Want List: Robert Palmer BSOG of Complete Island Albums UK 9xCD

Robert Palmer ran the gamut from Funky R+B to Rock, to New Wave…and many points in between

We were slow to acknowledge the many charms of Robert Palmer at first. In 1978, when he got his first US Top 40 hits on his ’78/’79 albums with “Every Kinda People” and “Bad Case Of Loving You” I thought of him as just a mainstream Rock singer. The songs were okay but my interests were elsewhere. All that changed when he released “Clues” in 1980 and, woah Nellie… Gary Numan was writing and performing with Palmer on the album. So I bought that album. Found it to be an excellent, if wildly eclectic, album and let the Palmer bus move on to the next stop. Little did I know that “Clues” was not an aberration, but instead was as accurate a snapshot of Palmer’s peripatetic muse as conceivably possible!

I next heard him three years later with the electro cover of “You Are In My System” which I admired during its several plays on MTV. But I still had not had the coin drop on Palmer. His next move was forming The Power Station and seeing as how he had hooked up with Chic and Duran Duran players to form a supergroup, this was the point where I realized that this guy just wasn’t slumming in New Wave. He quite literally liked every kind of music out there and didn’t want to be fenced in.

From ’85 onward I was buying his albums and eventually worked my ways backwards over time. I saw the man on his amazing “Heavy Nova” tour and it was a startling and eclectic show and my date was the site where they filmed the performance of “Early In The Morning” for the music vid. But that was small potatoes. The biggest jawdropper was an amazing cover of Motörhead’s “Eat The Rich” which I am still trying to obtain. It’s sitting on a pricey syndicated radio concert of that tour that I need to break down and buy as it’s not getting any cheaper!

The last time I saw Palmer perform was in 1997 on the second Power Station tour. The one with him that time, but not John Taylor! It was always something with The Power Station. By then Palmer was off of EMI and his final releases were on Eagle and Universal and hard to find, though I have them now. By the late 90s, I was all-in on Palmer, and in the 21st century, I’ve been buying all of his singles and compilations with weird variants. I have all of his albums except for “Some People Can Do What They Like,” “Double Fun,” and “Maybe It’s Live.” But now those will be in this upcoming Boxed Set Of God.

Edsel | UK | 9xCD | 2023| EDSL0115

Robert Palmer: The Island Records Years – UK – 9xCD [2023]

Disc 1: Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley + 4

  1. Sailin’ Shoes
  2. Hey Julia
  3. Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley
  4. Get Outside
  5. Blackmail
  6. How Much Fun
  7. From A Whisper To A Scream
  8. Through It All There’s You
  9. Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley [single mix]
  10. Epidemic
  11. Blackmail [alternate take]
  12. Get Outside [alternate take]

Disc 2: Pressure Drop + 2

  1. Give Me An Inch
  2. Work To Make It Work
  3. Back In My Arms
  4. River Boat
  5. Pressure Drop
  6. Here With You Tonight
  7. Trouble
  8. Fine Time
  9. Which Of Us Is The Fool
  10. Willin’ [demo]
  11. Hope We Never Wake [demo]

Disc 3: Some People Can Do What They Like

  1. One Last Look
  2. Keep In Touch
  3. Man Smart, Woman Smarter
  4. Spanish Moon
  5. Have Mercy
  6. Gotta Get A Grip On You (Part II)
  7. What Can You Bring Me
  8. Hard Head
  9. Off The Bone
  10. Some People Can Do What They Like

Disc 4: Double Fun

  1. Every Kinda People
  2. Best Of Both Worlds
  3. Come Over
  4. Where Can It Go?
  5. Night People
  6. Love Can Run Faster
  7. You Overwhelm Me
  8. You Really Got Me
  9. You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming
robert palmer - secrets

Disc 5: Secrets +1

  1. Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)
  2. Too Good To Be True
  3. Can We Still Be Friends?
  4. In Walks Love Again
  5. Mean Old World
  6. Love Stop
  7. Jealous
  8. Under Suspicion
  9. Woman You’re Wonderful
  10. What’s It Take?
  11. Remember To Remember
  12. Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor) [12” Mix]
robert palmer clues

Disc 6: Clues + 3

  1. Looking For Clues
  2. Sulky Girl
  3. Johnny And Mary
  4. What Do You Care
  5. I Dream Of Wires
  6. Woke Up Laughing
  7. Not A Second Time
  8. Found You Now
  9. Good Care Of You
  10. Johnny And Mary [alternate take]
  11. What Do You Care [alternate mix]

Disc 7: Maybe It’s Live

  1. Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley [live]
  2. What’s It Take? [live]
  3. Best Of Both Worlds [live]
  4. Every Kinda People [live]
  5. Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor) [live]
  6. Some Guys Have All The Luck
  7. Style Kills
  8. Si Chatouillieux
  9. Maybe It’s You
  10. What Do You Care [live]

Disc 8: Pride + 7

  1. Pride
  2. Deadline
  3. Want You More
  4. Dance For Me
  5. You Are In My System
  6. It’s Not Difficult
  7. Say You Will
  8. You Can Have It (Take My Heart)
  9. What You Waiting For
  10. The Silver Gun
  11. You Are In My System [12” remix]
  12. Ain’t It Funky [Si Chatouillieux – extended version
  13. Pride [12” mix]
  14. Parade Of The Obliterators
  15. You Can Have It [12” mix]
  16. You Are In My System [instrumental mix]
  17. Deadline [12” mix]

