Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

There are certain albums that cannot be revisited or reviewed due to their status in the music world. Certain albums which have been defined as a classic and will be forever noted in history as such. I would not even begin to consider that I could review such an album, but what I can try to do is write about what one of these albums represents and means to me. The album in question was released in 1977 and I think that most households probably owned a copy of it.

To me, it represents a memory of growing up and finding out what music was about.

Growing up in a house that was interested in music meant that there was always lots of it around in various forms. We had a wonderful Sony hi-fi system (which I miss very much now as it was fabulous) that had a tape deck, equalisers and a turntable. It sat within a wooden unit which had a large space at the bottom that was filled with vinyl. It was a real mish-mash of artists from Deep Purple and Pink Floyd to The Beatles and Cliff Richard. It was very diverse as my mum was a mod and my dad was a rocker. I used to love playing my parents records from a young age and the reason the album I’m writing about means something to me is because it was the vinyl I always pinched on a regular basis to listen to a certain track in particular.

If I said to you Formula One coverage on the BBC what would spring to mind? Hopefully you’re thinking of the music that accompanies it. The instrumental part of a song that has that wonderful bassline before the guitar kicks in and takes the song up a notch until the final dramatic ending. Yes, I’m talking about “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac which therefore means the album in question is Rumours.

I’m not even going to attempt to discuss this album in any great depth as I’m sure those of you who either own this record or have heard it (and I would think that’s probably most people) will have formed an opinion about it already which my thoughts certainly aren’t going to change. What I can do, however, is tell you what this album means to me and why it’s important in the grand scheme of things.

“The Chain” is my favourite track off of Rumours and I always liked hearing it boom out of the speakers when I was a kid. I am a child of the late ’70s and was brought up by music loving parents who managed to imprint some of their taste onto me. I don’t consider myself to have a genre and will listen to pretty much anything that is thrown at me to form an opinion on whether I like it or not. Being open to anything probably comes from hearing a variety of music growing up from swinging ’60s tunes to heavy ’70s rock via a bit of ’80s thrown in for good measure. Fleetwood Mac happened to be a band that were liked by both of my parents so I suppose it’s only natural that both my brother and I would end up liking them too.

Hearing Rumours at an early age has set me up for bigger and better things and it has definitely added to my appreciation of what good music is.

I think it was possibly the law in the late ’70s to own a copy of Rumours and everyone at the time seemed to have it. It’s an album that represents a certain period in time for the band and comes with a lot of baggage attached to it. Ask anyone what they know about this album and they will probably mention the drugs, the affairs and the fighting within the band before they get to the actual track listing. As a piece of work, it’s probably their finest in my opinion. Interestingly, Stevie Nicks has said since that the chaos that was going on at the time helped them to produce their best work, which I think is pretty evident.

4 T

When Fleetwood Mac started out in the ’60s they were a blues band. The dynamic changed when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined at the end of 1974 and gave the band a breakthrough album the following year. The sound of the band had moved into more of a breezy American pop sound, mainly thanks to the new duo in the band. This new line up would prove to be their most successful, but with the success came a variety of personal problems as at that time the McVie’s marriage had broken up, Buckingham and Nicks ended their relationship and Mick Fleetwood was also in the middle of divorcing his wife. All this drama was mounting as the band were under pressure to release a follow up to their number 1 eponymous album “Fleetwood Mac”. Add in to this the fact that the money and success had led to an over-reliance on alcohol and drugs and you have a very explosive situation going on.

The issues that were taking place in the background shaped the way the album was made and ended up sounding. All of the tracks on “Rumours” relate to personal, usually troubled relationships such as “Go Your Own Way” which was written by Buckingham about his failing romance with Nicks. The whole album was produced to have “no filler” with every track having the potential to be a single. I think when you listen to it all the way through, they achieved this without question. The album features wonderful harmonies between the three vocalists and a combination of acoustic and electric instruments.

One of the things I love about this album is the timeless quality of it. I can listen to it now and it doesn’t appear that dated to me in any way. I guess that’s the quality of the production. That the songs still work nearly 40 years later. I have heard the track “Don’t Stop” being used as part of a management conference, “The Chain” as described above was used for the Formula One and “Dreams” was originally covered by The Corrs as part of a Fleetwood Mac tribute album, but their version ended up giving them a successful hit single. Both artists and consumers just seem to love this album.

