Mills liked. He sang lead on it as Stipe didn't want to - he instead sings backup. Quite why these songs were chosen remains a mystery. So a new (better?) track order was arranged and 'Lifes Rich Pageant' was released.

And this is where I come in. What can I do to make LRP the album it could have been? Well, the first four songs remain untouched. As I said, there is nothing that could make this opening sequence any better. I can well do without both Underneath The Bunker and Superman - b-side material at best as far as I'm concerned. I'm replacing them with two of the demos recorded at John Keane's studios in March '86 instead.

Which brings me to track 5 which I've decided will be All The Right Friends. It picks up the energetic mood again following the previous two songs, but I've edited it slightly. Being a demo, it is a bit rough around the edges, especially the ending. After dabbling with a couple other versions of the song, I decided to use the final chord of the 2001 version recorded for the Vanilla Sky soundtrack as it's the one that worked best. To be fair, it's still rough, but that's down to my skill level and available resources. (Insert one of Jez's statutory disclaimers here...) Side one ends with the thunderous rasp of Just A Touch, Stipe's words (borrowing from Patti Smith) fading into the runout groove... "I'm so young / I'm so goddamn young".

Side two starts the same as the real LRP with the gorgeous Flowers Of Guatamala and the lively I Believe, while Hyena is transferred from side one. The next two songs gave me problems in that I wasn't quite sure how to sequence them. Mystery To Me was to end side one in my previous draft, but I ended up swapping it with Just A Touch. To be fair, Mystery To Me perhaps sounds a little out of place wherever it goes as it might just be the one weak link in this project. The only other options I had were PSA (the early demo version of Bad Day), Wait and Two Steps Forward. None quite fit the bill though, and PSA sounds way too much like It's The End Of The World As We Know It in its original form. The remade version from 2001 is better but wouldn't fit here.

In the end I settled for Mystery To Me as the penultimate track, though it is preceded by a little instrumental segue (also lifted from the demos) to make the transition from What If We Give It Away more palatable. You may recognise it as a section of Rotary 10, but at the demo stage it was simply known as Jazz. To finish with, a rather contentious decision, perhaps. Rather than the album version, I've opted for the demo version of Swan Swan H. Now, there's absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with the original, it's a track I love and, were it not for the presence of Superman tacked on the end, would have been the perfect closer for the real LRP. I do love the demo though, in which the band retains the electric guitars rather than swap to acoustics. Mills' bass riff in the album version is played here on lead guitar, though I'm not sure whether it's he or Buck who plays it. Anyway, this version keeps things interesting for those of you who have never heard it.

'Lifes Rich Pageant [REiMagined]' is done. Feel free to chastise me for my choices, or for even daring to try it in the first place. It's done now and available below.

Lifes Rich Pageant [REiMagined]
compiled by TheRobster

1. Begin The Begin
2. These Days
3. Fall On Me
4. Cuyahoga
5. All The Right Friends
6. Just A Touch

7. Flowers Of Guatemala
8. I Believe
9. Hyena
10. What If We Give It Away
11. Mystery To Me
12. Swan Swan H


Here's Swan Swan H performed live in 1986 in the Athens, GA. Inside/Out documentary.

Sunday 25 September 2022


Is rock music evil? Of course not. But here's three tracks that literally are Evil - it's their title! First up, the song that inspired this post. I recently revisited Savages' monumental album 'Adore Life', which if you remember, was a record I got everso slightly excited about back in the day. This live clip is fantastic and reminds me (as if I needed it) just how intoxicating they are/were to watch. We've heard nothing from Savages as a band since this record, though no official word of a break-up. Let's hope they'll return soon.

Another record I became obsessed with was 'Holiday Destination' by Nadine Shah. She's also incredible live, so this clip should go down pretty well. A lot of people discovered Nadine through her astonishing performance at the 2018 Mercury Music Prize ceremony. Even more fell for her when they first heard Evil in an episode of Peaky Blinders. I don't care how anyone heard about her, the truth is everyone really should have Nadine in their life.

And finally, perhaps no surprise that Nick Cave would be in here somewhere. The second Grinderman album contained this beast of a track. As you'd expect, any live clip of this lot is rather special and this one is no exception. Yes, Nick is the focal point I suppose, but Warren really steals the show here, rolling around on the floor, howling like a wolf and hollering "EVIL!" like a man possessed.

