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Life at 33 1/3   By Carl Meyer

 

Update March 27, 2015

The vortex of brilliant despair

U2, War (Island)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in March 1983.*

Despair and agony is what it’s all about. And U2 clearly keep their finger on the pulse of tomorrow. The group is big in England. Well deserved.

“War” possesses a restless, magical sound, remote and frozen, lofty as cathedrals of ice. The piano possesses that stalactite timbre, pointed and hard in a swirl of frozen mist. The resonant, chiming guitars are like majestic arches in the soundscape, wondrous, almost hesitantly climbing the scales, shivering, vibrating, hovering - and then suddenly nose diving, brutally, plunging the notes into a twisted iron massif of anxiety and terror. And let’s hear it for the rhythm section, that divine power house, ticking and rolling and shaking, inciting, hypnotizing – perfectly balancing playful precision with explosive shock treatments.

U2 suck you into their vortex of brilliant despair ... and there to meet you is Bono, master of the cry of agony, his overwrought, vocal anxiety turns tears into an aesthetic pleasure.

The lyrics focus on war, death, poverty and hopelessness, civilisation as we know it seen through a most depressive pair of glasses. The lyrics don’t look that good on paper (littered with clichés as they are) but the band’s mighty empathy more than compensates. But is the album too depressive? There is a limit to how much hopelessness people can digest in one sitting before they become disillusioned and simply give up: The world is a mess, there’s nothing I can do about it, pass me a beer! Defeatism is not very inspiring.

I‘m not claiming that U2 have crossed that line. The album wouldn’t have worked if they had. “War” is a formidable slice of rock music. You get hooked from the moment the needle hits the grooves, and then it simply sucks you in ... “New Year’s Day” (for one reason or another it reminds me of Simon Dupree & The Big Sound’s 1967 hit “Kites” – distant vocals, magical atmosphere) for instance is one of the best songs I’ve heard so far in 1983.
Released: February 28, 1983
Produced by: Steve Lillywhite
Contents: Sunday Bloody Sunday/Seconds/New Year’s Day/Like a Song…/Drowning Man/The Refugee/Two Hearts Beat as One/Red Light/Surrender/”40"
U2:
Bono – lead vocals, additional guitar
The Edge – guitar, piano, lap steel, backing vocals, lead vocals on “Seconds,” bass and guitar on “40”
Adam Clayton – bass
Larry Mullen, Jr. – drums
Additional Personnel:
Kenny Fradley – trumpet on “Red Light”
Steve Wickham – electric violin on “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Drowning Man”
The Coconuts: Cheryl Poirier, Adriana Kaegi, Taryn Hagey, Jessica Felton – backing vocals on “Like A Song…”, “Red Light”, and “Surrender”


Update March 21, 2015

Queen, the hit machine

Queen, Greatest Hits (Parlophone)

From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in November 1981.
“I still think Queen’s regular albums are a mess. But old fashioned? Oh well, I was young and angry.” (Carl Meyer, March 2015)
It is easy to dislike Queen. At their worst they are pretentious, pompous, noisy and so smug it borders on the pathetic. Besides, they are old fashioned: Exponents of the empty headed escapism of pomp (ous) -rock. However, all their albums (there’s already ten of them, believe it or not) contain some good tracks; the problem is that they suffocate in a gray mass of noisy and/or sickly sweet gibberish.
Then “Greatest Hits” arrives ... and Queen must be reconsidered.
The album-title is exceptionally precise. Every one of the 17 tracks included have been hit singles in the UK. That’s right, Queen was, is and will always be a hit machine. Forget those messy albums. Hits, hits, hits, that’s what they’re all about. Always catchy and simultaneously wonderfully complicated, all different from one another, these guys are no lightweight act, they are masters of the 7 inch.
“Greatest Hits” puts the group’s phenomenal versatility on display: The operatic, overwhelmingly wonderful “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the slightly quirky and humerous “Bicycle Race”, the magnificent funk stomper “Another One Bites the Dust” (it just grows and grows on you), the happy, sauntering “Killer Queen”, the football-sing-alongs “We Will Rock You”/ “We Are The Champions”, the spot on rock’n’roll pastiche “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the heavy metal explosion, “Seven Seas of Rhye”. And that’s to name but a few. Everything is coated with Queen’s unmistakable guitar timbres and multi-tracked voices.
17 cuts in all, “Greatest Hits” is a revelation and pure joy from start to finish. It is the first Queen album I would have bought.
Be aware of the fact that the track listing differs from territory to territory. Some editions include the brand new recording “Under Pressure” that Queen did with David Bowie. As total playing time is almost one hour, the sound quality does suffer.
Released: October 26, 1981
Contents on original UK-edition: (in brackets, each track’s highest placing and year in the UK Top 50): Bohemian Rhapsody (1 – 1975, 1991)/Another One Bites the Dust (7 - 1980)/Killer Queen (2 - 1974)/Fat Bottomed Girls (11 - 1978)/Bicycle Race (11 - 1978)/You’re My Best Friend (7 - 1976)/Don’t Stop Me Now (9 - 1979)/Save Me (11 - 1980)/Crazy Little Thing Called Love (2 - 1979)/Somebody to Love (2 - 1976)/Now I’m Here (11 - 1975)/Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy (17 - 1977)/Play the Game (14 - 1980)/Flash (10 - 1980)/Seven Seas of Rhye (10 - 1974)/We Will Rock You (1 – 2000)/We Are the Champions (2 - 1977)