Disc 9: Riptide + 8

  1. Riptide
  2. Hyperactive
  3. Addicted To Love
  4. Trick Bag
  5. Get It Through Your Heart
  6. I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On
  7. Flesh Wound
  8. Discipline Of Love
  9. Riptide (Reprise)
  10. Discipline Of Love [12” mix]
  11. Riptide Medley
  12. Sweet Lies [12” mix]
  13. Let’s Fall In Love
  14. I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On [12” mix]
  15. No Not Much [live on The Tube]
  16. Trick Bag [live on The Tube]
  17. Les Planches

That’s 25 bonus tracks added to the running. Of course, there are many tracks not accounted for here, giving this selection a faintly late 90s whiff from the era when we were happy to get crumbs and not everything. Sort of like those Eurythmics remasters. The bigger concern is the provenance of the mastering. Apparently, in 2013, Edsel also released Palmer 2xCD DLX RMs that were sourced from MP3s. Ouch! And damningly, the track listings for each disc were exactly what is to be in this boxed set.

robert palmer twofer CD
The Edsel Twofer I would want to get to complete my collection, but for the mastering snafus

However, the Demon Records website assures us that that these were newly mastered from the Universal files by Phil Kinraid at Air Mastering, but Phil was the engineer credited on the 2013 discs as well. Since the set will be released on February, 17th, 2023, we have a few months for the data to trickle out. I suggest adopting a wait-and-see posture. Given Edsel’s history of a somewhat tenuous grip on QC, it’s best to see what the word on the street is before committing. The set is in preorder for £89/$105 from the usual suspects, and for anyone who had maybe only a CD of “Riptide” laying around, this would be a heady dive into a large body of some fantastic music by one of the most fascinating singers of his era.


post-punk monk buy button


post-punk monk buy button


Posted in Want List | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Record Review: Grace Jones – “Slave To The Rhythm” US CD

grace jones slave to the rhythm
Island | US | CD | 1987 | 422 842 612-2

Grace Jones: Slave To The Rhythm – US – CD [1987]

  1. Jones the Rhythm
  2. The Fashion Show
  3. The Frog And The Princess
  4. Operattack
  5. Slave To The Rhythm
  6. The Crossing [Ooh The Action…]
  7. Don’t Cry – It’s Only The Rhythm
  8. Ladies And Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones

Leave it to Trevor Horn at the height of the “High ZTT” era that he could end up making a single with Grace Jones that could balloon into a complete album from the sessions of just one single! One imagines that the making of that single racked up enough studio hours and budgetary overkill that perhaps it was one of ZTT beleaguered accountants who mused aloud, “too bad this wasn’t the budget for a full album” which undoubtedly set Horn off with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

His brain trust; Paul Morley and Stephen Lipson, were obviously up for the challenge. Horn typically spent weeks the studio crafting the latest FGTH opii. Why not do the same with the iconic Miss Grace Jones? Horn’s old cohorts Bruce Woolley and Simon Darlow were roped in to co write with Horn and Lipson and the song was soon on paper, ready to record.

Which they did in several radically different versions. Over who knows how many weeks/months. While the single was released and at number 12, became tied with a later re-issue of the lubricious “Pull Up To The Bumper” to be Ms. Jones’ top charting UK single. Though a glance at the UK Top Ten for that week revealed ten lesser songs [including aha’s “Take On Me” from yesterday’s post] that should have prostrated themselves and stepped out of the way to make room at number one for Ms. Jones. Meanwhile Horn’s Theam managed to craft an entire album out of the sessions for a single A-side. Did they succeed?

The first of “8 bits,” let us know what we were in for in this very Zang Tuum Tumb production. It was immediate up front where the Paul Morley influence first manifested on this album on “Jones The Rhythm,” as actor Ian McShane was enlisted to read excerpts from Ian Penman’s essay “The Annihilation of Rhythm” in the plumiest tones imaginable. Had Richard Burton not been deceased by them, I’m all but certain that the call would have gone out to him! After the stage was suitably set, “Jones The Rhythm” revealed itself to be a drastically radical re-think of the song we all know and love. It opened like a Chinese Opera fed into a sampler before picking up its pace of a stomping, pixilated Rock groove full of the grunts and exhortations of backing vocalist Glenn Gregory. he sounded like his performance might have been made entirely from samples of his performance on “Crushed By the Wheels Of Industry!” The rest was mostly down to strings and beat with Ms. Jones in Valkyrie mode.

Cut into the space between the tracks, and sometimes within the tracks themselves, were sections of interviews with Grace by Paul Cooke and Paul Morley, giving the whole project a hint of a biographical air. Once “The Fashion Show” moved on from the interview snippet up front, it was down to the Go-Go rhythm track from the hit version of the song given a dub treatment, with Steven Lipson’s guitar gliding in on enough sustain for days. Luxurious, for certain.

“The Frog And The Princess” was the biggest piece of reportage here, as it featured McShane reading from Jean-Paul Goode’s autobiography, “Jungle Fever;” relating in brief his time spent as a partner with Grace Jones. Famously making her image over into the look that carried her from cult concern to icon as she made ever more daring fusions of Reggae and New Wave on disc. Since there was more content here than elsewhere, the music bed was content to keep a low profile as the moody rhythm was punctuated occasionally by crashes of white noise percussion.

The least musical thing here was the brief “Operattack,” which consisted manipulated vocal samples of Jones and McShane into a near psychotic stew of overdubs and shifting pitches. Then it was time for the second appearance of the song. Called “Slave To The Rhythm” her but crucially, it’s not the hit single version yet. It’s moving on from the first version we heard, with similar slamming beats, with the hints of Go-Go were beginning to creep in. But the chorus was a minor key variation that made this another harsher, variant on the classic song yet to come in the program.

