IRON MAIDEN – Somewhere In Time

Iron Maiden arguably hit a peak in the mid-eighties with their most adventurous release ‘Powerslave’.  In many ways, the follow up album, ‘Somewhere In Time’ seemed like a step backwards, at least in terms of musical arrangements.  Its release marked the first time where Maiden seemed to be on musical autopilot, firmly believing the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke…’ despite including guitar synths in an attempt to modernise the band’s sound.

Once ‘Caught Somewhere In Time’ has finished its opening gambit of twin guitar leads touched up with the newly found guitar synths, the band power full pace into Steve Harris’s trademark galloping basslines, while Adrian Smith and Dave Murray trade top-notch guitar lines, both turning in impressive solos.  It’s business as usual here and you’d be forgiven initially for thinking Maiden were following ‘Powerslave’ with an equally impressive work.  The quality remains high with the appearance of Adrian Smith’s ‘Wasted Years’, featuring the band at their most brazenly commercial.  As with some of his previous songs written with Maiden, Adrian Smith proved, yet again, he had a great ear for melody and a knack for a great chorus.  At this mid-pace, Maiden get to stretch out a little; there’s more separation between the instruments and the band seem well suited to the more commercial style.  Despite a decent lead guitar arrangement, it was – and always will be – the chorus that’s the real draw here. The more I’ve heard this song over the years, the more I find it a shame that Adrian Smith didn’t get more songs featured per album.  Granted, his songwriting style may be less grandiose than that of Steve Harris’s, but anything Smith has written is always preferable to Harris’s one line choruses.  If only they could have reached a compromise…

 

‘Sea of Madness’ (another track written by Smith) features the band at probably their heaviest.  The opening riff absolutely thunders as Steve Harris’s bass strings take a pounding.  While not as instantly memorable as the couple of preceding tracks, this one features the energy usually present behind classic Maiden, but once again, brings in another decent chorus, adding plenty of weight to the first half of the album.   The opening of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ shows a brief flirtation with spaciousness and melody, before the band launch into a piece of hard rock which sounds like Maiden on auto-pilot; there’s a decent guitar solo here and lots of other hallmarks from classic Maiden, and yes, the occasional usage of the guitar synths provide a nice touch (I may be one of the only people who thinks the guitar synths are a good idea), but despite those hallmarks, this song runs out of steam mid way, as crowd vocals chant ‘whoah’ in what sounds like a contrived attempt at creating something for the live audiences to look forward to…and by the time the main thrust of the song returns, it only seems to replay everything we’ve heard previously.  It’s here that the first cracks in the album appear and no matter how good bits of the second half are, it feels like an album always playing catch-up to its first three numbers.

 

‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ features lyrics based upon Alan Sillitoe’s short story of the same name.  Lyrically it’s the first of two songs which, dare I say, try too hard to be intelligent.  The twin lead guitars during this song are among the best the album has to offer, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to save something which isn’t particularly song driven.  There’s literally no hook – and its one attempt at a chorus type refrain is delivered rather gratingly.  ‘Stranger In a Strange Land’ is far simpler driving itself along effortlessly via a mid paced bass riff.  Vocally, Bruce Dickinson sounds more at ease and while it’s not as memorable as ‘Wasted Years’, it’s a track which provides the album with another fairly commercial number.  Adrian Smith adds some real class to this track via a brief atmospheric section before the main guitar solo, which takes things up a notch.  Once again, it’s another number written by Adrian Smith: it’s clearly his work which stands out as the strong links on this album.  Sadly, the return to form doesn’t last…

 

‘Déjà-Vu’ finds the album at a critical low point.  While it provides a great trademark dual-guitar riff, musically it finds Maiden going through the motions; things aren’t helped any by a one line chorus (‘Feel like I’ve been here before’).  By the song’s end, there is a feeling of déjà-vu, since you’ve heard Maiden do this kind of thing time and again…only much better.  Bringing things to a close, ‘Alexander The Great (356-323 BC)’ is marginally better, but not up to the band’s previous standard of closing epics.  Lyrically it’s a little pompous and sounds like Steve Harris wrote it in an afternoon with an old O-Level history textbook.  Parts of the vocal melody sound like they’ve been recycled from previous tunes; musically its first half sounds strong enough, but there’s a feeling of dissatisfaction, especially during a couple of twin guitar leads, which sound like they were lifted straight off of the ‘Powerslave’ LP.  A slower instrumental break during the second half restores some faith, but there’s still that nagging feeling that this has been cobbled together from other previously used musical themes.

