Saturday, 27 December 2014

The End Of Silence - Rollins Band

Three things become very clear within the first couple of minutes of listening to this album: that
Henry Rollins can't sing in anything resembling the conventional manner. that the Rollins Band are a fantastic collective of musicians, and that Henry Rollins is an outstanding lyricist. After a couple more tracks it becomes even more clear that words like "alternative" and "rock" really don't do credit to the sounds being created, as the usage of jazz, funk, and noise experimentation push beyond what had, even in the heyday of the Alternative 90's, was becoming a defined and codified genre. This is primal stuff, what Miles Davis could have made if he had discovered a Marshal stack or what John Lennon may have done were he born 20 years later. Lean, powerful, disciplined, and out to destroy so that it can rebuild you in your own image. You will have two reactions to this album: you'll either turn off the music from ill-ease or sit and feel the hairs on your neck twitching up.

Lyrically there are two main themes: improving your lot in life and the ills of love. Opener "Low Self Opinion" is an anthem to faux angst and the call to becoming all you can be, whilst "Another Life" is a call to recognise the life you are leading whatever it may be. On the other side of the anger coin "Tearing" is a song for when all the love has flushed out of the relationship and "Blues Jam" is primal scream therapy for the terminally resilient, with the howled refrain "life won't break your heart, it'll crush it" managing to sound dignified rather than the petulant or  overwrought angst that someone who hadn't lived through it all would of presented. Musically there is one main theme: slow, steady and powerful. It goes at the speed it needs to, never breaking into a sprint but never walking along. Tempos change and melodies switch, but everything is done as is needed with zero fat in the sound. Everything is where it needs to be, nothing sounds flashy in the way that only precision musicianship can allow. This is a jaguar of a band, prowling with restraint and confidence. With the two elements put together it's a titanic sound, a rumble of power and majesty.

That this album could get so much acclaim twenty-two years ago and still sound as fresh and vital as it does now is it's true testament. By working outside of trends and fashions, by being such a definitive statement of it's own makers (and quite possibly Henry Rollins greatest post-Black Flag musical work), it has manged to neither age nor weaken. I would encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in what rock can be, in finding out the sounds and rhythms that can be forged from the deceptively simple line up of drums and guitars and in lyrics that can be personal and triumphant without reveling, to give this the listen that you have been missing from you life.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Why you should listen to The Cramps

Rock & Roll isn't a genre, it's a primal force: It's the melding of the blues, country, and gospel that
has the beat of the heart and the sway of the hips. It's also a rare and elusive beast, at least in its original of forms, and the last great champions of its were The Cramps, who spent 33 years sweating it out from every pour they could find. Never quite fitting into whatever was hip at the time they were listened to and loved by a lot of people who knew music, but never really got huge so you may know the name but never listed to them, which you should because....

They Are Rock & Roll!
I mean really rock and roll, as in 40s to 50s USA original. Not the sanitised version you remember from the Beatles or the Stones in the 60s, not the mutated form in the 70's that became Hard Rock to Heavy Metal, and not the 80's disco and dance infused revivals. We're talking thick, simple, and likely to cause pregnancy at 20 paces. Something like this:

When Lux Interior says "Rock & Roll" it's not a boast or a claim, it's a simple fact of life. It's the voodoo yell, the reason the instrumental "Rumble" got banned for inciting violence, it's Rebel Without a Cause with none of the family friendly elements. It's not anti-social, it just doesn't want to socialise on your terms, but it sure would like to get friendly with you...

They covered every topic teenagers care about, ever
Sex, death, sex, intoxication, high weirdness, sex, alienation, and sex. Nothing else, nothing more, nothing less. Tracks like "I was a teenage werewolf" should be given to every adolescent so they know that someone understands the pains they are going through, "It Thing Hard-On" should follow it up so they know how great things are going to get, whilst "Ultra Twist" needs to taught as a basic mating ritual with "What's Inside A Girl" for what to do once things get personal. Simple, universal, and eternal because no matter how old you get you can just listen to it and tap into the energies being given off. And the lyrics are a joy to behold, "Garbage Man" is a feast of metaphor, "Journey To The Center Of A Girl" is filth without a single offensive word or term, and "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" is just joyfully daft whilst expressing Americana in its rawest forms.

They sound like noone else
Especially on the first couple of albums, because they had no bass player. But even when they got in a four stringer they just had too much locked into Poison Ivy's buzzsaw playing style and it gave everything so much bite and tenacity. Add in the groundwork of Nick Knok showing how much could be done with so little on the drums and you've got a tight and simple sound that uses no tricks and leaves space in the sounds so you can hear everything yet have it all group in as one. Others have tried, but they either went too dense or too sparse and it just falls apart.

They were dedicated to their cause
All they ever did was play their thing. Musically there was minimal progression in style or tone, other than getting better and better, and lyrically it was all just as above. But it isn't in a bad way, and it hasn't got a gimmick feel to it. It's just a real definite approach and a dedication to a cause, which means it just gets better and there isn't a 'bad' album amongst their catalogue, only 'better' and 'best'.

So, please, give it a listen and come back to me with what you think.
It'll be good for you, or maybe just bad for you in all the right ways.