Beginning Endlessly: Prince beyond the hits

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Just over a week after the untimely death of Prince, music fans around the world are still reeling from the loss of one of the most innovative, exciting and talented pop artists in history. As with the death of any beloved musician, one of the effects of this is that interest in Prince’s vast oeuvre has sky-rocketed, with his music proliferation on YouTube, a place it was banned in his lifetime. Prince released music regularly from 1978 until his death (The Black Wax reviewed his live Little Red Corvette/Dirty mind single only a few weeks ago) and as such, it can be hard for non-hardcore fans to know where to listen, beyond the obvious choices of Purple Rain and Sign o’ The Times. With 39 studio albums to his credit (to say nothing of live albums, side project releases and bootlegs), there are some parts of his career that are less discussed than the classic albums, but still deserve attention. Here is a small selection of those lesser-known albums.

The Gold Experience (1995)

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Key tracks: Endorphinmachine, Dolphin, Eye Hate U, Gold

The first album credited to the unpronounceable symbol by which Prince was known as for much of the 1990s, The Gold Experience came out in 1995, after a year or so of Prince declaring that it would never be released. Upon its release, The Gold Experience was overshadowed by Prince’s record label troubles and the runaway success of lead single, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. Now out of print, it is worth hunting down a copy, if only for the brilliantly ridiculous opener, P(ussy) Control. The usual concerns of love and sex are dealt with in the usual detail, with Prince’s falsetto on the voyeuristic 319 making the listener feel nasty just by hearing it. The moody Dolphin, concerning reincarnation, takes on a new meaning following Prince’s death, as does the stadium-sized closer, Gold. The latter was envisioned as a ‘Purple Rain for the 90s’ and while it falls short of this lofty goal, it is a suitably anthemic ending to Prince’s best album of that decade.

 

Emancipation (1996)

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Key tracks: Jam of the Year, My Computer, The Love We Make, The Holy River, Somebody’s Somebody

Not for the faint hearted, Emancipation’s 36 songs sprawl across three discs of exactly one hour each, a symbolic arrangement apparently connected to the Pyramids. Emancipation finds Prince freed from his recording deal with Warner Brothers, in love with his then-wife (dancer Mayte Garcia) and in celebratory form, as evidenced by upbeat funk such as Jam of the Year and the infectious title track. Off-putting to casual listeners, this vast collection yields a surprising amount of genuinely brilliant tracks, although the format means that some songs are unnecessarily extended (Sleep Around being a prime example). Gems from Emancipation include My Computer, featuring a little-known cameo from Kate Bush and The Love We Make, a ballad dedicated to Jonathan Melvoin, the musician brother of Wendy Melvoin (of The Revolution), who died from an overdose in 1996. Emancipation is notable for being the first Prince album to feature covers of songs by other artists, the best of which is his interpretation of Joan Osborne’s One of Us.

The Rainbow Children (2001)

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Key tracks: The Work, pt.1, The Everlasting Now, Last December.

 Considering how much mainstream news coverage has been given to Prince’s passing and the amount of discussion of his life and work in the last week, it’s hard to fathom that only fifteen years ago, he had slipped into obscurity, releasing music almost exclusively via the internet to his New Power Generation Music Club (NPGMC) subscribers. The Rainbow Children came at a time of great personal change for Prince. In 2000, he reclaimed his birth name following a conversion to the Jehova’s Witnesses, a conversion which amplified the ever present spirituality in his work into out-and-out religiousness. The lyrics are largely gnomic, with references to ‘theocratic order’, ‘the banished ones’ and the ‘digital garden’ made in pitch shifted voices reminiscent of ‘Bob George’ from The Black Album. This may put off those who aren’t hardcore Prince fans and who want to hear variations on his Minneapolis sound and usual lyrical themes, but the album is worth sticking with for its musicality. Eschewing his usual synths and drum machines, Prince instead favours live drums, plenty of horns and an organic jazz-funk sound.

