Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Album Review: The Knowledge by Squeeze

Just over two years ago, Squeeze released Cradle to the Grave, which also served as the marvellous soundtrack to the BBC series of the same name. Prior to that, their last release of original material was in 1998. So one could argue that this is the first album of uninhibited songs in almost twenty years.

Now that's not to say Cradle to the Grave was without merit. It was a great piece. But here, we are truly back to Squeeze at their core. Even the cover itself somehow harkens back to the band's earlier days, while truly looking nothing like any of their earlier album artwork. 

The first two tracks on the album have served as the released singles so far. My favorite of the two is "Patchouli," a melancholy tune of remembering a love lost. The intro blends a late '60s sunshine/power pop vibe with some mild country sounds before heading into the vocals. "Innocence in Paradise," the album opener, begins more roughly, but rolls into a soft desert-ready psychedelic track about isolation. Difford's low backing vocals act as the audio shadow of the lone traveller. Both songs are both nostalgic and lonely, but "Innocence" definitely conjures up a visual.

On the third track, Squeeze announce that they are getting political. "A&E" (that stands for "accident and emergency" for those not from the U.K.) tells the story of a man taking his injured wife to the hospital and waiting "all night just to be seen" while "The nurses looked completely drained//but nice as pie and so composed." The narrator goes on to say that he's while he's not a politician, he can see that something is wrong with the healthcare system, and that "Mental health our doctors know//Is underfunded and unexposed." It's certainly an unusual subject matter for a song, but somehow makes the topic sit well inside the song without sounding contrived or stilted.

The political theme continues throughout the album, and is revisited, on "Rough Ride." The song is presented almost as a mini-musical, beginning with a chorus, and separating verses between Glenn Tilbrook and an operatic singer (Cara McHardy). Tilbrook bemoans the classist system, with particular sympathy for the young generation, for whom "Affordable housing [is] an unobtainable dream." The narrator also sings the very resonant line "My children are working all the hours they can//to live in this city we love//But they can't imagine a life like I've had//Either you're rich or it's tough." These verses are contrasted by verses from the opera singer who makes generalizations, and seems to represent the established, out-of-touch wealth. The choice of the opera singer is a smart choice artistically, although musically, it falls to the grating side as it attempts to fit where it doesn't belong. If one can look at it as an art piece rather than a pop song, one could argue that the point is that these ideas don't mesh well, creating the divide in our society.

Possibly the most overtly political message for Americans comes on "The Ones," in which the narrator complains that "Fake news keeps on coming." The narrator continues to discuss how misinformation is shaping our divided societies, a truth that had been becoming more and more evident in the real world. A meaningful sentiment from "Rough Ride" is echoed, "The young are working harder//for less than they deserve." While these are undeniably world issues, I can't help but feel that "The Ones" is as strong a take on American problems as "A&E" is on British ones. But "The Ones" is not without hope, that "the best is still to come" and recommends that we "Take care//Of the ones we love." This is all presented in one of the catchiest tunes on the album, and one of the stronger tracks, which very much beckons to the sound of classic Squeeze without sounding stale.

Another song that rings relevant with the current headlines is "Final Score," a track about a boy who was molested by his coach coming to terms with the abuse years later, and the coach unable to reconcile the thoughts of his sins. Pedal steel wails throughout the tune, giving it spooky country vibes. It's not the strongest piece on the album, but it does tell a powerful and unfortunately not unusual story in our modern world. 

Album closer "Two Forks," echoes "The Ones" seemingly in reference to a domestic partnership this time. The opening line is almost word for word the same, but the sound and subject matters of the songs are completely different. "Two Forks" is about the divide between two people, now separated, who were once close.

Between the politically-charged songs, there are a number of stories being told. "Every Story," sounding every bit the classic Squeeze tune, tells the story of a small community in which gossip spreads like wildfire. Indian harmonium and celesta give "Every Story" the feel of Squeeze circa the early '80s, as does the subject matter. 

On the other hand, "Please Be Upstanding" tells a story that may never have told in the band's earlier years, of a man sinking into depression, possibly fearing his wife is cheating, and learning that he has cancer. The full story is a little unclear, but the raw fear the man feels is exposed throughout, which provides a unique perspective. 

