Tuesday, 28 May 2013

1973 Alice Cooper - Billion Dollar Babies

Alice Cooper - 'Billion Dollar Babies', title track

Info: Vincent Furnier of Detroit, Michigan is another, if unlikely, son of a minister who legally changed his name to Alice Cooper, which would also become the name of his band that had undergone many name-changes (The Earwigs, The Spiders and The Nazz). In 1968 the group, with Glen Buxton on lead-guitar, Michael Bruce (rhythm), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith on drums, set off for Hollywood in pursuit of a more glamorous music career, initially signing to Frank Zappa's Straight Records before joining Warner Bros. in 1971 where they recorded the amazing Love It To Death album. The group's reputation for anarchic live shows, mainly helped by a misinformed media claiming the shows were gore-filled following a fan throwing a chicken on stage which Cooper threw back into the audience at the Toronto Rock n' Roll Festival in 1969. Of course, Cooper and the band, realising that there was no such thing as bad publicity, never denied any of the stories the media printed about their shows, as a result demand for the concerts rocketed and eventually the group made their impact in the UK with the 1972 single 'School's Out' which hit No.1 in the charts across the pond. 

Billion Dollar Babies was released in March 1973 and was an indictment of American society, based on the theme of a political election. The album was recorded mostly in the U.S. in Connecticut and New York but also in Morgan Studios London, where T-Rex's Marc Bolan, Donovan and Keith Moon of The Who would join in the recording sessions. Producer Bob Ezrin focused on a much harder rock sound for the band, but also ensured there were softer moments of strings, perhaps most noticeably on opener 'Hello, Hooray'. This album solidified Alice Cooper's reputation as serious contenders on the rock circuit and their tour became one of the most profitable of all-time, courtesy of myth, fake blood and their front man's gender-bending eccentricity.

My personal favourite on this album is the title-track (above video), it has it all, hard-hitting drums and killer lead-guitar from Buxton, as well as eerie story-telling. Other key tracks are 'Hello, Hooray', 'Generation Landslide', the most overtly critical of US society with a nice up-beat country / acoustic vibe. 'Mary Ann' is also a nice unusual, mostly instrumental piano song, which reminds me of a western bar in honky-tonk land. One of my final favourites is 'Unfinished Sweet', the longest track on the album at over six minutes, it's a great foot-tapper that you don't want to end. Some critics have claimed that this was Alice Cooper's hey-day, and it's very hard to disagree as the albums released between 1971-75 were all consistently strong, and it wasn't until 1989's Trash that anything half-decent re-emerged, and at that, it was not the original line-up from the early 70's. If you like Billion Dollar Babies, or even just one or two songs, I'd strongly recommend 1971's Love It To Death, especially their hit track 'Eighteen' which I've added below.

Alice Cooper, 'Eighteen'

Track Listing: 

1. Hello, Hooray
2. Raped and Freezin'
3. Elected
4. Billion Dollar Babies
5. Unfinished Sweet
6. No More Mr.Nice Guy
7. Generation Landslide
8. Sick Things
9. Mary Ann
10. I Love The Dead

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (2013)

Daft Punk feat. Panda Bear, Doin' It Right

Info: This Friday sees the worldwide release of one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the last few years, Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. It could be argued that it's their first 'proper' album since 2005's bummer, Human After All, when you exclude the Tron Legacy soundtrack and their live album in 2007 (Alive). Below I have done a track by track review and given a Yes, No or Maybe at the end of each track in terms of what I thought of it, if you agree with me completely once you've heard the album I can meet you next weekend to go to the Park Clinic together for DNA testing. Overall I really enjoyed this album from the first listen, if you're a fan of Daft Punk, or classics Homework and Discovery then you won't be disappointed, if you were expecting them to push the boundaries and try something exciting and new, you might be let down, it's back to basics for the two French boys, which is no bad thing.

