Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd (1975)

 With an already established reputation prior, Pink Floyd gave the music scene Dark Side of the Moon, one of the most influential and acclaimed albums of all time.  Following the album came the equally well crafted and classic, Wish You Were HereWish was another concept album (one of many) by the band.  Yet where as many of their concepts dealt with madness, this album revolved around loss and separation.  In it they explored the idea of musicians being pulled further away from music itself through production and the music industry itself.  The album is also a tribute to Pink Floyd founding member, Syd Barrett.  Barrett left the band after their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, due to his own increasing madness as a result of LSD and other drug use.  Barrett would then be replaced by guitarist, David Gilmour, who remained with the band.  The album's "bookend" tracks, "Shine on You crazy Diamond," are the ode to Barrett, noted in the title itself with the initials spelling out his first name, Syd: "Shine"-S, "You"-Y, "Diamond"-D.  Oddly enough while the band was working on the final production of the album, a man appeared in the studio who was at first unfamiliar to the other members.  They soon realized it was Syd Barrett himself, whom neither of them had seen or heard form in years and shows up while they're working on his tribute.  The album explores the idea of breaking into the music business, becoming separated from the music, and ultimately being destroyed by the industry (which is also portrayed by the album cover).  

Pink Floyd
(From left:  Nick Mason, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright)

While recording the album, bassist and lyricist Roger Waters, felt the band was growing further away from the music.  They were utilizing more machines and altering the music to where the final cut had little to do with its beginnings.  One example is on the track, "Welcome to the Machine," where David Gilmour's vocal work actually had to be enhanced mechanically in order to achieve the right note.  An ever more perfect example is on the following track, "Have A Cigar," where the vocals are not done by any of the band at all.  Waters' voice was in shreds from working on "Shine on You crazy Diamond" so much, and Gilmour's vocals weren't meeting Waters' expectations.  Instead, they went down the hall to another studio and asked friend, Roy Harper (who was also working on an album at the time), if he would lend his vocals to the song.  This further advocated the concept of the band getting further from their own music.  The album is filled with plenty of sweeping keyboard and synthesizer textures coupled with consistently simple and expert guitar work.  The album truly flows as one piece of music with more cohesive transitions than that of Dark Side.  Probably the most commonly viewed standout is the title track itself, a simple acoustic number that simultaneously feels separate from the rest of the album yet makes it feel whole.  Pink Floyd has provided me with one of the most fulfilling musical journeys, and this album is my personal favorite.  This is also Floyd at their best at a time where each member is creatively and actively involved in the construction of the music.  As stated by Gilmour and keyboardist, Richard Wright, it was their last truly enjoyable recording before that of Animals and The Wall where Waters increased his hold on the band and assumed all creative control which ultimately led the band's dissipation.  

Pink Floyd, early lineup
(From left:  Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, Richard Wright)

Track to check out:  Have A Cigar

Discipline - King Crimson (1981)

King Crimson is another progressive rock band which involves an ever-changing lineup of musicians.  Robert Fripp, guitarist, is the founding member and has been present for the entirety of the King’s reign.  After a 7 year break, and the album Red (1974), Crimson returned with a partially new lineup and completely new sound.  Fripp returned along with drummer, Bill Bruford, who had been with the band since he left Yes in 1972.  New to the group was bassist Tony Levin and guitar virtuoso, Adrian Belew.  Belew made a name for himself starting out with Frank Zappa and later being high jacked by David Bowie.  Both Fripp and Belew played separately on a few of Bowie’s albums (Fripp: “Heroes” & Scary Monsters; Belew: Lodger), two of which were his collaborations with Brian Eno.  Fripp is also known to work with Eno on a regular basis.  

