Blancmange – Happy Families / Mange Tout / Believe You Me

9 07 2017

Edsel Records are re-releasing the first three Blancmange albums on 4 August 2017, as the limited edition Blanc Tapes boxset and as three individual deluxe editions . The 2017 editions include a remastered version of the original album, plus b-sides, extended versions, remixes, demos, BBC Radio One sessions and three BBC In Concert performances.

Blancmange-Happy-FamiliesHappy Families (1982) was the first Blancmange album. The remastering on all three re-issues is really well done. No brick-wall remastering here – the music has never sounded as good as it does with these Edel re-issues.

From the Talking Heads like funk of album opener I Can’t Explain, through to singles Feel Me, God’s Kitchen and probably Blancmange’s most well-known track Living On The Ceiling, Happy Families is a wonderful early 80s album.

Disc 1 of Happy Families includes the 7″ and original version of Waves, as well as the extended version of Living On The Ceiling, the 12″ mix of God’s Kitchen and the 12″ instrumental of Feel Me.

Disc 2 is a mixture of demos and my favourite extended version from this period, the Feel Me [extended 12″ version], that features some great guitar work from guitarist David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel). The demos show a glimpse of a much less polished Blancmange – closer to the starker more experimental work of Cabaret Voltaire and early Human League.

Disc 3 is made up of Radio 1 session tracks from February 1982 (John Peel) and June 1982 (David Jensen) and a concert recorded at the BBC’s Paris Theatre in November of 1982. The highlights of this disc are two rare Blancmange songs – the OMD-like I Would and the dark electronica of Running Thin.

Blancmange-Mange-ToutMange Tout (1984) was another commercial success – and contains the singles Don’t Tell Me, Blind Vision (my favourite Blancmange single), and a fine cover of Abba’s The Day Before You Came.

Other stand-out tracks on Mange Tout include Game Above My Head (CD1 includes a wonderful 7 minute version), the frenetic All Things Are Nice and the dark, glitchy Martin Ware (Heaven 17) demo of Blind Vision.

If you look beyond the pure-pop of the singles, there is a real feel of mid-80s experimental dance, along with a David Byrne influence that I did not pick up on at the time.

CD2 highlights the experimental side of Blancmange, with a mixture of demos and extended versions, the highlight being a very different version of All Things Are Nice. CD3 has a 4 song Kid Jensen session and 12 tracks from a Radio 1 In Concert recorded at Hammersmith Palais.

Blancmange-Believe-You-MeThe final 80s Blancmange CD was Believe You Me (1985). The least successful of the original albums, it doesn’t quite have the freshness of the first two albums, but is still a fine album containing some strong songs, including opener Lose Your Love and one of the bands best songs, Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? 

Listening to this album now, especially songs such as M Diver (Alternate Dream) [demo] from the second disc, I think its clear that had the band continued, they could have found a second wind in the late 80s / early 90s amongst the likes of the psychedelic pop / dance of The Beloved and S’Express.

CD2 contains a mixture of interesting demos and extended / single edits, the highlights of which are the wonderful re-invention of Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? as I Can See It [7″ single version] and the lovely, respectful cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My MindRiver Of Life [demo] is a bluesy synth workout that points to Neil Arthurs most recent project, the boldly electronic First Light album by Fader.

CD3 is made up of a late 1985 Janice Long session and a BBC In Concert recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in late 1986. The highlight of this show is a superb version of Blind Vision (the final song in the set, but introduced as the first song in the set!). Not sure if that was a Spinal Tap moment or something to do with the CD sequencing, but its an enjoyable live show. Hello Cleveland!

blancmange-2017

The three 2017 remastered deluxe editions will appeal to Blancmange fans, and anyone who loved the electronic music of the 80s. The albums have been lovingly remastered and contain fascinating glimpses into the development of the bands songs.

Blancmange return with a new album Unfurnished Rooms in the Autumn of 2017, sadly without Stephen Luscombe but featuring guitarist David Rhodes.