The legacy of Rumours is apparent as this album regularly features in polls such as top albums or essentials albums that you must own. In fact, by 2009 it had sold 40 million copies worldwide. Mick Fleetwood himself described it as “the most important album we ever made” as the success has allowed them to continue as a band for the continuing years afterwards. I think that as time has marched on, the status of this album has changed from one that just happened to sell a vast amount of copies to an album that has been defined as classic due to what it contains.

I know that some people out there don’t rate the band much and would struggle to listen to anything that they have recorded perhaps due to the persona of the group. I probably can’t change your minds on that, but what I can say is that Rumours is a wonderful album, full of beautifully written and performed songs which will stay with you after you have listened to it. It’s an album I put on quite often and once it’s played all the way through, I will go back and put my favourite tracks on again. To me, it represents a memory of growing up and finding out what music was about.  Hearing it at an early age has set me up for bigger and better things and it has definitely added to my appreciation of what good music is.

If you ignore the whole background drama that comes with the album and just take it on face value as a well-produced piece of work, I think you will find that you will enjoy the craftsmanship that has gone into it. There is no doubt that it is a classic album and I don’t think anyone can disagree with that fact. If you don’t own a copy of it, I would suggest you go out and purchase it. If you are one of the 40 million plus that have it to hand, go and stick it on now, sit back and work your way through the beauty that is Rumours.

Feeder – Comfort in Sound

I was quite surprised when a friend of mine asked me to write a piece on a band that he likes. Actually, I was a bit chuffed to be honest, but then I had to have a think and consider which album I would write about. That was the tough bit. The band in question is one that we both share a love for and discuss every now and again. Let’s just hope I’ve made the right choice and can do the album justice. Here goes.

Feeder - Buck Rogers

In 2001 a film called “Behind Enemy Lines” was released. You might remember it. It had Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman in it and was about a naval pilot who was shot down over Bosnia and had to find a way home. Okay, but what has this got to do with music I hear you ask? Well, there was a song in the film called “Buck Rogers” which was by a band called Feeder. I’d never really heard of them before, but I quite liked the track and thought I’d look into them a bit further.

In the early days Feeder were a band that weren’t really that well known commercially, but they had something of a cult following with their fanbase.  Their first full length album was Polythene which was released in 1997 and was a grunge, alt rock affair. Their next two albums would continue with this same sound.  Despite rave reviews from critics, Polythene only charted at number 65 in the UK and would become their lowest charting album. However, the fans loved it and this led to them getting a main stage appearance at the Reading festival that same year.  It was the release of “Buck Rogers” that gave them their first top ten UK single when the album Echo Park came out in 2001 and brought them more into the mainstream.

The album is a journey for both the band and the listener

The time that I heard this single was probably some point in 2002 and as I was looking into the band, they happened to have a new album coming out. That album was called Comfort In Sound and was released in October of that year. This album showed a change in both direction and in sound for the band which was ultimately due to the tragic loss of their drummer Jon Lee who took his own life in January 2002. The album represents the pain and the grief of losing their friend and the moving on that the surviving members went through in their decision to continue as a band.

The first single to come out was “Come Back Around” which preceded the actual album release. It’s quite a catchy track, but with a hard edge to it and some loud guitar thrown in for good measure.

Three more singles followed: “Just The Way I’m Feeling”, “Forget About Tomorrow” and “Find The Colour”. The band scored their second UK top ten single with “Just The Way I’m Feeling” and the album reached number six on the UK album chart and then spent a run of 36 weeks on the weekly top 75 album chart.

This album is their most intimate to date, with the heartfelt lyrics of Grant Nicholas showing his struggle to come to terms with the loss of his friend. I read that Grant and bassist Taka Hirose had some doubts about continuing as a band, but Jon’s family urged them to keep going. They recruited drummer Mark Richardson formerly of Skunk Anansie to join them and went off to produce what would become Comfort in Sound.