 King Crimson, 80s lineup
(From left:  Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp)

Discipline incorporated a more new wave and faster sound.  Tony Levin provides speedy bass lines which are slapping fun while Adrian Belew steps up to the vocal work.  Belew’s vocals are very similar to that of David Byrne from Talking Heads, a band Belew also played with touring and on their album Remain In Light.  The album kicks off with the musical thesaurus equivalent, “Elephant Talk.”  The song’s lyrics are comprised of the many ways to refer to “talking” starting from the letter “A” to “E.”  The track, “Indiscipline,” has contains lyrics which were influenced by a letter Belew’s wife at the time wrote to him about a recent sculpture she made.  Constantly feeling the need to revisit it, vainly leave it be, analyze and perfect it.  The track, “Thela Hun Ginjeet,” gets its title as an anagram from “heat in the jungle.”  The track is an instrumental which contains vocals in the form of a recording.  The recording is of Guitarist Adrian Belew retelling his experience walking the streets of London where he encounters and is hassled by a gang and then the police.  Robert Fripp recorded Belew’s story without his knowledge.  Discipline kicks off Crimson’s 80s new wave sound trilogy, followed by Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair.  Its sound is entirely different from any previous Crimson album, yet all the elements are there.  The new members bring energy and a certain animation (especially with Belew's on stage flare with his guitar) to the band’s sound and style that was not present before, thus making this King’s incarnation an entirely different beast altogether and with excellent results.  

 Adrian Belew

Track to check out: Elephant Talk

Drama - Yes (1980)

Drama has the most unique reputation in the Yes discography.  After 9 previous studio albums, Drama was the first not to feature vocalist and front man, Jon Anderson.  As with other long running progressive rock bands there is usually a “revolving door” policy when it comes to band members.  One of Yes’ keyboardists, Rick Wakeman, has come and gone in the band at least 3 times.  However the departure of Anderson was more significant.  Anderson was one of the founding members and his distinctive voice contributes heavily to the band’s sound and their identity.  Two additions to the group were Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes.  Horn and Downes are most known as the new wave duo, The Buggles, most famous for “video Killed the Radio Star.”  Horn went on to have more success as a producer and Downes branched off with Yes guitarist Steve Howe to form the super group Asia along with John Wetton of King Crimson and Carl Palmer also of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. 

Yes, Drama lineup
(From left:  Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, Alan White, Chris Squire, Trevor Horn)
The album has a very back to basics Yes structure to it.  The songs are notably long, most averaging close to 10 minutes.  The album artwork was also designed by Roger Dean, who has contributed his distinctive art style to other Yes album covers as well as for other bands.  It is also one of the most upbeat entries in the Yes catalog along with some aggressive guitar playing by Steve Howe.  Horn’s vocals are also surprisingly similar to that of Anderson.  The casual Yes listener would be unable to note the difference.  Yet the album is sandwiched between Tormato, an album featuring Yes’ “Classic Lineup,” and 90125, Yes’ most commercially successful album which features “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”  This position in the discography unfortunately causes Drama to often be overlooked.  Most devoted Yes fans tend to ignore the album and its material since Anderson is not present.  Yet the album is a rare gem and deserves more attention and appreciation for the energy and diversity it offers to the Yes catalog.

 Drama tour, 1980

Track to check out:  Machine Messiah

Here Come the Warm Jets - Brian Eno (1974)

This is Eno’s first solo album an easily his most exciting.  Here Come the Warm Jets continues with the glam, art rock style Eno had done with his former band, Roxy Music.  The album features numerous guest musicians as well as the other members of Roxy Music save for vocalist, Bryan Ferry.  The album is commonly viewed as the 3rd Roxy album under the direction of Eno instead of Ferry.  Roxy’s third album, Stranded, actually compliments Warm Jets quite nicely and Eno has said himself it is one of his favorite albums.  For the album, Eno worked with the concept of utilizing musicians from different backgrounds and styles with the intention of them competing and creating musical accidents.  Eno’s direction was a little unorthodox.  He would dance for them and use body language in addition to verbal suggestions to influence the sounds they would emit.  Eno is credited as playing instruments such as, “snake guitar” which referenced the character of the sound and the treatments used.  Eno would continue to use different methods in his recording process on his next solo album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), which employed a tactic involving flash cards.  

