Well, I did say it was going to be a series of almost daily album reviews. I wish I could could blame work 100% for my absence over the last couple of days, but the truth is I got both a phone and a turntable last week and, well, you know what it’s like with shiny new things.
Luckily, this is going to be a pretty short review so I’ll be able to get back to playing with my toys soon enough.
Stones by Addict is a disc that has haunted me. Ever since I started organizing my CD collection alphabetically, that green face has been CD number one in the box, on the shelf, in the binder, wherever and however I’ve been housing my collection.
And the thing is, I have no idea where it came from or how I got it. It came out in ’98, but I don’t recall ever submitting a review for it. Near as I can figure, it came in the swag bag for Canadian Music Week, NXNE, or one of the many other industry events I found myself invited to back in those days.
Anyway, I’m finally giving it a listen after carrying it around for almost two decades. This is another one that doesn’t really hit me on an emotional level, but it is a pretty good album. A solid wall of guitars, competent vocal harmonies, a steady stream of radio-friendly hard rock tunes. I’ve often thought of ditching this one, but never got around to it. Kinda glad I didn’t. I might even put this one into rotation for a while, give it a little more time to sink in.
Most of the tracks from Stones are up on YouTube, so somebody out there loves this album. Here’s the title track, and from there you can follow the links to hear some of the other songs. I’d suggest “Nobody Knows” and “Monster Slide” to get a feel Addict’s sound. As I finish up this review, I’m about halfway into my third listen of this one, and it’s already starting to grow on me.
All right, so the first three reviews in this series were of albums I’ve come to know pretty well over the years. But part of why this project exists is to force me into exploring some of the music that has made it into my collection, but hasn’t spent a lot of time filtering into my ears. Copyright’s 1996 album Love Story certainly fits that bill. Hell, I didn’t even realize this band was Canadian before I started Googling info for this review.
I do actually remember buying this album, which is kind of surprising. About 15 years ago, I was working out of town, and near my hotel, a record store was shutting its doors and clearing out stock. Love Story was one of an armload of CD’s I’d never heard of that I picked up for 99 cents a pop. The disc came home with me, but never made it into my CD player. When I embarked on the task of digitizing all my music, it got converted to MP3, and went back on the shelf. Every once in a while, a randomized playlist would through a Copyright tune my way, but the album itself remained unplayed, fragmented by my media player’s algorithms.
Now that I’ve listened to this album a few times I can emphatically call it… okay… I guess. About what you’d expect from a relatively unknown act releasing an album at a time when the “alternative music” designation had come to mean a certain type of watered-down guitar-heavy pop music. The opening track, “Transfiguration,” has a distinct early-Madchester flavour, as do the songs “Overexposed” and the title track, “Love Story.” The only truly weak track on this album is the hard-driving rock tune “Omnicide,” made worse by a children’s choir joining in for the final chorus.
Stone Roses, Lightning Seeds, Inspiral Carpets have all left footprints on Copyright’s style. The thing is, all those bands do it so much better. Love Story is a listenable album, even enjoyable at times, but doesn’t really leave much of a lasting emotional impact on me. Perfectly acceptable for random playlist filler, though.
Back when Emm Gryner released this, her first indie album after the lacklustre major-label outing Public, I had the opportunity to interview her about the transition from big studio to bedroom recording… and I chickened out. It’s one of my big regrets from my music journalism days (along with leaving the tape of my interview with Moby on top of a speaker, but that’s another story).
I’ve since bought just about every Emm Gryner album she has released, except for her debut/demo And Distrust It which I can’t seem to find anywhere that takes Canadian credit cards, and her latest, 21st Century Ballads, which I’ll download as soon as it shows up on my favourite digital music store, Zunior.com. Nice plug, eh? Still, of the 16 Gryner albums I’ve purchased over the years, 1999’s Science Fair remains a perennial favourite.
From the opening acoustic chords of “Serenade,” to the obligatory rocker “Good Riddance,” and her spare, subtle rendition of Paul Weller’s “You Do Something to Me,” Science Fair is a musical exploration of loss and longing. The burdens of unrequited love, the elation of a bad breakup gone right, the comfort of memory… this album is beautiful, haunting and hopeful. Emm really trusts her own songwriting instincts on Science Fair, and that confidence serves her well in her later works.
Here’s a live version of “Stereochrome,” the second track on the album.
I remember buying my (long-lost) vinyl copy of this album. I was 23 years old, and was only aware of the Replacements in reference to Nirvana. Apparently, the Replacements were Kurt Cobain’s favourite band, Cobain even going so far as to model his vocal stylings after those of Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg. When Nirvana made it big, Cobain invited the Replacments on tour, introducing the long-struggling band to a brand new audience hungry for independent music.
It was with the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” playing in my head (and in the car, and in the mall, and in pretty much every damned enclosed space you entered at the time) that I saw Don’t Tell a Soul for sale at a local flea market. This was the first Replacements album I had actually laid eyes on. I bought it expecting to hear a litany of screaming, grinding, proto-grunge energy.
What I heard was the album’s first track, “Talent Show.”
