Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: reviews (page 1 of 9)

Icehouse – Primitive Man

I remember buying this on vinyl back on 1982, and hoping Icehouse had kept up the rocking new wave, borderline hard rock they did on their debut. Nope, no sirree. This is synth heavy, Linn drum-machine laden and very representative of the era it was released. Only one song here really rocks, and overseas releases didn’t even include it, and that’s Break These Chains.

The band that recorded the debut no longer existed, and though John Lloyd was still part of the band, he didn’t drum on this, and it’s all via  machine. More than any other record, this one could be labelled a Davies solo project. Davies still thinks he’s some lovechild of Ferry and Bowie here, and he never really sounded like himself on a record till Big Wheel, and that’s perhaps debatable too.

Bare-faced influences aside, Primitive Man grew on me. Apart from the obvious songs that were released as singles, there are tracks that have a slightly eerie edge even if Davies hadn’t intended such a thing. More than any other Icehouse album, this one goes into mystic places, if only briefly. The whole album has an “abandoned” feel to it, like it’s the soundtrack to empty, open spaces where humans no longer exist, and it’s not just Great Southern Land that conveys that. There’s only one filler track here and that’s Mysterious Thing, which sounds like a B-side. The remainder of the record varies for dreamy to hard rocking. It’s a widely ranging thing, but held back by production excesses and Davies’ imitating his favourite performers.

There’s a case to be made this is Icehouse’s second best record, though Big Wheel may have something to say there.

Choice cuts: Trojan Blue, Break these Chains, Street Cafe

howlers yo

And Also The Trees – And Also The Trees

Definitely a front-loaded record, this one. Songs one through four get into your face with an urgency that makes you sit upright, especially the startling So This is Silence with its shouted chorus and conclusion. Talk Without Words and The Tease the Tear threaten to follow suit, but there’s a bit more space and restraint there.

Songs five through eight are precursors of the work this band is better known for through their long history: pastoral, reflective songs about love on the moors and in the gardens, the girl in the mist, true love with the rainbows, etc. Well, maybe not as twee as all that. There’s a definite darkness and a tinge of despair to a lot of AATT tracks, and these are no different really.

That said, the last four are simply not as good as the first four. They drift and ramble, and there’s certainly a lack of focus. The end track, Out of the Moving Life of Circles reins things back in for a tightly constructed closer.

Much has been made of Lol Tolhurst’s production and this band’s early association with The Cure. I can hear the latter band’s influence here, particular some of the more sombre moments of Faith or Seventeen Seconds, but And Also The Trees forge ahead with their own ideas and vision, and are hardly your typical “tribute band”.

Withal, it’s a good entry into the post-punk canon and you could do a lot worse than this record. But be heartened with the knowledge they’ve done better and they have a deep discography that just begs one to go and explore it.

Choice cuts: The Tease the Tear, So This is Silence, Talk Without Words.

AATT

Xmal Deutschland – Tocsin

his group dispensed with their Siouxsie and The Banshees imitations for their second record. Fetisch had some great moments and the low-key production gave it a real feral quality, but it wore its influences on its sleeves and every other article of clothing. It put the “d” in the word “derivative”.

With Tocsin, Xmal Deutschland go deeper into Goth territory and less into rock. The results are immediately appealing as Mondlicht is one of the finer songs from this period. Things don’t change much through the remaining eight tracks though the instrumental Xmas in Australia is an odd break from the poppy and melodic goth that pervades this record.

This album has two main problems, or three if you consider similar sounding songs an issue. Drama one is Anja Huwe’s voice. Every now and then listening to Xmal Deutschland, you wish she’d sing. Rather, she bellows. She also throws her voice at the end of every sentence. If she stopped these New Wave-isms and actually let her voice breathe, some of these songs would be raised to transcendent level. As it is, she just puts it there. I know it’s indicative of the times and places her band existed, but it’s a crying shame she just didn’t try to sing rather than shout.

The second is Mick Glossop’s even-handed production. This is another New Wave-ism and it’s the one thing that truly dates this record. Drums, synths and bass are way up the front of the mix, and the guitar buried deep down. Lo-fi as it was, Fetisch had everything up front and the result was an in your face record. Tocsin sounds like any one of a thousand albums produced at the time, which doesn’t suit this band’s strengths.

