Category Archives: Music That Floats My Boat

Teenage Fanclub – Shadows

Shadows is the new album from jangglists-supreme Teenage Fanclub. And based on the couple of plays I’ve given it so far (thanks Spotify, my CD is in the post) it is a real return to form for a band I have loved all the way back to “Bandwagonesque”.

The fannies now release a new album about every five years, so it is an event to cherish. I found Man Made (2005) a little “tired” and it just didn’t have that essential x-factor that they become known for, particularly on such fab albums as Grand Prix (1995) and Songs from Northern Britain (1997). Apparently they recorded that album on borrowed amps etc. For this new effort they have dug out a load of their own old gear and really gone for it. And it shows in spades. It is jangly, lush, warm and majestic.

I had already heard “Baby Lee” a while ago. It is sunny, melodic, hummable, memorable. Typical Teenage Fanclub fare. I saw one review of it that criticised it as “Teenage Fanclub by numbers”. Well, that’s how I like it. You can wait for their experimantal kazoo album, I’ll keep the fannies as they are – all Big Star and Byrdsy with an undercurrent of that particular “Scottish soul” that their fellow Scots Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian are also infused with. It seems to be in the Scottish DNA. You can trace it back to Orange Juice and it is the cherry on top of a beautiful sound.

The album kicks off with “Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything”, all swagger and slight Motown infusions (if motown was based in Scotland). Second in is “Baby Lee” (which is my single of the year so far).  I’ve also been swayed by the sweet melancholy of “The Past” and “Dark Clouds”. “When I Still Have Thee” is uplifting, expansive and just like honey – A “Sparky’s Dream” for the 10’s. It explains that “The rolling Stones wrote a song for me, it’s a minor song in a major key” – see??? The album moves into more woozy, longing territory on “Sweet Days Waiting” and album-closer “Today never Ends”, both of which are sonically three pints in with just enough sun on your face for that nicely glowing feeling.

And that’s all on two plays. I get the feeling that I will end up loving every track on this album for different reasons after living with it for a while.

Regular readers know that I don’t review loads of music on the site – it really isn’t for that purpose. I think making a judgement on why you like an album is a bit like saying why you fancy a girl – and others may not fancy her. Fools. Well, if this album was a girl, I would tell a few gags, buy it a drink and throw some shapes.

It’s that good.

Will this be The La’s time?

As discussed in a previous post, record companies have had to get a bit more savvy with how they present music these days. Back in the day, when vinyl/CD/tape was the only way you could get hold of music, sometimes the quality/thought behind how the music was packaged sometimes left a bit to be desired. Now we get remastered multi-disc sets, deluxe versions of regular releases, extravagant packaging and presentation that occasionally screams quality.

Of course, there is also the opportunity to repackage music and to dig up outtakes, live takes, weird edits, strange remixes…. anything that can be sold.

Which brings me to The La’s. I bloody love The La’s. I remember hearing There She Goes in 1988 and it just blew me away. You must remember at the time that 60’s-tinged melodic pop was about as fashionable as Italian House is now. I eagerly awaited the LP. And waited and waited…. until the end of 1990 – some gestation period. Anyhow, The La’s finally came out. The band disowned it. I actually wasn’t that impressed at the time, having heard a few alternative mixes on earlier singles and having a bootleg tape of other takes. But it has since become a bit of a classic. What next? I thought. Well, nothing. An enormously promising band just stopped. When Oasis came out in 1994, they proclaimed that they were finishing what The La’s started. No shit Sherlock.

So the story ended. Or did it? After 1990 There She Goes continued to get much airplay (rumour has it that it brought its writer Lee Mavers a pretty comfortable living and probably stopped him from doing anything else like actually making a follow-up.) Lee retired to bring up his family and the legend started to grow…. he was a smackhead…. he talked some sort of scouse psychobabble…… he had two heads – that sort of thing. There She Goes appeared on loads of films and adverts and even suffered a rubbish cover version (Sixpence None the Richer anyone?). And no new releases. There was a reunion tour in 2005 where they pretty much played the same set that they had been doing so since about 1988 and since then, nothing. Am I bitter? well, a bit. I know it is actually up to Lee Mavers if he can be arsed to make another album, but put it this way – if you saw Wayne Rooney play football when he was 16/17 and then he decided to retire, wouldn’t you feel a bit cheated?