Feeder - Forget About Tomorrow

The album is a journey for both the band and the listener as it jumps from track to track and from orchestral moments featuring wonderful string arrangements to the punk/pop sounding heavy guitars that the band were more known for previously. The gorgeous “Forget About Tomorrow” is possibly the main focus of the album with its epic sound and heartbreaking lyrics. Elsewhere we have the massively distorted “Godzilla” which is heavy going with vocals which almost sound like screaming at times. The album closes with the track “Moonshine” which I think is a fitting end for this record as it feels to me like a slow breath out after everything that has gone before.

This album possibly could have become something of a tawdry effort of sentimentality, but the refined and intelligent lyrics of Grant Nicholas ensure that this doesn’t happen. I think those listeners who take the album as it comes will appreciate the sincere meaning that this record represents and see that after everything that was endured, they have come out the other side stronger. The follow up album Pushing The Senses is a continuation of that strength and showed that the band would become a name to be recognised in amongst the big players.

I would recommend checking out Comfort In Sound and that you undertake the journey yourselves to get an understanding of what Feeder are about and what they have to offer. There’s definitely a lot to like on this and their other albums too.

Feeder 1

Del Amitri – Twisted

When I originally considered what the “rediscover” series should be about, it was around writing about an album which I thought was great, but might have passed people by at the time. There are so many to choose from (which might indicate that my taste is somewhat different to everyone else) and I’ve tried to think about artists I love and want to share with you all. While I was pondering who to write about next, I noticed a friend on Twitter mentioning a band that I liked and decided that they could be my next subject. But which album should I go for? It was a tough choice, but after some contemplating I picked the one that I thought needed a bit of love and attention.

1995 saw the release of the fourth studio album by Scottish rockers Del Amitri entitled Twisted. Prior to this album the band had enjoyed some success with singles such as “Kiss This Thing Goodbye” and “Always The Last To Know”. They were known I guess for their melodic folk sound with lyrics which focused on mainly love and loss. The reason I have chosen this album to write about rather than one of the previous releases is that Twisted came with a change in sound, caused a change of line up and also features their biggest chart success to date with a throwaway song that lasts just two minutes, and which gave them a massive hit in America.

Del Amitri - Be My Downfall

I first heard of the band when a mate at school played me some tracks from the Change Everything album. The whole premise of gentle, acoustic songs of longing must have appealed to my teenage sensibilities and I decided that I liked them and wanted to know more.  I went off and purchased the self-titled debut, Change Everything and Waking Hours and spent some time catching up on what I had been missing over the past few years. I loved Justin Currie’s voice and being of the inclination that acoustic music was a thing of total beauty it sat very well with my current listening at that time. I was therefore very excited when I knew that a new album was due to be released.

That album turned out to be Twisted. As I was no longer playing catch-up, I enjoyed discovering the new tracks at the same time as everyone else. This album showed a new direction for the band as there was more emphasis on electric guitars than on the previous albums. The first single to be released was “Here And Now”, which peaked at 21 on the UK charts.  With great lyrics, it also has a more upbeat feel to it with a nice build up to the guitar break towards the end of the track.

Three further singles were released from the album: “Tell Her This” was a rather lovely little acoustic number which reminds me slightly of the earlier and very beautiful “Be My Downfall”; “Driving With The Brakes On” was one of the album tracks that harked back to their previous stylings, and was the highest charting single from this album in the UK, hitting number 18; “Roll To Me” gave the band their most commercially successful single in America. This is the one that people seem to remember as it peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The video was also mildly amusing (or possibly a bit creepy!), featuring the band as babies being pushed around in prams in the sunshine.  At just over two minutes long, this was a pure and simple pop song, nothing more. I don’t think this track was ever meant to be their biggest song, and I’m sure the band are not necessarily pleased that it is, but it goes to show that a straightforward formula of jolly, repetitive lyrics can drill down into the listeners psyche and stay there. I mean, I still know all the words now and can sing the whole song at the drop of a hat.

This album also marked the end of the band’s current line up with guitarist David Cummings leaving at the end of their American tour in 1995 as he felt the touring would put a strain on her home life.  He would go on to be a successful screenwriter working with Paul Whitehouse on various projects.

