New Music Roundup – August 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th August 2013.

On a recent trip to the States, I was disappointed to find that the record shop had become extinct. I wandered the shopping districts of NYC and Las Vegas, only to find that the major music retailers I remembered from previous visits had disappeared. Only the iconic Amoeba Music store in Los Angeles remained.

So for those of you who remember albums, here’s my rundown of the latest offerings.

The Pet Shop Boys have been producing their unique brand of synth pop for the past 22 years. Their twelfth studio album is entitled Electric and is a welcome return to the dance floor after the joyless creative failure of Elysium last year. Reminiscent of their Disco series of albums, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have rediscovered the right combination of beats per minute, catchy synth hooks and quirky lyrics to appeal to the Tony Manero is all of us. Electric is the first release through X 2 (“times two”), their own label.

Remember Lou Bega? In 1999, he hit the jackpot worldwide with Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…) and was subsequently never heard from again, thankfully. This week, his fifth studio album hit shelves and I’m predicting that next week, it will hit bargain bins. Entitled A Little Bit 80s, Bega gives his favourite songs from the decade without taste a little bit of the Mambo No. 5 treatment. That means dancehall style grooves and lots, and I mean lots, of synthesized brass hits. Unfortunately, Bega’s low vocal register means it is impossible to sing along with the tunes. Red Red Wine is not a complete disaster but best avoid his version of Olivia Newton-John’s Physical.

Hey, how good was Madonna’s last album? Nope, I have no idea either. Along with the rest of world, I didn’t buy it. For those interested in the other end of the Madonna timeline, an album of largely unreleased recordings has emerged under the title, The Early Years. I would suggest an alternative title: The Unlistenable Years. This collection of stodgy synthesizer tracks with avant garde German artist Otto Von Wernherr features Madonna vocals in the form of barely present samples accompanying a horribly augmented male singer. Imagine the vocal stylings from Taco’s Putting on the Ritz with Madonna on backing duties. Yep, it’s that bad.

Following a bizarre album and tour with New Kids on the Block, billed collectively as NKOTBSB, the Backstreet Boys return with a new album, In a World Like This. With Kevin Richardson back on board, the original line-up returns with a collection of inoffensive acoustic guitar riddled power ballads. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of hooks, making it one for the fans only. As crazy as it sounds, I’d recommend instead the also newly released offering from NKOTB (no longer new or kids) entitled 10.

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:09  Leave a Comment  
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Why aren’t cassettes collectible?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd May 2011.

When it comes to music, many people have an affinity for vinyl. The gatefold sleeve is the perfect size to appreciate the cover artwork and design. The music somehow sounds more alive to the ears. And halfway through the album, you get to have a short intermission as you turn the record over.

For me though, growing up in the late seventies and eighties, the music format of my childhood was the cassette. There certainly was a record player at my home in Olola Avenue but placing the needle on the record was all a little too challenging for my coordination at the time. Playing records at the wrong speed was amusing for a while. Everything played too fast sounded like The Chipmunks, with the exception, of course, of The Chipmunks.

History has shown that cassettes were anything but collectable. They were small and cheap looking. Their size reduced any fantastic album art into a postage stamp and they tended to warp into a twisted mess when left in the sun on the dashboard on a hot summer day. And every now and then, the tape player would decide to eat the cassette, spilling the precious brown stringy contents of Through the Roof ’83 everywhere.

There are several notable cassettes that I remember fondly from my childhood. Despite my assertion that tapes aren’t collectible, I still have these gems packed safely aware somewhere. I’d love to update them to CD but so far I am yet to find them anywhere. I can’t enjoy the cassettes either because, just like a VHS player, I don’t have a tape deck anymore.

Magic Monkey was a soundtrack album to accompany the classic ABC series Monkey Magic. Released in 1978, it features the music of the Japanese band Godiego. My favourite tracks were the closing credit song, Gandhara, and the catchy theme song. I still can recite every word of the title sequence monologue. “In the worlds before monkey…” I’ve seen no sign of this album on CD even though the complete Monkey Magic series has been released on DVD.

The Disco craze in the late seventies didn’t last long. In fact, it came and went faster than The Village People movie, Can’t Stop the Music, could be written, filmed and released. But that’s another column, plus I own the soundtrack on CD. I may regret admitting that. Disco still managed to trickle down to children’s records and that brings me to two cassette classics.

Mickey Mouse Disco was released in 1979. It sold two million copies at the time, peaking at 35 in the US charts. Featuring vomit inducing disco versions of Disney staples such as Chim Chim-Cheree and It’s a Small World, it is pure saccharine. I’d love to cruise down Summer Street with my windows down pumping this album out. Alas, it is out of print in all physical formats.