It’s a great record with mostly catchy songs, but it’s soured by Huwe’s delivery and the serene production.

Choice cuts: Mondlicht, Nachtschatten, Begrab mein Herz

tocsin

The Church – Sing-Songs

I didn’t know this EP existed at first. I saw the band live late 1984 and they played a song that I’d never heard before. It wasn’t something off the forthcoming Heyday either, as they hadn’t started work on that. It wasn’t one of their obscure B-sides like Bus Driver or In a Heartbeat, as I knew those. That song, as I later learned, was In This Room.

I actually called EMI in Sydney and asked them about The Church’s discography, and the polite young lady who spoke to me promptly told me I’d missed Sing-Songs, a 5 track EP they’d released between The Blurred Crusade and Seance. A 5 track EP that went nowhere in the charts and died a natural death.

I lucked out and found a vinyl copy in a K-Mart of all places and fell over myself getting home to play it. I loved it. There wasn’t a truly weak track on it, apart from maybe the Simon & Garfunkel cover which I can live without.

In This Room is the highlight, but the other three Church originals are almost as stellar. Ancient History with its smarmy lyrics, the Night is Very Soft with its quiet surge (and red serge settee!) and the jangly A Different Man.

The only hang-up with Sing-Songs is the garage band-level production, which renders four out of the five songs sounding like demo outtakes. I am a Rock was done by Bob Clearmountain so it at least sounds fuller, whatever its other merits.

Choice cuts: all five of them. Go forth and dig them, yo!

sing songs

 

Models – Out of Mind Out of Sight

After the consistently catchy and funky The Pleasure of Your Company, Models hit the Australian big-time with this record. And big-time it is. If there ever was a record that summarises the production excesses of the 80s, here it is folks. Practically every song is drowned in thunderous drums courtesy of Australian go-to producer Mark Opitz. Nick Launay (another 80s go-to man) had given the previous record a hard edge that suited the keyboard/bass foundations of the band. Opitz on this platter just turns everything up and its a reverberating mess. Even on slower tracks like These Blues, the production gets in the way.

It’s not all Opitz’s fault. Reggie Lucas did Big on Love and its drum sound, if anything, is even more bombastic.

The title track was the biggie, but for mine, it rates near the bottom in its worth. It’s a relic, and what sounded like a great tune back then just makes one roll their eyes in this age.

But, production aside, this album’s prime issue is a distinct lack of decent material. It’s absolutely jam-crammed with filler, with rubbish like Ringing Like a Bell and Seeing is Believing, which sound like studio outtakes. Even Cold Fever, released as a single, sounds like a B-side to a B-side.

Well, this was the band’s apex and they went nowhere fast after this. The next (and last) record is even more packed with filler than this one, and suffers bing-bang production blammo as well. Utterly faceless and the band called it quits not long after – and so they should have.

Models were great white funksters once and deserve some renewed interest. Just end your listening excursion at Pleasure of your Company and things will be fine.

Choice cuts: These Blues, Stormy Tonight, King of Kings. Everything else is effluent.

a flavell howler

 

Gary Numan – Warriors

Oh dear. This is the record where Mr. Webb officially loses it. There were signs on I, Assassin that he was fast running out of hooks, melodies and good song ideas, but its comes full and terrible circle here. From the kitsch of the cover to the random saxophone blasts, this platter screams that it is an unwanted relic of the 80s, to say nothing of it being an unwanted relic in Numan’s discography.

I mean, if you knew nothing about this record or even its creator, you’d scan the song list and see promising things like My Centurion, The Prison Moon, Love is Like Clock Law and you’d maybe think there’s some good science fiction based prog-rock or otherwise catchy and fulfilling music within. I mean, wouldn’t you think a song title like The Rhythm of the Evening promises something? You would, for sure.

And wouldn’t you be kidding yourself?

Instead, what you get are nine virtually identical low-key meandering tracks all laden with crawling fretless bass, grating female back-up singers, out of place saxophones and Gary Numan dialling his vocal performances in. This is bad pop music processed and regurgitated through the “I’m Short of Ideas” machine.