Buy The Blanc Tapes Box set, Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Happy Families (Deluxe Edition) on CD

Buy Mange Tout Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Believe You Me Deluxe Edition on CD





Date Stamp – the 80s (part1)

30 06 2017

Date Stamp – the 80s is the first in a series of blog posts attached to Spotify playlists I will be putting together, alongside my regular reviews of new releases.

sign o the times

The playlists will be a mixture of the familiar and lesser known songs, that I hope will shine the light on artists that you might not be familiar with. I would love to read your comments about the tracks I have chosen – please feel free to follow my playlists and share them.

I hope you enjoy listening to part 1 of my 80s Spotify playlist.

My Date Stamp – the 80s (part 1) playlist opens up with Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer, from the Rio album. The synth lines alone lead to its inclusion in this playlist. Save A Prayer was released in August 1982.

Next up is the only 12″ mix in the playlist. A brilliant Laurie Latham production, and one of my favourite extended versions from the 80s. Released in March 1983, Come Back and Stay can be found on the No Parlez album, and contains one of Pino Palladino’s most memorable bass-lines.

N_networkIt was difficult to choose just one Prince song for this playlist, and I know future playlists will include other songs from the Purple maestro, but I kept coming back to the Sign O The Times album, and particularly the power-pop of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, included here in its full album length.

The video for this track was a mainstay on Night Network, the late night weekend ITV show that preceded 24 hour TV.  I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man was released as a single in November 1987.

Mothers Talk was the first single from the second Tears For Fears album Songs From The Big Chair. The single was released in August 1984, with the album following in February 1985. Fairlight stabs, heavy sequenced synths and 80s nuclear paranoia drive this powerful song. The Roland Orzabal guitar riff on Mothers Talk is one of his best. The song may be synth and sampler heavy, but the guitar work (and the delayed and distorted bass and percussion in the outro) make this a standout track on the album.

If you are feeling flush, a deluxe edition of the album was released in 2014. You can read my review here.

wilderTiny Children from the second Teardrop Explodes album Wilder (1981) is one of the bands most commercial pieces.

Released as a single in June 1982, it sat comfortably with the other pop songs released that year, but as with all great pop music, scratch a little deeper below the surface and you will find much to savour.

“Oh no, I’m not sure
Not anymore”

A Secret Wish was the debut album by German band Propaganda. The album was released by ZTT Records in 1985, and was produced by Stephen Lipson with Trevor Horn. p:Machinery is my favourite track on the album, and one of the finest mid-80s singles. I love the percussion and crisp synths, and lead vocalist Claudia Brücken is still releasing new music.

Fade To Grey by Visage is one of the oldest tracks in this playlist. The single (the bands second) was released in 1980. The song was promoted by one of  Kevin Godley and Lol Creme’s earliest videos.

lexicon of loveThe title song of this playlist is Date Stamp by ABC, from their debut album, Lexicon of Love. I’ve gone for one of the less-well known ABC songs, but its my favourite track from the album. It hits all the marks for me – great backing vocals, a stunning bass-line and some of Martin Fry’s finest lyrics.

“Looking for the girl who meets
supply with demand”

Lexicon of Love was released in June 1982.

Another lesser-known track is up next. Here Comes a Raincloud is from the second China Crisis album, Working with Fire and Steel. A fine ballad with a wonderful arrangement and beautiful production (from Mike Howlett).  The (real not synthesised) strings on this track still sound beautiful. A piece of pop magic from the Liverpudlians.

I’ve included the 10″ version of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s Messages in my playlist. Another mighty Mike Howlett production. I love the hard sequences and the ever evolving bassline in this single from 1980.

I’m sure other Thomas Dolby tracks will feature in subsequent playlists, but I chose Airwaves as I think its a song that’s often overlooked. That chorus!

Airwaves features on the 1982 The Golden Age of Wireless album – I can recommend the excellent collectors edition.

I never tire of hearing Absolute by Scritti Politti. The mixture of sugar-sweet vocals and hard-beats hits the spot for me, even to this day. This Arif Mardin produced single from the bands period working in New York arrived smack bang in the middle of the 80s, and can be found on the album Cupid & Psyche 85.

A little journey back into the less-familiar for the next track on my playlist. Unless is from the debut Pale Fountains album Pacific Street, which was released in 1984. The slow-building percussion and reverb-laden synth mix with some heart-wrenching strings and an unexpected sequenced synth line towards the end of the song.