“The Crossing” was an ambient construction of digital crickets and gentle percussion with the occasional vocal sample to add zest. The last mood piece was “Don’t Cry… It’s Only The Rhythm.” An unusual, binaurally mixed minimal dub of the rhythm track with the Lipson Service Guitar cruising in over the fingersnaps for a touch of Gilmour.

grace jones slave to the rhythm

Confusingly, the finale track, “Ladies And Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones,” was actually the track that the hit single had been edited from. You or I would know this as “Slave To The Rhythm” but for the predilections of Paul Morley. Which has amusingly resulted in many compilations sourcing track number five [since that was the title on the box] to source the hit “Slave To The Rhythm,” only to have a song very unlike the familiar hit manifest instead.

In any case, the song was a sumptuous, digital layer cake, stacked impressively high on a nascently trendy a Go-Go beat foundation. Actually played by flesh + blood musicians from the band Wash Them Go-Go. The Synclavier was mostly used here as sonic glue to hold the cast of thousands together as the large cast of players were orchestrated under the “The Strictly Unreasonable Zang Tuum Tumb Big Beat Colossus” moniker.

Lush washes of synth were given a living, breathing drum and percussion track played by steely eyed, flat bodied professionals. A reasonably large string and brass orchestra under the aegis of Mr. Horn; doing what he did best. It’s the kind of music that probably isn’t being made as I type these words in this fallen modern world. Through it all, Ms. Jones lilts and coaxes us forward to the song’s climax, which managed to insert a middle eight drop where Ms. Jones took the last word in her own story. The rousing climax of “and now, ladies and gentlemen, herrrrrrrres Grace!” always manages to send a tingle through the spine as the two Pauls concluded their interviews with the star.

I was lucky that I managed to get a CD of this in 2006 through the period where I was leaning heavily on LaLa; the late, lamented CD trading site. At the time, the CD was OOP and out of my budget, but LaLa prevailed and I got a copy for the going rate of a dollar and something I wanted to trade out. I previously had the US LP [confusingly on the EMI/Manhattan imprint – this CD dated two years later was on Island; her old label] of this title but that was traded out in the Great Vinyl Purge of 1985. And I never managed to find a used CD of the title for a long time.

Being a full scale, ZTT production, of course it’s good. But it’s nowhere near the caliber of the three Island albums that preceded it. For years I thought of it as the last good album Grace Jone had made. I was not convinced at the time by “Inside Story” or “Bulletproof Heart.” But the appearance of “Hurricane” in 2008 gave us one more classic Grace Jones album to join the second Island trilogy. Leaving this very chic and sleek 80s confection being the outlier to nowhere in the Grace Jones discography. Which makes sense as it’s more about the last gasp of the ZTT house sound right before it peaked with the first Propaganda album. In two years, the label would become irrelevant to my ears, but on “Slave To The Rhythm” Trevor Horn’s ZTT engine was still firing on all cylinders.


Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

a-ha’s “Hunting High & Low” Represented Late-Blooming Synthpop Getting In Under The Wire

a-ha monktone
a-ha were the luckiest Norwegians in Pop

Anyone old enough probably remembers first hearing Norway’s top band a-ha. It was on one of my “dead-of-night” MTV aircheck videotapes where I first saw the video that changed everything for the band. But it didn’t stay in graveyard rotation for long. In record time the rotoscoped Steve Baron directed music video for “Take On Me” quite rightly zoomed to the highest standard of rotation on the channel that was still all about music videos in 1985.

In America, at least, it was one of two Top 40 singles the band would have. In other territories, the band have become established superstars with 50 million albums sold worldwide and with concerts playing to six figure audiences in Rio De Janiero. Their calling card single was released three times in differing sessions/mixes/videos. WEA A+R agent Alan Wickham should be credited for the faith that made a two year campaign to turn “Take On Me” into the monster hit that was always lurking in the song. He could not believe that a guy who looked like a “film star could sing like Roy Orbison.” Ultimately the band re-recorded the track with Alan Tarney and the innovative video was greenlit and the song lit up like flash paper.

All of a sudden, the hottest band on the radio and TV was Norwegian! This was not your typical turn of affairs by any stretch of the imagination. While the video was flypaper for eyeballs, the song wasn’t bad. It was a synth-laden Europop tune enlivened by, yes, great singing from Morton Harket with a falsetto that could rise for miles. By 1985, the sell-by-date for Synthpop was already receding in the distance slightly but the band managed to get a last couple of licks in before Live Aid changed everything.

I bought the first a-ha album on CD in early 1986 and remember waiting the six months for manufacturing to catch up with demand. The band’s second album had no such wait, and I bought the CD the week of release. But not before I saw a-ha in Orlando at the Bob Carr PAC a month earlier on their world tour. The band performed most of the debut album and half of the nifty “Scoundrel Days” follow up release. I later bought “Stay On These Roads,” their third album in 1988 and that was it for my a-ha album collection. It has been at least 20 years since I have played any a-ha, and last weekend when shopping for groceries, I plucked “Hunting High + Low” to be my soundtrack. How does it hold up?

a-ha hunting high + low
Warner Brothers | US | CD | 1985 | 9 25300-2

a-ha: Hunting High + Low – US – CD [1985]

  1. Take On Me
  2. Train Of Thought
  3. Hunting High And Low
  4. The Blue Sky
  5. Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale
  6. The Sun Always Shines On T.V.
  7. And You Tell Me
  8. Love Is Reason
  9. Dream Myself Alive
  10. Here I Stand And Face The Rain
a-ha - Take On Me US 7"

I’ll give this much to “Take On Me;” as played out as it is, its drum programming managed to take motorik Krautrock rhythms to the number one position on the UK Top 40. If the synth bass and digital synths paying those chirpy, lighter than air leads were less than the Ultravox target the band might have been aiming for, then the song truly delivered its Pop payload with the insouciant vocals of Harket that put his impressive range to good use. Due to the band’s Synthpop origins, I never made the leap myself, but Wickham may have nailed it with his Orbison comparisons.

