I Monster – Rare

Back in October, I Monster suddenly dropped two albums on us, both companions to 2003’s Neveroddoreven: Rare, a collection of all the b-sides, hidden tracks, and oddities from the era, and Remixed, an anthology of all the remixes from the album.

Neveroddoreven was, for the uninitiated, the second of three (to date) I Monster albums. These Are Our Children was released for free in 1999, and included the original version of Daydream in Blue, which was a huge hit a couple of years later. Then Neveroddoreven followed, initially in 2003 (with the skull sleeve), and then “remodelled” in 2004 (with the flies in suits). A number of odd EPs and singles followed, with their third album A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars following in 2009.

With a fairly illustrious history, they have always had plenty of places to hide b-sides and oddities, but also both versions of the second album included different tracks, a variety of which were secretly hidden. So it is that rich seam which has been mined to build this compilation.

Rare kicks off with the 8-bit tones of the “gang” version of a track called Freak featuring, of all people, Betty Boo. I’ll be honest, I don’t know a lot about Ms. Boo, but there is something about the track which does sound something like what I’d expect from her.

Electricalove is a compilation track from 2003, with some slight echoes of album track Heaven. This is I Monster at their finest, as is the third track Cells, which originally appeared towards the end of Neveroddoreven, and then on the reissued version was ingeniously secreted before the start of track one. For me, this is an essential album track, although it’s maybe a little more laid back than most of the material which made it onto the full studio album.

Next up is the original 2001 b-side to Daydream in Blue, the quite wonderful Resistance is Futile. With its brilliant synth riff and slightly dirty rhythm, this is still essential I Monster, as with all three of the tracks before it. The 2004 single Hey Mrs. included another excellent b-side called The Great Soul Destroyer, which follows.

Next up is the secret introduction to the original release of Neveroddoreven, a pretty little track called Dinner Jazz, which leads into the dirty rock of Lucifer You Are a Devil, which used to hide at the end of the original album. Then comes compilation track Kneel Before the Gods of Rock and Roll. If I wanted to be cruel, I’d suggest that these last few are the low point of the album, but by I Monster standards, that’s still pretty special.

I Spider is a rather wonderful little song, although I’m not sure where (even whether) it was released previously. I’m a Cowboy and Machines are equally great, and seem to have been internet-only bonus tracks for the reissued version of the studio album. The latter is a cover of a track written by US singer-songwriter Mort Schuman. Finally, the album closes with Big End from the original version of Neveroddoreven, and by this point you should really have a pretty good idea of how amazing I Monster are.

Put Rare and Remixed together with the original studio album, and you have every track I Monster released between 2001 and 2004. Well, almost. There were a couple of bonus tracks on the single for French Mods Can’t Drink. Then you’ll be missing the edited Glamour Puss mix from the single version of Hey Mrs., a little track from the original version of the album called I Missed You So., and the “French Friendly” version of Daydream in Blue. But apart from those minor omissions, it’s a pretty complete set.

Altogether, Rare and Remixed (which we’ll review separately another time) are both brilliant companions to the studio album Neveroddoreven, and highly recommended. Rare, though, is particularly special in that it stands alone as an album of its own.

You can purchase Rare from iTunes here.

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Live – February 2013

Here are some highlights of the live gigs coming up in the next few weeks:

 

Crystal Castles

Currently in the middle of a manic world tour are Crystal Castles. Catch them everywhere in Europe, the US, South America, Mexico, the US again, and then Europe again in the next few months.

List of dates at Songkick.

 

Inspiral Carpets

From the “I had no idea they were still going” desk, Inspiral Carpets are touring the UK (well, mainly Scotland, and Wrexham) next month.

List of dates at Songkick.

 

Little Boots

I’ve seen her a couple of times already and can confirm that Little Boots is one of the best live performances I’ve seen. Turkey, Italy, Spain and Los Angeles will be lucky enough to get visits from her in the next few months.

List of dates at Songkick.

 

Simian Mobile Disco

There are plenty of places to find Simian Mobile Disco over the next month or so, including France, Poland, Ireland, Italy, UK, Austria, and the USA.

List of dates at Songkick.

 

Claudia Brücken

Finally for this month, I can only begin to imagine how excellent a concert from Claudia Brücken must be. So if you’re in the UK or Germany you can find out next month and report back. Or you could just listen to her live album, which is probably pretty good too.

List of dates at Songkick.

If there are artists you want to see covered here, please comment below.

Erasure – Erasure

As we’ve discussed previously, I have certain problems with Erasure. They seem to have taken a quite bizarre trajectory from extremely humble beginnings through to a point where they could literally do no wrong in the early 1990s. By 1994’s I Say I Say I Say they were still clinging onto the world of pop but the bubble was already largely bursting around them.