Twisted came with a more electric sound to it which is why this album marked something of a change in their path.  Probably it was just a natural progression for them, but reading some old reviews of the album, it seems that some people felt they should have stuck to the acoustic folk feel that they had on their previous efforts.  I don’t have a problem with artists trying to move onwards and bearing in mind this album gave them one of, if not their most recognisable song, is it really a bad thing to try to mix it up?  I think it was just a band trying to find their own sound and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

One thing that never really changes about the band is the overall feel attached to their music and their lyrics.  The themes of love, loss, frustration, longing etc are evident throughout their work and very much continue on this album, especially on tracks like “It Might As Well Be You” and “It’s Never Too Late To Be Alone”. I played this album pretty much on repeat when I first bought it and still have many of the tracks on my playlists now. I do think though, that it possibly didn’t get the attention that it deserved at the time and that it was never looked at for being much more than that single which is a great shame.  As a piece of work that represented various changes to the band, it should’ve got better recognition for at the very least the beautiful song-writing that it contains.

Del Amitri - Driving With The Brakes On

Del Amitri went on to release two further albums and were responsible for the 1998 Scottish World Cup song “Don’t Come Home Too Soon”. A best-of album was also released that year entitled Hatful of Rain: The Best Of Del Amitri, which reached number 5 in the UK album chart. It included one new song – the very gorgeous “Cry To Be Found”. Justin Currie has since gone on to have a successful solo career, releasing three albums to date. Although the band never officially split up, they announced a UK reunion tour in 2014, which was well received.

So, why should you listen to this album? To be fair, you could actually listen to any of their albums as they are all pretty damn good. I chose Twisted because it was the first album of theirs that I purchased and experienced at its actual time of release. It very much represents a period in my life when I was discovering music and finding out what I liked to listen to and it remains an album that I revisit with genuine love. If you take it for what it is, a wonderful mix of brooding lyrics and great musicianship, then I think you should be able to find something within it that you will enjoy.  It may well be that track, but so what. At least you’re listening and sometimes that’s all that really matters.

Radiohead – The Bends

I’ve read quite a lot of articles recently as The Bends by Radiohead is 20 years old this year.  It has always been an album that I’ve loved and it was the one that got me into listening to them as a band in the first place.  I didn’t think too much about it (apart from how old it made me feel), but a friend of mine sent me a message this week which said the following:

Just listening to 6 music breakfast show and Sean played The Bends and said it was 20 years old!!!  Made me think of you as it was lovely you who introduced me to Radiohead back in the old days and introduced my 20 year relationship with them.  Thank you!  The mantle has been passed onto my daughter who is probably the same age you were when you lent me that CD!

I thought it was such a lovely thing to hear, but more so I was amazed that I had any musical influence all that time ago!  I would’ve been around 18 then so still learning what my own taste was, let alone trying to share it with other people.  It clearly worked though so I guess even back then I must have had an inkling as to what was good.  Or else I was just a lot better at forcing someone to listen to something!

Anyway, I decided to use this as an opportunity to revisit The Bends and write about it as a rediscovered album.  A few facts to start with then.  It was released in March 1995 and was Radiohead’s second studio album.  It was a shift in sound from their debut Pablo Honey, which was a bit more grunge – I guess due to the time that it came out (1993).  The Bends features more multi-layering and has an overall bigger, experimental feel to it with heavier guitar and sprawling instrumentals.

Radiohead - My Iron Lung

Five singles were released from the album starting with “My Iron Lung” as an EP in October 1994 followed by “High and Dry” as an A Side with “Planet Telex” as the B side in February 1995.  “Fake Plastic Trees” followed in May 1995, with the mighty “Just” appearing in August that year.  Finally “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” which is also the last track on the album made it as the final single release in January 1996.  This track made it into the charts and became the bands’ first top five UK hit.

I can remember when “Just” was released as it has the most amazing, if not slightly strange video with it.  You know the one.  Where the man is lying on the street and refuses to move or tell people why he’s actually lying there.  It brought a lot of conversation with it as people were trying to work out what the man says at the very end of the video as they took the subtitles off and left it to your own interpretation.  This was totally the point and I don’t think we’re actually meant to know.  Great video though and a brilliant song.