"Albatross" might be the most fun The Knowledge offers us, telling the tale of an old record collector. Bongos separate the song from the fray, but so does the playful nature. The method of storytelling on this particular track reminds me of one of Nick Hornby's characters on Lonely Avenue.  

All the songs on this album have merit. I am surprised by how many are openly political, not just because Squeeze have never been the most political band, but because of the perspective they have on politics. I interviewed Chris Difford earlier this year for Rebeat and I asked if he thought he could still accurately portray the working class, since he's been a musician for so long. Difford said "As one grows older, it’s harder to write in that style." But in listening to The Knowledge, it's clear that though his perspective on life has changed, Difford is not out-of-touch with the young working class. He and Tilbrook now look to them as their children rather than themselves, but they still recognize the struggles. The storytelling has now moved on to be about men their own age, but this keeps the perspectives as fresh as ever. 

The Knowledge is definitely well worth a listen if you're a fan of Squeeze. And if you've never heard of them before, I'd say it's still worth a listen, because the album speaks for itself without any knowledge of the band's earlier work. 

Squeeze are a pop/rock band from London, England.

The Knowledge is out now and can be purchased here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

I've Got This Covered: Tegan and Sara: The Con

I've Got This Covered is the article series in which I go over an album and pick the artists I think should cover it either in the present day or as a theoretical in the past. This week marks the 10th anniversary of Tegan and Sara's breakthrough album The Con. Tegan and Sara have moved on to an electronic, '80s-inspired sound since the initial release of the album, and as such, I've imagined what it would have been like if '80s, female-centric acts could have covered Tegan and Sara tracks. Enjoy.

1) I Was Married - Siouxsie and the Banshees
In my heart, I would actually love to hear this song covered by Florence + the Machine, but since I had to pick a central theme for this premise to work, and everything about Siouxsie Sioux makes me think she'd be totally into singing a dreamy alternative song about gay marriage. Apart from having a sound that I can imagine the band taking on, Sioux herself seems to have come out as pansexual (although she doesn't identify it as such, but who needs labels, right?), so I'm sure she can appreciate and vy for all kinds of love.

2) Relief Next To Me - The Pretenders
I have trouble not focusing on the Jason McGerr drum part on this song, so I guess I'd be interested to hear Martin Chambers' take on it. Beyond that though, I would love to hear Chrissie Hynde's voice applied to this one. Hynde has a long history of often personal lyrics, so I'm sure this veiled, yet deeply meaningful tune would see new life with a Hynde rendition.

3) The Con - Lene Lovich
The title track is one of my absolute favorite songs on the album. It's a little manic, and has a lower range verse and a higher-pitched chorus. Perfect for Lene Lovich! Should it remain a duet? Maybe! But wouldn't it also be cool to just see what Ms Lovich could do with the vocal arrangements on her own?

4) Knife Going In - Kate Bush
I do have a bias toward the notion of Kate Bush covering anything and creating her own take on it. However, the vocals and the strange and haunting feel created by the Kaki King lap steel as well as the (albeit metaphorical) violence seem like something Bush could totally sink her teeth (albeit metaphorically) into.

5) Are You Ten Years Ago? - The Eurythmics
Let's give the most '80s-sounding song on The Con to The Eurythmics, a band with a strong female front-person who also mastered using electronic drums in a pretty organic way (sort of like the blended electronic beat and drums on this song). I would be very interested to hear what Annie Lennox's voice would sound like on this one.

6) Back in Your Head - Altered Images
Oddly, it's simply the rhythm of this song that brings to mind Altered Images for me. Still, I think Clare Grogan's floating voice would blanket this song well, as the rest of the band's electronic sounds provide an interesting spin on one of Tegan and Sara's most popular songs.

7) Hop a Plane - Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
The pop-punk energy could be perfectly played upon by Jett. Jett has the edge of anger in her music necessary for this track, and the Blackhearts could give it a great sound that is both an homage to the original and something totally new.