The problem was this: at the same time that they were working with Martyn Ware on their 1994 album, a precocious and new-fangled act known as Oasis were also getting ready to put out their debut single Columbia. The world would no longer be interested in camp, flamboyant pop – they wanted guitars and recycled songs from the sixties. So what did Erasure do about this? They went experimental.

Working on production with electronic legend François Kevorkian and Thomas Fehlmann out of The Orb, and with Diamanda Galás turning up to wail a bit, they came up with a seventy minute epic which actually was, by their later standards, pretty successful. Looking back now, I think rather than being a brief lapse into experimental ambient electronica, this is in fact their last moment of greatness. Either way, nothing would ever be the same after this.

Erasure opens with a relatively little three minute version of their b-side True Love Wars, this time called Intro: Guess I’m Into Feeling, which although the shortest track on the album really gives you a pretty good idea of what the rest of the album is going to be like, with the “song” taking a sideline to deep, throbbing electronics.

The first full track is Rescue Me, which as with many of the tracks is in many ways a traditional Erasure song, buried under multiple layers of dark synth sounds. There are points where it seems to channel Fade to Grey, but it’s the chorus which drives the whole thing ever onwards.

Erasure is probably the best sequenced of all the Erasure albums, with each song naturally leading into its neighbour. Sono Luminus is the third track, and is one of the best on the album – it’s a slower, gentler song, where the overwhelming electronics make a perfect background, and the song seems to sit very comfortably at just a smidgeon under eight minutes.

Second single Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day) follows, a traditionally great Erasure song which perhaps would have been better placed as the first single, but you can hear something very Christmassy about the whole atmosphere of the song, so maybe it wasn’t too bad a choice after all. It got on Top of the Pops, anyway, so I suppose it did the job. The immense middle eight, in which the whole thing seems to fall apart and turn into swirling electronics, was of course excised for the single version.

The third and final single Rock Me Gently ends side one. If you remember any of the singles from this album, the chances are it won’t be this one, released as it was in the Czech Republic and Germany. The Cezch CD is a fantastic package of horrifically long remixes which should probably be reviewed here one day in its own right. But the original album version, although entirely unsuitable as a single in every conceivable way, is a beautiful choral track which ripples on for around ten minutes in total, a perfect centrepiece for the album.

After the hints of the previous track, Rock Me Gently suffers a total collapse and meltdown for its middle section. Three and a half minutes in, everything stops and is replaced by gentle pads and slowly evolving synth lines not unlike what would appear on Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware‘s Pretentious album a couple of years later. Diamanda Gálas turns up and wails inhumanly for a bit, and you have to slightly wonder what crazy journey took Erasure from Who Needs Love (Like That) to this.

Side two is generally the weaker of the two, with a couple of filler tracks and generally less sonic exploration, but it’s deceptive too. Opener Grace is beautiful, pushing the tempo back up by just the one notch, and leading into first single Stay with Me, which although one of their worst choices of single to date is also an absolutely brilliant and beautiful song, driven by flanged pianos and a great Bell vocal.

Erasure have a history of great, well thought out and designed artwork, and Erasure is one of the finest examples of this. The entire album sleeve, with its almost hand-printed sleeve notes, is quite beautiful, while the cover features Vince and Andy peering out from behind an open blind. The singles complete the set wonderfully, particularly the stylised heart of Rock Me Gently. Where they perhaps failed somewhat was with the title of the album – instinct says to me that they simply couldn’t think of a better name. Surely a release called Erasure should represent the typical sound of the band, rather than being the most significant departure from it that they ever made?

Meanwhile the sirens that close Love the Way You Do So carry you through into Angel, almost reminiscent of the recurring theme of the Chorus album, again with some more wailing from Diamanda GálasAngel also wins the prize for the most surprising moment on the album when the middle eight turns out to have fallen straight out of the 1980s. The second half of Erasure is definitely deceptive – although less breathtaking, it hides some pretty special moments.

I Love You is another of these. Slushy and predictable the title may be, but from the first seconds of the song, with its slightly harsh arpeggios and pads, it’s apparent that there’s something almost angry about the sentiment here. And finally, the album closes appropriately with A Long Goodbye, which has to be one of the best songs Erasure ever recorded – so much so that I’m not even sure what to say about it it. Except the sirens turn up again in the middle. What is it about Erasure and sirens?

Somehow the original digipak version of Erasure seems like the definitive version – you can find it on Amazon.co.uk here.

Coming soon for stowaways

The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, with a bit of enforced vacation over Christmas and then the very exciting run-up to the BRIT and Grammy and Stowaway Awards. So it’s time to settle down with a bit of normality.

Here’s what’s coming up in the next month or so:

  • Previews of the OMD comeback and the new Depeche Mode album
  • Our analysis of the UK charts from 2012
  • A special listen to some of my favourite demos by big name bands
  • Reviews of new albums from I MonsterApollo 440, and The Human League
  • Reviews of oldies from ErasureSparksRöyksopp, and Gary Numan
  • Plus the normal freebies, chart, live highlights, and much more!

