New York, both the backdrop and inspiration to some of Lou Reed's finest work, from the Velvet Underground's debut and right through his solo work,with the exception of the hard listening,and at times upsetting 'Berlin' album.
In 1989 however, Reed stunned both critics and fans with the release of the loose conceptual album simply titled 'New York'.
This was Reeds finest album as a solo artist and nobody seen it coming,having released albums of moderate appeal but poor reviews in the 1980s.
After his clean up and stint in rehab Reed was written off as a has been, hanging onto the shirttails of cult success with the Velvet Underground, which at this point was at its highest.
As the decade closed however Reed found himself on the cusp of both artistic integrity with mainstream success. The fourteen track album,a journey through the grime and good of New York City, cited as an almost spoken novel weighted in at a little under an hour ,with minimal production to add to the raw sound ,this was Lou Reed at his very best.
A band made up of two guitars,bass and drums,the vehicle he thrived on to snarl his vocals over both sides of the record,indeed ex-Velvet Mo Tucker contributed drums on parts of the album.
The sudden change and obvious maturity that fired Reed can be contributed to by two factors,or two losses rather,the death of Andy Warhol in February 1987 during a routine gallbladder surgery.
Warhols was of course the one time artistic guru of Reeds who not only encouraged his dark , twisted songwriting but influenced it and his ex-Velvets bandmate and muse Nico who suffered a heart attack and died in July 1988 in Ibiza.
These two losses in a short space of time made Lou Reed question his own mortality, instead of grieving he in turn threw himself into his songwriting, evident in the song cycle that this is clearly a man who had seen it and done it all and was now launching himself at the top of his game with an almost rebirth.
The album stutters to a start with one of Reed’s greatest songs,'Romeo Had Juliette', here he clearly sets the scene and prologues all that is to come;
"Caught between the twisted stars the plotted lines the faulty map
that brought Columbus to New York".
This vivid imagery used very easily paints pictures in the listeners mind in almost fictional noir movie.
The second single release ,'Dirty Boulevard’ reached the top of the modern rock U.S Billboard charts, a song starkly pointing the divide between the rich and poor of New York,but again widely praised and receiving airplay both through FM and MTV, this was not selling out however, grunge was right around the corner and Reed was already lighting the fires hailing the clever lyrics and guitar driven raw music which was to come.His friend and one time collaborator David Bowie,was already working in the same direction with the cyberpunk of Tin Machine.
The song subjects are both stark and nostalgic and at times the imagery can become overpowering, he keeps it together however through the pumping sound being delivered,'The last great American whale', Reed hits out at both the NRA and the treatment of native Americans,fearlessly without hiding either fact;
"The mayor's kid was a rowdy pig
spit on Indians and lots worse,
The old chief buried a hatchet in his head
life compared to death for him seemed worse".
Halfway through the album you soon discover that Reeds newfound leather skinned,sobriety suits him,a fact pointed to on the third single release ‘A Busload Of Faith', it's not a song of regret but more so of acceptance and the importance of his own life;
"You can't depend on your drinking,
You can't depend on your dope".
At last Reed was living up to the cult image created through his groundbreaking and highly influential releases with the Velvet Underground, this new found energy would continue right up until his death in 2013, leaving behind a more worthwhile legacy for a man who through his work in the 60's inspired more bands than the Beatles.
Kevin Burke 1/01/19
On this day, 30 years ago, Nitzer Ebb released their second studio album Belief!
On this day, 30
years ago, Nitzer Ebb released their second studio album Belief. On this album, released by Mute Records and produced by Flood, drummer Julian Beeston took over from David Gooday.
The album features one of NEB's most know dancefloor classics, Control I’m Here. This single was released almost three months before whilst the video got frequent rotation on MTV. Later that same year, the singles Hearts & Minds and Shame followed. The track T.W.A. is said to be inspired by the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847. While listening very carefully one can hear a crowd chanting ”Marg Bar Amrika' which means 'Death to America”.
Mute Records - STUMM 61
Released: 9 January 1989
- Hearts & Minds 3:45
- For Fun 3:03
- Control, I'm Here 3:52
- Captivate 3:57
- T.W.A. 5:00
- Blood Money 4:29
- Shame 4:03
- Drive 5:07
- Without Belief 4:16
It is hard for people to comprehend what music would be like without the influence of “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, even harder again to comprehend life simply without David Bowie.