The band turned up the guitars for their final studio album, …From Across the Kitchen Table in 1986, before splitting, with vocalist Mick Head forming the band Shack, who have existed in various incarnations from 1987 to date.

44426-cafe-bleuI loved the early to mid-period Style Council singles and I’ve included the single edit of one of my favourites in this playlist. As with the previous track, some wonderfully detailed 80s percussion underpins My Ever Changing Moods. The song includes a typically great Paul Weller lyric and one of his best guitar performances from this era.

“The hush before the silence,
the winds after the blast”

My Ever Changing Moods was released in 1984 and can be found on Greatest Hits (this single version) or on their debut studio album Cafe Bleu.

Prefab Sprout’s Goodbye Lucille #1 (known as Johnny Johnny when released as a single) is a highlight of the bands second album Steve McQueen, which was released in 1985. The production by Thomas Dolby results in a timeless sounding album. Just listen to the intro – such wonderful separation between the layers of guitars.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions released their debut album Rattlesnakes in 1984, and its release was preceded by the single Forest Fire in August 1984. The album was recorded in John Foxx’s The Garden studios in East London. I’ve always loved the simple but very emotive guitar solo that pushes the song to its conclusion.

Lloyd Cole has always been known as a great wordsmith, and Forest Fire and its lyrics of wild love and lust are an absolute joy.

“I believe in love, I’ll believe in anything”

I’ve included the title track from Deacon Blue’s debut album, Raintown, in this playlist. A fine production from Jon Kelly (who also worked with Chris Rea, Kate Bush and Prefab Sprout). Raintown is a strong late 80s albums, and its worth tracking down the 2012 Edsel reissue.

Primarily known for his signature song Wonderful Life, the late Colin Vearncombe’s Black have left us with a rich catalogue of  songs. My favourite track from the debut album Wonderful Life is the torch-song Paradise. The album was re-issued as a two disc deluxe edition in 2013. Which I didn’t know about until writing this blog – so over to Amazon I go.

“Life should never feel small”

I’ve included one of Thomas Lang’s less well-known songs in this playlist. Thomas delivers a heartfelt version of Jacques Brel’s powerful anti-war (and song of loss) Sons of.  The song was often a highlight of Lang’s live shows in the late 80s, early 90s. Sons of is available on Scallywag Jaz and More – the Best of…

“Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own”

age of plasticMy playlist ends with Elstree by The Buggles. Taken from their first album The Age of Plastic from 1980,  the haunting Elstree features some lovely piano and a convincing minimoog oboe emulation from Geoff Downes.

The Buggles only released one further album, Adventures in Modern Recording in 1981. The past few years have seen rumours of new Buggles music, which would please me greatly, as I am a big fan of most of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes work.

Ok, Elstree ends with the words “Cut”, and so does this playlist. I hope you enjoyed listening to all of the songs, and maybe you’ve discovered some music you were not aware of. Feel free to leave a comment below, and I hope to return to the 80s for another serving of the familiar and the unknown in the next few months.

The next playlists will be two collections of Alternative Jewels – one of older songs and one made up of some of my more recent favourites. Follow the Music Shack on Twitter to find out when they will be available.

To be informed of new posts, along with music tweets, please follow the Music Shack on Twitter @MkMusicshack.





Fader – First Light

22 06 2017

FaderFader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin). They have released their debut album, First Light, on Blanc Check Records.

First Light is a dark, simmering electronic album. The music sits somewhere between Cabaret Voltaire and early (pre-The Garden) John Foxx. And that’s a good place to be.

3D Carpets is driven by analogue synths and minimalist percussion, with a chorus that soaks into your brain. I don’t have a clue what Neil Arthur’s lyrics are about on a lot of the songs – but I love the images they conjure up,  they paint a picture that is open to personal interpretation. Its good to use your 21st century imagination.

Check The Power has a tense, paranoid vocal delivery from Arthur, and some fine, deep bass synth lines from Benge.

“You better go back”

I love the way the synths sound so dirty,  not like VST / emulations, the duo clearly use authentic machines.

There is a real depth to these meaty sounds. Way Out is a case in point – the sweeping synths shift from deep low to brighter high notes. At times I struggle to believe that this album was recorded in 2017, not 1979.

