Mann’s Vinyl Corner
Here you will find a hidden corner of my technology blog where together – we can go back to a time when vinyl ruled how we listened & interacted with music. This corner won’t be snazzy like the technology area but it will be a place where we can talk about vinyl from time to time.
Electric Light Orchestra / “TIME”
July 30, 2017
TIME turned back the clock while intrepidly racing towards the future as a concept album that takes a man from the 1980’s and catapults him into the year 2095 where he struggles with not only the anachronistic longing for the past but also struggling with acclimation to the technological advances of the future. While the theme of the album is clearly set in another century as heard on the super slick futuristic synthesizer sophistication of tracks like “Yours Truly 2095” and “Here Is The News” there is just as much reflection on the past. Not only in Jeff Lynne’s personal life lyrically speaking with much of the turmoil surrounding his career as the leader of the ELO outfit adding an element of emotional reflection but also musically speaking as TIME is an outright salute to the great artists of the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s covering the spectrum of everyone from the ubiquitous harmonics delivered in the perfect cross-pollinating forces of The Beatles, Queen as well as The Beach Boys as well as a healthy dose of old school pop artists such as Roy Orbison on tracks like “The Way Life’s Meant To Be”.
TIME is not only a beautifully crafted journey into the future with the production taking all kinds of liberties of crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” with every pop sensibility explored to the nth degree but also by creating some of the most sophisticated ELO ear worms of their entire career leaving absolutely no note on this release without an addictive coating! The tracks are all reminiscent of the true classic bands whether it take form of The Beatles in “Rain Is Falling” or a disco laden Donna Summer feel on “From The End Of The World” or the rockabilly 50’s feel of their single “Hold On Tight”, TIME manages to celebrate the harmonic and pop achievements of the previous three decades all the while adding progressive touches that embellish TIME to a new level of ambitiousness. It’s almost as if the band felt the finality of their career and were going for the pop hook jugular and with TIME – I personally find that they achieved exactly what they set their sights for.
It was never a secret that Jeff Lynne’s ambition after departing from The Move in the early 70’s that his goal with his ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA was to take the classical ambitions of The Beatles and expound these possibilities into a blossoming fruition. On TIME in particular, Jeff Lynne and the band totally went for it and created an entire album of equally satisfying tracks that not only navigate a saga of a futuristic concept but at last deliver upon the ideals set forth with the band’s formation with extremely strong pop hooks interspersed with vocal harmonies off the hook, production values that audiophile dreams are made of and perfectly paced rhythmic cadences that create their absolute zenith of musical creativity.
I find TIME to be the absolute best example of the ELO sound with every possible ingredient sifted into its proper place. TIME is the perfect mix of synth pop, disco, new wave, retro old school rock ‘n’ roll mixed with progressive rock and rock opera to create one of my absolute most favorite progressive pop albums of the ages.
There is a real temptation to dismiss TIME as a pop album, and to judge it on a superficial basis. To do so is a real injustice, this is a truly superb piece of work by any standards. Lynne’s attention to detail is constant throughout, indeed, it is ironic that were it not for the fact that his compositions are so commercially successful, he would undoubtedly gain far more recognition as a musical genius.
Paul McCartney / “Flowers in the Dirt”
July 26, 2017
The latest installment in Paul McCartney’s ongoing Archive Collection project has finally arrived: joining the ranks along with albums like McCartney, Ram, Band on the Run, Tug of War, and Venus and Mars, we now have a remastered and “deluxe edition” treatment of McCartney’s 1989 release, Flowers in the Dirt.
After a spell of very average albums – the previous really satisfying set was 1982’s Tug Of War – Paul McCartney was clearly determined to make Flowers In The Dirt a return to form.
On this LP we are treated to a Elvis Costello influenced set of tracks. Of the Costello co-writes My Brave Face may be the closest Paul ever got to recapturing the vibes of my favorite Beatles album, Revolver.
The more interesting stuff here is McCartney’s & Costello’s collaboration on the slow-burning, gospel-tinged That Day Is Done and the tricksy, inventive production afforded to Don’t Be Careless Love. While the non-Costello work generally holds up pretty well, the LP proper does tail off a little, with the vacuous power ballad Motor Of Love.
Lets take a track by track view of “Flowers in the Dirt”.
The Traveling Wilburys / “Volume One”
July 22, 2017
The Traveling Wilburys could be the greatest collection of music talent ever assembled in one place. OK maybe you could make an argument with The Beatles, however other then the Fab 4 – this collaboration deserves your interest.
