Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Carnival is Over

Combining kaleidoscopic worldbeat flourishes and stately medieval tonalities with dark-hued Goth-rock sensibilities and dream-pop kookiness into a palatable musical stew might initially seem to be a near-impossible undertaking, but that is exactly what dynamic duo Dead Can Dance have been doing since the early 1980s. Coupled with telling, harrowing, existentialist-angst wordplay that invariably border on the surreal, Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry have successfully, effectively crafted a unique aesthetic that has won them numerous critical accolades, even if commercial rewards have been less than forthcoming. Check out 1993's 'The Carnival is Over', one of the most realised examples of Dead Can Dance's peerless artistry, a melodramatic, theatrical tour de force that slyly drops several Joy Division lyrical references, and also gets a highly abstract and decidedly dreamlike video clip that effortlessly matches its auditory impact.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart

A much-underrated slice of chamber-pop worthy of adulation on the same sort of level as certified classics by Burt Bacharach and Scott Walker, the evocative 'Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart', written by the collaborative team of Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook, was originally a top five hit for crooner Gene Pitney in 1967. However, it's the 1988 resurrection of the song, conceptualised as a duet between notorious former Soft Cell frontman and synth-pop bon vivant Marc Almond and Pitney himself that gave the composition its highest recognition, going all the way to the top spot in Britain. Check out the kaleidoscopic video clip of this version, suitably set in a decidedly idealised version of Las Vegas.

Here Comes the Flood

Originally constructed as a grandiloquent, orchestrally enhanced prog-rock epic on his 1977 debut, Peter Gabriel has subsequently reinvented the quietly desperate 'Here Comes the Flood' as a humble piano ballad, which did the neat trick of effectively enhancing the song's inherent personal-apocalypse lyrical context. Check out a live-in-concert take of one of Gabriel's most fan-beloved songs, performed during a gig in Philadelphia in 1987, mounted in support of his 1986 blockbuster record 'So'.

Don't Give Up

Arguably the most understated single to emerge from veteran art-rocker Peter Gabriel's 1986 commercial breakthrough 'So', the quietly moving 'Don't Give Up' is calibrated as a delicate duet with former child-prodigy songstress Kate Bush, infused with just the right amount of pathos to make for an unassuming, but effective inspirational anthem. Check out its appropriately austere, straightforward video clip, the overall concept of which is postulated upon the primary visual motif of an extended bear hug betweeen Gabriel and Bush.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Chauffeur

One of Duran Duran's more esoterically arty compositions is the haunting, eerie epic tone poem 'The Chauffeur', originally found on their 1982 sophomore blockbuster 'Rio'. This drama-in-song constitutes a discernible and welcome change of pace and mood from the more chart-friendly likes of 'Hungry Like the Wolf', 'The Reflex' and 'Girls on Film', and also offers a darker, edgier musical sensibility, as proven in its ghostly, icy synth ostinatos, steadily crawling drum-machine undertow and nightmarish, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Check out an appropriately theatrical live performance of the track, shot during the band's triumphant 'Sing Blue Silver' tour of 1984, during the period when they had all their Taylors together.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


The Kraftwerk live experience is quite unlike anything else on Earth. In contrast with other more conventional gigs by the likes of similar contemporary rock giants, a Kraftwerk concert does not rely on visceral showmanship, instrumental pyrotechnics or hazardous stage diving. Instead, the four unflappable German pioneers of synth-pop would stand stoically at their Korg polyphonic synthesisers, Yamaha Midi keyboard controllers or modified Sony Vaio laptops, and strike the appropriate keys or depress the correct buttons, all done with no discernible passion or facial expressions. It’s just Teutonic accuracy and austereness at its best.

The real attraction in any Kraftwerk concert, as any devotee would tell you, is the visual accompaniment to the music. The focus here is not on those four German gentlemen playing in splendid isolation; instead, the primary appeal lies in is the complementary imagery. As each track plays, fitting images would be projected on the giant screens behind them. Check out a stellar example of this visual artistic aesthetic at work, when Kraftwerk performed the sleek, streamlined 'Aérodynamik' at the European Music Awards in 2003, with projected computerised grid patterns appropriately embodying the futuristic vigour and drive of the track.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Small World

Despite having put out an overwhelming surfeit of eminently ear-friendly, reliably flawless pop melodies, Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Frame might have toiled long and hard in an often-unforgiving business, but has only been repaid with continuing unresponsiveness and sometimes, even sheer unawareness (especially in that monolithic, oftentimes indifferent market called the United States of America). A crying shame, really, considering that Frame has proven himself time and again to be habitually incapable of writing a duff song (virtually every tune he has written holds the potential to be a hit single, if only given the proper exposure and support). One of Frame's most endearing trademarks is his singular ability to effectively convey simple, candid observations without sounding mawkish, and nowhere is this more evident on 'Small World', a sparkling guitar waltz from 2002 album 'Surf'. Check out a stellar live take on this minor classic, shot at the famed Borderline in London during a series of residencies to promote 'Surf'.