 

In summary, the end package is noticeably weaker than each of their preceding works (except for ‘Killers’, perhaps, since that was half made up of material pre-dating the debut LP).   I think it’d be more than fair to say that ‘Somewhere In Time’ marked the end of a golden run for the band.  It’s certainly the first flawed offering since the arrival of Bruce Dickinson.   Despite half of the material not being quite up to scratch (let’s be honest, if the running order switched ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and ‘Stranger…’, you’d hardly play the second side, would you?), its good points still make it worth spinning once in a while. 

 

July 2010

JON MULLANE – Shift

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Jon Mullane may be familiar to North American listeners since this album’s opening track, ‘Make You Move’, was used on NBC’s trailers for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Released two years later (talk about not cashing in on potential advertising), this album’s biggest interest lies in the fact that Mullane’s co-writer Creighton Doane – one time drummer with the mighty Canadian rock outfit Harem Scarem – is also in the producer’s chair and the drum stool…and what’s more, he’s bought Harem Scarem’s Pete Lesperance along to play guitar.

On Harem Scarem’s early albums, Pete Lesperance proved to be a decent guitarist (their first three albums are well worth checking out if you like melodic rock and haven’t already done so – their third, ‘Voice of Reason’ is particularly underrated by the melodic rock community). Then, about the time of Harem Scarem’s fifth album ‘Big Bang Theory’, Lesperance traded in his best styles for a more “modern” approach…and sadly, on Mullane’s ‘Shift’, he seems to favour a similar style – a slightly distorted rhythmic choppiness replaces his classic, medium range fretboard gymnastics. And so, the potential excitement surrounding Lesperance’s contribution to this disc, for me, had all but vanished by the end of the second track.

With that, it’s down to Jon Mullane – whom, we shouldn’t forget is running the show here – and his songs to stand on their own. Overall, there are only flashes of greatness among a quagmire of dullness, I’m afraid. It suffers from the complaint that its songs are essentially 80s rockers, but they’ve been dressed up to appear more cool and alternative. I never understood that emperor’s new clothes thing and Jon Mullane is no exception.

‘Make You Move’ plods along predictably; a fuzzy edge to the guitars and a slightly gravelly approach to some of the vocals attempt to give the impression that the track is more modern, but at the heart lies something that is unashamedly 80s. Handclaps and woo-woo’s kick start ‘Got It Goin’ On’, which typifies driving music for those who never quite made it out of the 80s. Having half of Harem Scarem on hand really should have helped pick this up a gear, but as mentioned, Lesperance’s guitar tone has no shine and once you factor in Creighton Doane’s drum sound being quite weak (it appears to have been given some electronic oomph elsewhere on the album), it doesn’t fire up the listener in the way it really could have.

A couple of tracks try far too hard to be edgy: ‘Sin City’ has distorted keyboards providing its muscle – which irritate fairly quickly (interestingly though, Lesperance’s solo is half decent, though nowhere near as good as he’s capable of); ‘Missing Time’ utilises a similar mechanical, distorted sound, interspersed with a ticking effect to highlight the little meaning behind the song (like you were too stupid to get it…) There are occasional appearances of some eighties synth pop keyboards which sound like novelty doorbells, but generally, there’s nothing here to keep you coming back for more.

There are a couple of decent numbers, but those only really pull the album up to a middling standard, given the low batting average here. ‘The One That Got Away’ is a decent ballad, which, with a bigger set of boots could have fit snugly on a latter day Vertical Horizon disc, or maybe that overlooked sole album by Neve. With a bit of luck, it wouldn’t sound out of place on a montage scene in a hit US teen drama; ‘You Get What You Get’ provides some one-two marching on the spot punchiness and momentarily gives the impression that the album is about to pick up, while the gentle rock of ‘Change Your Life’ shows promise, despite its by numbers approach; the piano flourishes help lift it a little farther, but a weak chorus lets the side down.

