Music reviews from the pages of Think Magazine ...
Speed Ballads (deConstruction)
Welcome to Republica's visionary second album, bursting with references to semi-cool consumer trash and semi-chic west London postal districts.
More Max Headroom than Blade Runner, more Network 7 than JG Ballard, it's called Speed Ballads but could equally have been christened Internet Fax Machine Credit Card Virtual Reality Personal Pager Thingies Erm Cable Television And Lots Of Other Space Age Stuff Baby. - Keith Kirchner
When the formula works it can be great: pointedly plastic pop with the controlled rage of punk and the lascivious pulse of disco. Sadly for Republica, this requires wit, subtlety and mighty melodies, all of which are seriously lacking here. Admittedly singer Saffron is a perfect, purpose-built pop princess or she could be if those millions of joystick tugging Internerds would stop wanking over Lara-sodding Croft for long enough to fixate on an almost-real human female. Saffron is totally NOW!, writing ten songs, all set five minutes into the future. Songs like 'Luxury Cage' and (oh yes) 'Millennium', which suggest that our 21st century consumer paradise might not be such a groovy place after all.
Punk rock or wot?
Any genuinely progressive or even just mildly hummable ditties are vastly outnumbered by gratingly ordinary future-schlock stinkers which only Pepsi executives could ever consider exciting. - Keith Kirchner
Morning Light (R&S)
Some might marvel at its seductively clinical introversion and darkly blooming epiphanies, however, somebody should tell Mark Van Hoen that it's not 1986 any more and that 4AD's This Mortal Coil collections, matchless though some of them were, have long been superseded by developments in the techno-tastic post-rock cosmos.
Not that segments of it aren't pleasant enough, from the spooked and desolate techno-folk whirring of 'Jukebox Heart' to the polished Dubstar-esque pop swoons of 'Folie'.
The true heart-stirring standout here is 'No-one In The World', as Wendy Roberts gets all Shirley Bassey over some gloriously cinematic string swells. Unfortunately, it's also the best thing here by far, showing up the rest of this record as uninspired. - Keith Kirchner
Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997: Live (deConstruction)
If it is true, as the popular football chant maintains, that 'the object of all art is peace' then this second live album should allow artistic director Pierce to nod out in deep tranquillity forever.
It was recorded five months after the triumphant Ladies And Gentlemen… and deploys the 12-piece Brixton Community Choir plus strings and a four-piece brass section to transform the band's already revelatory neon gospel tunes into full-on epiphanies. With tracks from 'Lazer Guided Melodies' as well as intro/outro jazz spume hymnals based around the happy-clappy Edwin Hawkins Singers hit 'Oh Happy Day' it is probably the definitive Spiritualized record, proceeding from a flambéed Velvets basis to storm heights of metaphysical greatness.
The nurturing effects of The Stooges, Suicide, Kraftwerk, Loop, Miles Davis and gospel are all obvious and straighter rock'n'roll energy blasts like 'Electricity' and 'Walking With Jesus' provide Velvets/Mary Chain/Verve tinctured light and shade.
All in all a gem.
The people, who put the Lou into hallelujah, the only band on the planet with an altitude problem, bring you the orgasm, the womb, incarnation, love, death, purgatory, some seraphic line dancing and a top game of pool with the ineffable. - Keith Kirchner
Fireworks City (Mother)
Audioweb are soul warriors desperately trying to provide a cross-cultural soundtrack to their hometown's mean streets of Manchester.
The aim is fair enough: Audioweb as a modern-day Clash, effortlessly fusing issues and musical genres. It's just that shorn of The Clash's style and flaming polemic, all that's left is a band with its heart in the right place.
Fireworks City is their second album, and it retains all the outdated hallmarks that characterized its predecessor. What should be cutting edge is already old-fashioned. Sirens and helicopters collide with random scratching, house beats slap against synthesised strings, and still the best you can say about songs like 'Get Out Of Here' and 'Personal Feelings' is they're tuneful, but undemanding.
Not quite the riot it should be. - Keith Kirchner
Join Us (Dischord)
There are some fragile punky souls out there whose raw emotional experiences are not so much worn as branded on their sleeves. America, naturally, is full of them, and relatively speaking, it means they take their punk rock more seriously; where power isn't necessarily measured by velocity or venom.