Well, still no new releases, but the excavation teams at Universal (who inherited the Go! Discs catalogue) and Viper (run by an ex-La or two) started to bring out new albums…. some of you may remember the grumbles when CD came out in 1987. People complained that record companies were getting the consumer to buy albums they already own! Blimey, if only they could have seen into the future.

Currently I have five different releases of There She Goes and three of the album (original CD, remastered CD with extra tracks, Deluxe double CD). I know that no one twisted my arm to buy them, but I’m a fan!

Now we have a new 4-disc set – Callin’ All . It looks lavishly packaged (see picture above) and includes loads more unreleased stuff (fortunately The La’s recorded most of their catalogue multiple times. Well, fortunately for Universal). This is exactly the sort of package aimed at the fan who thinks that they have everything. It looks nice, you get 4 CDs crammed with live tracks, radio sessions and outtakes (92 in total) all for about £27. That’s bloody good value. Think about it – when CDs came out in the late 80’s, a 10 track album cost you the equivalent of about £22 in today’s money. Will I buy it? Damn right I will, even though I have a lot of the stuff on bootleg.

See? They’ve bloody won.

Now, when is that follow-up album coming out, eh Lee? That could be strung out for another 25 years….

Meet The Beetles – how counterfeiting hit the high street

I’m a bit of a Beatles fan. So how excited was I by the launch last year of the Mono and Stereo Remasters box sets? Just a little.

However, those that know me will also point out that I like a bargain. After delaying buying the Mono boxset until my mate tipped me off that Computer Exchange (eh?) had some brand spanking new ones in for £125 (rather than the MSRP of £220 or the £180 ish you could find them for online), I thought I’d better get hold of a copy of the Stereo boxset.

I had a voucher to spend at its online store from a very famous and very large high street supermarket given to me after it failed dismally to deliver a game in time for Christmas. I noticed that the same supermarket had the boxset for a keen price, which after cashing in my voucher made it the best deal by far – about £145. Before taking the plunge I had been looking on Ebay and noticed that there were a ton of them going for about £70 a piece. Erm, I’m guessing that the dealer price for the Stereo boxset is around £130 at the cheapest, so I immediately suspected that someone was churning out counterfeit copies. Pretty much a no-brainer; biggest band ever brings out multi-disc boxset for premium price that is going to sell a sack-full – of course the counterfeiters are going to cash-in. But, from the reputable high street monolith, I’d be sure to get the legitimate thing, wouldn’t I?

So, the order was placed, the box set turned up, happy happy joy joy. I unpacked it – all sealed up nicely in cellophane…. to me, this unveiling is the equivalent of an Apple-freak unpacking that first iPhone, but probably a little bit more so. Off came the cellophane, to unveil the boxset. And I was immediately struck that something wasn’t quite right. I am just a little bit into how music is presented and having worked in various music emporiums over the years I am pretty familiar of the quality of product from major record labels. Well, this was a wrong’un. The green Apple on the black outer box wasn’t right. Then I removed the box from the outer sleeve….. Hmmmmm…. creases in the cover….. a general feeling of “cheap”. And then I opened it up. It took me about five seconds to realise that I had received a counterfeit boxset – right about the time I came across the Please Please Me disc. The Yellow print on the front was “washy”. I then took some of the discs out of their sleeves. They were in crumpled, cheap poly-liners. Really cheap. By now I was convinced. The same friend that had tipped me off about the Mono boxset in Computer Exchange had mentioned that apparently the counterfeit boxsets had been made in China and that some of the text on the back of the Revolver sleeve was comical. So, I had a quick look…..

OK. Apparently the band included Paul MCCARIRMY, Ringo START and George HARRISUN. I did a little more digging about this. It seems that the Chinese counterfeiters colour photocopied what they could, but the text on the back of Revolver was just too small. So they had a go and got it wrong.

Anyhow, my next question was how the hell this counterfeit copy had got into the hands of the very large supermarket that sold it to me. So I contacted them. And I must say that they were very accommodating and understanding. And not a little embarrassed. Well, it was a potentially highly embarrassing situation for a massive brand. I have contacts with a few national press and one was interested in writing a story about the situation after seeing one of my tweets about it.