To be honest, unless you’re a Harem Scarem completist, or else wondered what that music was on the Olympics trailer (although, since this album was delivered some two years after the event, it’s likely you’ve forgotten about it), you could probably live without this album.

July 2010

FERREIRA – Better Run!!!

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Since we’ve previously featured a soccer related review at Real Gone – the excellent third album by Alexi Lalas – you could be forgiven for thinking we’ve gone down that path again, since this band is fronted by Marco Ferreira. However, the frontman of this band is not the Portuguese winger…

Marco Ferreira – the Brazilian born vocalist/guitarist – mightn’t be a household name, but his career has been a busy one. The debut album under the Ferreira band name (featuring his brother Alex on drums) was released in 2002, after which Marco joined the French progressive metal band Venturia, with whom he recorded two albums. He then set off to record his first solo album, which was self-released in 2008.

Released eight years after their debut album, comes this second album from the Ferreira band. This release sees Marco teamed up with his brother once again – alongside Patrick Sebastian on lead guitar and bassist Gus Monsanto. Housed in a clichéd fire-and-brimstone style sleeve, ‘Better Run!!!’ has its heavy moments, but isn’t quite as heavy as some of you may be expecting, looking at that artwork. In all, it offers ten songs steeped in a hard rock chug, balanced out, in the main, by multi-vocalled, melodic choruses.

The mid-paced riff at the core of ‘Secret Damned Society’ is typical of most of the album’s style, despite the opening featuring some faster guitar work. When the chorus arrives with its harmony vocals, things settle in a little more. Ferreira’s brand of Dokken style hard rock works well here – as it does throughout most of the disc – and while the opening may suggest there are guitar histrionics somewhere on the horizon, lead guitarist Patrick Sebastian’s style of playing shows more restraint than some of his peers and influences for the most part. ‘Rescue Me (Will You Be Ready)’ takes similar elements but uses most of them in a more confident fashion: the riff is a decent hard rocker; the harmony vocals are firmly in place and the guitar work during verses show a lightness in places – a lightness not always heard elsewhere on the album. The major down side is that the band should have made better use of a chorus (with this kind of rock, one line repeated isn’t quite enough). On the flip side, Sebastian turns in a decent – if short – guitar solo.

‘I Want Out’ – one of the album’s faster numbers – highlights why the band is better off sticking to a mid pace. When stepped up a gear, things veer too far towards early Malmsteen territory – it’s not a great leap of imagination to picture what this could have sounded like with Jeff Scott Soto wailing over it at full pelt during his younger years. The title track features a decent guitar solo and an enjoyable riff (even if it’s a standard mid-paced one you’ve almost certainly heard hundreds of times before) but those looking for more depth could be disappointed. ‘Rule In Self Defence’ is more interesting with its percussion heavy stomp between the verses which creates a more memorable rhythm; this shows great promise, however, it’s the chorus which is the high point. The harmony vocals are similar to those used elsewhere, but when combined with the slightly down-tuned riff there’s an echo of Dokken during their ‘Shadowlife’ album. Melodic rock purists are certain to whine about the grunginess here…but whatever they think, this seems to be a style which works well for the band.

‘Trust The Enemy’ represents the band at their most edgy. Employing a treated vocal in places to reinforce the anger (which doesn’t seem entirely necessary), it could have been dismissed as being heavy for the sake of it, but respite can be found in a more melodic chorus – which itself could have been used more effectively perhaps, but coupled with a simple hard rock guitar riff, it’s a number which manages to work well enough, even if it’s the album’s weak link.

