Friday, December 31, 2010

Dissecting Sgt. Pepper

The Beatles are the world's most overrated band. Everyone thinks they are the best band ever, and they are all wrong.

Now, I can't say I hate the Beatles or their music. They aren't bad, by any stretch. They are all proficient (and *only* proficient) at their instruments, both McCartney and especially Lennon are good singers, they don't have many terrible albums, or many ball-tearingly bad songs. Their first album is really good as well (in my opinion their best, but I know I'm nearly alone here). In two words, they can be described as 'good' and 'consistent'.

But I am sick of people raving about them, and one album in particular; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band. Look what people say about it on :

  • It is a superbly written, composed, performed and produced work of art, and the only possible ground for disliking it is sheer envy of the Beatles' talents.
  • Sgt. Pepper really is as close to perfection as music can come, it is one of maybe two or three albums that, if given the chance, I would not change a single thing. The music is perfect, the lyrics are perfect, the vocals are perfect, the production is perfect, every single note is perfect.
  • One of the most groundbreaking, revolutionary and inarguably greatest albums of all time.
  • An influential masterpiece that shaped cultures & social structures from then on and one of, if not the greatest record, ever made from the four most important musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Completely ludicrous.

Not this guy.

On the same site, on which there are over 13,000 ratings of this album, it is rated the #8th best album of all time, with only the usual high-rating affair above it. (Dylan, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Velvet Underground, and of course, two Beatles albums in the top two spots, ugh).

I've now given this album five chances to wow me, and it has refused to do so. If possible, it gets worse each time, due to my good self hearing more superior music between each listen. So, because of a disagreement of opinions with someone about this album, I thought it wise to actually go through, listen to each song, listen to the album as a whole, and say what I thought of each song on this grossly overrated album. As such:

Sgt. Pepper - Good pop-rock song. I like Lennon's voice.

With a Little Help From My Friends - Good pop song.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds - Meh. Look at me, I'm talking about drugs!

Getting Better - Regular mid 60's pop psych song.

Fixing a Hole - Meh. Bland and not memorable at all.

She's Leaving Home - Jumbled, not catchy in the slightest.

Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite - A really bad song in every way.

Within You Without You - Good song, but it's less of a Beatles song and more of a random Indian one. Completely apes Indian music, and shows very well how globalisation works on a world scale, the West profiting off of Third World countries. (sorry, I did a class on this at uni)

When I'm Sixty Four - Silly inoffensive song. At least it's catchy.

Lovely Rita - Really bad lyrics.

Good Morning Good Morning - Another godawful song. A complete mess.

Sgt Pepper Reprise - Hendrix riffs! Finally something exciting.. at the end of the album.

A Day in the Life - I'm not going to complain about this song. It actually has some form of emotion (in a Beatles song!)

Quick comments to be sure, a few average to good songs, one relatively good one (A Day in the Life), and the two Sgt. Pepper songs showed some type of feeling. The rest don't fare as well.

You know what I think this is? Millions of people either grew up with this album (and the Beatles), or the Beatles were their first exposure to rock music, as it almost goes without saying that the Beatles are very easy to get into. This album *is* average, there are no two ways about it. Strip away the fact that it is the Beatles, that every one loves it, that it is considered the greatest album ever, and it is a regular mid 60's psych-pop album that was lucky enough to have great production and studio trickery improve it.

But wait, you cry! It's the first concept album! But it isn't a concept album, just a bunch of songs bookended by two similar sounding songs, with fades. And even if it were, Ray Charles, the Ventures, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie and most importantly Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention released concept albums before the Beatles.

Also! It's the first album with lyrics printed on the LP! And with extensive gatefolds and imagery and such! Bully for the Beatles. Useful from a marketing perspective, but otherwise, it's a useless fact that fans throw at you when you say you don't think that Sgt. Peppers is the best album ever, similar to how many of the reviews I scan from the above gushes of praises say that if you disagree with their rating, you are 'jealous of the Beatles talent', or 'are trying to be different'. No, your favourite album is fucking average, that's all.