The album regularly appears in various charts or polls as one of the all-time best albums ever both by critics and listeners and I can see why.  It’s an album that you need to repeatedly listen to as I think you gain something each time that you may have missed previously.  I remember reading some comments earlier this year where you were asked to name your favourite song from the album as part of a poll.  I struggled with this and actually commented that I don’t think there is a bad track on this album at all.  It’s very rare that you find an album where every single song is worthy of a listen and you don’t skip over any, and with The Bends you listen to it from start to finish.

Radiohead - Planet TelexThis album was the one that introduced the band to a lot of people (myself included) as in the era of Britpop it was something completely different to the other music we were hearing at the time.  There was a lot of talk about Thom York’s lyrics being a sure sign of his alleged depression which I think was pretty unfounded.  His writing turned from being overtly personal to more social/global with this album and this continues from then on with the themes in their later work.

Their follow up album OK Computer was more successful reaching number one in the UK charts whereas The Bends only made it to number four.  It did however, stay in the charts for an incredible 203 weeks while OK Computer managed just 100.  When I talk to people about the band most people rate OK Computer as their favourite album, possibly because of the direction they took with it or maybe because the themes they explored with it, I’m not sure.

Radiohead - OK Computer

For me, The Bends is an album which sits as one of my all-time favourites and I have many of the tracks on my iPod and in playlists.  It brought the band to my attention and allowed me to experience something new in terms of music, song-writing and meaning.  I have remained a fan of the band, although I don’t own their very recent albums I must confess, but I might delve into that at some point in the future.  I was lucky enough to see them live in 1997 (with my friend who sent me the message above and started me writing this piece) and I recall that it was a great gig for many reasons.  The fact that they were supported by Teenage Fanclub was wonderful for me as they are another band I love, but it was a shared experience between friends and something we would not have had if I hadn’t waved a CD at her over 20 years ago.  A wonderful memory and all thanks to this fabulous album.

So I guess I should finish by telling you why you should listen to this record then.  Actually, I think the question should probably be why wouldn’t you listen to it?

Ten Years of JackInABox by Turin Brakes

Unbelievably, [albumtitle]JackInABox[/albumtitle] – the third studio album by [artistname]Turin Brakes[/artistname] – is ten years old this month. In order to give the album a bit of love (and perhaps some well-deserved renewed interest), it was decided that we, the fans, would select and write about our favourite tracks from the album so we can share our thoughts with other lovely Brakes fans via Ether Site. A fitting tribute to a great album.

Initially this was just meant to be a brief piece on one of the singles from the album and why I liked it but, when I started writing it became apparent that as usual I had a bit more to say on the matter. This has now therefore become my brief history of discovering (and rediscovering) Turin Brakes’ third album and what it and they mean to me.

There is an overwhelming sound of summer sun about JackInABox

Firstly, a bit about the album itself. It was released in 2005 to good reviews and fared pretty well in the UK charting at number 9 in the first week. However, the first single from the album which was [tracktitle]Fishing For A Dream[/tracktitle] didn’t do that well only coming in at number 35. This is something I have written about before with Turin Brakes, the wrong choice of leading single. But as they don’t consider themselves to be a single led band (their own words) I guess they can be forgiven. And anyway, that’s just my own opinion and means nothing in the grand scheme of things really.

I have been trying to recall actually purchasing the album in the first place and have a vague memory of doing so. It was May 2005, I had recently moved away from my hometown of London and had ended up living in the Midlands. I don’t actually remember where I bought the CD, but it probably would’ve been somewhere like HMV I would guess. I’m almost positive I have the limited edition version of the album with the DVD included (I usually plump for the limited ones), but it’s currently residing in my loft with a large proportion of my collection so I can’t be 100% certain on that one. I do know that I need to get my hands on it again though. But fear not, I have a second copy of the standard CD in my current listening pile plus it’s on my iPod, so it’s all good!

Ten years is a long time to get to know an album, but I have to say, I have never been as attached to [albumtitle]JackInABox[/albumtitle] in the same way I am to [albumtitle]Ether Song[/albumtitle]. It could be that I just didn’t give it enough time to get under my skin as I did with the other albums, or, more than likely, it’s because it came along at what was one of the most awful times in my life and it just got boxed up and forgotten about after an initial listen. Not a good excuse really, but I spent most of 2005 moving around the country and my beloved CD collection was unfortunately not always travelling with me.