For me, Ferreira are at their best when delivering the softer numbers. The album’s two power ballads alone make ‘Better Run!!!’ worth checking out. During ‘Knocking at My Door’, each of the musicians is given more breathing space and the softer edge of Marco Ferreira’s vocals provide excellent contrast to the power driven voice he uses elsewhere. The harmony vocals on the chorus are joined by a tasteful lead guitar part and the solo also shows a great control – it would have been easy for Marco to step things up a gear here and make the solo stand out. The staccato parts of ‘History We Make’ mightn’t lend itself to a power ballad, but once the pre-chorus vocals kick in, the band find a groove that evokes something which sounds slightly like something like Queensrÿche may have explored during their ‘Mindcrime’ late-80s golden age – if only they’d approached things more softly. (In fact, another review suggests this album sounds a lot like Queensrÿche – a comparison largely lost on me as a big ’Ryche fan…there are fleeting glimpses here of occasional Queensrÿche-isms, but as a general rule, Ferreira aren’t much like them at all).

Overall, ‘Better Run!!!’ is a hard rock release which, although workman-like in it’s approach and unlikely set the world afire on a grand scale, holds enough appeal for melodic rock fans – particularly for those who enjoy stuff from the harder end of the scale. Just don’t be put off by the “inspired by a second division eighties thrash band” artwork…

July 2010

TRAIN – Save Me San Francisco

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Like most people in the UK, I first became aware of Train when the title cut from their second album ‘Drops of Jupiter’ became a hit. Mainstream UK success eluded the band for some time after that, but they continued to be major players in the US, with their brand of pop/rock (It is likely that elsewhere on the net you’ll see Train referred to as ‘modern rock’. I’m not going to make such claims since I feel that [a] The bulk of Train’s material is often too pop-based to be lumped in with other band’s who’ve gained such a tag; [b]that’s a rubbish term coined by people who enjoy melodic rock music but hated the term post-grunge and [c] the idea of branding anything ‘modern’ is a mistake; after all, it won’t always be modern – and what are you gonna call it then?). After enjoying ‘Drops of Jupiter’, I tracked down their debut, which also had a lot going for it. Although the slightly rockier edge of their third outing ‘My Private Nation’ gathered mixed responses from fans, it did nothing to damage their solid US following and the release of ‘For Me It’s You’ in 2006 continued their success.

2009’s ‘Save Me San Francisco’ reinstates the original Train line-up (last heard playing together on ‘My Private Nation’) and is produced by Martin Terefe – a producer known for his work with Jason Mraz, James Morrison and KT Tunstall. I find James Morrison to be a dullard, capable of churning out nothing more than easily listening tut and Jason Mraz is hopelessly overrated; however, I think most of KT Tunstall’s output is fab, so there was always hope that Terefe could work wonders for Train.

The single release ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ had major airplay on UK radio stations Absolute and BBC Radio 2, gaining the band a great deal of attention – perhaps the most they’ve ever had from UK audiences. Regardless of this, I hate the song. It’s lightweight, feel-good, here-comes-summer quality is extremely irritating – and having the main musical thrust (if that’s the appropriate word here, and I’m not sure it is) delivered on a ukulele does not help matters. Pat Monahan’s expressive voice also seems to have fallen foul of autotuning (and seemingly not the only time on this album, it must be said). It’s a surprise that this became a UK hit for Train at all; when I first heard it, I had trouble believing it was them. Although Train were never the most alternative of the late 90s radio-friendly bands, this song is so bland it hurts. File somewhere next to Jack Johnson and forget it.

Righto. With that out of the way, from the perspective of someone who owns the previous Train albums, how does the rest of ‘Save Me San Francisco’ shape up? I’m pleased to say that despite my dislike of the single and a small concern that Martin Terefe’s main concentration seems to be on Train’s most commercial aspects (leading to a few of the songs ending up a bit more Maroon 5 than I would have liked), the end result is pretty good – even if it never quite matches the best bits of the previous Train albums.