8) Soil, Soil - The Bangles
Yes, this choice goes more full-on pop than most of the others, for a somewhat sombre tune. But I can't help imagining something in the vein of "Hero Takes the Fall."

9) Burn Your Life Down - The Go-Go's
Another pure pop cover would come from these lovely ladies. I can just imagine Belinda Carlisle belting this one out with Jane Wiedlin joining in for the chorus. I'm sure the tempo would be changed just a little bit, and the song probably would have been a bit too dark for the '80s mainstream, but it could be a great pairing (I think).

10) Nineteen - Blondie
Who better to cover a fan favorite Tegan and Sara song than a band with a huge fanbase that is still considered outside of the mainstream? Think "Hanging on the Telephone."

11) Floorplan - The B-52's
So obviously most people think of Fred Schneider when they think of this band, but I would love to hear Kate Pierson or Cindy Wilson provide their take on this song which, like many B-52's songs, centers around a pretty strange metaphor. "Floorplan" also has some pretty exaggerated sentiments ("I want your lungs to stop working without me") that Wilson could definitely do justice to.

12) Like O, Like H - The Waitresses
My artist choice is probably a little polarizing, as I realize post-punk, early rap isn't everyone's cup of tea. But I feel that the application of Patty Donahue's monotone rapping would really enable the band to give this song an alternative life as an 80s track.

13) Dark Come Soon - Martha and the Muffins
Martha Johnson has a very brash tone to her voice that would well suit this pleading and (ill)advisory song. She can be "dark" if you will.

14) Call it Off - 'Til Tuesday 
There's an incredible dichotomy of strength and fragility in Aimee Mann's voice that would work perfectly for this track about ending a relationship despite feelings that it could have been a great one.

That's how I think it should go down. Questions? Better ideas? Drop me a comment. Or if you're one of the living artists listed above, feel free to make this happen.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Book Review: Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff by Michael Nesmith

There's a line in the Pretenders song "Every Mother's Son," which goes: "My small mortal eyes can see eternity//In the clouds that dissolve and then regroup endlessly." And why bring that up here? Because replace "clouds" with the term "bands" and you have the basic synopsis for this memoir of sorts. Michael Nesmith tells us from the fore that he is basing the novel around various groups or "bands" he has felt (or in some cases not felt) a part of. That is not to say musical acts, so much as groupings of friends, or of creative or intellectual minds.

Nesmith has had a profound impact on popular culture, from his involvement in creating MTV to parodying his own song "Joanne," to his creation of the social media/livestream service Videoranch (years prior to the rest of the internet catching up), not to mention the many timeless songs he wrote, long before Taylor Swift made "country rock" cool and trendy. Here, we learn not only about Nesmith himself, but often about those close to him: those who sometimes influenced or assisted in his projects.

Infinite Tuesday does not take place in a completely linear manner, as indeed our thoughts do not. Good books are frequently not a straightforward presentation of facts, and Nesmith (who has also written several other books and short stories) knows how to write a good book. It's a page-turner, one which had me at times wondering what was going to happen next- even though he was sometimes describing situations which were basically public knowledge.

The book also recounts Nesmith's creative and spiritual pursuits throughout his life. Monkees fans, if you haven't figured it out by now, don't expect that that 4-5 year period in his life was as important to him as it is to you. That's not to say he doesn't mention it. In fact, he explores that period of time over a few chapters, using a Pinocchio metaphor to explain the Monkees pursuit of controlling more of their albums, and takes us through the process from the early days. Little of the snark about his past that he has a reputation for comes forward in this book, which has a fairly wholesome feel about it.

That said, Nesmith does not paint himself in an unrealistic light. He willingly admits to both his infidelities and cruelness in his relationships, and to his angry temper (caused by what he names "celebrity psychosis"). He explores his journey away from and then deeply into the arms of the Christian Science church.

Nesmith takes us on a journey through many of his creative pursuits. One truly realizes the scope of what he has accomplished, and how most of his adult life has been struggling for people to understand the genius of what he's doing, since his tastes in music and comedy run to the slightly unusual. This is actually where the title comes from. As he explains, he and Douglas Adams both realized their unusual humor wasn't unique to them at separate times in their lives, when they saw a cartoon by Paul Crum, in which one hippo says to another "I keep thinking it's Tuesday."