“Caught in the moment of doubt”

The title track continues the edgy feel, with Arthur shouting about “Catholic converters” and “Resume the search at break of day”. The track First Light reminds me a lot of John Foxx, have a listen below.

The marching percussion and thick synths on Wonderland conjure up memories of early OMD and very early Human League / Heaven 17. Over the first few album listening sessions, I grew to appreciate the stream of consciousness, quite dystopian lyrics. There is also a lot of humour on display here.

Liverpool Brick is a wonderful, beatless song. The sparse but melodic instrumentation works really well with the lo-fi recording of the vocals. Liverpool Brick also contains my favourite lyrics on the album. Like the track, the lyrics are very direct (in stark contrast to the rest of the album).

A Trip To The Coast delivers one of the most memorable songs on the album. A real mood of melancholy and lost, fading memories permeate throughout my favourite track, which will surely appeal to the Stranger Things generation. I hope A Trip To The Coast is used to promote First Light, as I think it will be a favourite with a lot of people. Put this song on your SoundCloud, Fader!

The album closes with another album highlight, Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks” (a print of which sits on my home studio wall, fact-fiends). Such a moving piece, with a metronomic delayed vocal delivered over a dark, simple synth-scape, and a throbbing low hum.

“In silence and silver, Ikea blue bag.
Washing away the stain, on our rags”

Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper

First Light is a fine debut release from Fader, and a must-buy for fans of late 70s, early 80s electronic music. I hope its the first of many releases from the electronic duo, as there are clearly lots of places left for Arthur and Benge to explore.

Follow Mr Kinski’s Music Shack on Twitter

Buy First Light by Fader (CD) on Amazon

Buy the album on Vinyl

or buy the album on mp3

Visit Fader on Facebook or follow the duo on Twitter





The Comsat Angels – Chasing Shadows / Fire On The Moon

17 11 2015

chasingshadows2015Edsel records have issued remastered and expanded versions of the first three albums from the influential Sheffield band The Comsat Angels.

The fourth set in the reissue campaign is the long out-of-print Chasing Shadows coupled with the virtually never in print Fire On The Moon.

Chasing Shadows was released on Island Records in 1986, and I own up to the fact that its an album I’m very fond of. I’ve always thought it contains some of Stephen Fellows best vocal performances (I would imagine the setting of Compass Point Studios had something to do with that). The music, although a world away (pun intended) from their first three albums, still carries plenty of (restrained) power.

Album opener The Thought That Counts sets the scene for the album, with stabbing keyboard sequences and arena-rock friendly guitar and drums.

The album includes some of my favourite performances from keyboard player Andy Peake – especially on The Cutting Edge. And that bass / drum interplay!

Under The Influence sounds great on this remastered album – especially the mighty Mik Glaisher powerhouse drums. Carried Away is one of the great lost Comsats classics. Slow-burning and simply arranged, the emotion in the bands performance shines through.

You’ll Never Know features guest vocals from a champion of the band, Robert Palmer, who was also executive producer, and instrumental in getting the band signed to Island Records.

Lost Continent is one of the standout tracks on Chasing Shadows, and is followed by the most powerful track on the album Flying Dreams, which has many of the hallmarks of the bands early albums. I’ve always loved the breakdown “start to climb” instrumental section at the end.

The album ends with the moving Pray For Rain. The Comsats at their most vulnerable – just keyboards, vocals and bass.

“I met my match, but then the fire spread”

Andy Peake really shines on this performance. He is primarily known for his layered, atmospheric playing, but he can really tickle those ivories.

csarecording

The 2015 remaster includes The Cutting Edge single b side, Something’s Got To Give, a fine song and I’m glad its included on this release.

The second disc in this reissue set contains the complete Fire On The Moon, which was released in limited quantities in the USA and Holland in 1990, under the name Dream Command. I have to be honest and say its my least played and least liked Comsats release. There are only two tracks that I can recommend – Venus Hunter (with its Missing In Action inspired guitar ending) and the wonderful Mercury, that could have graced any Comsats album. The rest just don’t have that CSA magic and sound weary and tired.

Remastering / extra tracks

Of the four reissues, this is the album I was looking forward to hearing the most. The original Chasing Shadows CD always sounded too quiet. The 2015 remaster by Phil Kinrade at Alchemy Remastering adds a sparkle to the original album, and makes it a pleasure to rediscover in its new sonic glory.