I do know that at the time when I first listened to the album I particularly loved the title track (and to be honest I still do) as it sounded so different from the tracks on [albumtitle]Ether Song[/albumtitle] and made you want to tap your feet. For me, that’s always been part of the beauty of discovering a new Brakes album, the unexpected difference in sound each time as they themselves grow musically with experience and gain confidence in what they do. Never being afraid to sidestep the norm (or what you’ve been pigeon holed into) is a refreshing trait to have and one which I respect greatly.

Listening again to the album recently I realised that perhaps I should have taken a bit more time with it way back when. There is an overwhelming sound of summer sun about it with a lightness and easy going nature as the tracks flow through. Whether that was deliberate or not, I can’t say, but opening with [tracktitle]They Can’t Buy The Sunshine[/tracktitle] certainly sets it up nicely and the gentle acoustic feel we all know and love is there to enjoy. There are some rather harder going tracks though, so don’t think it’s all ice-cream and dozing off with the fireflies, be prepared to have your heart strings tugged at a bit. I read some of the reviews from the time of the albums release and was not surprised to read the usual opinions about poor lyrics and that the fans would love it, but maybe a new audience wouldn’t, blah blah blah. I really do feel that I must be missing something then as I don’t hear that at all. And I’m not just saying that as I am one of ‘the fans’. As much as I support the artists I love, if I don’t like it, I’ll say. I’ll admit that I didn’t fully engage with this album back in 2005, but as someone who is always prepared to have their mind changed, I have gone back, listened again and have decided that actually, it’s pretty damn good. So there.

I never like every single track on an album (no matter who the artist is) and this is no exception. I do have quite a few favourites though and will instantly always start with track two, [tracktitle]Red Moon[/tracktitle] as this is the one for me. Why do I love this song so much? Well, it’s basically the best single that never was. Yeah, I might have actually pinched that quote from someone who shall remain nameless (Olly I think)… In fact, I wrote a piece recently on tracks that should have been singles but weren’t and [tracktitle]Red Moon[/tracktitle] was my playlist choice as it fits perfectly into that category.

From the opening ‘oohs’ and the slow build up to when the guitar and drums let loose it has you hooked. And it doesn’t let up throughout. Lyrically, it resonates with me a lot and I find the words quite comforting in some respect. Listening to [tracktitle]If you try, you’ll be alright[/tracktitle] is an especially moving thing to hear and I think this might be part of the reason why I love this song so much.

As I noted above, 2005 was one of the worst years in my life, but I got through it and have come out the other side. Now, I’m not saying that this was to do with the song itself (I’m not that daft!), but as I’ve been writing this piece and remembering back to that time it hit me that it’s kind of a fitting memory for me personally. Listening to the album now (and especially that track) brings a wry smile to my face and I think it’s because actually, I did try and you know what? I am alright. Even though the song has absolutely nothing to do with that in the slightest doesn’t matter, it’s about what it means to you and how it makes you feel. For me, I’m at my happiest dancing round my kitchen whilst attempting to sing along and that’s the beauty of good music. If it sparks your attention and actually makes you feel something, then it’s hitting the right chord. And by rediscovering this album and that song in particular, that’s what I’ve found and I have Turin Brakes to thank for that.

So, thanks for everything guys. This is for you.


This article originally appeared on Ether Site, as part of their celebration of the ten year anniversary of [albumtitle]JackInABox[/albumtitle]. Head over there for more articles about the album, its tracks, and the memories it has given Turin Brakes fans.

Turin Brakes – Dark On Fire

Ah, Turin Brakes.  A band I love dearly, but one that could be referred to as “Marmite” by other people.  I get the impression that you either love them or you’re not that fussed.  This confuses me on some level as they are actually so very talented it’s ridiculous. But alas, they do not get the credit or the exposure they deserve, which is why they are a perfect candidate for the rediscovered series.