The whole issue got me thinking (think of the chances – sending a bootleg to a massive Beatles fan that writes about music formats and is a bit of a format geek!). I think the most obvious way this got into the system was thus: Beatle fan doesn’t fancy buying a full-priced copy. Fan goes on to Ebay and buys hooky copy for £70 ish. Fan also buys copy from very large supermarket for proper price. Fan then sends back hooky version to very large supermarket asking for a refund (which is in his rights I believe). Fan has legitimate copy for £70 ish.

So, a simple ruse, eh? And potentially a HUGE can of worms for retailers. I actually discussed this with the very large supermarket. But what can they do? Number each physical product they send out? Otherwise, everyone could pull the same stunt, couldn’t they?

The very large supermarket did mention that EMI was thinking of putting a press release out about it. I didn’t see it, but I may have missed it.

And what of these counterfeit boxsets? Surely they aren’t freely available…. well, have a look on alibaba.com, home of global trading. Do a search on the obvious terms (say, “Beatles Boxset”) and see what you find.

Hmmm.

Beatlemania part 3 (or is it 4?)

So, today, 9/9/9, sees the biggest day ever for Beatles releases.

Disclaimer – I’m a bit of a Beatles anorak – slightly lapsed, but they don’t get up to much these days you see…

You know the significance… number 9 was Lennon’s favourite number. He was born on the 9th. He died on the 9th (well, it was the 9th in the UK). Revolution 9, #9 Dream…. etc etc… there is also some game coming out apparently, but as that would have Lennon spinning in his grave (I would hope) I’m not going to go into that here…

I’m talking about the CD reissues. Basically every original Beatles UK album (apart from a couple of exceptions) is being reissued in remastered format on both Stereo and Mono. Not remixed, remastered. This is a big point. Back when the albums were originally released between 1963 and 1970, all of them were issued in both Mono and Stereo versions. The basic rule of thumb is that in 1963 Mono ruled (as Stereo was still pretty “new”) and by the end of the decade, the roles were reversed (mainly due to developments in multitrack recording and sales of “stereo-ready” (think HD-ready, but 40 years before) Hi-Fi equipment). Therefore, the early Beatles albums are seen as “definitive” in Mono (the story goes that The fabs themselves would sit in for hours listening to and commenting on the Mono mixing process and bugger off when the Stereo mix was put together in about an hour). Early Stereo mixing was crude, mainly due to the limited recording techniques and was of little interest to the band. By 1970, the Stereo mix was seen as definitive and Mono had all but died out.

Anyway, I got a bit bogged down there… when The Beatles albums came out on CD in 1987, the early albums were presented in Mono, later ones in Stereo (I’m a Beatle nut, but I pay little attention to such things. I could check them, but can’t be arsed). Anyhow, it is agreed that the intervening 22 years (bloody hell!) has seen massive steps in remastering and as the recordings are, quite rightly, viewed as “The Holy Grail”, Abbey Road bods have spent 4 years remastering all the originally issued mono and stereo masters.

But here’s the thing. To buy all of the albums in Mono and Stereo (in a nice box set with “extras”) costs about £370!!!!! and this is where my argument really begins (sorry about the preamble). Is this price tag arrogance and greed, justifiable or “It’s The Beatles! shut up!”. I shall argue these views below:

Arrogance and greed:

The normal business rules of engagement don’t really apply to The Beatles – even when they were active they ignored such things. Note Apple Corps (still a good pun I reckon). Basically they ran a record/fashion/electronics/erm…. company and lost a hell of a lot of money. The funny thing was that they started it to stop paying so much tax (note Taxman by George…). Fast forward to now and although the rest of the world has stopped paying big money for music, Apple/EMI know that Beatles devotees will shell out whatever. And for EMI, it may well shore-up its profits for this year. Gone are the days of current mega-bands on the label – fortunately even Coldplay seem to have gone over the top of the hill (thank the lord). No other band could get away with asking for £370 for remasters of albums, the last of which came out almost 40 years ago. But The Beatles can…

Justifiable:

