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Love Deadly Love

It’s the Michael Schenker-era UFO that garners all the plaudits. Fair enough. From 1974’s Phenomenon up to its valedictory triumph – Strangers in the Night – Schenker-driven UFO is one of British rock’s most celebrated bands. And rightly so.

But there’s so much more. A renaissance given birth by former shredder’s shredder Vinnie Moore resulted in a string of high-class albums from 2004 onwards. Even before that there have been highs the equal of anything achieved on Schenker’s watch. Take the bafflingly underrated 1992 offering, High Stakes and Dangerous Men (just prior to Schenker rejoining for a second shift with 1995’s Walk On Water).

It’s an album packed with great songs. As with a lot of late-period UFO, there is a tenderness and wry acceptance to much of the material. Mogg, sounding even better than during the band’s commercial peak, is partnered beautifully by Laurence Archer on guitar and the embarrassingly-talented but criminally-underemployed Stevie Lange is drafted in to lift the arrangements to divine heights.

You’d be hard pushed to name one song better than another, all killer no filler being the operative maxim here, but Love Deadly Love is a strong contender. It’s easily one of the best songs ever written by the band. Lyrically, Mogg’s cinematic tale of love, infidelity and revenge is a masterpiece of musical short-story telling and from the opening piano shimmers to the addictive drive of Archer’s guitar; all the way through to one of the band’s finest choruses, there is nothing in the Schenker-era that’s any better. As good, certainly but better? I don’t think so.

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Music

Heil Herbert?

A mate of mine, Nottingham poet Neil Fulwood, got a few of us talking about Herbert Von Karajan, recently. With tongue firmly inserted in cheek, I referred to the late HVK as the ‘Nazi conductor.’ Not, as it quickly transpired, a particularly wise move as one devotee of the departed maestro quickly took up arms – figuratively, that is – in defence of his hero.

For the record, Von Karajan’s membership of the Nazi Party is generally accepted by most historians and musicologists to have been prompted by an amalgam of self-preservation, expediency and shameless opportunism, rather than any sort of ideological commitment. Certainly, his biographer Richard Osborne goes into fascinating detail about this period of the great maestro’s life and does not spare his subject. There is no one more authoritative than Osborne and he also tells of Von Karajan very courageously resigning his Party membership during the war, following his marriage to second wife Anita, who was of Jewish heritage (as an aside, Osborne’s book, at a gargantuan 900-odd pages, is simply fascinating and well worth the parting of a few of your readies).

So, with that potentially divisive issue behind us, our attention turned to HVK’s legacy. Positioned by Neil’s friend as that of, “… a great conductor whose musical legacy continues to inspire listeners the world over some 25 years after his death?”

Now I’m a man of peace and my ways are the ways of peace but somethings simply cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. My own take where HVK is concerned is a tad more qualified. Certainly, he had greatness within him and some of his contributions to recorded music are peerless. Both his Mahler 9ths are probably the best ever recorded by anyone, Strauss (another Nazi, by the way. JOKE!!!) never sounded better than via Herbert Von Karajan and his ’63 Beethoven set is, for my money, still the best recording of that over-recorded ubiquitous symphonic cycle ever committed to vinyl, tape or disc (I think Herbert recorded the complete cycle an astonishing five times, too).

He also deserves huge respect for his humility and good judgement where Mahler is concerned. Too many maestros assume they need to record the complete cycle when they just aren’t up to it. HVK, at least, eschewed such arrogance and the Mahler he did choose to tackle is amongst the very finest you will hear.

However, he suffered from Deutsche Grammophon’s (successful) efforts to market him as classical music’s first rock star. There are dozens of howlers forced out to make a buck and to hear him rushing an under-rehearsed, lead-footed and elephantine BPO through the Brandenburg Concerti is to know pain at its most real and acute.

I can live quite happily with Neil’s counter-take when he said, “I can happily write off the baroque stuff for the utter majesty of the Bruckner cycle, the ’63 Beethoven set (only Bernstein’s VPO cycle on DG really compares), the Strauss (his Vier Letzte Lieder with Janowitz is the finest I’ve heard), the Schumann (a composer HVK never got the due credit for his recordings of) … the list goes on. Sure, he was (and still is, in terms of reissues) DG’s licence to print money. But if some dodgy baroque recordings were the quick buck that got the magnificent symphony cycles recorded, then who’s counting?”

Whatever your take, there is no doubt that Von Karajan was responsible for some of the greatest interpretations of some of the greatest music ever written. So, with that said, here he is doing what he did best. And better than most. Enjoy.

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Music

Listen Without Prejudice

As all fathers know, life affords few opportunities for deep satisfaction comparable to embarrassing one’s spawn. My love for My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade being a particularly apposite case in point.

My sixteen year-old son, Satanicus Maximus, seems to find no contradiction in his recent worship of Black Veil Brides while pitilessly mocking his auld man for numbering The Black Parade among his all-time favourite albums.

Lurch, however, the Elder Spawn, at a Methuselahian twenty-four might, you’d think, be above such things. You’d be wrong, of course. He is still unable to restrain the sardonic curl of his upper lip when, on a visit to his old home stead of Patersongrad, he encounters my bad self happily spinning the offending disc.

Such genre snobbery is, of course, not new. I well recall my early 80s self keeping my passion for the work of Marc Almond firmly in the closet, lest my teenage metal creds be dashed forever. The admiration I had (still have) for the supremely talented Mr. Almond and Soft Cell being, to continue the rather tasteless metaphor, very much the love that dared not speak its name.