The Top Twenty BRIT Award Artists

By my calculations, anyway. Which could well be wrong, but never mind, here goes!

  1. Robbie Williams – 13 wins, 25 nominations
  2. Take That – 9 wins, 16 nominations
  3. Coldplay – 8 wins, 24 nominations
  4. Annie Lennox – 8 wins, 12 nominations
  5. U2 – 7 wins, 14 nominations
  6. Oasis – 6 wins, 14 nominations
  7. Blur – 5 wins, 16 nominations
  8. Spice Girls – 5 wins, 10 nominations
  9. Phil Collins – 5 wins, 8 nominations
  10. Arctic Monkeys – 5 wins, 7 nominations
  11. Prince – 5 wins, 6 nominations
  12. Elton John – 4 wins, 12 nominations
  13. Paul Weller – 4 wins, 9 nominations
  14. Björk – 4 wins, 9 nominations
  15. Eminem – 4 wins, 9 nominations
  16. Adele – 4 wins, 8 nominations
  17. Michael Jackson – 4 wins, 5 nominations
  18. Ed Sheeran – 4 wins, 4 nominations
  19. George Michael – 3 wins, 13 nominations
  20. Kylie Minogue – 3 wins, 12 nominations

I’ll revisit this when I get the chance, as there are almost certainly a couple of nominations here and there that missed the count. But for now, this is good enough to get us started!

And that concludes Awards Week for this year. Enjoy the Oscars!

The Stowaway Awards 2013

Everyone else was having fun with their awards, so here are mine. I bring you The Stowaway Awards, 2013.

Best Track

  • Soulsavers “Longest Day”

We counted these down over Christmas, and Soulsavers came out on top, with more than a little help from Dave Gahan.

Best Album

  • Saint Etienne “Words and Music by Saint Etienne”

You can see the full list of nominees here, and it was a pretty close run thing. But on balance, I decided that Saint Etienne‘s comeback was so exceptional that it had to take the top spot.

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • I Monster “Rare”

A brilliant compilation of missing bits and bobs from their album Neveroddoreven.

Best Video

  • Sébastien Tellier “Pépito Bleu”

There were some excellent videos floating around last year, but this one was truly wonderful. Watch it here.

Best Newcomer

  • Gotye

Gotye seemed to explode out of nowhere in late 2011 / early 2012, and did so with a very good album indeed. Nominees here.

Best Artist

  • The Presets

Pacifico and Ghosts were so excellent that I felt this was well deserved. List of nominees here.

Best Live Act

  • Madness

A very rare comeback indeed, and a rather brilliant live performance. The nominees are also here.

Best Remix

  • Ladyhawke “Blue Eyes” (Ron Flieger Remix)

This category becomes less competitive by the year, as I listen to fewer and fewer remixes. But this was a well deserved win for another great Ladyhawke track. Nominees there again.

Best Dance Act / Remixer

  • VCMG

I’m not sure anyone expected this electro project from Vince Clarke and Martin L. Gore out of Depeche Mode, but it worked out pretty well.

Outstanding Contribution

  • Sparks

With a forty year music career behind them and still going strong, it’s about time the Mael brothers were honoured with one of these.

Five More Fascinating BRIT Awards Facts

Well you’ll have seen the ceremony by now of course, so here are some more of my “fascinating” facts…

Recognising the “Rest of the World”

Apart from one award in 1983, the BRITs didn’t fully separate Britain from the rest of the world until 1986, when Huey Lewis & the News received the first Best International Artist award. In 1989, Michael Jackson and Tracy Chapman were named the first Best International Solo Artists, but then in 1990, 1992, and 1993, there was only space for one combined Best International Solo Artist award, won by Neneh CherryPrince, and Prince respectively.

The International Breakthrough Artist (or Best International Newcomer) first turned up in 1988, and was won by Terence Trent D’Arby. The Best International Album award didn’t arrive until 2002, and the first winner was Kylie Minogue for Fever, although Michael Jackson had already won the Best Album award for Thriller in 1984.