a-ha - train of thought EUR 7"

The third a-ha video to make a big fuss on MTV was “Train of Thought” and I assumed that it had been given a US single release for the last 37 years, but apart from a promotional 12″ single, there appears to have been no US release for this worldwide hit! The urgent metro rhythms of the intro were suitably propulsive but the Fairlight pan pipes were a deadly synth cliché then. And this was the first of several songs on the album where Mr. Harket added ill-considered emphatic grunts that sounded odd coming from anyone except James Brown…and maybe Holly Johnson. This single didn’t have the shelf-life of others to be found here.

a-ha - hunting high + low US 7"

The title track was released as the third single in America, but I can’t recall the video troubling MTV all that much as compared to the first three on the channel. The breathy ballad started out with acoustic guitars and programmed rim hits before expanding its footprint in a grandiose manner with string patches and a sense of forced melodrama that saw Harket’s voice moving from choirboy to operatic in an overweening fashion. I can’t say I cared for either extreme on this tune.

Following the decreasing returns of the three singles top loaded on side one, the band delivered a deep cut that I completely forgot how much I loved then…and now. “The Blue Sky” was a breathlessly urgent Synthpop ballad built effectively around a falsetto vocal hook of the title repeated as the chorus of the song. At 2:40 the brief number was an entrancing distillation of programmed synth bass and drums circling around in a tight framework to support that utterly compelling vocal hook. It always made me want to play it again immediately afterward and it still has that effect now.

After that high water mark came another. There was only a single musician credited on the album apart from the trio, but this one credit carried a lot of weight. Claire Jarvis played oboe on “Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale” and her presence suffused the stately balled with the perfect counterpoint to the dignified string patches and Harket’s poised vocals. The steady synth pulse driving this one made it a pleasure to hear from start to finish. It soon had me imagining oboe throughout the entire album, which surely would have had it competing with “Working With Fire + Steel” by China Crisis for my esteem. This was a lush one indeed.

a-ha The Sun Always Shines On TV US 7"

What was side two of the album was where they wisely put the other huge hit the album had to offer in America, with the Top 20 placing of ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV.” The first minute of the song was a delicate tease as the rhythm-free intro evaporated among a crescendo of synth stabs that exploded into a pulsating monster of a song that actually did sound like something that Ultravox might have done, if they still had their mojo intact by that time.

The empathic grunts of Harket actually felt at home on this one. The sampled strings and cellos managed to further managed make the song something approaching muscularity in the a-ha oeuvre with it ctually breaking a sweat as the band broke free of their Nordic reserve for once on this often bloodless album.

a-ha love is reason Norwegian 7

The last three songs formed a strong arc in the middle of the album. After that peak of intensity “And You Tell Me” sounded like a skeletal demo with the mass of helium afterward. Having the Norway-only single “Love Is Reason” follow it with the tragic synth horn arrangement was another ill-considered gambit. Though to its credit, the track did seem to prefigure the French Synthpop classic “Voyage Voyage” by Desireless in its pacing and rhythm track. But one could say that about a lot of mid-80s Eurosynth tracks.

The closing pair of sings seeed to be outliers to the darker, richer material that would come on their next album, “Scoundrel Days.” “Dream Myself Alive” had a percolating Synthpop music bed that was pure 1984, but the vibe was further from the borderline Schlagerpop that was always lurking just below the surface of some of these songs. The dusky melodrama of “Here I Stand And Face The Rain” managed to move the needle fully in the direction of their sophomore album to end this album on a grace note of maturity.

Re-acquainting myself with this album had some of it sounding even better that I had remembered…or forgotten, as in the case of “The Blue Sky.” The middle section of the album played incredibly strong, even as it was let down by the contrast of the two, incredibly lightweight songs that had the poor fortune to follow a juggernaut like “The Sun Always Shines On TV.” In all candor, I played this to judge if it really needed to stay in the Record Cell and it has managed to pull a stay of execution.

The lightweight digital synths and Linn drums worked against my ears, and the near lack of natural instrumentation was definitely a downside to the sound here. So much so that the actual oboe really knocked me for a wallop when it figured in the mix. There are scant seasonings of guitar used here as the synths of the day carried almost all of the arrangements. I can’t shake the feeling that all of this would have sounded better if it had been recorded in 1982-1983 instead of 1984-1985. Owing to the gear used that figured in its origins.

Certain tracks here reeked of Euroschlager chaff best avoided, but one could make that claim against ABBA® as well. And like the tuneful Swedes, there are a few utter Pop classics to be had here to assuage our angst. The good thing was that according to decade old memories, the band followed up this reasonably strong first effort with the ultimately more satisfying “Scoundrel Days,” but the fact was that the band’s career was already in ebb in America and they would be saddled with the “one hit wonder” stamp. Which is a bit unfair when one considers all of the other Norwegian bands that topped the US top 40.

I see that this album was released in a 2xCD DLX RM in 2010 and a 30th anniversary BSOG* with 4xCDs + DVD in 2015! Either of these would definitely be too rich for my blood! I once owned the Japanese remix CD EPs “12 Inch Club,” “45 RPM Club,” and “Scoundrel Club,” but these were let go almost a decade ago. The once track that tempts me is the long 3:40 mix of “Blue Sky” on the 2015 ultrabox but if I have the notion, I can make a surgical iTunes purchase of that one. For now, a return bout with “Scoundrel Days” awaits.


* Boxed Set Of God

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Monastically Maintaining A Digital Library Of Music

itunes library
In over 20 years of this library, the most popular track has been played…17 times.