Sunday 28 August 2022

The REiMagined Albums - part 5

A brief return, essentially to clear the decks. This was originally going to be the fourth and final part of my collaborative series with JC last August, but it kind of came at a bad time for us as we'd pretty much burned ourselves out by the time it came around. I'd already written my first section of it, but it sat amongst my drafts unfinished while I cobbled together a couple replacements that I found more interesting. So now I'm reviving it as a solo effort, re-written in places, but essentially offering the same thoughts and ideas as my original. 

The choice of album in question may well come as a surprise to many. Why fuck around with an album that has sold millions - that's MILLIONS, like nearly 20 of 'em - and is widely renowned as a masterpiece, a Holy Grail kind of record? Well, let's not pretend for one moment it's R.E.M.'s best album. Nor is it even their best album of the 90s. It's just the one that sold the most, and that's rarely an indication of quality. But it could be pretty close to perfect if it didn't have a couple of songs on it that I skip each time. You probably know what they are, but there's perhaps a little more to it than that, which is a good thing as this would be a terribly boring read otherwise. So here's my stab at improving AftP:

Side One
1. Drive
2. Try Not To Breathe
3. Man On The Moon
4. Everybody Hurts
5. Monty Got A Raw Deal

Side Two
6. Photograph
7. Nightswimming
8. Sweetness Follows
9. Star Me Kitten
10. Find The River

Out go (unsurprisingly) The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 and (and this is the talking point) Ignoreland. The latter was one of my Imaginary 7"s so you know I like it, but it just feels so out of place on this record, both in its sound and lyrical subject matter. The band themselves had reservations about including it in the first place, so I think taking it out might well be the best decision. I'm replacing it with Photograph, a track they demoed during the sessions for 'Automatic' and then brought in the divine Natalie Merchant to sing on it for a charity album. The only thing it's lacking is some of the production the finished album received. I can imagine it with some lovely strings just giving it that added lushness to make it fit more snugly among these songs. If you imagine them too while it's playing, you'll see what I mean.[1]

So side one kicks off as normal. Drive really is a strange opening song, but in an interview in the months leading up to release, Michael Stipe described the album as sounding "pretty fucking weird" and as such, this track really does set the tone for that. To lift things, I've gone for Man On The Moon as track three. The dreaded Sidewinder is just ridiculous whereas this one does a better job at lifting the mood. I'd stick the slightly shorter single edit on though, not that you'd notice the difference, but for vinyl running time it helps.

Side two opens with Photograph and Nightswimming, the two most different-sounding tracks on the record, then we go deep with the two darkest songs of the set before finishing with Find The River, an undoubted highlight of their career. It has to finish the REiMagined version of the album like it does the original - it just has to.

Automatic For The People [REiMagined]
compiled by TheRobster

1. Drive
2. Try Not To Breathe
3. Man On The Moon
4. Everybody Hurts
5. Monty Got A Raw Deal

6. Photograph
7. Nightswimming
8. Sweetness Follows
9. Star Me Kitten
10. Find The River


There's one final REiMagined album coming soon, but for now let's finish with the video for Find The River, felt by many as being one of the band's best ever songs. Here's what I wrote about it over at The (new) Vinyl Villain in November 2020.


[1] At the age of 51, you'd think I'd learned a bit about myself by now... After I wrote that paragraph about Photograph, I got thinking to myself: "Why don't I try a remix and add some strings and maybe a bit of piano." I mulled it over quite a bit and thought maybe I could find some kind of online synth with a half-decent strings sound I could perhaps create a part for and mix it with the song. And I did. And it was rubbish. More to do with me than anything else, to be fair. "Maybe I'm more suited to a conventional keyboard," I thought. TheDoopster plays piano and has an electric piano in her room. It's got a nice strings sound on it. If I could rig up a cheap method of recording from it, I could do it that way.  So I did. And it was rubbish. I used to play piano when I was a kid and wasn't too bad at it, but by the time I got to 16, I jacked it in and decided I wanted to be a guitar legend instead. So the fact I hadn't played any kind of keyboard properly for 35 years just might have had something to do with how bad my attempts were to add strings to Photograph.

But I wasn't done yet, oh no! If the keyboards/strings didn't work out, perhaps I could fill the sound out with a bit of acoustic guitar and who knows, a bit of mandolin as well. So I took my trusty old acoustic out of the cupboard and gave it a go.  And it was rubbish. You see, just because I have a guitar, doesn't mean I play it much. I haven't played any guitar properly since I quit the band I was in some 25 years ago. Sure, I have a little strum now and again when I get an urge, but the fact I no longer have the calluses of a proper guitar player means my fingers bloody hurt after less than an hour.