The sleeve-notes are interesting, and the booklet includes the lyrics to the two albums, although unlike the previous three reissues in the series, the booklet is short on images from the era. But its all about the music – and although I’m not a fan of the second disc, Chasing Shadows does not disappoint and makes this reissue a must-have for Comsat Angels fans.

Chasing Shadows + Dream Command Fire On The Moon (Deluxe 2CD edition)

DISC ONE
The Comsat Angels Chasing Shadows
1. The Thought That Counts
2. The Cutting Edge
3. Under The Influence
4. Carried Away
5. You’ll Never Know
6. Lost Continent
7. Flying Dreams
8. Pray For Rain
Bonus track
9. Something’s Got To Give

DISC TWO
Dream Command Fire On The Moon
1. Celestine
2. Whirlwind
3. Sleepwalking
4. Reach For Me
5. Ice Sculpture
6. Venus Hunter
7. Phantom Power
8. Transport Of Delight
9. She’s Invisible
10. Mercury

Chasing Shadows 180 gram Heavyweight black vinyl
1. The Thought That Counts
2. The Cutting Edge
3. Under The Influence
4. Carried Away
5. You’ll Never Know
6. Lost Continent
7. Flying Dreams
8. Pray For Rain

Fire On The Moon 180 gram Heavyweight black vinyl
1. Celestine
2. Whirlwind
3. Sleepwalking
4. Reach For Me
5. Ice Sculpture
6. Venus Hunter
7. Phantom Power
8. Transport Of Delight
9. She’s Invisible
10. Mercury

Buy the album

Buy Chasing Shadows / Fire On The Moon Double CD on Amazon

Buy Chasing Shadows vinyl on Amazon

Buy Fire On The Moon vinyl on Amazon

Also available…


Buy Waiting For A Miracle Double CD from Amazon

Buy Waiting For A Miracle vinyl on Amazon

Buy Sleep No More Double CD from Amazon

Buy Sleep No More vinyl on Amazon

Buy Fiction Double CD from Amazon

Buy Fiction vinyl on Amazon

 

Visit The Comsat Angels – Sleep No More website





The Comsat Angels – Waiting For A Miracle

14 11 2015

Edsel records have issued remastered and expanded versions of the first three albums from the influential Sheffield band The Comsat Angels.

The Comsat Angels are surely long overdue a reappraisal as on the of the most important UK post-punk bands. The first three albums are essential listening for anyone who has an interest in this era of UK music, and they should also appeal to fans of current bands such as The Editors, Interpol and early Bloc Party.

waitingforamiracle2015The Comsats released their debut Waiting For A Miracle in 1980. Hearing the eerie opening guitar wails as the rhythm picks up on opening track Missing In Action always sends be back to my teenage bedroom listening to the album on vinyl.

Later albums from the band do reflect the time in which they were recorded, but the first three Polydor albums are on the whole timeless, and if you heard them for the first time in 2015, you would still find yourself under their spell.

The influence of Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart can clearly be heard in the instrumentation on Waiting For A Miracle. The distorted bass and emotive percussion drive second track Baby.

“I don’t want to be your “baby”
I don’t want to have to crawl for you”

Not a note is wasted on this stark song – the restraint in the performance is clear.

Independence Day is the bands most well known song. The harmonics are instantly recognisable to anyone who listened to late night radio in 1980. I’ve played this song hundreds of times over the years, and Independence Day still sounds as fresh now as it did when I first heard it 35 years ago.

A sci-fi / futuristic feel runs through the core of many of the albums songs, especially the title track. Its no coincidence that the band were named after a JG Ballard short-story.

Total War is a simple but powerful arrangement. The bass, drums and keyboards power the song, which is devoid of guitar until the end section. When the original line-up of the band reformed for a hometown gig in 2009, this song was a highlight of the set.

Monkey Pilot showcases the range of the bands powerful and inventive drummer, Mik Glaisher. The feeling of isolation is mirrored by the music in Real Story, its a standout performance by the four band members.

“Now he’s in unreal estate
Until he dies”

Postcard is the darkest song on the album. a slow-building performance with ride and tom driven percussion building the tension, as some wonderful guitar lines interplay with the vocals.