Over the last 20 years I have grown a small digital library. It was never my intention to have one. I listen to CDs and I buy records that had material not available on CDs, which [ideally] I would eventually digitize and burn to archival CD-R. CDs were great for me because they freed me from the time and expense of recording records to chrome bias tapes and then playing the tapes for listening. Switching freed up about 20% of my music budget – which went a way towards the greater cost but also greater convenience of the format. 2001 arrived and so did the iPod. I could have cared less. I had thousands of CDs that would need a box of iPods to fill with everything I had. I was never a Walkman person. I don’t like having headphones on, shutting out the world, if I can help it. So I never bought into the concept music on me at all times. Besides, my brain does that trick all by itself with no conscious effort!

iTunes Got A Foothold

But as my music budget also decreased since I was no longer working in software development as I had in the 80s-90s, the occasional purchase of a DL from the iTunes store helped me avoid buying a $13-15 CD for the one track I needed for a collection. Not the way I’d prefer to do things but it had a certain expediency. Over the naughts, I may have bought <100 downloads. Much of the material was only available in that way. Mostly remixes for “the collection.” And bands started to release tracks on the web as freebies that were rare or otherwise unavailable material. This also slowly grew the digital library, though it was always a footnote to my collecting. One thing to mention is that I never actually played much of my downloads. If I’m sitting in front of a desktop in my free time, I’m generally involved in digitizing/denoising vinyl, so that precludes listening to anything in the iTunes library. Looking at my playback stats recently revealed that some DL only tracks in there have played as many as 16 times over a 20 year period. It’s just not how I listen to music.

just barely scrolling down through the 4114 tracks reveals pathetically low playback stats

Look at that damning screen capture above. It says that there are 4114 files in my 21 year old iTunes library. I’m so old I still refer to it as iTunes, not “Music.”The capture above is of the total library with the scroll bar at roughly 11%. It shows all of the songs at that relatively high level of playback popularity at 2-3 plays for the lot of them. Scrolling down to the 25-30% mark reveals that everything under that level has been imported into the library yet never played! And this is a library that’s over 20 years old! I’ve had this library since buying my 2nd Macintosh; a used 1998 blue + white G3 Mac Pro in 2000. My library has lasted through a total of four Macs over the last 23 years. For many years there was only the very occasional track I would buy from iTunes populating it at under 100 songs!

Blogging Made A Difference

In 2010 I started blogging about music and that fact, more than anything, has made my digital library grow to the point where it is today. From 128 songs, where it had languished for the first 5-8 years to 4114 now. With almost two weeks worth of music to listen to. Once I started getting promo downloads I needed to review, this grew the library bigger as well. That same time I was doing web development and needed to test responsive sites on a mobile platform, and not having an interest in owning a cellphone or especially a smartphone, I compromised and got an iPod Touch. Which rarely had music on it, but it was the only way to listen to promo DLs in order to review them for the blog. 90% of my listening is in the car on my work commute, so it’s vital that I be able to listen to music there.

At other times, I wanted to review a 12″ single in the Record Cell for the blog, and making a quick and dirty rip to the computer and adding the art in iTunes got it on the iPod Touch reasonably fast. Over time, I discovered the miracle of ClickRepair software and that managed to give me excellent results in a blindingly fast framework as compared to manually removing clicks as I used to have to do. Making excellent sounding files with artwork in my library might take as little as 20 minutes for a 12″ single if fortune smiles on me.

So in the last decade, my iTunes library had probably doubled with lots of vinyl only material from my racks that in many cases had gone unheard to for decades as I tended to build complete collections of rarities for an artist, and then make a box of material at one time. Here’s a grim vision of mortality…I’m now too old to wait 20 years to listen to a record , so I tend to process the collection for listening a bit more fast. Most of my DL purchases over the years switched from iTunes to the superior Bandcamp platform. I loved that I could download material in CD quality or any flavor of compressed. That segment of the market is exploding with material that will never be on CD. Also, as I am aging, the reality is that a large collections is not an elderly man’s game. I’m already curtailing my purchases severely for the last two years. I don’t shop for music in the pandemic. I can certainly imagine the day when all of the CDs and records are gone, with only my digital library being evidence that they were ever there at all.

Wireless Networks Proliferating

Ours was never a television household. I stopped watching in 1993, and my spouse was fine with no TV, save for what we watched on LaserDisc, then DVD. But pandemic killed the movie theater for us, and by that time, many films we wanted to see were being commissioned by Netflix which tended to dawdle if not ignore coming to DVD. So in 2021, we got a cheap, used, HDTV and an Apple TV. This had the side effect of being able to stream the iTunes library to the living room sound system. So I will occasionally do that if there’s something there I would like to listen to. And I recently asked my wife to buy me a bluetooth speaker so that when I am outside of or on top of the house working on projects, I can stream music for some extra enjoyment. So in 2022, I am finally using my digital library. It’s still adjacent to my main listening, which continues to be CD format. The 2018 car I bought last year was joyously decked out with every possible option to enjoy music: aux in, BT, CD player!

I bought a cheap, used iPhone SE when I thought I was going to take a trip to England and Wales in March of 2020 since I couldn’t imagine doing that trip without easy web access. In spite of my long term dislike towards cell/smart phones [and especially their bills]. And that gets the DL material on it for the car, when needed. I like that the car has an aux minijack, since I would never pair my phone with my car; too many privacy issues get trampled by the car’s computer systems which tend to suck down your phone data without much care for keeping it secure. So in 2022, I have a flat screen TV and a smartphone. I probably listen now to my digital library more than ever, if only 5-10% of the time. Evidence of how this curmudgeon has moved, grudgingly, with the times. Wither music streaming?