 

Art Official Age (2014)

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Key tracks: Clouds, Breakdown, The Gold Standard, Way Back Home

Following a four year gap in album releases (the longest of his career), Art Official Age was released alongside its sister album, PLECTRUMELECTRUM, the straightforward rock album credited to Prince’s group, 3rdEyeGirl. Whereas PLECTRUMELECTRUM rocked, Art Official Age, a solo Prince release, tended towards futuristic R&B and soul. Art Official Age has a loose storyline about Prince waking up from suspended animation, with interludes featuring Lianne La Havas and London singer Delilah. All the classic Prince ingredients are to be found here: funky party jams (The Gold Standard, FunknRoll), seductive falsetto come ons (Breakfast Can Wait) and glass-shattering vocals (Breakdown). The latter half of the album is more introspective than much of his previous work, a mood exemplified best by the gorgeous Way Back Home. Much more than PLECTRUMELECTRUM, Art Official Age proved that even almost forty years into his career, Prince could still pull a strong, cohesive album out of his flared sleeves.

HitnRun Phase Two (2015)

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Key tracks: Stare, RocknRoll Love Affair, Xtraloveable, Big City

The 39th and final studio album to be released in Prince’s lifetime. Released mere months after the failed EDM experiments of Phase One, Phase Two was a surprisingly consistent effort considering that it is comprised of a mixture of new songs, re-recorded singles and updated tracks from the fabled Vault. This made it slightly stale for Prince aficionados upon release, but for those seeking an overview of the last few years of his life, this is more than adequate. Posthumous stories of Prince’s humanitarianism and the ongoing struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement render opener Baltimore (written after the death of Freddie Gray in that city) even more poignant. The mood soon shifts to a more classic Princely tone however, through the tightly-wound funk of Stare and the exuberant pop of Xtraloveable to the Dirty Mind-esque layered vocals of Screwdriver. Phase One featured a co-producer for the first time in Prince’s career, but his last album finds him taking back the reigns. That isn’t to say that Prince was alone however, his NPG Hornz section pepper the album with brass, giving the whole thing a big-band feeling. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the closer, Big City, a charmingly retro love song. The final words on the final Prince album?

‘That’s it!’

 

CRAZER BEAM single premiere ‘Blue Lagoon’

“Four hairyboys with a big bastard noise” is CRAZER BEAM’s extremely accurate description of themselves, although I can personally only verify how hairy one of them is and shall leave you, the reader, wondering how one comes to be able to verify such a thing.

Back to the matter at hand though; Blue Lagoon is one smooth operator, so smooth I’ve formulated an image of the band giving it the hips while playing the little number, so needless to say I’ll be disappointed if I’m not graced with such a sight. I also found I got a very prominent Queens Of The Stone Age vibe whilst listening to it, which isn’t a bad thing at all, it get’s me rather excited to see if that’s the kind of route they will continue down or if it’s just chance it shines through in this particular song. But anyway, I’ll let you come to your own decision, though I’m sure the vivid picture I’ve painted of hip movement and hairiness will be present throughout.

Listen Here:

You can download the song for the price of nothing on their bandcamp:

https://crazerbeam.bandcamp.com/track/blue-lagoon

CRAZER BEAM play Gullivers NQ in Manchester on the 27th of April, alongside Dolomite Minor and Broken Hands.

Get yourselves there for some sexy hip shaking:

https://www.facebook.com/events/932799133506614/

An Interview With Possum

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Leeds born 3 piece Possum consists of Adam Crockett (guitar/vocals), Reece Allen (bass) and Andrew Horn (drums). The band formed in 2015, with their musical style being described as colourful twiddly emo rock, whatever that means. With a new EP only a few months away and a double a-side single expected on the 30th of April, I catch up with the band and ask them a few questions about the past, the present and the future.

Tell us about yourselves, who and what is Possum?

Adam: We’re a 3 people band from Yorkshire, I play guitar and sorta sing.

Andy: I play drums… Sometimes in time.

Reece: I play bass but it’s kind of a guitar.

So considering your sound can be described as ‘colourful twiddly emo rock’ who are your main inspirations? and how do you emit such inspirations into your own sound if you do at all?

Andy: We started playing grunge with the use of reverby effects like in post rock, then we started to combine a emo/math feel. I also love reggae.

Adam: We’re all into a lot of different stuff, like i really like older 80’s music but i think we find a middle ground in emo and math rock bands from the 90’s to now.

Reece: Yeah we’re all big math and emo fans so it kind of felt natural that we’ve moved in that direction musically.

Taking into account such inspirations did it then take you guys long to find your own sound? Or did you know what sound you were going for from the start?