And when they do tread old floorboards, they at least try to bring some new gloss to freshen things up a bit.
Washington DC's Bluetip proffer a more savage yet art-conscious display. 'Join Us' effortlessly sways between waves of razor-sharp guitar abuse and ethereal pop manoeuvres such as 'Bad Flat' - a footnote on the perils of complacency - while Jason Farrell's brilliant asymmetrical prose reminds us that the psychology of the sensitive man is always infinitely more intriguing. - Keith Kirchner
Jurassic 5 (Pan)
Say, kids, what time is it? Around Jurassic 5's house, the clocks stopped somewhere around ten years ago, making them nostalgic rap throwbacks whose musical vision stalled before this decade even started. While shamelessly old-school, as fresh as any hip-hop in '98.
Not for Jurassic 5 gangsta posturing, glossy G-funk jeep beats or the creepy strings and gothic styling of the ever-expanding Wu family. Rather, they deal with dexterously expressed positivity and spare, funky, impeccably cut beats.
And they do it brilliantly. Listening to the short and sweet 'Jurassic 5', it becomes clear what their West Coast cohort DJ Shadow is talking about when he bemoans the lack of experimentation and true lyrical skills in contemporary hip-hop.
This, undoubtedly, is what we've been missing. Jurassic 5's models are pretty transparent, the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and, crucially, De La Soul. Ghetto brutality is conspicuous by its absence: they don't even swear much. DJs Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist seize the chance the show off their cut-and-paste talents on 'Lesson 6', an overt homage to hip-hop collage originator Steinski.
Revivalist bands can often be, at best, a guilty pleasure. Jurassic 5 takes the pain out of living in the past. - Keith Kirchner
The Masterplan (Sony)
You either hate Oasis or you're legally insane. And it's good to hate because, if nothing else, it helps you better measure the things you actually like.
For example: I love the blatant stupidity of organized religion as much as I detest Oasis. Now, it isn't that Oasis is a bad band, it's just that the brother's shenanigans often overshadow the music. Noel Gallagher - when fighting the urge to rip-off The Beatles, Small Faces, etc. - is a good songwriter, horrible lyricist, and better singer than brother Liam.
Take a listen to the first single, 'Acquiesce,' which has Liam singing the verse and Noel taking over the chorus because his brother can't reach the higher notes. He's a musical liability!
I figure if fans were allowed to vote on what B-sides they wanted to hear on The Masterplan, then surely those same fans have a right to vote Liam out of the band. Please, do your part to halt this near-global annoyance. - Keith Kirchner
The Antidote (Wall Of Sound)
The big beat extravaganza continues!
Somewhat overshadowed by the critical success of Monkey Mafia, Fatboy Slim et al, the Wiseguys shouldn't be ignored. This debut album shows off their ability to write a good tune, mixing the old with new, with a result that offers big beat boutique music that at times verges on a happy house vibe.
To over sell this album would be to call it a classic. To under sell it would be to lead others to ignore it. Given a handful of listens you may, like myself, get to like it immensely. - Keith Kirchner
DEUTSCH AMERIKANISCHE FREUNDSCHAFT
The Kleinen Und Die Bosen (Mute)
Mute records are re-releasing four albums by the very influential German precursors of hard electronica music from the likes of Front 242, Die Krupps and Nitzer Ebb.
After recording their debut album "Die Kleinen Und Die Bosen" (the first ever release on Mute) DAF slimmed down from a four-piece to a duo, and managed to release a further three albums, in little more than 18 months.
The DAF sex machine lived on, inspiring those who were drawn to their uncompromising blend of punk electronica, long after the band's demise in 1982. What DAF gave to electronic music was aggressive and confrontational, washing away the counter-culture hippiness of Can and Tangerine Dream, and the machine deftness of Kraftwerk.
Live they would sweat enthusiasm stripped to the waste or fully dressed in leather camp futurism. Listening to 'Die Kleinen…' now, it is easy to hear references a plenty. But like the recent release of Suicide, it a pleasant reminder of my long lost youth. - Keith Kirchner
Introducing Cadallaca (K Records)
When Cadallaca singer/guitarist Corin Tucker says her band is all about "drama," she's not referring to the drama as practiced by her other band, the critically acclaimed punk-rockers Sleater-Kinney.