Turin Brakes first came to my attention with the release of The Optimist LP back in 2001, and it was probably “Underdog (Save Me)” that I heard first of all.  I was very taken with the whole stripped back approach: just 2 guys with guitars playing rather pleasing tunes.  When I saw them support David Gray the following year, I kind of knew I’d be heavily involved with this band from then on. I was correct.  Their second album, Ether Song, is still a firm favourite of mine and gave them their most commercial success when the single “Painkiller (Summer Rain)” was released.  But I’m not here to talk about any of that or the fact that whilst wearing my Brakes t-shirt at work recently my friend said to me “Oh Turin Brakes, I remember them”. Yeah, they’re still together actually.  Sigh.  Nope, I’m here to discuss their fourth studio album Dark On Fire and tell you why you should listen to it.

Turin+BrakesI chose to write about it for a couple of reasons, but mainly because this album took a swerve from their usual style and for a lot of folks this didn’t go down well at all.  I mean, they were an acoustic duo so how dare they make an album with a highly produced full band sound?  Reading back over the reviews at the time of the album’s release in 2007, there was a lot of negativity around the lyrics, the sound, and especially the departure from their usual style. I don’t really see why any of this is an issue; by this time they had been around for coming up to 10 years so why is it so wrong to try something new?  I’m pretty sure lots of other artists reinvent their sound and it’s deemed acceptable (Madonna anyone?).  But not here though?

Anyway.

Dark On Fire is quite a brooding piece of work.  It’s not all doom and gloom – there are some upbeat tracks peppered across the album that hit hard.  The opening track “Last Chance” sets the scene pretty well with a 40 second intro before we even get to hear the strum of a guitar.  There’s some big sound on the instrumental breaks and lead vocalist Olly Knights proves his amazing range by going for some fairly lengthy notes throughout.  This continues with the next track, “Ghost”, which allows guitarist Gale Paridjanian to give us some great electric guitar sound and a wonderful riff in the middle.

Two singles were released on download from this album: “Stalker” in September 2007, and “Something In My Eye” in January 2008.  In my opinion (and it’s just my opinion) I think they chose wrong with this though as I reckon they would have fared better by releasing “Timewaster” as it’s one of the standout tracks on the record. The lyrics of that song hit me each and every time I play it.  And that’s the power of good songwriting and why I disagree with the reviewers that say the Brakes don’t have the talent to write a decent tune.

In the reviews I read, one of them made a point of mentioning that’s they did not like Olly’s voice very much, which I was not very impressed with.  It is rather unique in style I have to say, but if you actually listen to the way he can tailor it to the different range of songs he performs and recognise the incredible power behind it, he has one of the best voices I know of.  It sits perfectly with what Turin Brakes do and the fact that he has the ability to replicate it live and be faultless proves that he doesn’t need to hide behind some fancy studio tweaking to sound half decent.

Dark On Fire was mostly a live recorded effort and by playing direct to an audience it proved helpful in shaping how the songs ended up sounding.  The album charted at number 36 on release and dropped to 81 by the second week.  This was not as good as their previous efforts and unfortunately this trend continued with their fifth album Outbursts in 2010.  They did fare better with We Were Here in 2013, though, and I’m hopeful that the new album they are currently working on as we speak will be a return to form.

Turin Brakes 2To appreciate Dark On Fire you need to take it for what it is: a moody, well written and performed effort sprinkled with some real stand out tracks such as the title track and songs such as “Real Life”.  It was a completely different sound for them at that time, possibly because of producer Ethan Johns, but perhaps because they were not afraid to try something new.  Some felt this album was a return to the quality of The Optimist LP, while others just didn’t get it.  I can honestly say I love this album and feel that it has been sadly overlooked, which is why I wanted it to get a new lease of life if possible. I’m not saying it’s their best piece of work to date, but as an attempt to up their sound and be a bit different from the norm, I think they did a pretty good job. Fans of the band will totally get it, but for those of you who may not know much about Turin Brakes, I think it will give you a feel for what they are capable of. And you never know, you may just be surprised with what you find.

The Bluetones – A New Athens

When I think about a forgotten album, one that always springs to mind is A New Athens by The Bluetones. Their sixth studio outing, it sits very nicely in this category because on its release in May 2010 it didn’t even chart in the Top 200. Clearly, for whatever the reason, it just didn’t tempt the public into buying it. The stalwart fans did of course as it’s a topic I’ve seen discussed many times, but for folks looking to pick up a new album at that time it didn’t seem to cut the mustard. Two singles were released on download in June and November 2010, but the lack of interest seemed to be the light going out for the ‘Tones as they split for good in October 2011 following a farewell tour. Was this album meant to be the end though? I really don’t think so, but it does contain some tracks would could be interpreted as a long goodbye.