Adam: I think we’ve only really recently found our sound, our first ep was just songs we wrote to kill time while we were bored at college. It was a really fun and easy time don’t get me wrong, but when Reece joined the band in august i think we started actually thinking a lot more about what type band we wanted to be.

Reece: You’re fucking welcome.

I personally really like the song Okishima Island, what inspired that and how did it come to be?

Adam: Thanks man that’s the first song we ever wrote together! It came from again, me and Andy bored during college days. I bought a reverb pedal and we started jamming some post rock stuff and that’s what stuck.

Andy: Yeah its a fun one to play! The name came from a pretty interesting film called ‘Battle Royale’.

Hands down one of the best films I’ve ever watched that, knew i recognised the name from somewhere. Moving on though, tell us more about your upcoming ep ‘Wake Up Kid’ and what we can expect?

Andy: It has a much more energetic sound than the last ep. But still follows the post rock influence.

Adam: Yeah I think its more focused than our last release musically. Lyrically I’m definitely opening myself up a lot more and treating songs more like a diary. A lot of stuff changed for me in a very short amount of time, I moved away from my parents house in Leeds to Manchester for Uni and being caught in the awkward age of not being a kid anymore but not an adult either. Like weighing up the thoughts of missing your carefree life, doing nothing but hanging with your mates in a field booting footballs at each other and being naive to everything. Then realising you cant do that anymore, and maybe that’s a good thing because you can’t spend your life like that forever.

Yeah I know those feelings man, but until we can somehow fathom time travel, the only way is forward, well that’s the way I think of it anyway. Speaking of the future, what are your plans, do you have anything big lined up?

Andy: To bring possums the justice they deserve.

Adam: We’re setting up a weekender for the ep launch which’ll be sometime in June we’re guessing. Then we’re gonna release our dj side project PSM soundsystem.

I think I like PSM Orchestra better, in-jokes aside though and back to the questions, have you always wanted to be musicians? If so, when did your love for music bloom? and when did a career as musicians become a reality?

Adam: Started pretty late and started playing guitar around 14/15. I never really learnt how to play properly I just wanted to write songs, like I never bothered to learn scales at all. Then I joined a few bands and this one seems to have stayed longer than the rest.

Andy: I’ve been performing at festivals in a folk band since I was 15 so it was cool to play in a different style with Possum…It’s a shame we don’t play any reggae though.

Reece: I’ve been playing with a bunch of different bands for the last 6-7 years and as soon as I started I knew it was what I wanted to do.

Have you guys stepped into festival territory yet? Like I know you have Andy, but I mean as Possum? If not, would you like to play festivals?

Andy: I’ve played at many festivals but never with Possum.(apart from one my family organised which was a blast!) I’m excited to approach some with our new ep because I think it’s got the feel good vibe people are looking for at festivals.

Adam: Yeah like Andy said we’ve only really played one his family set up which was pretty awesome. I think we’d all like to play at Boomtown but i doubt we’d fit in much.

Reece: I’d love for Possum to hit up some festivals but i think with the new ep taking us so long to finish we may have to wait till next year.

It would certainly be a very odd booking for Boomtown, but you never know ey, hopefully we’ll get to see you guys on some festival line ups next year then! Finally, how did your gig in York go last night, good I hope? 

Adam: Was good man thanks! Its always fun to play in york there’s always a lot of drunkards.

Andy: Aye! we have some friends in York who always show enthusiasm for us which is really great.

That’s great to hear and it’s been a pleasure talking to you guys!

Okishima Island Video:

You can listen to Possums EP ‘Words and Sounds’ here:

https://possumband.bandcamp.com/releases

Social Media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Possumsongs/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Possumband

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2-XNhMqUF0dSVd0I41z3NQ

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/possumsongs 

 

 

Song Of The Week – James Blake – Timeless

Brand new from the mercury prize winning post-dubstep  poster boy in the build up to his highly anticipated third record. ‘Timeless’ is a slow moving soulful creature that seduces the listener with its blissful chord progressions and gorgeously subtle reverberated chopped vocals. In comparison to ‘Modern Soul’ the first track to be lifted from new LP ‘Radio Silence’ this track has much more of a swagger. The hard hitting percussion gives more of a trap feel to the aesthetic and it almost feels like a song that’s already been remixed. This is simply James anticipating what would eventually become of the track once out in the real world, so instead he has developed it into this as original material. This certainly isn’t the first time he’s dwelled in these areas sonically as the immensely talented producer he is. He specialise’s in creating uniquely atmospheric instrumentals and uses his beautiful voice as the icing on the cake. Rumours have surfaced that the new album will feature a 20 minute track as well as features from both Kanye West and Bon Iver to name a few. ‘Radio Silence’ is still without a release date but is surely just an announcement away at this stage. Get excited for this one.

PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project – Review

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Rating: 7/10


9 albums into her career now and the illustrious, originative PJ Harvey is renowned for being someone who’s incessant on not delivering the same listening experience that her previous album before gave you. With each subsequent album, the shape-shifting Harvey has been known to change her whole appearance and persona, whilst also ensuring the concept of her new album is totally standalone to her last. She takes each album as an opportunity to showcase another side of her fruitful self, from the patriarchy-destroying garage rock of 1993′s ‘Rid of Me’, to the sparse, ethereal, war-torn arrangements of 2011′s ‘Let England Shake’.

The theme of ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ then is a little bit of a contradiction to her usual work ethos, because in a way it’s almost a follow-up to her last album, ‘Let England Shake’. If ‘Let England Shake’ was about war itself, then ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ is PJ Harvey’s report of the aftermath from the front-line.

The songs for the album were inspired by and wrote during her travels around Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C, throughout 2011-2014. On ‘The Orange Monkey’ PJ tells us that she “took a plane to a foreign land and said, I’ll write down what I find”, a simple prelude for the album.

Lead single from the album, ‘The Wheel’, was born from Harvey’s accounts of what life in Kosovo is now like for the people living there after the Kosovo War, which brought with it the massacre of innocent lives, destruction of local settlements and use of child soldiers.”Hey little children don’t disappear, i heard it was 28,000″ she sings, which may reference the amount of children unaccounted for after the war. The song tries not to dwell on the brutal accounts too much, as it’s obvious goal is to try to reinforce a sense of hope that she must’ve felt during her stay there. The wonderfully-sanguine horns heard throughout the song are an uplifting way of harbouring that feeling; that things can eventually get better for these people.

On ‘The Community of Hope’, there’s (ironically) no sense of hope in the lyrics for the subject of the song, Ward 7, a neighbourhood in Washington, D.C. Lines such as “OK, now this is just drug town, just zombies, but that’s just life” recently got her into bother with the politicians running for the council seat in Ward 7. Not only are the lyrics here slightly distasteful, but at times it feels that Harvey is being too literal, only listing her experiences and the things she came across on her visits instead of adding that storytelling aspect that would make the songs so much more of an experience for us as well. As a listener I didn’t feel like I knew much more about Ward 7 then I did before I listened, and that’s because of Harvey’s very disassociated take on life in these underprivileged areas. She may see the struggle first-hand, but she’ll never feel it in the same way as the people living there, and this comes across evidently in the words.

Hope (for the most part) and a sense of overcoming are lyrical themes at the heart of the album, but are the songs themselves hopeful? Do the songs stand up well without the cries of optimism from Harvey? Well, kinda. ‘Chain of Keys’ is a typically-PJ, blues-tinged march reminiscent of the dark delta-blues she did so well on 1995’s ‘To Bring You My Love’. On songs such as ‘River Anacostia’ and ‘The Orange Monkey’, we get to hear the celestial vocals that we all know and love her for. The orchestral arrangements on songs such as ‘The Ministry of Social Affairs’ and ‘Medicinals’ are nicely handled, never over-staying their welcome and always embellishing the songs. The melodies and harmonies are there, but interesting song structures and engaging lyrics that ultimately keep you coming back to an album like this are scarce.

The drawback here is that none of the songs really take that leap of faith into unknown, exciting territory. Harvey was quite literally in the passenger seat during her travels, and this is almost mirrored in the songs themselves, you never feel her take the wheel, with songs like ‘A Line In The Sand’ and album closer ‘Dollar, Dollar’ feeling more like a passive stroll through towns full to the brim with stories waiting to be told. It leaves me wondering at the end of it all, what were her true intentions for the album? Was it to enlighten and educate us on what is happening now in these areas of the world? Or was it just kinda convenient to write her next album whist on these travels? Maybe it’s a bit of both, but it’s safe to say that it feels like a fair bit of the story got lost in translation along the way.