Update March 14, 2015

Close to perfection

Steely Dan, Gaucho (MCA)

From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in December 1980.
“If this music is what the Sex Pistols tried to kill, I’m happy they lost.” (Carl Meyer, March, 2015)
The aesthetics of music: Becker & Fagen plus an array of famous musicians, bitten by the art of self-indulgence. They enjoy one another and every note they produce. Locked in a vacuum that tickles the senses, but leads nowhere, it doesn’t need to, this music has arrived. The rhythm structure is like a sequel to "Aja". But "Gaucho" is even more delicious and tasty ... and shows every sign of a further development towards aesthetic perfection.
The horns are punchier and play an important role in the arrangements. Then there’s this vibrating, melancholy electric piano which seizes large parts of the soundscape. And a cathartic female choir lifting you higher. The guitar acts like a necessary antidote (dry and edgy, delivering swift licks and bended blue notes), it cuts into the tasty morsel, giving the music a most welcome shot of adrenaline.
However, the rhythm is what “Gaucho” is all about. This phlegmatic play with syncopations. So controlled and polished, and yet so playful. A lisping glamour shuffle. Is it funk? Jazz? Hispanic? Rock? Let’s just say it’s contemporary.
“Gaucho” promises enjoyment so delicious that you tear the cellophane off the LP and just wanna sink your teeth into the grooves with a trembling sigh.
Released: November 21, 1980
Produced by: Gary Katz
Contents: Babylon Sisters/Hey Nineteen/Glamour Profession/Gaucho/Time Out of Mind/My Rival/Third World Man
Personnel:
Donald Fagen & Walter Becker with among others: Rob Mounsey, Steve Khan, Larry Carlton, Mark Knopfler, Hugh McCracken, Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, Tom Scott, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn.


Update March 7, 2015

Rough and punky

The Specials: The Specials (2 Tone)

From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in December 1979.
Very hip in England at the moment, the ska revival: Rudeboys and their music, rocksteady. Shorthaired adolescents (wearing two-tone tonic suits made popular in the early 60’s) dancing to their hot tempered version of ska.
Spearheading this new wave of sound and vision are The Specials (and the more polished and commercial sounding Madness). The Specials highly anticipated debut LP was released back in November. Producer Elvis Costello provides the band with a rattling tincan sound. It’s crisp and fast forward with an underlying rough, punky atmosphere.
The aggressive and barking singer is locked in a frayed barrel of garage drums (sounding like dustbins), fat, elastic bass-notes, metallic reggae guitars, sharp as scissors, a wheezing organ - and occasionally, a mournful, dented brass-section.
The mix is quite weird: Rhythm-section up front, lead vocals and all solos placed deep down in the basement. The guitar solo in “Doesn’t Make It Alright” for instance, is almost inaudible. Strange, but very suggestive.
The music’s internal structure is built around 60’s British rhythm & blues, while rhythm is unmistakable reggae. And the lyrics: Angry, rebellious postcards from the streets and back alleys of London.
Released: November 3, 1979
Produced by: Elvis Costello
Contents: A Message to You, Rudy/Do the Dog/It’s Up to You/Nite Klub/Doesn’t Make It Alright/Concrete Jungle/Too Hot/Monkey Man/(Dawning of A) New Era/Blank Expression/Stupid Marriage/Too Much Too Young/Little Bitch/You’re Wondering Now
Personnel:
Terry Hall – vocals
Neville Staple – vocals
Lynval Golding – rhythm guitar, vocals
Roddy Radiation – lead guitar, vocals on track six
Jerry Dammers – keyboards
Sir Horace Gentleman – bass guitar
John Bradbury – drums
Guest musicians:
Chrissie Hynde – vocals
Rico Rodriguez – trombone
Dick Cuthell – horns
 


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

The vortex of brilliant despair

Queen, the hit machine

Close to perfection

Rough and punky