On its release the album received favourable reviews, scoring well with a 7 out of 10 in PopMatters and 3 out of 5 in Allmusic. This was the first album the band had released since the self-titled The Bluetones in 2006 which itself only charted at 100 and could have been taken as an indicator of things to come. I’ve read these reviews again recently and both speak highly of the album and how it was “their most earnest pop record to date”.

The opening track “The Notes Between the Notes Between the Notes” is a minimalist, electro song with a repetitive one liner which has something of a slight nod toward bands like Air. An interesting way to begin, but a red herring none the less as by track two we are back to the catchy, acoustic indie rock we know and love and that the band had honed over many years.

Lyrically, the album is beautifully written with songs like the gorgeous “Firefly” being in my opinion one of the best it offers.

You can tell that there is a confidence in not only the song writing, but perhaps the band as a whole with this album as it has something of a laid back approach to it all. Other stand out tracks include the beautiful “Golden Soul”, which sits somewhere between Simon & Garfunkel and Buffalo Springfield with its banjo led sound and harmonies while “Half the Size of Nothing” is a bit heavier going in sound and allows Adam Devlin to flaunt a very pleasing guitar riff. Mark Morriss’s softly spoken vocals sound very well rounded and clear to me and I think his range has only got better over time.

Now as a Bluetones fan since the very beginning, I will say that as much as I like this album it’s not my all-time favourite of theirs. That would be their debut Expecting to Fly. “A New Athens” does, however, contain great songs and this album is a fine example of how a band have crafted their trade over the years like a well-oiled machine. I heard Mark Morriss say in an interview recently that he felt this was their best work and that he hopes that it may be something of a slow burner that people will grow to love over time. I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment.

I don’t think I own very many albums where every single track is exceptional as I believe there will always be “album filler” songs, and “A New Athens” is no different. I don’t adore every track on it, but I certainly don’t avoid any of them. It’s definitely one that requires repeated listening to really let it get under your skin and this is why I would class it as a forgotten gem.

So I guess I should end with why I think you should listen to this album. Well, The Bluetones were a band that appeared during the ’90s Britpop scene, but unlike some of the other casualties of that time they managed to come out on the other side. I think (and this is just my opinion) they were a band that got better over time, but for some reason lost the fans as they went. I have no idea why they didn’t stay; it’s something that frustrates me quite a lot. I follow life after the ‘Tones with great interest and I think that Mark Morriss has come into his own with his solo work, which is a testament to his ability to craft a beautiful song. A New Athens marks the end of a band that had some great successes, but remain one of the most underrated acts that I can think of. This album has ended up being their swan song and I feel that it’s now ready for a bit of love and attention and the audience that it deserves. So why not give it a whirl and see what you think. You have absolutely nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

Between The Bars – an Elliott Smith primer

Monday saw the tenth anniversary of the death of the songwriter Elliott Smith. A remarkable, fragile talent, like so many others of his profession. So many great melodies, bittersweet lyrics, and equally at home in the lo-fi of his early recordings as the lush major label albums he followed them with.

If I had to pick one of his songs that stands out above all others, I would have to pick “Stupidity Tries” from Figure 8. I don’t know that it’s ever really been my favourite Elliott Smith song, and it doesn’t contain my favourite lyric, but it is without a doubt the one that gives me the most severe earworm: something about the way it circles and rises, rises and circles, just keeps it replaying over and over in my head, and there seems to be little if anything at all that can be done to prevent it.

Here’s Smith performing it on Letterman:

As for the playlist: three tracks from each of Elliott Smith’s 7 albums – the five released during his lifetime and two posthumous collections. Ask any two Elliott Smith fans to compile a playlist and you’re certain to get two different answers; these songs are just ones that have made an impression on me, from “Roman Candle”, via “Between The Bars” (my first Elliott Smith song) to “Miss Misery”, the Oscar-winning song that somehow never was.