I still want nothing to do with streaming music in spite of now streaming movies/entertainment on the flat screen TV I never planned to have. Streaming music still represents an inconvenient, expensive, and off-putting way to interface with music. How is $10/month expensive, you may ask? Well, it represents data usage above that cost on my phone. Naturally I have an unlocked, contract-free phone. I buy my voice/data on an as needed basis from my chosen vendor at roughly $12.50 a month for the piddling amount of data I use while mobile. The phone gets email and message usage but I only use the web when mobile when I need vital info on the move.

So I can still not imagine ever streaming music. My cells recognize it as an alien way to forge a relationship to music. But as I can see, looking back at my recent history, that I should never say never. Join me in 15 years time and well see what tune I’m singing.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Simple Minds Exhibit Staying Power On “Direction Of The Heart” DLX UK CD [part 3]

simple minds direction of the heart digibook
BMG | UK | DLX CD | 20220 | 538826472

[…continued from last post]

Of the three songs here that Cherisse Osei played drums on, “Natural” was the clear winner for me. In all cases her drums were fine; it was the songs that either sank or swam. “Natural” managed to stay afloat easily as it was enlivened by a unique sounding guitar tone from Charlie Burchill with distortion doubled on delay from the left channel to the right, delivering a fat sound that contrasted greatly with the synth string patches that were tilted in the direction of Eastern Bloc Romanticism. Pulsating synths and an interesting vocal production on Kerr’s voice had subtle vocoder undercurrents on his delivery. Giving the track a shadowy cinematic vibe that was most welcome for what was a deep cut on this album.

The skittering drum programming heralding the oft-discussed “Planet Zero” gave it an enervated buzz that was unconcerned with playing safe with the song, which had been kicking around the Simple Minds camp for at least eleven years. In 2011, it was due to be recorded in a session with Steve Hillage that ultimately came to naught, sadly. Yet eleven years later, we finally hear the song and it’s still got that something else that made for a great energy burst as the album moved forward to its conclusion.

Charlie’s guitar tone was decidedly avoiding the stadium as he seemed to be investigating his early [excellent] textural vibe; ceding the spotlight instead to the fiery backing vocals from Sarah Brown in full Valkyrie mode as she sang of the “whole world on fire.” It was fascinating to hear his guitar functioning not unlike a didgeridoo in the song. The gulf between the jittery music bed and the calm, centered, and subtle vocals from Jim Kerr made for a fascinating juxtaposition from this band.

Alas, the band had chosen to end the standard album with another cover of the American band, The Call. I have never understood the admiration some have for that band, and Simple Minds had already recorded two different covers of “Let The Day Begin” in 2009 and 2013. To this, we can add what is hopefully the last dip into The Call’s portfolio with the bluster of “The Walls Came Down.” It’s possibly the one song by The Call you may have heard before and it ended the album on a decidedly sour note. Fortunately, Jim Kerr saved his Bonoesque delivery potential for this song; sparing us on the other, far better songs this album had to offer.

The album ended there on LP and standard CD, but we opted for the DLX CD, which came with two more tracks. The first was ostensibly the title track, which rarely gets cut free from the album in practice, but I can recall it happening once before with “Sugar Tax” from OMD which was not on the album of the same name, but instead was a B-side from that period.

“Direction Of The Heart,” had, in fact, begun its life earlier as the B-side to the “Magic” 7″ single bundled with the deluxe version of their last album, “Walk between Worlds.” At the time I thought it was a song of unfulfilled promise; definitely B-side material. After hearing the second try at it included here, it now seems grand in retrospect, because I have never heard anything by Simple Minds that sounded this shockingly amateurish.

It began with a beguiling intro built up slowly that seemed to be just fine, but once the distorted tremolo guitar from Burchill entered the mix like a drunken party crasher, things rapidly devolved from there. The stunningly maladroit vocal effects liberally slathered over the first verse rendered the singing almost completely unintelligible. Who let this out of the basement?! In his defense, there did seem to be a few plug-ins that Charlie forgot to throw into his mix here. At least I hope he mixed it, because I’ve never heard anything this jarringly poor from the hand of nominal mixer Alan Moulder. But don’t just take my word for it, but I’ll warn you that you can’t un-hear it!

After that farrago, how could the minor yet genuine pleasures of “Wondertimes” come up smelling like anything but roses? If I were the sort of person who compiled playlists, I would cut “The Walls Came Down” and end the album with this track, full stop. Astonishingly Ged Grimes [the band’s bass player] and not Burchill played the bass here, but one would be hard pressed to discern the difference by the evidence here.

The first play of this one was a decidedly underwhelming affair. The thing was, for this long-time fan, I’d grown used to small, incremental change and refinement for the better from this band over the last 20 years as a given. I had also always felt that the band were holding their energies back deliberately, so they would always have a strong hand to play later in the game. Which caused me no end of angst over the years. My first listen to “Direction Of The Heart” suggested that maybe that was not the case and they had been pushing hard to move the needle slightly between their last five releases. [we’re not counting the dreaded “Acoustic” album] And that this time they had hit the brick wall and were now [gasp] …backsliding somewhat.

But a single play to base a review on is dangerously thin ice, so of course I found myself playing the album at least 25 times in the period of its arrival and the writing of these thoughts. Eventually its strengths and weaknesses have settled in my mind to give this album its due. I also made sure to review the earlier albums in my listening and admittedly, they still are much more vibrant releases; there’s no denying it.

At its best, this album contains what would be deepcut material for an album like “Graffiti Soul” or “Big Music.” At its worst, it matches the occasional flubs to be found on “Big Music” or “Black And White 050505.” But the area where “Direction Of The Heart” lets me down the hardest is in that if failed to contain any songs of the caliber of “Liaison,” “Stay Visible,” Moscow Underground” or “The Signal And the Noise.” The sort of material which clearly stands with the best Simple Minds have to offer in their illustrious career.