With an acoustic intro, ‘Save Me San Francisco’ instantly wrong-foots its listeners. Given the choice of producer, it was almost inevitable Train’s sound would lighten up a touch, but once the drums kick in, any big fears you may have had about the album being entirely too soft should be swept aside. What eventually develops over the course of just over four minutes is a decent and confident piece of melodic pop/rock with a slightly retro edge. While never as hard hitting as The Black Crowes, for example, this track has a similar bar-room quality, gathering momentum as it goes and eventually making good use of female backing vocals with a souly vibe. ‘If It’s Love’ goes for a quirky approach; initially, there’s a Collective Soul-esque rhythm, but the chorus is far more poppy. Striking a perfect balance between radio-friendliness and soft rock edge, once it finds its groove it has all the makings of a decent track, even if Monahan’s voice reaches slightly annoying pitch here and there and some of the verses’ lyrics decend into quirkiness for the sake of it.

‘Words’ marks the reappearance of female backing vocals and with the way they’re used evokes a soulful tinge, even though the song itself is pure pop; ‘Marry Me’ is complete acoustic sugariness and while the lyrics are syrupy, the sparse musical arrangement is effective. ‘Breakfast In Bed’ is the album’s other truly horrible affair, largely worked from a programmed loop somewhere between a bossanova nastiness and ‘In The Air Tonight’. However, that’s not its biggest crime: remind me to ask the band what “I wanna please you, I wanna Japanese you / You’re breakfast in bed” is all about. Very poor indeed. Some redemption comes from a heavily pounded drum kit during the end section, but it’s not enough.

If I had to pick a favourite track from ‘Save Me San Francisco’ it would be ‘Parachute’. It’s here Pat Monahan’s voice sounds at its most natural; the music is more dramatic – in fact, it’s great to hear guitarist Jimmy Stafford getting to play something a little harder. Overall, it’s far more in keeping with the rock side of Train’s radio friendly chops and probably could have fit snugly on to ‘My Private Nation’. ‘You Already Know’ also hits harder, but in a totally different way. A memorable chorus is laid over the top of choppy rhythm guitars and while it still has an air of slightly-too-calculated radio-friendliness, it represents part of the reason why Train’s popularity hasn’t wavered in the US.

Train have a sound which works for them on this album and rarely deviate from it (the most obvious stylistic difference being on ‘Hey, Soul Sister’); but overall, that more obvious pop sheen provides just enough variation from previous albums to keep the band from repeating themselves. Despite the album’s lead single being teeth-grindingly irksome and some of the songs occasionally blending into each other, ‘Save Me…’ is a worthy addition to the band’s catalogue, despite its faults. It features a couple of corkers among its eleven songs and on the strength of those, Train aren’t about to hit the buffers just yet.

May 2010

neil’s Heavy Concept Album

neilI know what you’re thinking and it’s probably along the lines of “isn’t this album a bit novelty for Real Gone?” and on the surface you’d be right – but this album offers so much more than novelty quirks.

For those of you who don’t know, neil (often written in lower case) was a hippie character, played by Nigel Planer in the alternative comedy series The Young Ones. After that programme came to an end, Planer reprised the character and recorded this album, full of late 60s/early 70s hippie classics, interspersed with spoken word comedy pieces. What’s of greatest interest here though are the musicians involved – the cast list (in addition to a few of Planer’s comedy chums) features a handful of musicians from the early 70s Canterbury Scene. Dave Stewart (the Hatfield and the North man, not to be confused with the beardy one from the Eurythmics) has the greatest impact, playing lots of instruments as well as handling production duties. The first big question which needs asking is exactly how did Planer get these musicians involved? Did he know them personally?

The album begins with an apology from neil, explaining how the album turned out nothing like he’d wanted, before launching into a cover of Traffic’s ‘Hole In My Shoe’ (a number 2 hit in the UK in 1984; it held that postition for three weeks, having been held off the number 1 spot by Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’). Despite a nasty synthesised sample of an elephant, this arrangement of ‘Hole In My Shoe’ is fabulous and very faithful to the original. Dave Stewart’s production is fantastic, as it is throughout the rest of the album. It’s such a pity this only became a huge hit due to its so-called novelty potential.

After neil falls down the sink and has a conversation with a mouldy potato, we are treated to a rendition of ‘My White Bicycle’. Frankly, the pace of the arrangement here runs rings around the original version (recorded by Steve Howe’s old band Tomorrow, in 1967), which in comparison sounds slow and a little clumsy. A couple of the eighties keyboard sounds used here date the arrangement a little, but it’s a minor complaint, as this is fabulous and one easily one of the album’s best tracks. Stewart’s use of piano in a theatrical, almost slapstick style near the close of the song is a fabulous touch.