When she performs with that group, Tucker's songs are about life-and-death emotions (and though they don't detail the lives of gangstas, they actually approach "drama" as people like Master P and Tupac use the word, in terms of gut-wrenching, heart-breaking intensity). Cadallaca proffers "drama" in a vein closer to that of community theatre.
Just how well listeners take to Cadallaca will depend in part on their appreciation for Dougher's haunting 60's style Farfisa organ; it envelops everything in its hum, as well as kitchy American punk.
At times, you can almost feel the vocals bouncing up against the studio walls. Cadallaca wash over the listener like a gray day with plenty of rain, the kind where one can marvel for hours on end at drops running down the window, and you keep thinking you hear a mouse. - Keith Kirchner
Moment Of Truth (Noo-Trybe)
For the majority of its career, Gang Starr has been blazing new trails in hip-hop, establishing itself as a leader of the hip-hop/jazz movement and other trends.
Guru has earned critical praise for his Jazzmatazz projects and the ubiquitous DJ Premier for his unmatched production skills, and as a duo they are as lethal and forthright as ever on their fifth album.
Guru still possesses the most intoxicating, weighty and unassuming rhyme flow in the biz, and his observations of his surroundings, ego or the industry at large are presented over Premier's nuggets of uncomplicated genius.
The duo breaking away from the jazz-heavy style of their last few albums to hold a clinic for their much younger peers who need to know how to rock a mic with smarts, style and uncompromising lyrics. - Keith Kirchner
dm 81-85 & dm 86-98 (Mute)
The singles collection is split into 2 CD's, 81 - 85 is a single CD whilst 86 - 98 is a double. The split shows the two contrasting yet complimentary periods of development in the life of Depeche Mode.
From early eighties 'Smash Hits' pop band to globe trotting stadium band in the late eighties and nineties. Of all the bands that sprung up in that period, few have survived the rigors of popular fads and new faces.
dm 81 - 85 covers the first 4 prolific years when the band went through line-up changes, losing Vince Clarke, releasing some 15 singles. All the songs on this album are very synonymous with the period, and there is a quality of naiveté and untainted joy in the songs.
dm 86 - 98 tracks the bands route into mega stardom world tour stadium rock. The music whilst retaining aspects of it's earlier pop roots, became somewhat darker and more powerful. Gone were the 'twee' lightweight synth tunes, in had come heavy pounding bass beats and samples.
You become aware of how successful Depeche Mode have been over the last seventeen years. - Keith Kirchner
Making Bones (Warp)
"…And the nominee list for the Mercury Music Award starts here."
Two years on the trot the winners have been for the most unique and innovative album, so the 1999 winners should have been Red Snapper. An eclectic mix of nineties beats and jazz vibes. In fact, more crossovers and burning of fences than an average arsonist's output!
This is the trio's (double bass, drums and guitar) second album and something of a change in style for the Warp label, more commonly known for its darker more experimentally-edged nineties dance music.
It has been almost two years since their debut long player, "Prince Blimey", expressed their original fusion of electronic sounds and acoustic instruments. Since then they have been building up a live reputation supporting the likes of Bjork, Prodigy, Massive Attack and the Fugees. - Keith Kirchner
Odelay, more than almost any record of the last five years save OK Computer, really worked. Fully formed; varied without being schizophrenic; funny but not jokey; it was a start-to-finish success.
Beck, like the Beastie Boys, is a great collaborator, pushing and pulling against the influences around him and coming out with something more than what was thrown in.
For a guy who's often criticized as being the leader of the '90s irony sweepstakes, Beck's turned around and delivered an album that's tuneful, sometimes even pretty, and wickedly never out of character. There's not a dud to be found among the album's 12 songs.
There's a weird clarity to most of Mutations, the flip-side of Odelay's fantastic mess. And it's surprisingly never disappointing. For the first time in a studio, Beck had a brilliant band to fill the role of his loops and samples, and he rose to the challenge. It's a tricky balance, but it works because the songs are up to the players, and the players are most assuredly up to the songs.
It is — surprise, surprise - a real collaboration, and if Odelay didn't prove Beck isn't a one-trick pony, Mutations pretty much settles the issue. - Keith Kirchner
Tical 2000: Judgement Day (Def Jam)
Back in '94 he gave us Tical, a lively and influential insight through Meth's third eye vision of what's to come from both himself and the Wu, being one of the first Wu solo albums to hit the streets, it brandished the Wu flag highly.