I can’t expect another “Sons + Fascination,” but it has seemed that over the last 20 years that the band have honestly tried to reconnect with their unerring fusion of Art Rock, Disco and Krautrock that marked their imperial period. Just one song of that caliber lifts an entire album. The 5×5 period where they played a tour playing songs only from their first five albums seemed to have re-energized them and had given them a new appreciation for what preceded their stadium years.

In this outing, significantly, I can hear no Krautrock DNA in the mix. Making their appropriation of the “Empires + Dance” backward “N” in the cover logo fraudulent and wrong headed. “Planet Zero” of all the material edged the closest in that regard, but without the underpinning of a suitably motorik drum track, it could not quite reach that standard.

The other burden that this album labored under was simply that it’s 85% the efforts of one man; Charlie Burchill! And his laptop. Sometimes, the results sounded suitably inspired. I can find little fault with cuts like the excellent “Act Of Love” or “Human Traffic.” On the other hand, I can only hope that Burchill was drunk when he put “Direction Of The Heart [Taormina 2022]” to the hard drive. And in between those extremes, there was a lot of what I’d term perfunctory Simple Minds. Certainly better than some performances and songs over the years which could give me hives, but less than inspiring.

Of course, this album was recorded under lockdown, but it hardly differs much from the MO of the band in the last dozen years that sees their live band largely shut out of the recording of the material in any case. Burchill is a guitar player, first and foremost. He’s the pack horse leaned on heavily to make entire albums. In an ideal situation Simple Minds would have a full band to steward their projects. Instead, it’s all down to Charlie. He’s stretched thin. It says a lot that the deluxe booklet had photos of people like Berenice Scott, and Gordon Goudie who play with the band live, and yet their names are entirely absent from the recording and its packaging! Someone new to the band, just picking it up and looking at it, would be rightly confused at exactly who these people were. And therein lies a problem.

At least Ged Grimes got some licks in on the new album. His two tracks are among the better songs here. I’d be interested in seeing how they could work with the great John Leckie again. In self-production they fail as many times as they succeed here. They could use more guidance that only a true producer could give them.

I still find it hard to believe that a strong song like “Vision Thing” [which will pop up in my mind for hours at a time] was saddled with such a bland and middle of the road arrangement and production. Maybe another set of ears would hear the results the same way I did and send them back to the drawing board to give what was obviously a strong song the care and attention that it merited. As an opening salvo it was shot through with weakness where boldness was called for.

And yet, this album, like its much stronger predecessor, entered the UK album charts at an impressive number four. Of course, two weeks later it was off the charts entirely, but that is how legacy acts roll these days. They will never begin to compete with the Sheerans and Swifts who own the charts now. So the band no doubt consider album number eighteen “job well done, lads and lassies!” So I don’t expect that these words will convince them that I think their legacy deserves more.

Jim and Charlie will both be 63 by this month’s end. They are grandfathers. At their stately album every four to five year pace, I would wager that they have one, maybe two albums left in them at this point. They seem calicified in their working methods that see them attempting to write, arrange, and record whole albums by themselves, but a glance at the songwriting credits in the 21st century reveal no shortage of co-writers, largely from outside of the band. The live band are generally used a props but the optics of them being held at arms from the writing process belies the vision of Simple Minds as a band.

When Simple Minds were truly a band, they had vast quantities of rocket fuel to see them chart a spectacular artistic arc unmatched by others. Jim Kerr has revealed that BMG has now bought out their catalog, so Kerr and Burchill are now well-paid troubadors. The engagement with Ged Grimes was encouraging on “Direction Of The Heart” and there’s more where that came from. Here’s hoping they might have the wherewithal to act a little recklessly and consider making Simple Minds a real band again while they still can, and see what magic results.


Posted in Core Collection, Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Simple Minds Exhibit Staying Power On “Direction Of The Heart” DLX UK CD [part 2]

simple minds (c) 2022 Dean Chalkley
Charlie Burchill + Jim Kerr ©2022 Dean Chalkley

[…continued from last post]

It’s strange to hear a Glitterbeat in the middle of a Simple Minds song, but “Human Traffic” didn’t bother asking our permission. The band had pulled this gambit once before on their [second recorded] cover of The Call’s “Let The Day Begin” on 2014’s “Big Music.” And back then it had the effect of making a cover of The Call palatable to these ears! Would it work again here? The sturdy backbeat rhythm, albeit programmed by Charlie Burchill, also had his joyous guitar tone to carry this one aloft. And the high lonesome, cinematic string patches added a certain prairie dignity to the song.

With a title like that one, we would be excused for expecting a political potboiler, but like 2013’s song “Blood Diamonds,” the loaded title was undercut by a radically different lyric to what was expected. This time it was Mr. Kerr’s musing on the day to day ceaseless pace of living, and this was the track where Russell Mael of Sparks sand the choruses with Kerr as a duet of sorts. With him supplying a massed chorus of his dulcet tones. The joy of the song’s tone was palpable and infectious and I enjoyed the mechanical repetition of Mael’s exhortation of “only…only” looped for two bars before the song came to its abrupt halt.

The first seconds of “Who Killed Truth” began in the most wrong-footed way possible as the acoustic guitar strumming of Mr. Burchill coupled with the opening line of “…people coming together” made me think that I had put on a record by mistake. Because that’s the only way it could happen in my home. Once the intro ended and the full sound of the track kicked in at the 0:23 mark, the song eventually found its center in a way that was at least more palatable to my ears. But it was by no means top tier work by the band. Was this an ill-conceived influence of the “Acoustic” period that I’ve done my level best to avoid? I wouldn’t doubt it. Songs like this were part of the reason why I was so seriously down on the conceit of Simple Minds picking up acoustic guitars in the first place.