I think I've summed up this album well, so I'll leave it at that. The Beatles are overrated, and nothing can change that (short of everyone realising it, hence making it less highly rated).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Closemindedness and Music

I'm getting sick of dealing with close-minded people when it comes to music.

Yes, everyone is biased and has some irrational opinions, but most people take it too far. I can sometimes come down hard on certain genres (indie and modern hip hop, go fuck right off), but at the very least, I give almost everything a chance, because even if I find I don't like it, I might discover a cool song or two along the way, which makes the whole effort worthwhile.

But then you get some people who feel the need to impose their ill-founded judgments onto others. Needlessly slandering a whole genre they think they know something about, but in reality, they don't. I can quote something like this for almost every genre.

"You listen to trance? I hate that fucking doof-doof music!"

"Classical? You preppy poser piece of shit!"

"Folk? What are you, queer?"

These people are generally just retards whose tastes are guided by whatever is in the top 40, or whatever 'scene' they are in. They can't realise that people that bag out their music do so mainly because they have to hear it every fucking day. They have to put up with it out in public, in shops, at work, on billboards and every other area where they are bombarded with shit. So when a mindless peon tells them a band they like is shit, they have every right to insult them, and their crappy bands/artists.

The crux of the argument, is fuck Short Stack.

How could you not want to punch them in the face and set their hair on fire? But that's another blog post.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Genre in Review: Modern Folk

A long time between drinks, but I am back, to talk about a genre I've really started to enjoy a lot; modern folk. Everyone and their dog likes Dylan, Cohen and Drake, and rightly so, they are brilliant. But enough has been written about them. I'm going to focus on folk artists I can almost guarantee you haven't heard of, artists that deserve the spotlight shone on them.

Entertainment for the Braindead

Entertainment for the Braindead is Julia Kotowski, from Cologne, Germany. She mainly sticks with acoustic guitar and her voice, but adds in random sounds like paperclips, staplers and the like. Basically, her album Hydrophobia is one of my favourite folk albums, but due to her managing herself and not having the resources to make many CDs, all I can find is this link to her album free online. If anyone finds out some way to buy this album, let me know, but until then, enjoy her live version of "What You Get".


Once again, Tamerlan is just one individual; Timur Iskandarov, from Serbia. Tamerlan focuses on what you can term more 'dark folk', with lots of tribal drumming, mysterious guitar and a general atmosphere of darkness. He's also a nice guy to boot, as I discovered whilst talking to him on Myspace. He just released a new album called "Worlds of Eternal Creation", which I recently bought and would encourage you to do the same. His first album "The Anti-Existence" is really good as well, even thought he told me it was an 'interesting beginning'. Well, artists are their own biggest critics, and you can view his Myspace page here.

Helen Shanahan

Helen Shanahan is actually from Perth, and it's great to see such talented people appearing from my home city. Her style is more pop folk, and as such her songs are extremely catchy. I've had the pleasure of helping make her a music video for her song "Mirror" and have been to several of her gigs, and can say without a doubt that she is a terrific person, both on stage and off it. She has an EP out called "Girl in Love" which I highly recommend, and it can be purchased from here.


Circulus are out there. Like, really far out. Someone described them as 'Britain's leading nine piece medieval prog/folk/space/rock ensemble', and I can't really dispute that. They believe in fairies and pixies, dress up in clothes from five hundred years ago, and play medieval music to crowds who sit on the floor at their shows. On top of that, they just sound cool. There's all kinds of flutes and lutes in their music, it's the real 'traditional folk', if you will. I've only heard their first EP "Giantism", so who knows what the fuck they are sounding like now. Their Myspace is here.

As I keep searching for music online, I'm sure I'll add to these bands as time progresses. Who knew there was any good modern music?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Music and the Internet

The relationship between music and the Internet is an interesting one. On one hand, with a small bit of know-how, it is easy to obtain pretty much anything that has been released that more then ten people know about, so this means more exposure to good music. (Still, I can't really say that, knowing the musical tastes of the masses is based around top 40 and other terrible mainstream bands, and maybe if they are extremely lucky, something like the Beach Boys or the Beatles.)