So finally, at the age of 51, I've finally learned that while I never pretended to be a musician, I know for a fact I really never will be. And that I should practice playing before I attempt to play anything, even if just for a bit of fun. I also learned to keep the mandolin in the cupboard to save myself the indignity of making yet another instrument sound rubbish. And not to have stupid ideas about thinking I can make an R.E.M. song sound better!

Monday 25 July 2022

A wedding presence

Today, my firstborn - known to these pages as TheMadster - is getting married. The whole shebang has been delayed by a year for reasons you're all more than aware of, but I suspect the wait will be worth it. Now, I'm not one for parties at all these days, but I am willing to make an exception for this one.

By way of marking the occasion here, I'm offering up a few tunes for the happy couple. First up, one for the bride, who as you may know, is a big Frank Turner fan. I will be walking her down the aisle to this:

Her groom - who is known in these parts as TheEmster - is into EDM. Never mind, eh. His favourite track of all time is this one:

For my part, I've delved into the archives. I was working in Our Price when Goodbye Mr Mackenzie released their second album 'Hammer And Tongs'. I remember we were all mildly amused by it's front cover. One of its singles was this track. The video features Big John Duncan as a priest and Shirley Manson as a bride. What's not to like?

And finally, as if the point needs proving that there's always a Half Man Half Biscuit song for every occasion, here's the four lads from The Wirral and a song from their 2003 mini-album 'Saucy Haulage Ballads'. It references 16th Century Renaissance composers, 18th Century British Prime Ministers, and, erm, a former Liverpool goalie. Typical HMHB, then...

To the Bride and Groom!

Sunday 3 July 2022


This one appeared on a playlist while I was cooking a couple weeks ago. TheMadster was visiting. She and MrsRobster sauntered into the kitchen and the three of us just sang and danced through the entire thing. We don't sing well, we dance even less well, but we enjoyed ourselves.

Quite frankly one of the best rock songs of all time sung by one of the best rock voices of all time. A shame then that the video is one of the cheesiest, corniest clips of all time. It looks like it was made on a budget of a few cents and a box of Twinkies.

Does it feel like I'm getting all nostalgic of late? Maybe something is making me realise how old I'm getting, how fast time is passing, how sometimes looking back at the past just feels more comforting than looking towards the future. Mind, I think we all feel like that these days. I hate nostalgia and wish it didn't influence the opinions and actions of so many people, but I can understand it, I suppose.

Yes, something is happening that might be responsible for my sentimental musings, but that will be revealed in my next post in a few weeks time. Pretty sure Edge Of Seventeen will get an airing though. In the meantime, here's someone new-ish who is not only influenced a bit by the great Stevie Nicks, but sounds a little like her too. We'll be seeing Katy J Pearson in the autumn. Her new album is due this week, but here's a track from her wonderful debut, 2020's 'Return'.

Sunday 19 June 2022

As Cud as it gets

I noticed recently that Cud are touring in the autumn and are playing in Newport, no less. This prompted me to dig out my Cud records and play them for the first time in far too many years. They still sound great.

Through The Roof was a particular fave. It was a song I learnt to play on guitar, and I even gave it a solo airing during an acoustic show me and the singer of the band I was in at the time once played. Cud's original was far superior. The video was shot during a festival in Cadiz and is one of the most joyful things you'll see this week.

I bought Neurotica on CD single when it came out. It was taken from the band's final studio album 'Showbiz' and, my word, what a transformation. The big, bold sound probably alienated some early fans, but this track, with its chorus refrain of "Lacerate me, lacerate me", was a proper forerunner of the Britpop anthems we would be exposed to over the next few years. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's a great track.

I recently had a discussion with Graham The Bear from Goldie Looking Chain in the record shop he works at in which he lamented the bands who broke up too early and how huge they could have been. Cud were one of those bands who he reckoned, had they stuck around for one more record, would have been superstars. On the strength of 'Showbiz', he could well be right.

Cud reformed in 2008. While they've never followed up 'Showbiz', they have released a handful of new songs, including this sparkling little gem. No, it's not a cover of the Kinks' Victoria (though I'm sure you remember their fine rendition of Lola from back in the day...), but it is mighty fine. Who can resist a lyric that includes the couplet "I made a very groovy compilation / To play at a joyful immolation"?

As much as I love that, I do get a few weird Hi Ho Silver Lining vibes from it... Brrrr!