Monday, October 19, 2009


While most uppity critics and armchair aficionados have criticised the late-1990s, Ray Wilson-led incarnation of Genesis as the weakest (not to mention artistically dreariest) of all the myriad line-ups of the veteran progressive rockers, there are a few commendable pieces from that era to take note of. One such song is the dark-hued, alt-rock-inflected 'Congo', which harks back to the measuredly insane Peter Gabriel days of the mid-1970s, a noticeable (and welcome) change from the slick, MOR-influenced Phil Collins sensibilities that permeated the chart-busting records of the 1980s. Check out a dynamic live performance clip of the track, shot in Prague during the brief tour in 1997 to promote parent album 'Calling All Stations'.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses, for all intents and purposes, were the most artistically accomplished and commercially renowned act to emerge from the chaotic Madchester scene of the early 1990s. Armed with a justifiably arrogant attitude, classicist pop-smart songwriting and an awe-inspiring arsenal of endlessly inventive and impossibly cool guitar riffs, the Manchester outfit rode high on the charts back then, winning the hearts and minds of fans and critics alike. The band's key sensibilities are perfectly encapsulated in their 1989 eponymous debut album, which has become something of a confirmed rock-music classic and a pop-culture phenomenon, winning numerous accolades and being hailed as one of the most consummate debut records in years.

For newbies still in the dark about the legendary and exceptional stature of 'The Stone Roses', this newly reissued edition should serve as an ideal introduction. Presented in an expectedly pristine remastered format, and value-added with a bonus disc of vintage outtakes and B-sides, this new edition of 'The Stone Roses' is a virtual boon for longtime aficionados seeking to replace their first-generation CD editions. So, diehards can once again thrill to the exhilarating likes of the luminous, sacrilegious 'I Am the Resurrection' (with John Squire's spangling guitar lines), the tremendously kinetic, funked-up 'She Bangs the Drums' (a good showcase for frontman Ian Brown's disdainful, nonchalant drawl), the blissful Technicolor portrait of paradise that is 'Waterfall', and the swaggering, self-assured 'This is the One'.

Elsewhere, Reni and Mani, the band's proficiently funky rhythm section, excel on the rampant, rampaging 'Elephant Stone', and 'Made of Stone' is a cavalierly restrained guitar-pop bauble that takes full flight in its choruses. The stratospheric 'Fool's Gold' is a druggy, acid-drenched, too-cool-for-words rocker that is one of Madchester's indisputable anthems. And finally, the echo-laden, confidently energetic 'I Wanna Be Adored' is as definitive a statement of intent there ever is, effortlessly taking listeners to a veritable musical dizzy height.

At the end of the day, no matter how hard any critic tries, the truth is no amount of words can describe the sheer pop-cultural weight of 'The Stone Roses': the only way to experience its greatness is to hear it for yourself. Still resonant and resplendent after all these years, this is one album that rightfully deserves the deluxe-reissue treatment, with all the bells and whistles that such a package entails. Nowhere else has an amalgamation of intricate yet appealing guitar hooks, neo-psychedelic values and dance-rock cadences been so perfectly woven together into a flawless tapestry, and nothing else comes close to it in terms of musical enlightenment. An absolutely stellar reissue of a confirmed rock-music classic, one that should belong on every serious collector's shelf.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Come Down in Time

One of the more under-appreciated compositions in Elton John's extensive repertoire is the yearning, yet stately 'Come Down in Time', originally found on Reg's mythical 1970 concept album 'Tumbleweed Connection'. Former Police chief did an unassuming and unadorned, but also engaging and persuasive version for the 1991 John and Bernie Taupin homage collection 'Two Rooms', and that adaptation was arguably one of the bona fide highlights of an otherwise run-of-the-mill tribute record. Check out this historic televised performance, where these two British mainstream rock legends finally got together to do an impromptu but inevitably first-class rendering of this classic ditty about unrequited love.


