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Music Reviews

Popular Music - Part 29 - February, 2000

Graham Vine

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Ratings:
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"There is Nothing Left to Lose"

Foo Fighters

Roswell Records; 74321-71699-2

Performance: 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)

As rock goes, it's pretty heavy stuff. But certainly not heavy going! Every moment is a treat. This third album from the Foo Fighters is somewhere around the 21-carat mark, though it's rather hard to pin-down where the attraction comes from. No doubt Dave Grohl's songwriting is the major influence, though his tunes cannot be classed as particularly catchy. The musicianship is of a high order, even if there is little in the way of solo guitar work. The album sounds original, but there are sprinklings of other familiar pieces.

The Foo's style has been likened to a latter-day punk, with its stripped down fundamentalism, though the effects lab has been raided for the best tricks on offer. Maybe all of these contradictions are what makes the album work so well for me. Those effects, for instance, could sound camp in a late 20th century setting. The flanging is used in a restrained way, but what a deep notch they give it (no gentle "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" here). The severe voice-filtering, that telephone-voice effect, works well (..."Hello, how are you, have you been alright...?"). And taking a pipe (just like Pete Frampton) to feed the guitar sound into your mouth (no, not a wah-wah. Hah, some 'critics'!) hasn't been heard for years.

All of these could have sent the album off course had they been adopted in some half-hearted way. But this album exudes confidence, and that makes all the difference. It's a crisp performance. Good harmonies - rather like Cheap Trick. And I was very impressed by the drumming. I could leave you to spot those similarities to other pieces; the ones I spotted were track 10 having a smidgeon of "Across The Universe" about it, and the end of track 6 has elements of both The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" and Radiohead's "Let Down". It's fun trying to spot more of these similarities, because the whole album is immune from criticism on these grounds. So buy "There Is Nothing Left To Lose" and have some fun.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Stacked Actors

2. Breakout

3. Learn To Fly

4. Gimme Stitches

5. Generator

6. Aurora

7. Live-in Skin

8. Next Year

9. Headwires

10. Ain't It The Life

11. M. I. A.

- GV -

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"On How Life Is"

Macy Gray

Epic; 494423-2

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

Having heard two or three tracks from "On How Life Is" on the radio, it was clearly time for a personal audition. I was overall rather disappointed - well done to the music controller on the radio station for picking the best two or three songs to put on rotation. Naturally, that includes the deservedly-popular single "I Try", but such expectations expose the rest of the album to the possibility of a let-down.

Some listeners have commented adversely about the 'excessively' husky voice, even describing it as 'squeaky', criticisms I cannot accept at all. I have never heard a voice like that of Macy Gray before, and yes, distinctive is good. My only complaint is a wish for the diction to be somewhat crisper, but that's something which can be worked on. Whereas variety is good in a set of tracks making up an album, I found "On How Life Is" to be too patchy. The quality is just not there in a consistent way. In fact, it's worse than that. Most of the tracks are too long. I have taken the unusual step of listing the track times; for an album of only 10 tracks, they seem to have been spinning them out to fill out a respectable album length. The total running time is 45 minutes - hardly excessive - and yet I felt most of the songs had run their course about three-quarters of the way through the track. That means the last quarter of each track is repetitious and even a bit boring. The result of this was that listener-fatigue set in, which is hardly a good omen for what should be the prospect of 'fresh, new music'. I shall definitely be looking out for the next Macy Gray release, but I beg that it is made up from the best dozen songs out of 20 or 30 on offer. A bit of 'natural selection' should work wonders.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Why Didn't You Call Me (3:14)

2. Do Something (4:57)

3. Caligula (4:38)

4. I Try (3:59)

5. Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak (3:57)

6. I Can't Wait To Meetchu (5:18)

7. Still (4:15)

8. I've Committed Murder (4:59)

9. A Moment To Myself (4:00)

10. The Letter (5:38)

- GV -

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"H.M.S. Fable"

Shack

London; 556-1113-2

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

I've been enjoying a CD by Shack called "H. M. S. Fable" and thought it deserved a wider exposure. "H. M. S." stands for Her (or His) Majesty's Ship, and it is the preface used for Royal Naval ships in the UK. The ship in the title of the album, one assumes, is made up - hence the name "Fable" - so it all fits together. There is a faintly nautical theme to some of the tracks: justification enough for the title and more than enough of a link for most artists. Track 6, "Captain's Table" has a clear connection. It has a certain rolling-along feeling about it and swelling cymbals to suggest the crashing waves. Cornwall, as in "Cornish Town" has one of the longest coastlines (for its area) of any English county, so it also fits in well. If you think these elements might be leading up to a folk-influenced album, you would be right.

A vocal style which is predominantly two-part harmony has much in common with The Proclaimers from Scotland, but Shack takes the folk-rock movement one stage further with a much fuller backing. This is developed to a fine art on track 11, "Since I Met You" where the strings, brass, and even synthesizers build to an exciting crescendo. Regular readers of these reviews will know how I appreciate contrasts in and amongst the songs; well, as that crescendo is dying away in your head, we are treated to a simple acoustic guitar backing and just one of the vocalists. In a way, it prepares us for the silence to follow, and the contrast is even more stark.

Many of the songs are pensive, and you can tell from the lyric-sheet that words and music share importance with Michael Head, chief song-writer. But there are fun sections too. "Lend's Some Dough" sounds a lot like The Wonder Stuff's "Size Of A Cow", and the trick of creating the sound of an old scratchy phonograph is in there too.

So if rock with a folk slant, or folk with the harder edge given to it by electric guitars and most of an orchestra, is to your taste, there is a good deal to be enjoyed here from Shack.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Natalie's Party

2. Comedy

3. Pull Together

4. Beautiful

5. Lend's Some Dough

6. Captain's Table

7. Streets Of Kenny

8. Reinstated

9. I Want You

10. Cornish Town

11. Since I Met You

12. Daniella

 - GV -



Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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