The effect on music that album has had pulses through even today's releases forty six years later.
One compact disc remaster had one of the most honest statements made by a record company, sometimes known to embellish how good a release actually is, it reads: 'Whether you know it or not, this album changed your life!’
On July the 6th 1972, at 7:30 pm, a time before video recorders, without Sky Plus, we can pinpoint precisely what the likes of Morrissey, Ian Curtis, Ian McCulloch,Gary Numan, Johnny Lydon, Boy George and Adam Ant were doing.
They were watching David Bowie on Top Of The Pops performing the song 'Starman', dressed as a Punk-rainbow astronaut with a red mullet, looking like something that arrived from another universe, draping his arm across Mick Ronson's shoulder in a bromance meets almost homoerotic display. This must have sent quivers through the stiff upper lip post war generation.
What the kids must have thought, when Bowie pointing at the camera sang the line;
'I had to phone someone so I picked on you'.
It only took those four minutes to transform David Bowie from a meandering folk style artist to the most scandalous rock star Britain ever produced.
The future had finally arrived, every kid who watched that performance felt their calling to become a musician.
In some respect this was the musical equivalent of a 'JFK' moment, an event which resonated around the world, a time engrained in peoples minds.
The kids who felt like outsiders, bullied or teased, now had their messiah, their role model and their friend when they felt alone.
'Let the children lose it,
Let the children use it,
Let all the children boogie.'
The album itself, “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars', released a month before the Top Of The Pops performance is an unequivocal masterpiece, one of those rarities where every track could be a single, no filler.
From the slow drum intro of 'Five Years' to the last orchestral breath of 'Rock N Roll Suicide', this is the album which would define what the decade was to become.
Bowies previous two albums with Mick Ronson,the garage rock 'Man Who Sold The World' and the mixed folk-pop-rock of his 'ode to influences' album 'Hunky Dory', were merely paving the way for what was to come.
The lineup of The Spiders made up by Ronson, Trevor Bolder on bass and Mick Woodmansey on drums.
As for the album itself produced by Bowie along with Ken Scott, some complained that it didn't sound heavy enough, the drums flat and the guitar at times not loud enough, without realising this was the intention.
As it was a glam rock album made by Ziggy and the Spiders, not by David Bowie.
The character 'Ziggy Stardust',a composition of two of Bowies influences, Iggy Pop and the musician and LSD lunatic the Legendary Stardust Cowboy(Norman Carl Odam).
Ziggy became Bowie's alter ego and vehicle for the very loose concept album based on a bisexual alien landing to earth, who became a famous rock star and was eventually killed by his fans.
In some ways Bowie saw Ziggy as a mirror image of himself,
“Ziggy played in left hand”-the mirror image of Bowie,a right handed guitar player.
A dangerous mix for Bowie as the line between art and reality would sometimes become blurred and drive him to the depths of insanity. This may explain the short longevity of the Ziggy character.
The song cycle itself is strong and there again is evidence of tributes to other musicians, such as the song “Lady Stardust” a tribute in sorts to Marc Bolan,the pair friends aswell as competitors.
A surreal opener opener in “Five Years”, the time the earth had left before its destroyed, the very reason Ziggy is sent to earth is to save it, but, instead he becomes a rock star.
This flows into “Soul Love”, what the Alien sees his fate as being,and his reasons for his saving the human race. All very sci-fi,and 'Moonage Daydream', a song which describes all parts of the Alien is in fact one of the best examples of Bowies cut and shut lyrics,where he would once write lines out individually(cut them out and arrange them until they formed some sense);
“I'm an Alligator,I'm a mama-papa”.
“Suffragette City”, mixture of themes from the book 'A Clockwork Orange', again the sci-fi future is touched upon, but here he also ask questions of his own sexuality.
But what holds the album together are the steady glam rock songs which lightens the sci-fi themes making the album more accessible, “Hang onto yourself”, “Star” and the cover version “It Ain't Easy”.
These are the perfect non-complicated songs to break the serious mood and prevents the album turning into a meandering concept mess.