This record is a disaster, but alas, it was the start of an undistinguished era for Numan. He amps things up a bit on his next record, but until we come to 1993’s Sacrifice, it’s all a mostly sad voyage through blasterino loud 80s synths, booming drum machines and the ever-present female back-up. Oh yes, and the sax. Can’t forget the sax.

Choice cuts. Scraping the proverbial, but The Prison Moon is arguably the best of a sorry bunch.

 

Warriors

INXS – Kick

INXS were a singles band, let’s make that clear straight away. Their albums – all of them – are loaded with filler to a lesser or greater degree. Sometimes they’re jam packed with terrible songs that don’t even qualify for filler status. Kick is the one platter in their discography that has the least amount of both filler and dreck.

In that regard, it’s a step up from Listen Like Thieves and it’s certainly a mile ahead of anything released afterwards. There’s only two songs on this record I regard as filler – Tiny Daggers and Calling All Nations. And, why oh why, did they feel the need to re-record The Loved One? Their Deluxe Records era cover is just as good.

All the aside, this is the culmination of their Stonesy pub-rock/new wave incarnation. They perfected this sound, something they’d increasingly been working on since Shabooh Shoobah. I Need You Tonight, New Sensation, Devil Inside, Mystify are all great tracks.

But this is their last great record, with “great” being relative. The 90s weren’t kind to pub rock bands and INXS never did quite wrap their heads around the sounds and trends that decade generated.

Kick

Victoria Holt – Mistress of Mellyn

Mistress of MellynMistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let’s see now…

Setting in a castle or large house — check
Said house or castle holds dread family secrets — check
Woman in distress — check
Woman is in awe of powerful, often tyrannical male — check
Male hero is of the Byronic variety, handsome, troubled — check
Strong, engaging emotions — check
Omens and portents — check
Strange events that appear as supernatural experiences — check

Yes, it all comes together. What we have here is a Gothic novel, by golly! And even though it wears its Rebecca and Jane Eyre influences proudly on its sleeves, this story holds it own quite well. The protagonist, governess Martha Leigh, isn’t the fainting, gasping maiden found in many other books of this kind. No, she’s more like Jane Eyre – a conscientious, somewhat knowing young lady who sees through flattery and devices for what they are. But like Miss Eyre of yore, Miss Leigh is still susceptible to being swept off her feet by the loving pronouncements of the towering Byronic hero.

There’s not a new idea anywhere to be found in this novel, but that’s really beside the point. It’s an enjoyable outing into the world of Gothic fiction and should please adherents of the genre, as well as those looking for a solid romance to bite into.

View all my reviews

Elaine Bergstrom – Baroness of Blood

Baroness of Blood (Ravenloft, #12)Baroness of Blood by Elaine Bergstrom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My, what a nasty piece of work is Baroness Ilsabet Obour. But she’s a complex and well-rounded nasty piece of work, which elevates this novel above popcorn level. More than most Ravenloft novels I’ve read, this one ascribes to many classic Gothic traditions, yet Ilsabet is imperilled not by a man, but by herself and her own courses of action. She is haunted – internally and externally, and throughout the length of the novel she vacillates and questions if what she’s doing is the wisest way, and in the conclusion, things get resolved in the poetic justice sense of resolution.

The novel is dark, make no mistake. There’s no light, joy or laughter anywhere here. It’s only the dumb and clueless secondary characters in this novel which stop me from awarding this five stars. Ilsabet is surrounded by idiots when her character cries out for effective foils and counters.

Still, this is one of the better Ravenloft outings.

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Richard Awlinson – Tantras

Tantras (Forgotten Relalms: Avatar #2)Tantras by Scott Ciencin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Superior effort in nearly every way to its predecessor. It isn’t boring, which of course is a huge plus, and it’s almost a criminal offence for a D&D book to be tedious to read. Regardless of their value as literature, they should be popcorn page-turners.

Well, Tantras thankfully is. It’s competently written though it has all the faults of this particular niche of fantasy fiction – that’s to say minimal characterisation, few grey moral areas. overly tight plotting and character motivations that occasionally border on the nonsensical. Bad guys are bad guys because the plot says so, not from any logical reason or story progression.

But, as I keep saying in these D&D reviews: it’s all good fun. This time around, it actually was good fun. Here’s hoping the next instalment is just as fluid,.

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