Archive for January, 2009

Records Reviews

Posted in Music Reviews on January 25, 2009 by Billy Shears
Saturday Night Supports VINYL!

Saturday Night Supports VINYL!

OK…’s Saturday Night’s attempt at a proper “record” review section. As a disclaimer, since there aren’t tons of oi!/street punk/mod releases clogging up the record shops every Tuesday, we reserve the right to review new, new-ish and new-to-us records, as well as any re-release we think deserves mention. We’ll review any genre we think fits in with this blog, and we’ll gladly review anything submitted.

If you’re in a band that you think we’d dig, chances are, we’re likely to purchase your music and review it on our own, but if you are completely eager to have your review at the front of the line on a blog that no one reads, by all means, get in touch and send it our way.

With that, check out the following section, which will be populated regularly.

Record Reviews

Hammer and the Nails

Hammer and the Nails
Set to Ruin Demo
Rock’n’Roll Disgrace Records

When I was very young, I read a critical piece from the Sixties (might have been by Robert Christgau) which used two terms to describe some of the Rolling Stones darker material – “ominous” and “foreboding.” I immediately found that curious, if not interesting. Could these two adjectives be applied to a song? Can a tune create the feeling of unease? Can a song, by its subject matter, delivery or tone, make one uncomfortable with what awaits? I have since determined over the years that not only is it possible, but some of the better recorded material does indeed posses these very qualities.

At the risk of sounding generic, a tune like “Helter Skelter” builds uneasy tension throughout before it explodes into a place where the listener is unsure of what may happen next. The opening track on Hammer and the Nails demo churned up the same feelings. From its foreboding intro, to the power it delivers, to its dark subject matter which demands retribution, yet offers little respite, relief or explanation for the subject matter at hand, the tone is not friendly. It seems to simply say “this is how the world is” and forces you to deal with it, and from there, the mindset is cemented for the demo.

A description I have heard comparing Hammer and the Nails’ sound to other bands, a lazy reviewing tool, but one that most all (including myself) pull out as our Ace, was “Straw Dogs (UK) meets the Cro-Mags.” I prefer to substitute Killing Time for the Cro-Mags, if only because H&TN delivery seems more real-world bleak, rather than anything akin to the ‘Mags violent Hindu musings. Regardless, the intensity of the three aforementioned bands is a good starting point; you are not getting a clone of either of the three, however. Hammer and the Nails exist on their own merits.

The music is delivered with coarse vocal stylings, and exemplary playing throughout. Less the Killing Time comparisons churn up hardcore associations, to clarify, the music is hard rock’n’roll rather than anything resembling hardcore. It is the set of beliefs and the overall worldview being described that calls up the connection to the aforementioned bands. From “Dirty Cop” to “Legislation, Not Rehabilitation” to the closing title track, the picture painted is bleak, but never unrealistic. A look at the world we live in, it’s not always positive.

Listen to the band and decide for yourself what Hammer and the Nails are about. Be forewarned.

3382971467_e695e66d19_mStamford Bridge/Bastard’s Choir

Split E.P.

Oi! The Boat Records

Hints of Carl Templar’s side project, Stamford Bridge, have been in circulation for some time now. Word of mouth on the teaser tunes was overwhelmingly positive; like a power-pop version of The Templars, the tunes soared. The debut e.p. by the project had high expectations to meet, and meet them this side composed of two new, unheard songs does.

Kicking off with “The Way I Am,” Stamford Bridge immediately brings forth a tune different than anything previously previewed. A bouncy bassline and ever reliable drums by Phil Templar pushes this tune along. The song itself is definitely more forthright pop than anything yet heard from the group. The production and vocals scream Templars, but the delivery and subject matter echo something along the lines of Wreckless Eric; ever the outsider, trying to put his feelings to words, but having no luck, assuring the object of his affection that even if he don’t talk so good, he still cares. And then there’s the handclaps – handclaps that would make the Bay City Rollers blush. Roll it all into one, and it’s the best thing Carl and Stamford Bridge have delivered yet. I’ve played this one over and over.

The second tune, “Finish Line” is more akin to what I had heard from them in the past – that is, more garage-y, less overtly pop, yet still top quality. We could all benefit from hearing more from these guys, and that’s really no surprise given the membership of this band, is it?

Bastards Choir are from Indiana, and play rock’n’roll the way the likes of The Bruisers and Motorhead did. With subject matter familiar to anyone from the Midwest – “Heaven is a Hog Roast” and “These Fields,” – Bastard’s Choir deliver capable, catchy rock that would no doubt be more effective if one was actually at the aforementioned hog roast, beer in hand, and singing along.

I get a real sense of bands like The Weekend Bowlers and their ilk when playing this side, which is never a bad thing. A unique take on this style, with perhaps some true Hoosier flavor would be welcome, it will be interesting to see what this band delivers in the future.


The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Lucky Seven Records

James Joyce said of his novel Ulysses, “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” Substitute Madness for Joyce, and London for Ireland, and you’d have a semi-accurate idea of what Madness have made a career of – a love/hate/love affair with the city that bore them, and subsequently, their years of attempting to aurally recreate it for their audiences.