When telling of his early life, Nesmith explains his relationships with his uncle, aunt, and mother. Through the book, Nesmith gives a few details about the life of his incredible mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, inventor of liquid paper, collector of fine art, and founder of several charitable foundations. He also explains some of his involvement with those foundations including helping to fund Sundance film festival and creating the Council on Ideas.

But the book isn't intriguing for its presentation of facts, so much as for taking you into Nesmith's head, and giving you an idea of how he thought and felt throughout his career. It's interesting to hear about not only the creation of "Rio" as an early music video, but the thought processes that led to Elephant Parts and The Prison.

Rhino released an accompanying soundtrack to this book, featuring some of Nesmith's songwriting over the years. It's somewhat fitting, because Nesmith wrote several pieces of literature and music to go together. The problem is, the album is somewhat short, and contains mostly Monkees songs that fans hear ad nauseum. Nesmith mentions "Pretty Little Princess," a song he played pre-Monkees, when he was touring around Texas high schools, and says it caused hysteria just after the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan. Unfortunately, this song is not on the soundtrack.  It's not because it wasn't recorded, as it can be found on Youtube. I don't know the situation, but I assume Nesmith had little or nothing to do with the Rhino release, and I doubt Rhino knew very much about the book prior to the release, just judging by the song choices. Infinite Tuesday really gets you thinking about Nesmith's catalogue.

Overall, I highly recommend Infinite Tuesday. It's an essential read for anyone interested in Nesmith, and for anyone who just enjoys a good autobiography. It isn't detailed or comprehensive, but one really feels they have been brought into the inner circle of this very private man, for some stories about his life thus far.

Michael Nesmith.
Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff can be purchased here.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

State of the Music Address: April 2017

It's that time of year again, in which it seems like there's some really good stuff either out or coming out in the music world. Just in case I don't get time to cover it all, let me give you a quick rundown.

-First of all, Michael Nesmith just released Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, and it's a great read. I'm doing my best to get a review published soon, but in case I don't manage to, I just want to say something about it.

-Lots of albums have been coming out lately. It's been enough in a short space of time that I'm having trouble keeping up with them all. Ray Davies released Americana, Dave and Russ Davies released Open Road, and Feist came out with Pleasure, her first album in six years!

-Procol Harum also came out with their first new album in fourteen years, which I reviewed over at Rebeat.

-Oh yeah, and last month I did an interview with Chris Difford of Squeeze, which was an absolute pleasure.

-7 Inches for Planned Parenthood is currently taking preorders for their exclusive boxed set to benefit the aforementioned Planned Parenthood.

-My radio show, One-Mind Tracks is live every Thursday at 7 and streaming online! This week we're listening to some tracks about May flowers.

-If you're in central Ohio, The Xx are playing in Columbus Friday, and we've got more upcoming shows from Spoon (with Tennis as the opener!), and an arena show featuring the unlikely duo of Tears for Fears and Hall and Oates. Later this summer, there's Deerhoof (at Ace of Cups), The Mountain Goats, and Portugal. The Man.

-As I mentioned briefly, I'm trying to get some reviews churned out quickly, as well as a few "One-Mind Tracks" style articles soon, to co-ordinate with the show. Stick around!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Following in the Footsteps: Kate Bush

No More Blood From a Clone is not dead! Here, in the triumphant return, we will explore the second in a series of articles about the influence artists have had on more recent artists. This week, we're looking at work which owes a good deal to Kate Bush. You can also catch a live show about this playlist Thursday at 7pm on

"Entre ánimas" by Virjinia Glück
It's hard to find much information on this Spanish artist, but it's clear in any language that she owes a lot to "Wuthering Heights," "Sat in Your Lap," and Bush's overall style. Not just in this song either. Almost anything I have found by her sounds similar to Bush.

"Icicle" by Tori Amos
The comparison between Amos and Bush is something of a joke in the Bush community, but it's still necessary to include for all of the non-Bush readers. I have opted for a less obscene track for the radio version of this playlist, but you can hear her influence most on "Icicle."