If the last intro was troubling to my ears, that didn’t even begin to take into consideration the unmitigated gut-punch that the first full minute to “Solstice Kiss” was. We had to endure sixty seconds, of plinking acoustic guitars with the dreaded [sampled] uilleann pipes taking us into Full Celtic Jacket territory. One could practically smell Michael Flatley in the wings as the band seemed to be veering close…dangerously close, to re-living the “Street Fighting Years” vibe that wakes me in the night in a cold sweat.

It’s all the more tragic that once the song begins in earnest at the 0:58 point, we were treated to another Ged Grimes co-write that was a good song that actually seemed to get better as it progressed. And it’s worth mentioning that Grimes was credited here for more instruments than Charlie Burchill! This track goes back a fairly long way. I can swear that I heard Jim Kerr crowing about it after it had just been written on the posts he used to make on simpleminds.com before the horror of social media. It’s telling that there was actually a fourth musician credited on the track! And it was Andy Gillespie who’s been gone from the mothership for five years now.

But this sterling track had much to recommend it, if we were to trim the first 58 seconds from it. Though there was a typically meaty Burchill riff the tune was anchored on right up front, when Jim Kerr began singing he began singing from the most subtle space possible as the synths rippled like raindrops on water all around him in the delicate verses before the chorus erupted in full power. The climax saw vocalist Sarah Brown taking a chorus with the synths riffing under her with brio as the coda wrapped it all up.

Then the initial single “Act Of Love” was introduced into the flow. I thought the single was a great way to commemorate 44 years since their very first gig in 1978. This one was a storming track based on one of the band’s earliest songs given a dust off and dramatic re-boot 4o-some years later. Having heard the original, this new version was easily superior. And for a full-Burchill production, this one fully breaks a sweat and actually provided the jolt that’s often missing from modern Simple Minds. Most of the original lyric was abandoned and that’s no big deal when the results were this great. Alan Moulder’s mix was full of exciting detail and staging that made this one a very brief seeming four minutes of your time.

Next: …Go To Zero

Posted in Core Collection, Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Simple Minds Exhibit Staying Power On “Direction Of The Heart” DLX UK CD [part 1]

simple minds - direction of the heart cover art
BMG | UK | DLX CD | 2022 | 538826472

Simple Minds: Direction of The Heart – UK – DLX CD [2022]

  1. Vision Thing
  2. First You Jump
  3. Human Traffic
  4. Who Killed Truth?
  5. Solstice Kiss
  6. Act of Love
  7. Natural
  8. Planet Zero
  9. The Walls Came Down
  10. Direction of the Heart (Taormina 2022)
  11. Wondertimes

Well, it’s been the requisite four years since the last Simple Minds opus. I really thought that “Walk Between Worlds” was the best album by Simple Minds since “Sparkle In the Rain,” but I could say that about six of their albums over the ’94-’18 period. For the most part, their modern albums reside in a place that I enjoy far better than their stadium period [’85-’93] while acknowledging that there’s nothing they could do to top their initial run of eight albums. Which is my favorite run of albums of all time. How would the new one stack up? Well, I pre-ordered the deluxe digibook and it’s been in house for three weeks as I’ve been busy primarily with the Spoons/Rob Preuss thread. I’ve listen to it many times since and let’s examine how it stacks up against their well-known legacy.

The wispy, insubstantial soft synths that heralded the opener, “Vision Thing,” were shocking in their meretricious flimsiness. They sounded appropriate for a band that had no ties to Post-Punk, much less being a foundational band of that movement. I was shocked at how the new album opened with a gesture that was so middle-of-the-road in an era where in order to capture ears that will swipe the “next button” at almost no provocation demand an all-guns-blazing approach. This sure wasn’t it. Nor were the guitar loops [at least they sounded like loops] that arrived with the drums. There was a mournful guitar line that sounded real buried in the intro that was potentially of interest but Alan Moulder’s mix seemed to be accentuating all of the other elements at its expense.

The arrival of Jim Kerr on the vocals was another sore point as he was delivering his vocals with an affected phrasing and worse still, singsong staccato delivery that had each syllable right on one of the beats. That is not one of my favorite things as I’m a fan of legato singing. This song was not starting out to inspire confidence, but by the time it got to the chorus, it seemed to correct its trajectory somewhat. It was also nice hearing Gary Clark’s distinctive tones on the backing vocals as it’s been long years since I’ve heard him, and I was a big fan of Danny Wilson. But this was a case of a good song being compromised by decisions in sound design, production, and the mix. I find that the song, which was the first pre-release teaser track [can we still call them singles?] manages to stick with me well enough, but it’s a situation where listening to the actual record, instead of my mental Walkman®, put all of the details that I find wanting in sharp relief.

Fortunately, the next track, also a “single,” was a case of “First You Jump” having a much more satisfying heft to its sound; matching the caliber of the song much better. First al all, Charlie was playing guitar with gusto here. Adding his meaty tone to an arrangement that also had Ged Grimes playing bass expressively on the track which he co-wrote with Jim and Charlie. Jim Kerr was back in his vocal sweet spot in his delivery, and indeed, he would be staying there for the rest of the album. Making his odd delivery on the first track an aberration. And Gary Clark’s backing vocals were stout and vigorous here in a way that took this song above the level of perfunctory. I daresay one could slot this track into the flow on “Graffiti Soul” and it would sound right at home. It’s a glorious song with an equally glorious video, shot locally in Kerr’s homebase of Taormina, Italy.

Impressive that Jim Kerr isn’t coloring the gray hair…

Next: …More Sparks Of Life

Posted in Core Collection, Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , | Leave a comment