Phil Collins at Face Value – “Not Dead Yet” Book Review

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Phil Collins, Not Dead Yet The Memoir (Penguin Random House, LLC, 2016)

51rbrtjqxel-_sx332_bo1204203200_Few people in the music industry have reached the same pinnacle of success that Phil Collins has achieved. Even fewer have sold over 100 million albums as both a member of a band and as a solo artist. This is a man who “fought in the prog wars,” hobnobbed with Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela, and who wrote and sang hit tunes for a best-selling Disney movie, for which he happened to also win an Oscar. Seemingly, the man has everything, yet this is merely the public “Phil Collins.” Philip Collins is a much more complicated man, and life isn’t as easy as he made it look over his long career.

If I were to describe this excellent memoir in one word, it would be “honest.” Two words – “brutally honest.” Collins holds little back. He invites us to come in and look at his struggles, hopefully understanding more about him and his music as we do. What stands out the most, however, is how down-to-earth he is. Unlike Genesis bandmates Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford, Collins was not raised in a ritzy upper middle-class British school. Instead, he was raised in a sturdy working-class family at the “end of the line” outside of London. Indeed, as a child he lived just far enough away from anything exciting as to make it a big effort to get anywhere. This didn’t stop young master Collins, however. Many of his formative teenage years were spent milling about in music clubs in Soho, where he saw bands such as Cream, the Yardbirds, The Who, and Yes (who would later offer him a job as drummer). He was even present the first night Led Zeppelin ever played a live show. Did I mention he was in the crowd for the Beatles A Hard Day’s Night. Yeah, he got around.

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soundstreamsunday: “1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

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jhas02Jimi Hendrix’s mystery is something not quite capture-able as an iconographic or intellectual thing.  Even knowing some of the details of his background — from his emergence on the chitlin circuit to his being shepherded to London by Chas Chandler — doesn’t explain the lightning the man conjured.  The scant year and a half that Hendrix and his Experience released their three albums (May ’67-October ’68) encompassed a sea change in rock music that saw a full embrace of Dylan’s lyrical approach and of Hendrix’s instrumental creativity.  It went beyond the firepower, to the belief, the true faith, in what the electric guitar could ultimately offer to rock and other music.  Hendrix refracted his surroundings, adding to his electric soul and blues the emerging British fascination with distortion and eastern scales, and beamed them into the very brains of rock and jazz.  Since September 18, 1970, his is a persistent ghost, THE example of a technically skilled player and writer who, as importantly, brought imagination and soul and heart to the act of making music.

Electric Ladyland is Hendrix’s great work, mid-wifed by hard-won artistic and financial independence.  As double albums of that era tend to, it sprawls, spinning with ambition, noble failures, and grand successes.  He’s using the studio as an instrument, stretching the ideas cycling through him.  Some of his most radio-friendly hits appear on Electric Ladyland (“All Along the Watchtower,” “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” “Crosstown Traffic”).  But buried in the middle, on side 3, is the album’s jewel and centerpiece, “1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be),” a proto-prog epic on the art of walking away from the nonsense humanity inflicts upon itself, “not to die but to be reborn, away from the land so battered and torn.”  The music is a wild, left-field, Bolero-paced march where Hendrix overlaps his guitars and basses like a string section, affecting oceanic waves and surf, with sympathetic playing by steadfast Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and flautist Chris Wood (on loan from Traffic).  In it are sonic echoes from “Third Stone from the Sun” (from 1967’s Are You Experienced?) and thematically Hendrix continues to mine the problem of Earth-boundedness.  Of being contained in a place that doesn’t seem to fit.  And even as Hendrix’s music transcends and transports, his real and continued gift is the mirror he holds up to those of us listening.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

Blackfield V : is it better than IV ?

 

v

 

Well I’ve tried really hard with this album. Really, really hard.

I’ve given it time, I’ve had countless listens and I’ve treated like a stray cat that needs some attention and love.

My initial thoughts however, were more favourable than my thoughts are now.