 Eno and Roxy members
(From left:  Andy Mackay, Eno, Paul Thompson, Phil Manzanera)

Definite highlights on the album are “The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch,” with a quirky synthesizer solo and the relaxing build up of “On Some Faraway Beach.”  The definite standout is “Baby’s On Fire.”  Robert Fripp from King Crimson steals the show with an exhausting guitar solo.  The album’s title refers to the sound of the guitar on the closing title track.  Eno described its treatment as a tuned jet.  When it comes to the lyrics of the album, Eno says not to look into them deeply.  For example, the opening track “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” has lyrics that were written in less time than it takes to actually sing.  

Brian Eno

Track to check out: Baby's On Fire

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

For Your Pleasure - Roxy Music (1973)

The 2nd album and follow up to the exhilarating self-titled debut by Roxy Music. For Your Pleasure continued with the band’s art-rock style and amped up the glam. The album made onto the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time along with 3 other Roxy albums. This album was the last to feature synthesizer and sound specialist Brian Eno. Eno left the band to pursue a very successful solo career. He is also an acclaimed producer and has worked with many big names in rock and roll such as David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2, Coldplay to name a few. The album encompasses the pop style of their debut as well as expanding in a more artistic direction utilizing Eno’s sound treatments and tape looping effects. The album’s closing title track ends with Eno looping vocals from Roxy’s first album along with a recording from known actress Judie Dench saying, “Don’t ask why.”

Roxy Music
(From left:  Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Paul Thompson)

The album has its upbeat and hard hitting tracks such as “Do the Strand” and “Editions of You,” the latter featuring memorable solos from half the band which fuels the song with electricity. A good portion of the album has a much darker and eerie feel to it. Tracks like “Strictly Confidential,” the extensive “The Bogus Man,” and easily most of all “In Every Dream Home A Heartache,” singer Bryan Ferry’s disturbing song about a wealthy man and his blow up doll. The track is all build up to a delightful payoff of musical explosion. Despite the song’s slightly disturbing subject matter, I challenge you not to sing along with the breaking point lyrics, “I blew up your body…..but you blew my mind.” This is actually my personal favorite track on the album, not to mention For Your Pleasure itself being one of my favorite albums, and most of all among the Roxy catalogue. The cover also portrays front man Bryan Ferry’s girlfriend at the time, singer and model Amanda Lear. This became a repeated trend on 3 other Roxy album covers: Stranded, Siren, and Avalon.

 Stranded (1973)
'73 Playmate of the Year, Marilyn Cole

 Siren (1975)
Model, Jerry Hall

Avalon (1982)
Model and former wife, Lucy Helmore

Track to check out: In Every Dream Home A Heartache

Aladdin Sane – David Bowie (1973)

Bowie’s 6th studio album was a follow up to his classic glam concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.  The album made on the Rolling Stone  list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  Aladdin  Sane has been referred to by Bowie himself as, “Ziggy goes to America,” since he composed about many of his observations on the road while touring the US.  The title of the album is also a pun, “A Lad Insane.”  This album was the last with all members of the Spider from Mars.  Drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansey did not return for Bowie’s cover album, Pin-Ups, which followed Aladdin Sane also in 1973.

 The Spiders From Mars
(From left: Trevor Boulder, Mick Woodmansey, David Bowie, Mick Ronson)

The album is made up of a more pop-rock sound, yet does not have the thematic flow of its predecessor.  One of the most notable aspects from the album is the piano work of Mike Garson, the main highlight being his avant-garde jazz style solo in the title track.  During this time, Bowie’s character of Ziggy Stardust had shaved his eyebrows off as part of his look.  This can be seen on the now famous album cover.  The shaving of the eyebrows was, interestingly enough, a fluke and not an intended stylistic choice.  Bowie had written the song, “All the Young Dudes,” for the band Mott the Hoople, a favorite band of Bowie’s.  Mott had great success with the tune and took off.  Bowie again tried to help them further and wrote another song for them.  However, they declined on the stance that they wanted to try and make their success on their own.  Bowie, in an admittedly drunken state, took this rejection a little dramatically and impulsively shaved off his eyebrows.  The song in question, “Drive-In Saturday.”

 Ziggy Stardust

Track to check out:  Drive - In Saturday