At this point we come to the first song specifically written for the LP. A spoken word intro (‘neil The Barbarian’), concerning neil eating meat and turning into a crazed maniac – read by Nigel Planer’s brother Roger with a deep husky voice in the style of a horror film trailer – kicks into ‘Lentil Nightmare’, a proto-heavy metal tune which references King Crimson. Written by Planer with contributions from Rik Mayall, it’s another musical high point. Bryson Graham (ex-Spooky Tooth, Girl), turns in a top drum performance here as a “heavy metal drummer”. Jakko Jakszyk churns out heavy metal guitar riffs and Planer squeals in over the top falsetto. neil, meanwhile, is amidst a breakdown and smashes his room to pieces in a meat-crazed frenzy. The whole thing is narrated superbly by Stephen Fry in suitably over the top style. It closes with neil feeling disappointed that he’s smashed everything to pieces – but not feeling sorry about smashing horrible computer alarm clock his brother gave him for Christmas…only to discover it still works!

A cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Gnome’ is up next (a number supposedly sung by neil’s rubber plant Wayne, whom neil has just read a poem and had a chat with, as you’re supposed to talk to plants) and again, it fits the mood of the album well, sticking closely to Syd Barrett’s original psych-pop blueprint. As with the piano on ‘Bicycle’, Dave Stewart and his team can’t resist some extra fun, though; here, some jaunty trombones come in at the end for a bit of cabaret style fun [the brass is played by Annie Whitehead – known for her work with National Health and Robert Wyatt; she makes a couple of other appearances on this album later on]. ‘Cosmic Jam’ closes the first half and while it adds nothing musically, it features the best joke. neil discovers a piece of psychedelic music, presumably arranged by Stewart, which is essentially just some gentle drumming and a trippy bass loop, augmented by vibrato guitar work. He says he could ‘listen to it all day and never get bored’ – only to change his mind ten seconds later to proclaim it ‘quite boring’ and something which ‘makes him feel quite sick’. That never fails to amuse me. The track is then spoilt a little by including a rather crappy joke about the record being scratched. If only there was still the original instrumental track somewhere in the archive…

The second half kicks off with a spritely version of ‘Golf Girl’ (originally by Canterbury Scene legends Caravan). Musically, it’s not too far removed from the original, so much so that Caravan’s Jimmy Hastings plays the piccolo here, as he did on the ‘Land of Grey & Pink’ LP. I defy anyone who’s heard this not to add neil’s enthusiastic ‘yeah!’ whenever they’ve played the original version since! Sadly, something which would have otherwise been brilliant is a rather spoilt by some comedy adlibs and Dawn French’s appearance as a fascist policewoman at the end. Not entirely necessary. We’re next promised that neil will bring his album back to acoustic basics – a plan thwarted by his mother (played by Dave Stewart’s wife and long time musical partner Barbara Gaskin). She turns this track (‘Bad Karma In The UK’) into incredibly bad synth-led rap. It provides some amusement, but ultimately ends up being the most dated thing on offer and somewhat grating.

At this point, the album loses its way briefly, as neil tells a tale of a girl who caught flu off her boyfriend’s Sony Walkman (very 80s) and how they ended up hating each other after he started eating meat; he then sings an acoustic ditty about a man who hates him (‘Ken’ – something which also features in ‘neil’s Book of the Dead’, although worded more strongly). As if realising the album’s losing its way, neil finds himself at a crossroads which leads to ‘The End of the World Cabaret’. Here, Planer plays a cabaret singer, reprising the voice of the character he used for the Dicky & Dino skit in the “Young Ones” episode ‘Bomb’. The cabaret man believes himself to be suave, but in reality, he is a twat. He and neil launch into a cocktail cabaret version of ‘God Save The Queen’ (yes, the Sex Pistols song). What’s of most interest here is that this was recorded well over a decade before Richard Cheese made such re-imaginings fashionable – but it’s hardly likely that Planer’s ever going to get any credit for this. It’s interesting to note that the cabaret drums could be played by Pip Pyle from Caravan [I say could be, as it might be him playing here; he could just as easily be playing the cabaret style drums at the end of ‘The Gnome’ – annoyingly, the original LPs sleeve notes give no real indication – only that Pip plays “drunken cabaret drums”].