We have been told that it took Abbey Road bods four years to remaster the albums. Apparently, according to the reports I’ve read, they are stunning. So, what to do? If they were anything less than amazing, the knives would be out saying “why didn’t they take their time and make them spot on?”. Say they had come out “OK-ish” and it was £200 for the lot? I bet people would say “I would have paid DOUBLE for them to be the best they could”. Remastering costs money. I like a band called The La’s. Last year they brought out an alternative version of their sublime debut album. I have heard off a record company source that they mastered it from a cassette – even though the master tapes were in the vaults. The reason? money – it would cost a few grand to master from the master tapes – and the album wasn’t guaranteed to sell. Quite simply, The Beatles are like, erm, Apple (the iPod maker). Apple know they have “disciples” and can thrown money at a product like the iPhone and guess that they will probably make back the R&D. This is a luxury that very few “brands” have. The Beatles have it…

“It’s The Beatles, Shut Up!”

Well, it has a point. The Beatles are undoubtedly the most popular, biggest-selling recorded group of all time. Forget The Stones. Abba. Queen. Wacko Jacko. If The Beatles remasters its back-catalogue it is a major music event. Check out how many of the albums are on the chart next week. The were a phenomena we will never see again (and I missed them!).

A lovely woozy, breezy album for a sunny weekend – Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

camera_obscura_my_maudlin_career

As previously mentioned, I’ll occasionally be spurred to post about an album or band. Not a review as such – that would be bordering on being a “critic” and would mean that you would need to review albums that you don’t like! What’s the point in that!! That’s a bit like fancying one girl in a room of 30 and also passing comment on why you don’t fancy the other 29!!

Anyway, this weekend is going to be hot hot hot. A perfect album to listen to around 6pm after an afternoon in the garden (you know, a little sunburned, maybe with a beer and barbie on the go) is My Maudlin Career, the latest release by Camera Obscura. It is, for so many reasons, my album of 2009 so far and it will take something bloody impressive to steal that honour away.

The band is from Scotland and they have a sound that takes bits from the best Scottish bands – the melody of Belle and Sebastian, a sprinkling of soul borrowed from Orange Juice and nods to country and west coast Beach Boys pop that seems to have laced the best Scottish music over the last 25 years or so. There are bits that are Motownesque and it sounds as though it was produced by Phil Spector in his best wall-of-sound period, but with a little less layering. And it has “Forever Changes” strings and is possibly what St Etienne would have sounded if they were Scottish.

I’m not going to go through it track-by-track as that’s a bit like saying “I like the girl I fancy’s nose, because… and her hair is great as it is…” but suffice to say, stand out tracks are “French Navy” and “My Maudlin Career”. But they are all great. And blast out “Honey in the Sun” loudest as that would be apt when you follow my instructions to the word.

I’ll admit that I’ve only recently got into the band and I feel a bit robbed as they have been putting music out for 10 years. But I’m glad I’ve stumbled on them now as I can get the back catalogue as well. Woo-hoo!

It’s on Spotify, so go, seek out and listen now.

The Dukes of Stratosphear – Reissues of the year?

Probably not – that accolade is more than likely going to go to the massive Beatles reissue campaign in September. That will be an event.

But, the fab four aside, there will be a couple of CDs coming out next week that will probably be ignored by many, but get that accolade from me. I implore you (I don’t implore often, trust me) to purchase the two albums by The Dukes of Stratosphear that are being reissued with demos and extra tracks. 25 O’Clock (officially a mini-album on release in 1985) and Psonic Psunspot (the full-length album from 1987) were previously released together on one CD in the early 1990’s as Chips from the Chocolate Fireball: An Anthology but this is the first time that they are getting proper separate releases with original artwork.

For those that aren’t aware, The Dukes were the psychedelic alter ego of XTC and far from being a pastiche or humorous take on that golden era of music from about 1966 – 1969, it was a homage. XTC were highly competent musicians and tackled a variety of psychedelic styles with gusto. They also took on pseudonyms (is there a better psyche name than E.I.E.I Owen?) and dressed accordingly. An interesting footnote for Stone Roses fans out there – the rumour goes that the band loved the sound of the Dukes so much it got John Leckie, who produced both Dukes albums, the production job on their first album. The albums are fabulous – it’s spot the band time, with everyone from The Beatles, through The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd lovingly and respectfully reproduced – but the songs stand up on their own.

Psychedelia was the music that fired XTC and you can almost smell the fun that they had making them.

Go buy them, you won’t be disappointed.