"Easy" by Joanna Newsom
Newsom was always known in the early years for her unusual voice and harp playing, but her musical skills are not limited. Have One on Me is a massive, three-disc album, with a great deal of Bush sounds. I think this one has the most in common with the earlier artist, bringing to mind "Feel It" or something from The Kick Inside

"Genius Next Door" by Regina Spektor
Before I go much further with these "easy" picks, let me offer up a much more thinkey Kate Bush-following piece. Bush was pretty straightforward with some of her lyrics, like "The Dreaming," "Houdini," and "Army Dreamers," but still others like "The Man with the Child in His Eyes" and "Suspended in Gaffa" are still shrouded in mystery. Apart from the whole woman-with-a-piano thing Spektor has going, she has also borrowed Bush's air of mystery without trying to become a witch/fairy hybrid. "Genius" is some fine songwriting, perfectly bringing to mind vintage small-town America, while telling the very strange story surrounding the town lake. It reminds me of Big Fish as told by a crafty songstress. Thus, much like Bush's works, it has an air of the literary and mysterious. 

"Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus
To every person who just wants to cast this song aside because of Miley Cyrus, I beg you to listen to both the crafting of the song (which Cyrus surely had very little to do with) and the vocal chops (which are pretty much all her). Not only is the verse very Bush-esque, but Cyrus actually has a pretty rad voice. Just appreciate it.

"Clowns" by Goldfrapp
Goldfrapp have admitted to the influence, and while you can't always hear it strongly, I think this is a great example of the influence. It's somehow both more ethereal and more folky than you would expect from a Bush song, but not without connections.

"Horse & I" by Bat For Lashes
Around ten years ago, it seemed as though, as a female artist, you had two basic options: you could be Florence Welch or Adele. Opting for the former option prior to Florence and the Machine even making their first commercial release, Natasha Kahn was actually pretty original. So, of course, she drew comparisons to Kate Bush. Not undeservedly, however. She didn't gain much attention in the states until the very dream-like "Daniel" in 2009, which was often considered to be THE new Kate Bush song. However, careful listeners would have already heard the epic adventure tale told in "Horse & I," a song which audibly brings to mind "Experiment IV" in the strings.

"Breaking Down" by Florence + The Machine
While we're on the subject of Florence Welch, I feel I should mention what I consider to be her most Bush song. It's somewhere between a more melodic "Get Out of My House," "The Man With the Child in His Eyes," and "Them Heavy People." I don't care what comparisons people want to make between the two artists (both of whom I love), this will always be the Bush-esque song to me.

"Never is a Promise" by Fiona Apple
Another young prodigy, Apple brings to mind The Red Shoes with this song, particularly the video, which reminds me of "Moments of Pleasure," but there are touches of earlier Bush songs in the melody as well. She also heavily conveys that woman-with-a-piano vibe.

"Flash Me Up" by Happy Rhodes
With a very Bush-esque sound as well as vague lyrics, this isn't the only song I could have used by a longshot. I thought the performance/film aspect of the song might make it extra fitting though. Sidenote: there were a lot of 90s artists inspired by her as well as the recent surge.

"Fingers and Toes" by Alex Winston
Alex Winston shares both the classical training and vocal range with Bush, but definitely has a sound of her own. Still, I feel that fans of Bush who haven't heard of Winston yet are missing out.

"Charlie" by Milla Jovovich
Yes, that Milla Jovovich once made an album with some Kate Bush vibes. The actress and musician continues to release "demos" occasionally on her website, which she encourages fans to work on. 

"I'll Get You Back" by Kristeen Young
In the vein of "Sat in Your Lap," this song by former art student and pianist is both strange and catchy. Young has collaborated with Morrissey and David Bowie.

"Chloe in the Afternoon" by St. Vincent
Described by some as Annie Clark's attempt at The Dreaming, Strange Mercy, does have some of that distinctive sound to it. Never having delved much into St. Vincent, I can't help but agree on this track at least.

Special thanks to these articles, which I used as resources.