On the other hand, whilst maybe it isn't technically as such, it is still stealing, from the bands, the managers, the record companies. But I say, so?

Looking at them, they want Korn and Limp Bizkit

Alright, I don't feel taking money from the bands is right. But I've heard enough stories to know that artists basically get nothing from CD sales, it all goes to the bigwig companies. Maybe if you are a big name band with a few well-selling albums, you might get a good deal, but if you are Mr-or-Mrs-Nobody, you don't have a choice; it's either sign with us for next to nothing, or struggle to get people to listen to your music.

I can personally say without the Internet, I doubt I'd be anywhere near as interested or knowledgeable as music as I am. I was also there at the start of file sharing (spending 5 hours downloading Shaggy songs on Napster, brilliant!), and when I started to find and listen to *real* music, it helped me, whether it be through buying CDs on ebay, or downloading entire albums.

First and last mention of Shaggy ever on this blog, I promise

Yes, I did download entire albums, and still do, and this brings me to the hidden dark side of downloading a lot of music. Disregarding the legal implications, what about the musical ones? If you have access to any album you want, human nature dictates that you *will* download as much as possible. Which means you'll either listen to all of them once, and hence won't absorb them properly (that's usually 3-10 listens for me), or I won't get to all of them, and feel guilty. Either way, it wastes lots of time, without being able to appreciate the music to the extent I want to.

So now, if I download an album, which is rare, I might give it a listen once, and then go out and buy it, or at least put it on my wishlist. I don't listen to it again, because if I really enjoy it and listen a lot, why would I buy it? I might get sick of it, and I could buy something else I'd listen to more.

Another point is that with the exposure of sites such as rateyourmusic, allmusic and the like, there are simply too many good albums out there that we know about. My album wishlist was getting ridiculous, so I stopped using it; I like almost every genre of music, and if there is only 10 albums I need from every genre, that's still a ridiculous amount. But alas, that is another post.

Random thoughts:

  • I just came back from holiday, with six albums and one compilation from various genres. All have been good, but the one that's jumped out and surprised me has been Ornette Coleman's A Shape of Jazz to Come. It's the first 'avante-garde' jazz album, but it's really quite accessable, with a strong focus on the sounds of the sax and the clarinet. I listened to it for the second time whilst reading, and it really clicked with me.
  • As I'll probably detail at a later, I've been listening to a lot of folk music, and have discovered a modern traditional folkist I enjoy a lot. Her name is Julia Kotowski, she's from Cologne Germany, and records under the name Entertainment For the Braindead (approapriate name considering I'm a fan!). I found one of her albums through another blog, and it is 100% legal to download here, and I highly recommend you do so.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Album Review - Kraftwerk - Autobahn (1974)

Because I've been busy of late, I thought I'd be lazy and just grab a review I did a few years ago.

Kraftwerk - Autobahn (1974)

What can I say about Kraftwerk that hasn't already been said a millions times? They changed the way electronic music was viewed by the masses, and went on to influence everyone from synthpop (obviously), to hip hop ("Planet Rock"), to rock (Bowie and Iggy Pop are big fans), as well as mapping the way for trance, techno, house, ambient and basically electronic dance music in general. But lots of 'early' influential albums are now either considered old hat, or just not that great to begin with.

Autobahn is not like that. At least not all of it is. Groundbreaking for several reasons, as one of the first charting albums with an overwhelming electronic base, as a futuristic concept album, and with the highly unique drumming used, Autobahn was a completely fresh sound. Whilst still retaining a sense of their Komische background (the Motorik beat towards the end of the song Autobahn is a treat), Kraftwerk, with their new Moogs and vocoders, pressed into the future with a bang.

And with the revving of a car, we are welcomed into Kraftwerk's concept of the future. Giant highways as far as the eye can see, surrounded by green hills and plateaus, it would be an ordinary lazy Sunday morning drive in our time. But it's.. more efficent. Something is controlling everything. While it is a pleasant experience, it feels somewhat artifical. And it isn't long before monotamy settles in. It's the start of Kraftwerk's fascination with the concept of technology, and how it will change the human experience.