The albums closer,and one of Bowie's strongest songs is “Rock And Roll Suicide”, this closes the album by detailing the character Ziggy Stardust's implosion and becoming a burnt out,washed up rock star.
'You're too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clock waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe, but you don't eat when you've lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide'
All the while the other band members and his ego are trying to tell him how he's not finished, 'You're not alone!' and he reminisces about the legions of fans he once had;
“Gimme your hands,cause you're wonderful'.
The perfect closer, the perfect end to the Ziggy Stardust saga.
David Bowie would continue changing styles from soul to electronic music, he would create better albums but none would ever be as appealing as the one surrounding his first alter-ego character Ziggy.
Kevin Burke Dec ‘18
Norwegian visionary artist MORTIIS proudly announces his return to North America in 2019! The godfather of dungeon synth is set to embark on a 10-date trek from March 28th to April 7th 2019.
After playing in Europe (including several festivals), Russia, Australia, Mexico and South America, MORTIIS will perform his Era 1 material in the USA and Canada for the first time in almost 20 years.
"It’s been almost 20 years since I toured the US under the Era 1 version of Mortiis, so it seems like it’s about time to do it again. I’ve been traveling around Europe and parts of the rest of the world, performing the re-invented ‘Ånden som Gjorde Opprør’ (The Rebellious Spirit) album, and at long last I’m bringing it over to North America as well".
MORTIIS 2019 US TOUR
Mar. 28 - Baltimore MD
Mar. 29 - New York NY
Mar. 30 - Worcester, MA
Mar. 31 - Montreal QC
Apr. 01 - Toronto ON
Apr. 02 - Joilet, IL
Apr. 04 - Seattle, WA
Apr. 05 - Portland, OR
Apr. 06 - Oakland CA
Apr. 07 - Los Angeles CA
Elvis Costello, the Buddy Holly on acid, the Punk troubadour of the late nineteen-seventies, one of the most prolific and consistent artists of his generation.
To go through his canon of albums would be a long, although exciting adventure, but here we celebrate with the stand out, with the first record of his people discovered and latched onto, and one which is still listened to and love passionately “Armed Forces”.
Some have said this is one of the best albeit subtle political statements of the twentieth century, a bigger statement than one which the late Woody Guthrie would have attempted.
Wrapped in a fold back cover and front picture of elephants charging is an electrifying, rock steady album and an enigma to some albums in one that doesn't contain a dud track.
Released in January 1979, the working title says more than the given one; “Emotional Fascism”.
A daring album, one to dance to, this was the album where Elvis Costello came into his own as a songwriter, a melodic and textured work, hiding songs of a strong political nature, delivered with Costellos unique and demand to be listened to vocal.
Only two singles released; “Accidents Will Happen” the albums catchy opener and the number-two hit “Olivers Army”.
Based on a trip to Belfast, Costello being of Irish descent, “Olivers Army” remains one of Costellos most memorable songs.
The trip to Belfast opening his eyes to the young men, almost boys, armed and in uniform, from this was born his anti-occupation song.
A song about the young, working class men always sent to do the killing, name dropping along the way, apart from Belfast, ‘Checkpoint Charlie', Palestine, Cyprus and South Africa, wrapped nicely in bubblegum pop. Wether the listener knew or not is another story, but that was Costellos gift, the subtly.
The phrase 'White Nigger' remaining in the song when played on the airwaves for thirty years up until March 2013 when the BBC decided to censor the phrase, leading to a backlash as it damaged the songs intentional anti-war, anti-racisim message.
The album 'Armed Forces' produced in full by the irrefutable Nick Lowe,the 'Stiff Records' in house producer, but a notable pub-power-pop rocker similar to the style of Elvis Costello so an understanding of the sound and handling of the songs was best served by Lowe.
Although having produced the previous albums by Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe is also responsible for the production on The Damned’s first single and albums,aswell as other Stiff and associated acts. These including Wreckless Eric, The Pretenders, Dr Feelgood and of all artists Johnny Cash.
The other significant footnote of this album is it lists The Attractions as the band, although their second album with Costello, 'Armed Forces' is the first album to state them on the cover.
This artistic work is a combination of everything a record should be, no filler and a deep thinking political statement, but not one that overpowers the positivity of the album, so if you haven't heard it this is the call to dig and find it.
Kevin Burke December ‘18