Think about it. (pictured below) Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison and Roy Orbison in one amazing band, working together.
Although it is generally agreed that Harrison was the group’s leader, they did work hard to maintain a collective image and even set up fictional names for each member masquerading as the “Wilbury” brothers – Nelson (Harrison), Otis (Lynne), Lucky (Dylan), Lefty (Orbison), and Charlie T. Jr. (Petty) with Keltner given the humorous “outsider” name “Buster Sidebury”. All group members also got songwriting credits on the album, although the publishing credits were disbursed according to the actual songwriter. The Wilbury name originated from Harrison and Lynne previously working together as a pseudonym for slight recording errors (“we’ll bury ’em in the mix”).
The ringing guitars of “Handle with Care”, the original Wilbury song, starts things off. Harrison, the primary composer, delivers deliberate vocalizing during the verses which gives way to Orbison’s smooth crooning during the choruses. Dylan and Petty deliver a chanting post-chorus and two instances of Harrison’s classic guitar along with a short Dylan harmonica lead make the song a true classic in just about every way. Within its brief three and a half minutes the song is dotted with decades of rock history, making this the perfect track to introduce the album. While not every song on the album wraps itself so well as “Handle with Care”, there is not a truly weak moment on the album. Check out the video below.
On “Dirty World” Dylan’s rough lead vocals are complimented by smooth backing vocals and a bright acoustic arrangement. The song also contains some horns and an interesting arrangement all around. This song was a particularly enjoyable one for the band to record as each member took a turn singing in the “round” during the extended outro. Jeff Lynne’s “Rattled” is pure rockabilly led by Orbison on vocals, almost like a lost early Elvis song. Lynne’s bass and Harrison’s lead guitar shine musically and the actual “rattle” in the song is drummer Keltner tapping the refrigerator grill with his drum sticks.
“Last Night” contains Caribbean elements with some percussion and horns and Petty singing during verse and Orbison during the bridges. The whimsical, storytelling song has a great aura and feel throughout. Petty did the core composing with each group member contributing to the songwriting approach. The verses has an upbeat folk/Latin feel with the bridge being a bit more dramatic. The first side completes with “Not Alone Any More”, a vocal centerpiece for Orbison. His vocals smoothly lead a modern version of early sixties rock and Lynne’s keyboards add more decoration than any other song on the first side. If “Not Alone Anymore” is in the clouds, the second side opener “Congratulations” is right down at ground level. This tavern style ballad with Dylan on lead vocals sounds much like his late 70s / early 80s era material, with blues-like reverences to broken relationships, and includes a very short but great lead guitar by Harrison right at the end.
The up-tempo “Heading for the Light” is a quintessential Harrison/Lynne production, with the former Beatle composing and singing and the former ELO front man providing the lush production and orchestration. The song contains great picked guitar fills as well as a saxophone solo by Jim Horn. “Margarita” may be the oddest song on the album but is still a great sonic pleasure. It begins with a programmed eighties synth line then the long intro slowly works its way into a Latin acoustic section topped by horns, lead guitar, and rich vocal harmonies. It is not until a minute and a half in that Petty’s lead vocals come in for a single verse then the song works its ways through various short sections towards an encapsulated synth ending. This spontaneous composition with free-association lyrics showed with a group of this talent could do on the spot.
“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” is Bob Dylan channeling Bruce Springsteen and coming out with what may have been one of the best Springsteen songs ever (even though he had nothing to do with it). This extended song with the traditional Dylan style of oodles of verses and a theatrical chorus includes several references to Springsteen songs throughout and is in Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey. It may have been Dylan’s delayed response to the press repeatedly coining Bruce “the next Dylan”. No matter what the case, the result is an excellent tune with lyrics rich enough to base a book or movie.
The most perfect album closer to any album – ever, “End of the Line” contains a Johnny Cash-like train rhythm beneath deeply philosophical lyrics, delivered in a light and upbeat fashion. Harrison, Lynne, Orbison, and Harrison again provide the lead vocals during the chorus hooks while Petty does the intervening verses. The song revisits the classic music themes of survival and return with the universal message that, in the big picture, it all ends someday. The feeling of band unity is also strongest here with the folksy pop/rock chords and great harmonies.
Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 sold over two million copies within its first six months, a figure which made this album a higher seller than any of Bob Dylan’s albums to that date. The album was critically favored and won a Grammy award in 1990. The surviving members of the group reconvened for a second album, which fell far short of capturing the magic of this debut and a long-planned tour by the group never materialized, although members continued to collaborate on each other’s albums for years to come. The incredible magic that came together in 1988 is yet to repeated anywhere in the rock universe.
Van Morrison / “Hard Nose The Highway”
July 18, 2017
Sandwiched between “Saint Dominic’s Preview” (1972) and “Veedon Fleece” (1974) 1973’s “Hard Nose the Highway” is often forgotten or neglected by music historians. This is a tragic mistake. Filled with the very melody of melancholy, peace and tranquility this is one of my favorite “go to” albums of Van Morrison.
There is just something about this album that I love. While I will agree with anyone that states that it is not in the same category as something like Moondance, Tupelo Honey, and St. Dominic’s Preview. However it sits very nicely in their company!
I think the reason why many fan’s of Van Morrison don’t go to this album as an artistic high point or their favorite is that it doesn’t have the emotional extremes that Astral Weeks through Vleeden Fleece have. Instead he touches on the ordinary facets of life with a calm objectiveness that makes for the mellow mood throughout much of the record.
The music is very passionate yet not confrontational; instead it is inviting and mature, relaxing yet fun, while maintaining an interesting introspection that is consistent in most of Morrison’s work.
Every song on this album is excellent. I always feel quite satisfied after listening to it. Every other album of Morrison’s has a couple of songs on it that I either have to be in a certain mood or just don’t think is as consistent in it’s quality as the other songs. Hard Nose The Highway I have no such complaint; each song is unique yet melody and production-wise relates to each other quite well. I also think it’s interesting that he did two covers on this album considering how many songs that he recorded around this time (many of them are on Philosopher’s Stone).
Snow In San Anselmo may be the strangest and most experimental song Morrsion ever did. A full choir and very jazzy interludes that follow a somewhat surreal observations. I am especially fond of Autumn Song, it just gently sways in it’s on special way, but so does everything on this album.
Overall I think that it took a great deal of confidence for an artist to make an album so cool and mellow. This was 1973 after all. The music of the day was progressive/glam rock which was out to impress the listener with musicianship and bombast. You listen to this and it sets your mind at ease- it looks back on things with a simple fondness and enjoys the present without a worry of tomorrow.
Elton John / “Honky Château“
July 9, 2017
As 2017 began I found myself asking myself – “Why isn’t Elton John releasing his music catalog on 180 vinyl?” So many artists including David Bowie, Paul McCartney, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and many more have been doing this for the past few years. In fact earlier this year John re-released 5 LP’s and a new – extended version of 17-11-70 on Record Store Day. I of course picked all of them up. Then, as if he was listening to me Elton announced 10 more re-releases and I immediately knew I would be ordering them all. Thank goodness the 10 albums are being released in pairs of 2 between early June & December. My first 2 of these shipped as I was heading to the shore. When I arrived home from vacation there was 1971’s “Tumbleweed Connection” and 1972’s “Honky Château”.
Lets take a closer look at “Honky Château”.
The fast and spirited “Honky Cat” kicks off the album with a choppy piano tune that contains a touch of banjo by Johnstone playing banjo. This Top Ten pop song is accented by a horn section and is mirrored by the closing “cat” song “Hercules”. “Mellow” is a slow tempo piano ballad which gains a bit of funk during the chorus and contains a very odd yet melodic organ solo by John. The tongue-in-cheek parody “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” maintains the New Orleans-style atmosphere while dealing with the serious subject of suicide. “Susie (Dramas)” once again returns to the choppy, upbeat piano template but with a cool guitar riff during choruses.
“Rocket Man” is the most famous song from this album, reaching the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and inspired by a shooting star sighting by Taupin. The lyrics describe an astronaut’s mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to complete his mission. The song really stands out sonically with atmospheric textures, showcasing the talents of producer Gus Dudgeon. The production also features the layered vocal harmonies provided by Johnstone along with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson.
In fact earlier this year Elton John & YouTube held a contest to video enthusiasts to film music videos for 3 of their earlier hits, including “Rocket Man”. Here you can see & hear the winning entry for this track.