1. Give Life Back To Music - Disco-funk, รก la Chic, 'Good Times' especially on guitar, you can dance to this song even if you can't dance (Yes)

2. The Game of Love - Chill-out with funky beat and bass, trademark robot vocals, not a big fan of this track (No)

3. Giorgio By Moroder - Begins with presumably Giorgio Moroder (soundtrack song-writer) talking about his dream of becoming a musician, Daft Punk back to basics here, nice lengthy digitised melody, as song goes on dips in and out of orchestral and fast drumming and beats before exploding towards the stars at the end, nice (Yes)

4. Within - Appealing lo-fi piano song, very reminiscent of Air c.Moon Safari (Maybe)

5. Instant Crush - Interesting to hear Julian Casablancas of The Strokes at higher than normal pitch through famous Daft Punk vocoder, catchy, ponderous tune (Yes)

6. Lose Yourself to Dance - Jamming song, guitar-led, first of three songs feat. Pharell, slow-motion disco vibe, enjoyable if not great, perhaps a 'grower' LOL (Maybe)

7. Touch (feat. Pharrell) - Half like a theme tune to a 1970's tv show (Hart to Hart?) that turns into spacey electronica (Maybe)

8. Get Lucky - THE song, Pharrell's best input, reminds me of Dublin's Republic of Loose on holiday in Provence... (Yes)

9. Beyond - One of my personal favourites, nice drum n' bass and lots of Daft Punk digi-vocals going on, chilled like a brain-dead penguin on 1sq foot of ice blissfully ignorant of global warming (Yes)

10. Motherboard - Only song to scream of filler, might sound better after a few listens but it's 5 and a half minutes of aimless instrumentals and adds nothing (No)

11. Fragments of Time (feat. Todd Edwards - yeah, me neither) - Instantly enjoyable and funky, Al Green with double-speed music behind him (Yes)

12. Doin' It Right (feat. Panda Bear from Animal Collective) This could be your favourite song on this album, everything comes together superbly, this will be on party playlists, only complaint, maybe too short compared to other tracks on album, see above video (Yes)

13. Contact - Great finish, like Luke Skywalker about to drop the bomb on the Death Star a high-speed, deafening powerhouse of a song (Yes)

Overall Rating: 3.5 / 5 (but could rise sharply after multiple listens)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

1972 Luther Allison - Bad News Is Coming

Luther Allison, 'Bad News Is Coming', Live Montreux 1997, 5 weeks before his death

Info: Born on the 17th of August, 1939, in Arkansas, Allison was one of 15 children from a family of cotton farmers. His love for music began as a youngster playing the organ in the local church, and this set the groundwork for his love of the blues which was helped along nicely by a family move to Chicago in his teens. Allison was a talented baseball player in his youth and following high-school in Chicago began learning the shoe-making trade, but, with the encouragement of his brother, he started to focus solely on playing the blues on electric guitar, and honing what was to become a powerful and soulful voice. Following a family move to a new neighbourhood in Chicago, Allison became best friends with one Charles Waters, Muddy Waters' son, coupled with hanging out in blues clubs, Allison's learning-curve was fast-tracked, and in 1969 he recorded his first album, Love Me Mama on the tiny Delmark record-label.

It fell upon Allison to tour extensively in order to promote his music, and he quickly became a favourite at blues festivals, his sets coming in at just under 4 hours packed with blistering guitar solos. In 1980 he moved to Paris, France, and recorded mostly live albums, but his American exodus came to an end in 1994 when he was convinced by Alligator Records owner, Bruce Iglauer, to return to his homeland and record new material. Albums such as Soul Fixin' Man (1994), Blue Streak (1995) and Reckless (1997) became huge critical and commercial successes. Allison toured heavily throughout the USA and Canada in the mid-90's, and his last concert was at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 4th, 1997, unfortunately, weeks later he would die from throat cancer, hard to believe given his vocal performance in the above video at the festival.

As for the album itself, while it only contains two originals, the title track and track 10, 'It's Been A Long Time', it could be said that the remainder of the album is an homage to Allison's personal influences and heroes. The catalogue begins with two opening tracks by Willie Dixon, 'Little Red Rooster' and 'Evil Is Going On' along with Robert Johnson's 'Sweet Home Chicago' and Elmore James' classic 'Dust My Broom' with some great slide-guitar and bopping piano playing. The great thing about this album, aside from the wonderful blues is Allison's powerful croaky vocals and energy, he really puts his own stamp on the covers and infuses them with great pace along with some amazing guitar solo improvisations. Personal favourites are 'Raggedy and Dirty','Cut You a-Loose', and 'Rock Me Baby', this album is currently for sale on www.play.com for only €7.16, brand new US Import CD.

Track Listing:

1. Little Red Rooster
2. Evil Is Going On
3. Raggedy and Dirty
4. Rock Me Baby
5. Bad News Is Coming
6. Cut You A-Loose
7. Dust My Broom
8. The Stumble
9. Sweet Home Chicago
10. It's Been a Long Time
11. Take My Love