Whilst making the album she allowed fans to come see her record some of the album live, behind glass that the public could see through and observe, without being able to interact with her. It’s funny that in the end, this is similar to the way she observed the people in these poor areas for the most part, looking through the glass of her car window, and never truly interacting with them to form the heartfelt, emotional and captivating reports from the front-line that are desperately missing from ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’.

Only PJ really knows the true nature of the ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’. Only the subjects of her songs truly know what life is like in those poverty-stricken areas of the world she briefly stopped in. And us? Well we’re really none the wiser after it all, even if it was a pleasant listen.

Why Sony Music making a quick buck out of Jeff Buckley is completely wrong

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When I think about Jeff Buckley and his music there’s one word that comes to mind. Untainted. His only gift to us (not counting posthumous album Sketches For My Sweetheart the Drunk) was 1994’s Grace, a collection of some of the most ethereal recordings the world has ever had the pleasure of hearing. He was renowned for being a gentle and warm person, effortlessly caring and loving for all those that surrounded him in his life. However, he was taken from us all too prematurely in a freak drowning incident at the tragic age of 30. So why, 19 years on from his death, are people trying to make money out of his name?

The culprits behind all this are Legacy Recordings (Or a catalog division of the more recognisable name Sony Music Entertainment), who recently released a ‘new’ Jeff Buckley compilation entitled ‘You and I’, featuring, and I quote, “10 previously unreleased and virtually unheard studio recordings”. An odd statement, considering that literally every track on this album has found it’s way onto the internet and various unofficial Jeff Buckley compilations numerous times over the years. It’s kind of an insult to devote Jeff Buckley fans, who i’m sure are all growing horribly tired of these people trying to profit from everything the Buckley name has to offer.

As far as releasing albums goes, it’s usually a given for a band or an artist to release music videos to accompany certain tracks on the album. Not really commonplace for compilation albums though, especially when they’re full of covers and not original material…oh, and when the artist behind the music is, well, dead, and therefore has no creative say in said videos. Yet Legacy Recordings were clearly insistent on making videos to coincide with the release. Modern, cool, ‘interactive’ videos, should I say. These videos were released for people to see on Jeff Buckley’s official Facebook page, and it’s safe to say that the fans caught wind of the phony attempts at credible, accompanying videos.

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Fan’s reactions to the video for Just Like a Woman’ on Jeff Buckley’s official Facebook page

It’s also apparent, just by being on Facebook and the internet, how much Sony Music are trying to promote the album. Yes, this is obviously what any label or company would try and do during the release of an album, however given the circumstances and the actual quality of the album, it just makes them seem even more desperate and slimy than they initially come across as.

Not only is all this insulting to his fans, but I think it’s not allowing him, to a certain extent, to truly rest in peace. People need to move on and stop discrediting his name by trying to flog a (literal) dead horse. Let the man rest and let his music be remembered for what it really is, honest and pure, and not some gimmick. I’m not saying let’s stop talking about him, or let’s stop listening to his music, i’m saying that big labels and companies need to stop trying to squeeze every last bit of money out of a big artists’ name when they pass, especially when the actual release from the label is a lying, distasteful and generally poor piece of art that i’m sure Jeff would not have wanted to be released in such a tacky way.

Sony Music could offer up a half-baked response to these accusations if they wanted to. For example, they might say that the aim of this album was to introduce new people to Jeff’s music, who maybe haven’t heard any of these recordings. It would be a fair point, but we all know that it wouldn’t be genuine and would have been the last thing on their mind during the making of the album. It would be a fairly short-lived, shallow counter-argument.

Jeff Buckley isn’t the only victim of this kind of treatment, with other former artists’ music being re-heated and served to the public after passing, such as Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley, with an endless amount of posthumous albums being released under their names. However, things like this aren’t going to stop happening anytime soon as long as there’s still money to be made from it. It seems cash truly does rule everything, even after death.

On a more serious, final note, let’s also not forget that the same Sony Music behind all this has recently been in the news regarding Kesha’s allegations of sexual assault by Dr. Luke, Kesha’s producer and employee of Sony Music. Kesha has since said on Instagram that Sony Music offered to release her from her contract with them, if she apologised publicly and said that she was never sexually assaulted by Dr. Luke, which we all can tell would be a lie. It would be an injustice and an insult to not only Kesha, but victims of sexual assault worldwide. Don’t let corporate monsters get away with stuff like this. Name and shame.