To say I was surprised would be understating the shock I felt that such a mainstream (a dirty word in the early ’90s) pop band could influence Cobain’s raw, ragged sound. The first side of the album wasn’t bad, exactly… but it sounded more like something I would expect from Blue Rodeo than from a great influencer of grunge.
Moving on to the second side released a rock-and-roll scream to compete with the best of them: Westerberg’s first note of “Anywhere is Better Than Here.” This could be what I was looking for. But… not really. Other than “Anywhere…” and the piano-pounding party-rock tune “I Won’t,” Don’t Tell a Soul was not the album I had expected.
But it’s the slow burns, those records that compel you to play them over and over again without you really knowing why, that are the most rewarding. It’s not just the music on Don’t Tell a Soul that makes the Replacements one of my favourite bands, it’s Westerberg’s use of language and narrative in his lyrics. Someone could make a movie based solely on the story of the “she” in “Achin’ to Be.” “Inherit the Earth” is an anthem at once cynical and hopeful about the state of the world.
Through collecting the entire Replacements discography, I later discovered that ’80s punk energy that influenced a generation of grunge, but more on that in other reviews. Don’t Tell a Soul is the sixth and second-last album from the Replacements, a product of a songwriter pushing the boundaries of his creative voice working with a mature band at the height of their musical craft.
I’ve been trying to think of a blog project, and I finally came up with one. The idea hit me while at a friend’s birthday party where the night was spent spinning vinyl records for hours and hours. It got me thinking that, since I ripped all my CDs into my computer, I haven’t really spent time with full music albums. I’ve listened to songs dumped onto my phone to listen to on the go and had some random play lists throw up tracks that hadn’t been listened to in a while, but that’s it. My music collection became little more than a convenient data mine for background noise.
Well, not today.
Starting now, I’m going to spend time listening to, enjoying and absorbing full albums as they were meant to be heard. And (almost) every day, I will post an album review. This is going to be interesting, because along with the hits of my much-younger days (the ’80s and ’90s), I also have an eclectic mix of promo discs and forgotten gems that I got during my days as a music journalist for The Spill Magazine, and as a record store slave.
Let’s get to it.
The (A)DAR – Over 60 Minutes With… Strange Advance
The mid-1980s were a time of great change in the music industry. Compact discs (CDs) were transitioning from technological novelties for well-heeled audiophiles into the format for the masses. Vinyl records were slowly being pushed out of music stores, making the transition to CD essential for bands to maintain shelf space in the burgeoning digital age.
This created a conundrum for a number of Canadian acts threatened with banishment to the vinyl clearance bins. While it was obvious CDs were going to be the dominant music format in a very short time, transferring those old analog masters to digital was an expensive proposition — financially risky for small-market can-con acts with limited international appeal. Thus, the Over 60 Minutes With… collections were created.
A uniquely Canadian phenomenon, Luba, Helix, Frank Mills, and Zappacosta were but a few of the acts who received the Over 60 Minutes With… treatment. These were compilations put together using material from two or three albums, taking advantage of the longer playing time CDs had over records. In the case of Strange Advance, their Over 60 Minutes With… album consists of songs pulled from their first two records, 1982’s Worlds Away and 1985’s 2wo.
While the once-rare individual releases are now available pretty much anywhere digital music can be downloaded, I still like how this 16-song collection flows as an album. It opens with the dreamy, ambient “Worlds Away,” then kicks it up to a classic ’80s dance vibe, moving into songs like the other big radio hit, “We Run,” the anthemic “Home of the Brave,” and coming full circle with a reprise of the “Worlds Away” hook.
The album sounds a little dated these days, but the song writing and lyrics are still solid. Any fans of modern synthesizer bands like Metric or The Killers can find something to love in Strange Advance, and Over 60 Minutes With… is a good place to start the journey.
So at this point, I would have to write over 4,000 words a day to make it to the end of NaNoWriMo. Not entirely out of the realm of possibility, however I also got some more transcription work in this weekend. As much as it pains me to do so, I’ll have to spend my keyboard time this week on generating income.
I am officially calling an end to my 2015 NaNoWriMo participation.
I’m disappointed, but also relieved. It hadn’t been going as well as I had hoped from the beginning, turning something fun and creative into an absolute drag. Time to move on. There are other challenges in this world.
As for NaNoWriMo… there’s always next year.
So week two is over, we’re into week three, and things ain’t looking good. I’m under 5,000 words, allowed myself to get distracted by work, and then my grandmother passed away (in her 101st year — she had a good, long life). So the rest of this week is family stuff, with little time on the schedule to get some writing in.
Plus, I just haven’t managed to find the fun with NaNoWriMo this year. That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t even so much as made an attempt since 2012 — it got to feel like more of a slog than an exercise in creative freedom.
Still, there’s just under half a month left, and I’m not quite ready to call it. I’m not as confident as I was going in this year, but I still have a chance.
And I’m more than ready to move on to a new venture. Not quite sure what it is yet… a serious attempt at at fiction writing, another poetry project, maybe something in the photography realm. I’m chomping at the bit, though, needing to do something creative or go crazy. I need to focus on something other than the mundane bullshit of life. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there.