Making an extremely strong case for the artistic validity of the 1980s incarnation of legendary progressive-rock icons King Crimson, the overwhelmingly overpowering 'Sleepless' unexpectedly became a minor hit single for Robert Fripp and company in 1984. The most striking thing about 'Sleepless' is its absolute monster of a bass line, generated from a modified Chapman Stick, and played by maestro bassist Tony Levin. This instantly memorable riff constitutes the essence of the song, which is also embellished by Bill Bruford's adept polyrhythymic percussion structure, Fripp's patented guitar Frippertronics, and Adrian Belew's suitably schizophrenic and paranoiac vocals. Check out a jaw-droppingly virtuosic live performance of 'Sleepless', filmed during the band's April 1984 tour of Japan in support of then-current album 'Three of a Perfect Pair'.

And I Love Her

One of the more underrated and under-recognised pieces in the Beatles' impossibly vast constellation of stellar songs comes in the form of the carefully poised ballad 'And I Love Her'. Originally found on the historic 1964 mock documentary 'A Hard Day's Night', the Paul McCartney-written composition has a structurally understated but authoritatively melodic feel to it, with its primarily acoustic arrangement, bossa nova-derived underpinning, and defined acoustic-guitar riff. Check out the initial performance of the track, lifted from the middle segment of 'A Hard Day's Night', brilliantly displaying the Fab Four in the finest fettle possible.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Simple Minds in 1998 decided to make a return of sorts to the proto-electronica sound of their nascent days of the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the release of the much-underrated 'Néapolis'. This change in artistic aesthetics caught many bandwagon fans by surprise, the same fans who revelled in the stadium-rock stridency and the foghorn bombast of the preceding years. Unlike the mainstream pop-rock accessibility of chart-busting hits like 'Don't You Forget About Me', 'Alive and Kicking' and 'Sanctify Yourself', the tracks from 'Néapolis' were by contrast more measured and restrained, not to mention more abstract and thought-provoking. The first single, the effortlessly streamlined 'Gliterball', was a veritable mélange of icy synth patterns, processed guitar riffs and a slow-motion Kraftwerkian rhythm logically spiced with some updated junglist elements. Check out its evocative video clip, set in the future-surreal surroundings of the one-of-a-kind Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Queen and the Soldier

Without a doubt, Suzanne Vega remains the most resonant and engaging luminary to emerge from the short-lived 1980s folk-pop movement, which provided a viable alternative to the garishly gaudy New Romantic acts and greyscale post-punk acts that dominated the Me Decade. Vega's songs are things of awe and revelation: equally inspired by the nebulous wordplay of Bob Dylan and the sharply drawn songwriting of Leonard Cohen, and calibrated by her own acutely sharp observations of life in detail, they are fiercely intelligent and quietly compelling gems wrapped in coolly impassive, yet eminently accessible melodies. This brand of sophisticated leftfield pop has produced extraordinary, lasting compositions which should have made bigger impacts on the charts, if only the industry was more welcoming of this sort of leftfield pop. Check out Vega's appealing artistry in this 1997 live performance of the baroque-sounding 'The Queen and the Soldier', an oblique anti-war tale set to measured steel-string guitar lines.

Cocteau Twins

The legendary Cocteau Twins' impact on indie rock cannot be overestimated, although the now-defunct Scottish trio were prone to some artistic pretentiousness and wilful insularity back in the day. The Cocteaus were arguably responsible for engendering that rather gauzy but utterly compelling sub-genre of rock known as dream-pop, marked by blissed-out synth atmospherics, heavily flanged guitar patterns, and most of all, frontwoman Elizabeth Fraser's vaporous, angelic vocals, which can sound rapturous and blissful one minute, and absolutely bloodcurdling and spine-chilling the next. It's no overstatement to say that the Cocteaus' basic artistic methodology practically defines the phrase “aural ecstasy”, and how. To get an idea of the Cocteaus' out-of-this-world sonics, check out 1994's stellar, idyllic 'Evangeline', which received a rather arty video-clip treatment, showing the band performing in a sea of modified looking-glass effects.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


One of the most candid and heartfelt paeans to Generation X angst ever put out in the market, the Smashing Pumpkins' '1979', a major hit for the veteran alt-rock collective in 1995, was also significant for a few other reasons, mostly to do with the band's artistic sense. For one, it was the first instance where Pumpkins mastermind and frontman Billy Corgan abandoned his erstwhile epic, progressive-rock obsession, in favour of a more streamlined, conventional pop-song approach that virtually seemed tailor-made for commercial radio. '1979' also marked the juncture where the Pumpkins decided to opt for a more pronounced electronica-influenced sensibility, a methodology that they would embrace in full on their next studio work, 1998's sleekly brooding 'Adore'. Check out the whimsical video clip, in which Corgan acts as a bemused observer, duly noting down the antics of a clique of bored suburban teenagers getting into various hijinks in an unspecified midwestern American town.