neil escapes the explosion of the end of the world by floating in the air…which leads into the album’s last great moment – a fantastic cover of Donovan’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’. Here, the superior Steve Hillage arrangement of the song has been chosen (far preferable to Donovan’s flimsy record), but has been beefed up slightly. Although partly singing in character as neil, this is Planer’s best performance. The musicians involved are at their best too – the bass noise throughout the second half (either played by Dave Stewart or Rick Biddulph – again, it’s not clear from the sleeve notes) is great, adding plenty of extra depth, leading to a wobbly other-worldliness. ‘Paranoid Remix’ reprises some of the key moments from the album (listen carefully, you’ll also hear a sample of Bob Monkhouse!), before settling into ‘Amoeba Song’ – the most unashamedly hippie song here. A cover of one of the sections from ‘A Very Cellular Song’ by Incredible String Band, it’s hardly essential, but at least it’s in tune – unlike the original, which sounds truly horrible decades after its inception.

The cassette version of the album – if you’re lucky enough to find one – features a few extras. ‘Cassette Jam’ follows ‘Cosmic Jam’ and has neil explaining how the whole joke about the record being scratched doesn’t work if you’re listening on cassette before imitating the sound of a cassette getting tangled; A cover ofThe Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ played by some buskers (Rowland Rivron and Simon Brint, aka Raw Sex) gets cut short after neil complains about its subject matter (“I thought this was about whole foods”); ‘Go Away’ follows ‘Amoeba Song’ and features neil getting stroppy as “that was supposed to be the end and just because the cassette’s still running [we] shouldn’t expect anything extra”. He then begrudgingly plays ‘Hurdy Gurdy Mushroom Man’ (the b-side of ‘Hole In My Shoe’), a likable hippie song, if a little silly. It’s not really essential listening.

The original release has one major flaw in that there just aren’t enough detailed sleeve notes. The musicians are listed under two separate camps: beautiful acoustic musicians and horrible electric musicians. There’s no indication as to who plays on each track. Some musicians’ contributions are fairly obvious (Pip Pyle being credited as “drunken cabaret drummer” for example; but even that’s not completely clear, as he could appear in one of two places – possibly even both). With others you’re left guessing as to where they appear; the best case being Gavin Harrison, who is credited as “flash studio drummer”. Let’s assume that means he played most drum parts not obviously played by Pip Pyle or Bryson Graham [although Dave Stewart is also credited as being a drummer on the album too – albeit “useless drummer”, so it’s a complete mystery as to where and how much he played drums]. And yes, the Gavin Harrison on this album is the Gavin Harrison most famously associated with Porcupine Tree! Although this album is not mentioned in Gavin’s online discography, it’s definitely him, since the discography mentions later work with Stewart, Gaskin, Biddulph and Jakszyk.    [EDIT: An expanded reissue from Esoteric Records/Cherry Red in 2014 adds the cassette’s four bonus tracks to the CD running order for the first time and also includes sleeve notes. Some of these mysteries may be cleared up after decades of wondering…]

If you’re a fan of The Young Ones and have never heard this album, then you need to. Just as importantly, if you have an interest in the Canterbury Scene and the musicians involved then it’s worth investigating too. Despite the comic nature of some of the material, everyone turns in fantastic performances.

I know this album was meant to represent neil’s musical tastes, but part of me hopes that given the amount of love which has gone into the musical arrangements, it somehow reflects Nigel Planer’s tastes too.

Watch both ‘Top of the Pops’ appearances here and here
Watch neil on ‘Saturday Superstore’ here
Watch the US promotional advert for the album here
Watch neil on MTV in two parts here and here
Watch neil on Australian TV show ‘Countdown’ in four parts
here, here, here and here

February 2010