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Music Reviews

Popular Music CDs - Part 10 - December, 1998

Graham Vine

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Ratings:
Extraordinary
Good
Acceptable
Mediocre
Poor

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"Quench"

Beautiful South

Mercury; TBSQP 1

Performance: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)

I'm a late-comer to Beautiful South, I must admit. "Choke", "Blue Is The Colour", "Carry On Up The Charts" . . . all passed me by. But even a
casual listening to the new album "Quench" is enough to grab most people's attention - it's bound to be one of the year's top albums.

There are some stunningly good tracks here. The opener, "How Long's a Tear Take To Dry?" is not one of them, in my estimation, but still a good portent for the next 50 minutes or so. Tracks 2 and 3 bring us the first 'stunners', an autobiographical "The Lure Of The Sea" and the sentimental "Big Coin".

The album has perhaps two or three we could call fillers, but don't these merely point up the excellence of the bulk of the album? And excellence is to be found in the current single success, "Perfect 10" and several of the others. Surely "The Slide" and the cleverly titled "Window Shopping For Blinds" are potential new single releases. I'm told "Dumb" is scheduled for release as a single - not my personal favorite but still strong enough to chart well.

The performances on all the songs are nearly perfect themselves. Those vocals are as clear as a bell, sometimes bouncing between male and
female lead, sometimes harmonizing as in the sumptuous "The Slide". There's an interesting selection of instrumentation, too, giving us a glorious Hammond organ, some George Harrison style guitar work, Richard Tandy style keyboards, and some soulful sax 'n' trumpet stabs. I particularly enjoyed the electric piano - could almost be Billy Preston. Just the merest hint of a criticism: on a couple of tracks there's a slight variation in tempo with no clear intended artistic effect. It's not so severe that it gets in the way, but I felt a little puzzled. On the other hand, human musicians are not mechanical metronomes.

So how about swapping some of those record vouchers for "Quench"? Sounds like a good use for them to me, and then there's always that back catalogue. I really must catch up on my Beautiful South.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. How Long's a Tear Take To Dry?
2. The Lure of The Sea
3. Big Coin
4. Dumb
5. Perfect 10
6. The Slide
7. Look What I Found in My Beer
8. The Table
9. Window Shopping for Blinds
10. Pockets
11. I May Be Ugly
12. Losing Things
13. Your Father and I

- GV -

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"Gravelands"

The King

Chrysalis; 7243 4 98004 2 7

Performance: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)

"The King" is not Elvis - but he sounds darned like him! The premise upon which the album "Gravelands" is built is to take a bundle of songs by dead people and sing them in the style of the late, great, Elvis Presley. Grisly? Well, not really. There is certainly an element of the tongue-in-cheek about it. You can probably tell that from the Paul Simon-like title of the album and its subtle change from the Gracelands
home of the "Pelvis". And the sleeve notes tell a tale (using all the titles of the songs) of how a ghostly Elvis together with the equally 'spiritual'
Kurt, Janis, Marvin et al. came to visit one Jim Brown in his bedroom instructing him to become "The King" and to embark on the project which
became "Gravelands". Spooky stuff.

Stange enough, it's a mighty fine listen. Bearing in mind that Elvis fans seem to really appreciate Elvis tribute acts, I imagine there could be
quite a receptive audience for this album. Whether fans of the original acts would feel this way must be doubtful, though, at best.

Let me take three examples: there's "Whiskey in the Jar" (the Thin Lizzy hit), there's John Lennon's "Working Class Hero", and finally "Heard It
Through the Grapevine" which had its biggest charting with Marvin Gaye. Now I'm quite a fan of all these, but I don't feel so possesive that no-one else is allowed to sing them, even in the context of an album like this. Oh yes, and "Working Class Hero" is perfectly radio-safe in this rendition with John's profanity softened to the almost harmless.

So it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I think the treatment is respectful. The danger of these versions sounding incongruous (and therefore a farce) has been avoided. It's set at 'repeat-all' on the CD player even as I write these lines.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. Come as You Are
2. Love Will Tear Us Apart
3. Song to The Siren
4. Whiskey in The Jar
5. Heard It Through the Grapevine
6. Blockbuster
7. Sweet Home Alabama
8. Working Class Hero
9. Something Else
10. All or Nothing
11. 20th Century Boy
12. Dock of The Bay
13. Piece of My Heart
14. No Woman No Cry
15. Voodoo Chile
16. Whole Lotta Rosie
17. New York New York

- GV -

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"Onion fresh"

Various Artists

25 Records; 25F 019

Performance: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)

It's a slow starter, this one. With 18 acts spread over 20 tracks there was bound to be some disparity amongst them. We have a mixture of pop and rock pieces, some outstanding, others - well, their mother loves them. So my wish is that the openers had been chosen in a way which gave the album a 'shove' rather than a 'shove-off'. Several other listeners have failed to persevere beyond those first few tracks.

The initial tracks suffer from a deficiency in the vocal department. Not that the vocalists themselves are poor, but maybe there's a mismatch with the songs. Taking track 4, Spotless with "If You Weren't So Ugly" as an example, the song itself is good, but the vocal is spoiled by poor diction and an in-yer-face mixdown.

Let's move on to some more positive aspects. By track 6, Red Ash & The Love Commandos singing a song called "Neurotic", the album really is warming up. Some of the songs have the sound of a single success about them. There's "Tell The Hangman" by The Hamptons for instance. And how about the Springsteenish Norman Collins song "To Start With". Or the poingnant Lou Reed soundalike "35 Miles" by Robert Beven-Jones. Lovely. Some other reservations surround the sound quality. Maybe the mastering was faulty on the two Michael Eric Downey tracks. "Turnaround" starts like a Weather Report track and then gets into a Billy Idol-ish style. A decent pair of songs but the distortion on them simply sounds like overloading of the headroom.

Let me conclude with my verdict on the best track on the album (and these are only my views, folks). What a good song we have in Magic Music with "Friday Night at the Bookclub". Interesting lyric, great vocals and some superb attention to production.

Now here's a suggestion: buy the album, pick the 12 or so songs you like, make a play-list order on the CD-player and there you have it - a mix
'n' match CD.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. Curious Oyster: Opium
2. Honeygun: All in White
3. Jade: Love Left
4. Spotless: If You Weren't so Ugly
5. Choker: Webswerver
6. Red Ash & The Love Commandos: Neurotic
7. Godboy: Check Out My Lava-lamp
8. Monkey Boy: It Came From Mars
9. Magic Music: Friday Night at The Bookclub
10. The Hamptons: Tell the Hangman
11. The Hamptons: The Best Thing About London Town
12. Robert Beven-Jones: 35 Miles
13. Norman Collins: To Start With
14. Michael Eric Downey: Turnaround
15. Michael Eric Downey: I Don't Believe
16. Forget The Down: Giving Up The Ghost
17. Blue Monkey: For Love
18. Dave Sexy: Touched (By the Hand of God)
19. Inhaler: Fishkill Correctional
20. Morph: Conscience

- GV -

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