The Liberty Of Norton Folgate goes farther than largely any one musical work has ever done in attempting to capture an autobiography of a city that it is said, no one man can really ever know. Certainly groups that this blog champions have also long celebrated London, from The Jam and “In the City” to The Pogues, who sang more songs about London than they did about Ireland, to Pete Townshend and White City and well beyond. And true, London exists as a well worn subject in many canons, from academia, to film, to novels and song, but Madness have always had a seemingly cathartic need to celebrate the city; from Primrose Hill and Razor Blade Alley, to Victoria Gardens and Grey Day, no group besides possibly The Kinks have adored and been repulsed in equal measures by the city where they made their home.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate is Madness’ most ambitious work to date. An experiment with the dreaded “concept” album, more often times than not, it succeeds in delivering the strengths the group is known for. Erroneously lumped in with Two-tone from the begining, Madness made it clear very early on that the were more Ian Dury than The Specials. They’d always be more music hall than anything ska. Though the band no doubt loved reggae and the upbeat, they would always be more Ray Davies than Jimmy Cliff, more Benny Hill than Lloyd Charmers. I am not short-sighted enough to imply that Madness did not weave and sew their love for ska and reggae into their tapestry, but those styles were mere weapons in an arsenal that contained much much more, and it’s all on display here. The cast of characters needs no introduction, as a revolving door unit Madness are not. It’s the same players, adhering to the same roll call as ever: Suggs, Barso, Woody, Bedders, El Thommo, Chrissy Boy, and thee Chas Smash. But again, to the fan, no introductions are necessary.

The album opens with a short instrumental, “Overture,” which plays the part of a waltz-y pre-War London, when the Empire was strong and spread from continent to continent, the London gentlemen full of confidence welcoming one to the show. The bookends of the album are the opener, the bouncy, inviting “We Are London” and then the album’s final cut, the ten minute title track, “The Liberty of Norton Folgate.” These two tunes, respectively welcome you and bid you fond farewell, with stop gap pop-in’s at many infamous points in the Big Smoke. Whisking wistfully from Regents Park and Baker Street to Camden and down to the Cross, and even on Carnaby (“if you wanna be a mod, a punk, a Ted or a suedehead” Suggs intones) “We Are London” is a point-of-interest trainspotter’s delight. It also contains one of the themes of the record – “you can make it your own heaven or hell.” London is, as life is, what you make of it. The characters and lives that inhabit the rest of the album are a veritable musical kaleidoscope.

First stop is the teenagers who start life a little early, marry too young, in the obviously Barson penned “Sugar and Spice.” It’s one of his signature subjects, and one of the best tunes he’s ever written. The bawdy humor that popped up in tunes like “In the Middle of the Night” rears it’s head in material like “Dust Devil” that charters the favorite “toy” of the bored suburban housewife. The bittersweet is captured in the imaginary life of “Africa” where the aspirations of something more than the day-to-day drunk will never materialize, except in dreams. “NW5” was an obvious single, because of it’s forlorn delivery, and again, it’s subject matter of growing apart, but loving one forever.

The record is, at heart, a fifteen song tour of the city, something that Peter Ackroyd might record if he wrote albums instead of sprawling biographies, and it culminates in one of the top songs Madness have ever done – “The Liberty of Norton Folgate.” The song finds Madness at their most secure, their most “Madness-esque” yet oddly at the same time, their most experimental. A carnival like atmosphere builds from the beginning, where, just as in the opening “Overture,” a bouncy, Beatles-ish music hall waltz leads us off the floor towards the conclusion of the evening, with Suggs acting as a mad tour guide as the entire journey concludes. But nothing ever really ends, does it?

The characters that have been introduced, seem to bid farewell in this tune – the immigrants, the streetlamps, the Welsh, the Irish, the carousels, the Chinese trying to pawn DVD’s, all tip their hats as the album exits. Midway through, the song changes styles and tempos, only to wrap up as it started, in a weird, twisting cycle that takes the listener back to the beginning all over again. As the song concludes, it repeats the mantra that Madness know is London’s own: “you’re a part of everything you see.” Your city, your home, and all it’s offers of wonders, characters, allusions and illusions, is a part of you. Everything is cyclical in the end. The city is the body; the people who inhabit it are it’s heartbeat, and both co-exist to serve one another, to make it whole.

Madness have always had the ability, as The Kinks did, to take every day life and put it to song, but only after turning a critical eye on it. The Liberty of Norton Folgate acknowledges that life (and London) is indeed a pageant, but it is up to the individual to make of it what they will. As with Joyce’s works, one could not actually recreate London simply from hearing this record, but after digesting it, you do get a sense that you know the city of which they speak.

All told, I’m not ready to say that this is the masterpiece in Madness’ library, but it surely rests comfortably in a spot near the top. More reserved, more mature, and simply aiming for grandiose places that they’ve never quite reached for before, this gets my highest recommendation.