Raw guitars, violins and the 'off key ' essence of Method Man blew people away. Tical 2000 is everything you would expect from Meth. The album has a number of producers, mainly from the Wu; most of which have the hard hitting feel with the already famous strings and piano trademark of the Wu-Tang producer Rza.
Through out the album the tracks seem to blend all too well then just as you begin to crave for a bit of variety Eric Sermon gives us a piece of the old DEF Squad flava on two tracks, Ex-Stetsasonic producer Prince Paul does his thing as well as Havoc (Mobb Deep) and Trackmasters all of a sudden we have something all so different.
Guest appearances also include TLC's Left Eye, Streetlife, Mobb Deep, Raekwon, Mastakilla, Killa sin, Redman, comedian Chris Rock, and old MTV Raps presenter Ed Lover. Tical 2000: Judgement day is most definitely a worthy purchase. - Keith Kirchner
Garage Inc. (Elektra)
There comes a time in the career of a famous rock band when its members are inexorably drawn to the idea of recording some homage to their influences, or perhaps a tribute to favored colleagues.
For Metallica, this was the time, even when the hard-rocking quartet could get away with coasting.
The ringer is an overly reverent, all-star version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's lament, Tuesday's Gone, recorded for a radio broadcast. But for the rest of these two discs, they take on a panoply of material from artists that range in diversity from lumpen, prole-metal band Merciful Fate to metal-pop cult faves the Misfits to aggro-punkers Discharge to blue-collar rocker Bob Seger, and Nick Cave, as well as Killing Joke!
If it's hell-bent guitar you want, don't fret. Leave it to guitar legend Hammett, who stretches out on a monumental version of "Astronomy" from the songbook of riff-rock monsters Blue Oyster Cult.
Metallica seem to have approached Garage Inc. with a spontaneity that cuts to the bone of the material. If it just happens to have an effortless feel to it, that's part of its allure. - Keith Kirchner
Featuring MC Conrad & DRS and Earth 3
LTJ's Good Looking records bless this New Year with two stellar releases. LTJ Bukem, who incidentally takes his name from a phrase in the classic US detective show Hawaii 5-O, (Book'em Dano), stepped hard to the scene with 1996's groundbreaking Logical Progression, where he showcased his and other like-minded drum 'n bass artists' new style of "intelligent" D'n'B.
He has continually raised the bar thru his Progression Sessions releases and Earth compilations, and these two records continue to explore new angles for the D'n'B genre. With LTJ's newest solo release, LTJ mixes up lyrical duties between DRS and longtime cohort MC Conrad with good result.
The combined lyrical flow of two voices compliments this music better than one. The beats continue to be polished breaks with atmospherical synth snippets thrown in to create a relaxed vibe.
Listen to this album before you go out on a big night when you have to be on. The music is class and inspirational.
The Earth series was created so "Good Looking could let our artists show that they are firstly musicians." By this I think they mean that they want to create a situation where new artists are able to present their material as they want, not according to any formula geared towards commercial success.
Anyway, Earth 3 doesn't disappoint. This D'n'B compilation is more hip-hop influenced than the previous two, with heavy grooves thruout. The record is highly recommended, but the music is varied, as it is a compilation, so if your checking it out at the record store make sure you give it a proper going over before making a decision.
By the way, if either of these records moves you, be sure to pick up Good Looking's banging release Blame featuring DRS. - Jay King
Future Sound of Prague
Future Sound if Prague is a solid compilation, with a few outstanding trax. Represented are 14 local acts, with widely divergent styles ranging from progressive house to stoner funk to dub reggae.
Certainly a good album to play for guests during a dinner party, with the hopes of it getting progressively wilder.
The sequencing of the album is geared that way. Highlights include 00 Bidlo's percussive work on 'No Trouble', the ambient groove of Zka4t's 'FO3FO5', the galloping beats of Frenzy's 'House of Faust' and my favorite, Stonehigh's jazzy laidback doobie anthem 'Big Joint'.
One point of contention though, if you are going to include English in the liner notes, it ought to make sense. Or maybe it is an intended slight, one can never be too sure these days.
Anyway, well done to IntellYgent Recordings for fielding an impressive offering of local acts. - Jay King