Sunday 22 May 2022


A few days ago I was left alone in the house. This is unusual. Not because I need to be supervised at all times (though some people may argue that I do), but just because there's more often than not someone home at the same time as me. On this occasion though, everyone went out to do stuff and I decided I had better things to do at home. Like play records loudly!

During my vinyl binge, I dug out my copy of 'Chemicrazy', the fourth studio album by That Petrol Emotion. It's a record I've always enjoyed since my days working in Our Price where I first heard it shortly after its release in 1990. While never achieving huge commercial success, TPE have long since been regarded as a huge influence in the indie and alternative scenes ever since, in both the UK and US.

Hey Venus! and Sensitize are both fantastic singles, and yes, I did have a bit of a jump around to them while they played on my turntable... The videos below look dated to say the least, but they are such great songs, you really don't need the visuals.

Fun fact: according to their Wikipedia page, prior to recruiting US vocalist Steve Mack, a certain chap by the name of Paul Whitehouse unsuccessfully auditioned for the role. Yes, this Paul Whitehouse...

Sunday 17 April 2022

Dangerous Times (side two)

Today we look at the other half of the songs R.E.M. would pen and perform in their first few months together. Those very early gigs often contained quite a few covers, but gradually more original material was written and made it into the live sets. By the end of the year, most of the band's set consisted of originals.

On 4th October, they played a second consecutive night at local venue Tyrone's OC, a place where they would become increasingly familiar over the next 12 months. Among the set that night were songs that were played during their very first set at St. Mary's Church in April, a few newer tunes and a sprinkling of covers. Observers of the band's earliest shows note the vast improvement of the performances over a very short period. By October, just six months since their debut, they were altogether tighter and slicker. They remained fast and furious - they didn't do slow songs in those days - and occasionally a little ramshackle, but the seeds were beginning to sprout.

Today's selection of tunes is taken from that Tyrone's show and features 8 more of their very earliest songs, including four they played at their first show - I Can Only Give You Everything, Action, Schéhérazade and Lisa Says. The other four include two songs that would become among their most loved numbers over the next few years.

The quality of this recording is significantly better than the cassette-sourced stuff I posted on Friday, so I haven't had to tinker much with it at all. I've attempted to remove the audience sound (with mixed results), and I've cropped the beginning of Schéhérazade during which Stipe is heard shouting greetings to audience members. There's still one left in - to someone called Kathleen - which I was unable to edit out. Finally, the original tape drops out at the end of Gardening At Night and I have no other material available to attempt a reconstruction, so I've faded it out.

That aside, it's still a fascinating document of where R.E.M. were at the time. There were very vague shades of what was to come, but in general, they were an extremely energetic garage rock band yet to hone the skills that would make them the biggest band on the planet by the end of the decade. Today's artwork features two more shots taken at R.E.M.'s very first show - Peter Buck on the front and Mike Mills on the back.

Grab it here

That's all for now.

Friday 15 April 2022

Dangerous Times (side one)

This is something I planned and wrote last year but held back for an appropriate time. As it's Easter - a time associated with rebirth and new beginnings - it's as good a time as any. I suppose you could consider this post a sort of prequel to this one in which we looked at a totally hypothetical pre-'Murmur' debut album. This time though, we're going back even further...

During R.E.M.'s very earliest months in 1980, they wrote a whole host of songs. Most of them were never recorded, and many were long-forgotten by the time they recorded the 'Chronic Town' EP in 1981/2. It was the recording of that record that was my reference point for my pre-'Murmur' project, using songs that were a solid part of the band's live set around that time. However, it did mean a heap of earlier songs didn't get a look in - and that's where I'm coming from with this post.

I've decided to pull together all (or, at least, most) of the earliest self-penned songs R.E.M. performed in their first six months together. One or two of them became rather well known among those who bought their records. The others - well unless you're an uber-fan who seeks out obscure bootlegs from the band's embryonic phase, you won't have heard them before.

I've taken two of the earliest-known recordings of R.E.M. (maybe even THE earliest-known recordings) to provide an almost definitive guide to the band's very first songs. It's in two parts. Today, what is believed to be the earliest recording of the band. In July 1980, the band entered Jackson Street Rehearsal Studios in Athens to practice material for upcoming shows in Atlanta and North Carolina. A tape recorder was present. Eight songs were captured and later surfaced as the very first R.E.M. bootleg, a cassette called 'Slurred'. It's often noted that this recording was made at Wuxtry's, the record shop where Peter Buck worked, on 6th June, but while they did play there on that date, no recordings (if any exist) have ever made it into circulation. It's now widely accepted that this is the Jackson Street rehearsal.