“I just thought you’d like to know”

Remastering / extra tracks

All the albums in this Edsel re-issue series have been remastered by Phil Kinrade. The remaster is subtle – the drums sound a little brighter, and the mix sounds wider and less cramped. It is more noticeable on the non-album tracks – for example the early Ju Ju Money take is a noticeable improvement on the previous CD.

The extra tracks include the Red Planet EP from 1979, a selection of demos and John Peel session tracks from 1979/1980. Edsel have taken care in the reissues presentation – including lyrics for the main album songs in the booklet and making sure all the CDs use colours from the album artwork.

The sleeve-notes from Tim Peacock (Record Collector) with input from the bands Stephen Fellows, throws light on the bands early history and the recording of the first album.

Waiting For A Miracle (Deluxe 2 CD edition)

DISC ONE
1. Missing In Action
2. Baby
3. Independence Day
4. Waiting For A Miracle
5. Total War
6. On The Beach
7. Monkey Pilot
8. Real Story
9. Map Of The World
10. Postcard
Bonus Tracks
11. Home Is The Range
12. We Were
13. Ju Ju Money
14. Work

DISC TWO
1. Red Planet
2. I Get Excited
3. Specimen No.2
4. Independence Day (Demo)
5. Real Story (Demo)
6. Target Talk (Demo)
7. Living In (Demo)
John Peel Sessions
8. Total War
9. Independence Day
10. Baby
11. JuJu Money
12. Real Story
13. Monkey Pilot
14. Waiting For A Miracle
15. Home Is The Range

VINYL – 180 gram Heavyweight black vinyl
1. Missing In Action
2. Baby
3. Independence Day
4. Waiting For A Miracle
5. Total War
6. On The Beach
7. Monkey Pilot
8. Real Story
9. Map Of The World
10. Postcard

Buy the album


Buy Waiting For A Miracle Double CD from Amazon

Buy Waiting For A Miracle vinyl on Amazon

Also available…

Buy Sleep No More Double CD from Amazon

Buy Sleep No More vinyl on Amazon

Buy Fiction Double CD from Amazon

Buy Fiction vinyl on Amazon

Buy Chasing Shadows / Fire On The Moon Double CD on Amazon

Buy Chasing Shadows vinyl on Amazon

Buy Fire On The Moon vinyl on Amazon

Visit The Comsat Angels – Sleep No More website





Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone In The Universe

10 11 2015

aloneintheuniverseAlone in the Universe is the first album of new material released by Jeff Lynne under the ELO banner since 2001’s Zoom. The opening track When I Was a Boy sets the stall out straight away. The descending bassline and strings let you know that you are listening to the classic ELO sound.

Love and Rain lifts the tempo, and along with the majority of this album, would not have sounded out-of-place blasting out of your FM radio back in 1977/78. And that’s fine by me – I wouldn’t expect a 2015 ELO album to sound like its of the here and now. That would be just plain odd.

Alone in the Universe works well as it delivers what you would expect – well-crafted pop songs that last around the 3 minute mark.

When the Night Comes serves up the albums first classic Lynne chorus, and the song is underpinned by a late 70s / early 80s reggae infused bass and guitar line.

The Sun Will Shine on You is one of the album’s strongest songs. It packs in more hooks in the first minute than the majority of current albums. The bass and synth are especially effective on this stand-out track.

Lynne likes to throw 50s rockers onto most of his albums, and Ain’t It a Drag has its roots in the era of Buddy Holly and Duane Eddy. But whilst the arrangement of Ain’t It a Drag pays homage to Lynne’s youth, the song is more Tom Petty than Roy Orbison, and it is not locked into just one era.

However the bossa-nova beat of I’m Leaving You IS pure Roy Orbison, and feels more Travelling Wilbury’s than ELO, and is the only slight misstep for me on the album.

Jeff Lynne

Earworm alert! You will probably think that you have already heard One Step at a Time, even if you haven’t heard the song on Spotify, as it draws heavily from the classic ELO sound and feels instantly familiar. As you would expect, the production values are high on Alone in the Universe.

Alone in the Universe feels like a early to mid-70s track, and whilst lyrically Lynne goes all Ground control to Major Tom on us, I really think the arrangement on this final track is a notch above the other tracks and makes you return to the song more than others on the album.