Most people who know Blackfield tend to agree that albums 1 and 2 were excellent. That they carried the weight of a certain Steven Wilson’s backing and input was obvious, but nevertheless the music was generally excellent. ‘My Gift of Silence’ still ranks up there as one of my favourite tracks. Things took a steep nose dive however with the awful ‘Welcome to My DNA’ and then somehow got even worse with the abysmal ‘IV’ which, to this day, is still a benchmark of mine for truly dreadful albums.  The scars of that album still exist despite purging the sounds (if you can call them that …) from my ears with a sacrificial selling of my CD on eBay for a frankly staggering £1.50 ( plus P&P).  I sent a note with that album hoping the new owner might seek solace in some decent music after a couple of listens ….

Anyway, on to ‘V’.

Is it better than ‘IV’ – oh yes it is, and by some distance. But that’s not saying too much as I reckon my cat singing Val Doonican ballads after a few pints of Guinness could improve on that.

But it’s certainly getting back to some sort of form, as you would expect with Mr Wilson back to help out, and if we are using a scoring system I’d give it a solid 4/13. It’s not a coincidence that the 4 good tracks feature SW and ‘Family Man’ gets the album under way (after a dreamy prelude) in cracking style. ‘`How Was Your Ride’ could easily be from either of the first two Blackfield albums and has a nice melancholic atmosphere and a lovely guitar section.

Then things start to unravel for me. The problem is Aviv Geffens singing. There is an annoying warbling, nasally tone to his vocals (mentioned in an other review I might add) that strangely gets worse as the songs progress to the point where I find them more or less unlistenable. Try the first few lines of ‘Sorrys’ as an example ….

This middle section of the album is not helped by the songs being fairly bland and generally uninspiring with very little to grab you. Not bad background music, but certainly nothing that would make me want to rush out and see them live for example.

‘October’ sounds like a second rate Barry Manilow ballad but with irritating vocals.

‘The Jackal’ has a tremendous riff and great guitar work. A properly interesting track but if the vocals could just be replaced with another singer, it might be improved 10 fold.

The last three tracks are a strange affair as they include two of the best tracks on the album and by far the worst track that irritates and annoys beyond words.

‘Undercover Heart’ is classic early Blackfield with a soaring melodious chorus that gives serious earworms and is a joy. I’ve even found myself humming this on some my runs recently.

Then the seriously dreadful ‘Lonely Soul’ interrupts proceedings with a repeated refrain of ‘I’m a lonely soul, I’m a lonely soul ..’ over and over and over which just seriously gets on my nerves … terrible track.

And finally from the ridiculous to the sublime, a tremendous Steven Wilson track brings matters to a close with the wonderful ‘From 44 to 48’.  A beautiful reflective track, dreamily going through stages in life. This could easily be positioned on a SW album which unfortunately cannot be said of most of the other tracks.

Despite the lacklustre middle section of this album, praise must go to the production which is lush and full but sadly can’t hide the blandness.  As I alluded to in my review of ‘IV’, I’m not sure where Blackfield stand in the relatively prog-tastic artists on K-Scope.

I guess there must be an audience for this, and I’ve seen plenty of 5* reviews on Amazon that counteract my negativity, but for me an album with 4 decent tracks from 13 doesn’t really cut it so judicious pruning of the ‘V’ playlist will result in a very good mini-album.

 

 

 

Albums worth hearing at least once number 2

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Fruupp were an Irish band who recorded four albums in the early seventies. I remember this album being played on Radio Caroline, a pirate radio station broadcasting from the North Sea on AM. It inspired me to go out and buy the album. This was the third. They released one more, Modern Masquerades, before splitting, never to reform. I was lucky to see them in concert in 1975. This is the first track on The PrinceOf Heavens Eyes.

Annie Austere is the last track on side one and has a great Irish feel to it.

The Perfect Wish closes the album bringing the story to an end. Other tracks from the album can be found on you tube but these three are my favourites.

Fruupp were a band that many passed by as too whimsical but I think they play an important role in the development of Seventies prog and deserve a listen.