BRIT Awards Luvvies

Some people just seem to walk the awards, and get nominated almost annually for the same award. Some of them even seem to win it annually. Here’s a quick selection:

  • Robbie Williams – won British Male Solo Artist in 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2003, as well as a whole heap of other stuff and nominations in the same category in 1998, 2006, and 2010. Phil Collins had been his predecessor for that award, winning in 1986, 1989, and 1990 with further nominations in 1992 and 1993.
  • Annie Lennox – astoundingly, won British Female Solo Artist in 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, and 1996, plus a nomination in 2004, making her the most successful artist to win any single award. Lisa Stansfield (one win in 1991 but nominations in 1992, 1993, 1995, and 1998) and Alison Moyet (wins in 1985 and 1988) also tried to topple her crown but failed. PJ Harvey tried her hardest with nominations in 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2008, but failed to win any of them.
  • Jamiroquai – managed a Best Dance Act nomination 6 out of the 11 times it was awarded despite not even really being a dance act.
  • Robbie Williams again – won Best British Single with Take That in 1993, 1994, and 1996, and then solo in 1999, 2000, and 2001. And then again with Take That in 2007 and 2008, giving him a shelf full of eight awards in this category. He also got a good set of Best Video awards to go on the shelf below.
  • You might think there would be enough International Male Solo Artists for a bit of variety, but apparently not. Prince won in 1992, 1993, 1995, and 1996 (the last time as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, and then he was nominated as The Artist in 1997 before he ran out of silly names). Then Beck took over, winning in 1997, 1999, and 2000 and being nominated in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009. Eminem won in 2001, 2003, and 2005, with two further nominations. Most recently, Kanye West won in 2006, 2008, and 2009. In the International Female Solo Artist category, things are nearly as repetitive, with multiple wins for BjörkKylie MinogueMadonna, and RihannaAlicia Keys has taken six nominations but no wins as yet.
  • U2 – won International Group in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1998, and 2001, with further nominations basically every year: 1992, 1993, 1994, 2005, and 2006. While they were taking a break, R.E.M. stepped in in 1992, 1993, and 1995 plus nominations in 1997, 1999, and 2000, before being replaced by Foo Fighters for 2008 and 2012 after unsuccessful nominations in 1996 and 2003.
  • Finally, the Outstanding Contribution is normally pretty free of repetition, right? Nope. The Beatles shared the award in 1977. Then John Lennon grabbed it posthumously in 1982. Then they came back again for it as a group in 1983. George Martin got it in 1984. Finally, Paul McCartney broke two decades of silence by grabbing it in 2008. The other people who think it’s OK to take it home more than once are Elton John and Queen.

Best Soundtrack or Original Cast Recording

It’s a bit of a shame that this award hasn’t been given since 2001. For sixteen years, it was handed out to the likes of Top GunPhantom of the OperaBatman (in 1990 and 1996), Twin PeaksTrainspotting, and American Beauty.

But soundtracks are a key part of music, so I think it is a shame that they don’t do this one any more…

Back from the Dead

From 1990 to 1998, there was a Best Producer award. Then from 1999 to 2010, there wasn’t. But now it’s back, and rightfully so. Previous winners include Dave Stewart out of EurythmicsTrevor HornPeter GabrielBrian Eno (twice), Nellee Hooper, and Youth.

The people behind the music generally remain forgotten by the BRITs. The first ever Outstanding Contribution award in 1977 was shared between The Beatles and EMI boss LG Wood. In 2011 Tony Visconti was given a rare special award for Innovation in Production. But the biggest surprise for me was the same year, and was largely forgotten about by the mainstream media, maybe because they didn’t know who he was. But the Outstanding Contribution award in 2011 was quite rightly given to Daniel Miller.

Also back from the dead is the Best Live Act award, won by U2 in 1993, Spice Girls (as Best Selling British Live Act) in 2000, and then MuseKaiser ChiefsMuse again, Take That, and Iron Maiden from 2005 to 2009, before inexplicably being axed again just as live music exploded in popularity.

Special Awards and Long Forgotten Awards

Occasionally, the BRITs decide to give an award to somebody just because they want to. Some of them are for charity deeds, or just generally for selling pretty well. Here’s a summary:

  • 1994 – Special Sales Award – Meat Loaf
  • 1996 – Freddie Mercury Award – Help! Project
  • 1996 – Artist of a Generation – Michael Jackson
  • 1998 – Freddie Mercury Award – Elton John
  • 1999 – Freddie Mercury Award – Jubilee 2000
  • 2005 – BRITs 25 – The Best Song Award – Robbie Williams – Angels
  • 2010 – BRITs Hits 30 – Spice Girls – Wannabe / Who Do You Think You Are
  • 2010 – BRITs Album of 30 Years – Oasis(What’s the Story) Morning Glory
  • 2011 – Innovation in Production – Tony Visconti

But to me a really fascinating moment was when I discovered by accident that there had once been a Best Comedy Recording award at the BRITs. I’m still not clear how long it went on for, or who most of the winners were, as it was largely undocumented, but I’d love to see that one come back.

Awards Week will continue tomorrow with something else that I make up on the spot.

Incidentally, apologies about some of the missing videos on recent posts – the BRITs official website got remodelled after I’d written the pieces, and some of the YouTube ones got removed. Never mind…

Edit: this post originally said the first international award was in 1986 – in fact there was one in 1983.