Alone in the Universe does not break new ground by any means, but thankfully its not one of those returns that makes you wish the artist had remained away from the recording studio. Its an album full of very good pop songs, and it sounds just like you would expect an ELO album to sound. It’s also free of excess – coming in at under 40 minutes and so leaves you wanting more.

So if you were a fan back in the 70s and 80s, there is plenty for you to enjoy on Alone in the Universe. Welcome back ELO.

Buy Alone in the Universe on CD from Amazon

Buy Live in Hyde Park bluray from Amazon

Buy The Classic Albums Collection on Amazon





Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984)

10 10 2015

Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) is a new in-depth look at one of the most influential (and often neglected) bands of the late 70s / early 80s.Japan - A Foreign Place

Published exclusively by Burning Shed in deluxe hardback edition, the book features contributions from former band members Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean, with archive material from David Sylvian (who did not contribute directly to the book) and the late Mick Karn.

Anthony Reynolds 212 page book starts with the early years of the band, and provides a fascinating insight into the musicians formative years in South-East London (Catford and Lewisham).

Along with the obvious 70s musical and cultural starting points, such as Bowie, Bolan, Lou Reed and Roxy Music, other surprising influences such as Motown and New York’s Television crop up as feeding into the mix of what was to become Japan.

The influence of Simon Napier-Bell and the lack of money making its way to the band, even during their most successful Tin Drum period, is well-documented in the book. In these days of a reduced and weakened music industry, you often hear about the golden era of the 70s and 80s when artists sold millions of albums, so its easy to forget that not everyone reaped the financial rewards during this bygone era.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the pre-fame years – especially stories about the early gigs, where Japan shared the stage with acts as diverse as Blue Öyster Cult and The Damned. The often negative audience reaction seemed to give the band the strength to ride the criticism that was to come their way over the next few years.

As well as talking to the band members, Anthony Reynolds also gives a voice to key-collaborators such as guitarist David Rhodes, along with school teachers and friends of the band. This helps to frame the time-scale of the story, as the band moved from being a guitar-heavy, new wave inspired band to the more electronic, layered experimental outfit that eventually found chart success and critical acclaim.

The Tin Drum album and the farewell tour are covered in depth in the book. Listening today to the bands most famous song Ghosts reinforces that its as moving now as it was when originally released all those years ago – late 1981 to be precise. The songs stark arrangement has certainly helped the song age gracefully.

The role of producers – particularly John Punter and Steve Nye (who worked with David Sylvian on several of his post-Japan solo albums) is explored and the sections on the recording of the later albums makes for fascinating reading.

Some awkward moments are also touched on in the book – including the falling out between Karn and Sylvian that led to the band’s disintegration, and the Gary Numan misunderstanding on a Japanese tour.

Reading Japan – A Foreign Place made me listen again to the bands catalogue with renewed enthusiasm. I rediscovered songs that had passed me by at the time, such as Fall In Love With Me and Alien. I also fell back in love with the Tin Drum album, especially the percussion work of Steve Jansen (Visions of China has such a unique drum pattern).

Japan – A Foreign Place is well-paced, and clearly written by a fellow musician who is a lifelong fan. The words and (many) pictures give a flavour of the various stages in the bands short but colourful career. It is also pretty fair in the amount of time devoted to individual members – its not the David Sylvian story, and its good to hear more about the contribution and personalities of Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean.

My only criticism is that the period covered by the book ends in 1984. I would have liked to have read about Rain Tree Crow, the post-Japan collaboration from 1991 that remains one of my favourite 90s albums, and is a period that is not really well-documented. Also, because of the timescale, there was no opportunity to discuss the time Jansen, Barbieri and Karn spent working with no-man in 1992. Maybe Anthony Reynolds will consider writing a post-Japan book?

Ok, I’m off to listen to Quiet Life and Tin Drum, followed by Gary Numan’s Mick Karn infused Dance. Why don’t you join me?

Buy Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) from Burning Shed

Buy Gentlemen Take Polaroids on Amazon

Buy Tin Drum on Amazon

Buy Exorcising Ghosts on Amazon

Buy Quiet Life on Amazon

Buy Gary Numan – Dance on Amazon








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