Seven of these songs were performed at that first gig, with Just A Touch making its debut at their second show a fortnight later at the Kaffee Klub, the same day they decided to call themselves R.E.M. (after, fortunately, discarding other suggestions like Negro Eyes, Slut Bank, Africans In Bondage and Cans Of Piss!)

As you might expect, the sound quality isn't exactly top-notch, but I've had a little go at improving things. The opening track Dangerous Times is one of my favourites from the era but is incomplete on the tape - the first line is missing - so I've tried to "fix" it. The opening line is "These are dangerous times", which also happens to be the third line, so a little copy & paste puts that right. The opening snare hit has been added from an early live show at Tyrone's (which we'll get to in a day or two...), so it now sounds whole again, though be warned it is rather rough!. Otherwise, everything is as it appears on that tape, just with less hiss and a tad more oomph.

So here's "Side One" of 'Dangerous Times: the genesis of R.E.M.' presented as a single continuous MP3 as if ripped straight from vinyl. The artwork includes shots of Michael Stipe and Bill Berry at the debut St. Mary's show. Side two will follow on Easter Sunday...

Grab it here

Friday 8 April 2022

Sally & Tommy & Tommy & Anna

Despite being a non-smoking, non-drinking, good-eating, mask-wearing, triple-vaxxed, generally fit and healthy dude, I somehow succumbed to 'The Vid' last week and have been isolating ever since. Yes, isolation is no longer mandatory; yes, the great British public thinks Covid is all over; but if I've managed to pick it up from somewhere (and lord only knows where), I'm not going to be responsible for spreading it like your average cretin. I work for the NHS, for gawd's sake.

Thankfully, I've not been terribly ill, a couple rough days but the rest just like a normal mild cold, albeit one that won't shift. For some reason, I've tested positive for 9 days straight, but that can happen apparently, even if I'm not infectious any more. By the time you read this, I should be out of isolation. Thank god - it's been quite boring being stuck in one room. MrsRobster probably wishes the garden shed wasn't so full of stuff as it would have been far better for her if I could have spent my isolation period out there!

Even though I've been working from home throughout the period, I've managed to find time to catch up on some stuff on Netflix. I also came across an old gem I've seen many times before but couldn't resist watching it again when I felt quite low at the seemingly never-ending run of positive LFTs I kept getting.

I can't remember how old I was when I first saw Tommy, but I was probably in my late teens. I loved it instantly. It's so audaciously over-the-top, exactly as a rock opera should be. Ken Russell was the perfect person for it, even though he hated rock music. I won't waffle on about it much as I'm sure all my readers know the story, but ever since I watched it again the other night, the songs have been floating in and out of my head like crazy.

This one was, apparently, the first seed of the story. While The Who were supporting The Doors on tour, Pete Townshend witnessed a girl in the crowd get injured when someone threw a chair. Jim Morrison apparently cleaned her wounds himself! So the story of Sally Simpson became the first song of what would ultimately become the greatest rock opera of all time.

It's a bit longer than the original album version from 1969, and some of the words were changed for the benefit of the movie (e.g. the Rolls Royce is blue in the original, black in the movie).

So many great stories have been told around the making of Tommy - hardly surprising when you consider the cast - and while some may well have been embellished, exaggerated or completely made up, they only add to the greatness of the thing.

And while we're on the subject of Tommy and greatness...

The final series of Peaky Blinders has just aired, very possibly one of the the top 5 TV shows the BBC has ever produced. I'm not going to give any spoilers or anything, but want to mention that, as in season 5, the wonderful Anna Calvi was largely responsible for the musical score and some of the songs that featured. If you've ever seen the show, you'll know it has an incredible soundtrack, and latter seasons have featured specially recorded songs as artists have flocked to be a part of it.

Calvi is about to release a 4-track EP of songs she recorded for season 6, entitled, rather appropriately, 'Tommy'. As well as her cover of the theme tune - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand - she also offers a take on Bob Dylan's All The Tired Horses, plus two new songs, including this. Inspired by a traditional American spiritual recorded by numerous artists, including the late, great Johnny Cash, Ain't No Grave sums up both Calvi's unerring knack of composing dark, atmospheric mini-masterpieces, and the ominous moods of Tommy Shelby's life.

Brilliant stuff.

For the record, the blog is not making a proper comeback, but I do have a special Easter treat for you next weekend, especially if you're a fan of early R.E.M. Stay tuned...