Be all that as it may, to return to the album in question, I will say this: it is a brave, imaginative and superbly-executed piece of work. The young band deciding, in the midle of the digital, disposable, attention-wrecking noughties, to release a concept album inspired by the great dinosaur rock acts of yore. The listener, therefore, will find a deliberate and brilliantly-wrought homage to Queen, Pink Floyd, ELO, Yes and others.

But it’s the powerful and distinctive voice of a young band at their peak that really scores. All the stereotyping and scorn the too-cool-for-school poseurs heaped upon the band’s collective head count for nought in the face of one of the very best albums of the last thirty years.

Gerard Way, far too frequently maligned as a self-indulgent, self-pitying emo poster boy, turns in a career-defining performance and the lyrics, all bitter asides, witty irony and biting cynicism; nestle snugly with moments of real heart, real beauty and a humanity that moves. Once described as The Dark Side of The Moon for the Tim Burton generation, The Black Parade is angry and celebratory, tender and bitter and very special indeed. Haters gonna hate, of course, but listen without prejudice, my friends. The Black Parade deserves nothing less. And so do you.

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Music

Talent Borrows, Genius Steals

Talent borrows, genius steals.

Chatting to my good friend and fellow music journo, Ian Winwood, recently, the aforementioned phrase cropped up (widely attributed to long-gone-to-seed purveyor of embarrassing dross, Paul McCartney, if you’re interested).

If true, then Dutch symphonic gothsters Within Temptation are surely occupying the same cerebral plane as Stephen Hawking. Covered in Roses, from the current album Hydra, is little more than a cheeky reworking of a tune from their preceding album, entitled Faster. Which itself was a homage to Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. Still with me? OK, but it gets better because said homage was actually inspired by HIM’s cover of Wicked Game. Confusing, I know, so allow me to sum up; what we have here is a band ripping-off their own song, which was a rip-off of a cover of someone else’s song. A rip-off of a rip-off of a cover. Cheeky, eh?

Personally, I don’t really care. Sharon den Adel has one of those voices that simply slays any objectivity to which I might aspire. Add in a canny and shamelessly commercial melody, a move-your-feet-now-muthafuckers rhythmic sensibility and a perfectly-judged tempo and your argument is invalid. As the kids say.

Enjoy.

 

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Music

Joe Bonamassa: N.I.A. Birmingham

Part I: In The Beginning

Verily, I sayeth to you, that God did visit his earthly dominion and the people rejoiced.

God’s marketing people have been revamping the Old Man’s image and approach, of late. After the last few thousand millennia, all that stone tablet nonsense, burning bushes and whatnot are now deemed wholly outdated, inappropriate and oh-so BC.

The message has certainly suffered as result of the hopelessly old-fashioned medium and in a sense that medium has become the message. Not good. All that resulting confusion, conflict and war, with myriad pygmy sects all convinced they and they alone have a hotline to the Big Man.

Well now he’s back; revamped, refashioned and rebranded. A deity fit for the digital age. He’s ditched the stone tablets and parting of seas, along with the other retro trappings of yore, and now, armed with an array of both electric and acoustic guitars, God is taking it to the people direct.

Of course there might be still be some lingering confusion regarding His real identity, not least on the part of the Divine dude himself; after all being both your own son and Father with a sprinkling of Holy Ghost added to the mix would confuse even the most well-rounded of Supreme Beings. The smart money knows the score, though; Joe Bonamassa, The Artist Formerly Known As God, is here in the flesh and Birmingham is ready for The Rapture.

Part II: As It Is on Earth

Confidence isn’t something you affect. It’s an essence. Something that stems from a core of knowing you can break rules and still succeed. In turn, it springs from only two places; deluded arrogance or unearthly talent. Sauntering on stage, sitting down and kicking-off your show, unplugged style, with barely an acknowledgment that in front of you are 12,000 souls, might seem risky and arrogant. But no. By the time He’d seared through the opening quintet of Palm Trees, Seagull, Jelly Roll, Athens to Athens and Woke Up Dreaming Birmingham had already had its money’s worth. Yes, really. There are few artists who make watching one man and an acoustic guitar such a thrilling experience.

One could scribble for hours, seeking to adequately describe the talent that Bonamassa displays with such effortless class, but that talent has an equal; commitment. While many top-flight artists are content to charge top-dollar for short-changing displays of complacent laurel-resting and water-treading, He pours every fibre of his being into the infinite litany of licks and motifs that cascade from fingertips like tracer-fire from Heaven.

No gimmicky effects, no arty backdrops and no Spielbergian lightshow; just The Man locking and loading with three consummate musical artisans. Despite the presence of 12,000 punters, reduced to stunned, pin-dropping silence on several occasions, the effect was akin to catching the hotly tipped next-big-thing in a packed sweat-box club. One of those I-was-there-when gigs that go down in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Part III: Revelations

It’s actually quite unnerving to realise that He’s actually getting better, too. No vocal slouch to start with, the voice now has an authority, a seasoned maturity and an authentically bluesy ache, that breathes added delight into old standards and self-penned gems alike. Here, too, there is improvement; Driving Towards the Daylight is now it is offered up as the universal paean to the human condition we always knew it could be.

Slow Train, slow-burn but high-octane, ramped up the energy as thousands of feet stomped in approval. Mountain Time was God’s gift to the weekend and then came, “… for the umpteenth time Sloe’ freakin’ Gin.” If you were there, you’ll know.

Absence of objectivity in a critic is a bad thing but not telling the truth is even worse. Whether it offends the cynics or not, one can only report that Joe Bonamassa is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll talents currently working.

Hell of a show and no mistake.