Not wanting to miss out on the Disco dollars, the Children’s Television Workshop (and the letter C) released Sesame Disco in 1979 as well. Featuring Disco Frog, sung my Kermit the Frog and the English language destroying Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco sung by Cookie Monster, the album is a hoot and now impossible to find. Me miss me album of Disco.

My final MIA album is Father Abraham and the Smurfs. Unleashed upon the world in 1977, selling half a million copies, this album pairs the titular blue creatures with bearded Dutch singer Pierre Kartner. The Smurf Song from the album went to number one in sixteen countries, but my favourite track is Smurfing Beer (you don’t get drunk and it isn’t dear).

I’d also like to mention that there are several Young Talent Time albums on my must find list as well as two classics where the casts of A Country Practice and Neighbours attempt to sing popular songs, but I don’t want anyone to think I have bad taste in music.

‘Cause you gotta buy Faith

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th January 2011.

This year will see the re-release of George Michael’s iconic solo debut Faith. Originally released way back in 1987 to critical and popular acclaim, the album spawned many memorable hit singles such as Faith, I Want Your Sex, Father Figure, Monkey and Kissing a Fool. With sales in Australia exceeding 350000 copies (that’s five times platinum) and twenty million copies shipped worldwide, there are plenty of us out there who might be nostalgic enough to replace our worn out cassette and vinyl editions with the remastered and repackaged CD editions.

Faith was a truly solo effort from the former Wham! frontman. Not only did he write and produce every track bar one on the album, he also played almost every instrument. Amusingly, this probably wasn’t much different to his Wham! days as it is alleged Michael’s partner in crime and “guitarist”, Andrew Ridgeley, usually had his instrument turned right down, Linda McCartney style, during live performances. I guess at the time, we also thought he was singing about women, but that’s a different story.

To help George earn back all of the money he spent on his extended Australian holiday after his tour of Perth, Sydney and Melbourne last year (Grindr must be expensive), you’ll have the choice of the standard remastered 2 disc edition, the 2 disc plus DVD deluxe edition and for the ultimate fan, the super deluxe collectible edition, complete with a vinyl copy of the album, sleeve notes, rare pictures, replica tour pass and a hardcover book.

I’m not entirely certain why, with the exception of financial reasons, Sony or George Michael would choose to celebrate Faith’s twenty fourth anniversary and not wait another year for the quarter century. With this dubious timeframe, let’s have a look at some other albums that are also celebrating their pewter anniversary (there is no symbol for the twenty fourth so I made one up) and also deserve the remastered super mega deluxe and a cherry on top edition treatment.

INXS’s Kick is easily their best recording to date. Fusing their previous rock sound with a dance groove, they used the power of the music video to sell millions of albums on the back of such strong singles as Need You Tonight, Devil Inside, New Sensation and Never Tear Us Apart. Now sadly languishing around the nostalgia scene with multiple best of compilations on the market as well as a dodgy reinterpretations album, INXS have become their own cover band. A deluxe double disc edition of Kick was released in 2004 to celebrate its (drum roll please) seventeenth anniversary.

John Mellencamp, then John Cougar Mellencamp, also released The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. A rock, folk and country hybrid, it produced the hit singles Cherry Bomb and Paper in Fire. With steel guitars, accordions and violins featured, this album pioneered the country rock sound that led the way for Shania Twain, Taylor Swift and Cameron Daddo. A remastered edition of The Lonesome Jubilee with a whole one extra song was released in 2005 (its eighteen anniversary).

Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust was ranked by Rolling Stone as the thirteenth best album of the eighties. With a strong environmental theme and a focus on the plight of the Aboriginal communities, this concept album was spearheaded by the singles Put Down That Weapon and Beds Are Burning. On its twenty first anniversary in 2008, a remastered edition of the album was released with a bonus documentary DVD. Personally, I think the Oils should follow George Michael’s example and celebrate its twenty fourth anniversary with a deluxe edition including some actual diesel and dust, plus a bonus insulation bat.

The demise of the vinyl album also saw the death of the gatefold sleeve and all the pictures, notes and goodies that came with it. There’s not much you can say in a CD booklet. Great albums deserve to be celebrated and polished up for re-release but perhaps only at significant milestones. Deluxe editions allow collectors and fans to access B sides, demo versions and memorabilia (at a price) but don’t wish too hard, 2011 sees the tenth anniversary of Nikki Webster’s Follow Your Heart album.

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 19:34  Comments (1)  
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