Honky Château is rightly so – highly regarded as one of Elton John’s best albums, and it’s not entirely that difficult to see why. The album is entirely enchanting and enjoyable, with only the average Salvation a step below its brethren. And even that track is still pleasant enough to not outrage anyone’s musical sensibilities. Honky Château doesn’t provide the thematic unity of Tumbleweed Connection, nor the emotional turbulence of Madman Across The Water. It is, in essence, simply a fine album that aims to please. It succeeds.
Roger Waters / “Is This The Life We Really Want?”
July 3, 2017
For those of you, my dedicated readers very familiar with my work and passions you surely miss my retired “Mann’s Music Journey” blog. There I wrote weekly, covering and reviewing vinyl albums. However as the years went by I simply started running out of time to write both blogs. Of course the technology blog won out, but there are times that I miss writing reviews about albums that I find important. Realizing this I actually started a second music blog recently but alas I did not even have time to do that one justice either. What to do? Heck I wasn’t sure. After a bit I decided to just write a album/vinyl review here from time to time. If you are not interested – no worries – I understand. So with all of this out of the way lets take a look at a new vinyl release by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.
First off, the intro “When We Were Young” will burrow its way into your brain after repeat listens as an uncanny and disturbing start, which blends right into the first real song, Deja Vu, with its absolutely stellar lyrics. Then we slide into The Last Refugee – itself a powerful work of art in its eerie evocation of an image washed up onto a Mediterranean beach in late 2015 that’s been permanently branded onto human consciousness.
Flip the record over and we begin with the pulsing song Picture That, which deftly evokes the best of latter era Floyd )and my favorite track on the LP) with startling originality. For me this song shifts into a superior gear at the 1:55 mark–where the melodic synth emerges–and it’s propelled to the finish by a simple yet effective drum bass combo. Then the song Broken Bones begins with a haunting lonely howl that grounds the track in primitive earthiness, with its arresting first verse, “Sometimes I stare at the night sky, See them stars a billion light years away, And it makes me feel small, like a bug on a wall, Who gives a $h*t anyway? Who gives a $h*t anyway?” By this point, if you haven’t been won over by Roger’s heartfelt and surprisingly vigorous vocal performance, you’re either not paying attention or you’re already dead inside. What can I say.
Remove disc one from the turntable, return it to its sleeve, and put on the second disc for side C. It begins with the title track, sort of a continuation of the theme explored in Amused To Death. I love the clip of Trump babbling his inanity at the beginning, which is suddenly cut off to switch to the music. This is another deep cut, dark and brooding, which ultimately condemns us for having stood by silent and indifferent while the world’s atrocities unfold. “It’s normal!” the song concludes in a harrowing sound-byte, and we segue into the hair-raising song Bird in a Gale, which for me comes across like the anguished reproach from Pink himself (from The Wall) asking with his soul bared, “Are you blowing like a bird in a gale? Does the pain of your loss seep into your feathers like rain? Do the bars of your cage feel warm or cold to the touch? Were my caresses too gentle? Did I love you too much? Your dog is scratching at the door. The boy is drowning in the sea. Can I crash out on your floor? The loon is howling at the sea. Is there room in the story for me?” The more one really listens and accepts the narrative for what it is, the deeper this album’s talons sink in and carry you away above the clouds, lifting you to a higher place even while threatening to drop you to the cold rocks below.
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World ends side C of the LP, and it’s another incredible ballad that only Roger Waters could’ve written. Really–I can’t get into it here–the music and melody and singing and lyrics are so powerful, that you have to let some things speak for themselves.
Flip the record over to side D, which begins with Smell The Roses, another very powerful track whose extremely creepy interlude evokes Roger’s score to the film When The Wind Blows. Another thing about this track, like its partner Picture That, it really brings the old jazzier Pink Floyd back and it all adds up to another gorgeous sounding sonic experience hearkening to what the original band did so well during Roger’s heyday in the driver’s seat.
Which leads us to the final three songs, Wait For Her, Oceans Apart, and Part of Me Died. Wait For Her is another great song revealing one of the album’s key concepts, a strong feminist undercurrent which after all is sung and done, becomes an homage to the women of the world and love itself as the cure-all.
Oceans Apart works as the intro to Part of Me Died, and I can’t stress enough how powerful this two-punch ending really is. Roger deftly saves the best for last–mirroring the beginning of the album like a Rorschach inkblot testing the acuity of our perception. When the final note rings out and fades away, there’s no longer any room for doubt.
Roger Waters just released one of the best albums of his solo career. I am still on the fence regarding whether this one is better that 1992’s “Amused to Death”, but it is very close.