What I neglected to mention is that Autobahn is a brilliant song, regardless of concept. The synth lines are melodically pleasing, the drumming intruiging, and quite honestly, any 22 minute song that can have me as rivetted as this one can for it's whole timespan is a work of genius.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album just doesn't hold up. Kometenmelodie 1 is just wank, a sort of dark ambient soundscape that is uninteresting bar a nice piano riff near the middle. Kometenmelodie 2 fares better as a more upbeat affair of the title track, before descending into dark ambient again with Mitternacht. The second half of Morgenspanziergang has a nice piano/double flute combo, but is nothing to write home about.

The title track makes this an essential purchase in my book, regardless of the quality of the other songs. Autobahn will rightly go down as a defining moment in the development of electronic music, maybe THE defining moment. While Kraftwerk would go on to produce more consistently powerful music in later albums, Autobahn works as a sketch; of later dance music, and well as a society that may already be here today.

Here's a link to the heavily condensed sing version of Autobahn:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Some Albums Are Too Long!

Yes, another rant, but this one deals less with modern music this time. Even going back to the mid sixties there has been one thing that plagued the album format; double albums.

Now, if you have enough talent and skill to fill an album with great ideas, go for it. The Minutemen certainly did. 42 songs on a CD? Awesome!

Once again, awesome

But there has been a major problem over the last twenty years. Artists see all of this excess space on the CD format, all 80+ minutes of it, and feel the need to fill it, regardless of whether the material is actually any good. Dance music is one of the main offenders, as I have 39 'pure' dance music albums in my collection, and I'd say about 80% are over 50 minutes long. About 10 of these albums were double albums, with over an hour and a half of music.

Somnium, take your seven hours elsewhere... Nah, you are cool.

But you can almost see a reason for dance music to do this; it's not made sit down and listen to as much, it's usually made for another purpose (such as dancing???). But I take offense at Sigur Ros and the other bands that drag out ideas for too long, without purpose. And especially prog, I hate you.

It's not just a modern thing though, I seriously wonder if anyone has actually listened to The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Electric Ladyland properly. If you want an example of wanking for wanking's sake (get your mind out of the gutter), this album is it. Overlong songs, and too many songs ruin what would have been a brilliant 40 minute album if it were cut down. But my dislike of wanky-ness in music is another topic in itself...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Popular Albums & Their Lesser Known Awesome Songs

Exactly what the title says!

Got Me Under Pressure - ZZ Top - Eliminator

Underlooked at next to Legs and Sharp Dressed Man (which have admittedly been done to death), but it's so... catchy, with a sort of weird sounding solo, and with a line that goes "She loves cocaine". That line sounds out of place on a mainstream album like this, but when they also have a song called I Got The Six (So Give Me The 9), I can't say it's too surprising.

Bye Bye Love - The Cars - The Cars

Everyone knows Good Times Roll, My Best Friend's Girl and Just What I Needed, and the fifty bazillion other hits the Cars had. No one ever mentions the perfect mix of rock and new wave keyboards that is Bye Bye Love.

Never Before - Deep Purple - Machine Head

The album with Highway Star, Space Truckin', Lazy and of course that 'other song' (don't make me say it.) The jerky riffs and Ian Gillen's overly awesome voice (even more so then usual) makes this a great track for all the classic rock fans that have thrashed out the other singles too much.

Untitled - The Cure - Disintegration

This is probably the Cure's most well regarded album, and rightly so, with songs such as Lovesong, Pictures of You and Fascination Street. The album is closed off with Untitled, a slow and emotional dirge that utilises an accordion quite well, that I think even triumphs the already mentioned songs.

Gut Feeling - Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Maybe a little less popular, but still, probably Devo's second most well known album. Devo made their quirky image with songs such as Mongoloid, Jocko Homo and their cover of Satisfaction, but they don't match the cohesiveness and awesome bass work of Gut Feeling.