Various Artists – Control

The story of Joy Division is, of course, a particularly fascinating one, which is why it’s been told in two very good films already. The second came out in 2007, was directed by music video genius Anton Corbijn, and was entitled Control.

One of my personal claims to fame is that I accidentally went to the premiere of the film in Manchester, which was a real privilege. In particular, meeting Corbijn (in his gold trainers) and seeing what turned out to be quite an exceptional film.

The soundtrack is something of a journey too. The three little new tracks from New Order, at the time on yet another of their regular hiatuses, open, close, and form the centrepiece of the album. The rest of the album is often a dark and experimental exploration of the kinds of music that influenced – or in some cases was influenced by – the sound of Joy Division.

The first full track is The Velvet Underground‘s What Goes On from their debut album in 1969. The Killers‘ cover of Shadowplay follows, with a very strong Joy Division flavour, and is followed by The Buzzcocks with a lively and slightly chaotic live version of Boredom from 1977.

Even at their weakest, every track on the album is an interesting listen, and you can definitely hear how Joy Division may have been influenced by them. Dutch prog rock band Supersister‘s She Was Naked and Iggy Pop‘s Sister Midnight are both good examples of the sort of unusual experimental recording and songwriting which clearly helped make them the band they were.

In many ways the whole album is just a compilation of the more interesting music from the 1970s. Sex Pistols crop up with a live version of Problems. Roxy Music are on there with the pleasant Hammond Organ rumblings of 2HBDavid Bowie turns up a couple of times, with Drive-in Saturday from 1973’s Aladdin Sane and Warszawa from Low (1977).

The inevitable high point of the album apart from the competent live cast recording of Transmission is an exclusive edit of Kraftwerk‘s essential 1974 hit Autobahn, as well as a few reminders of why exactly Joy Division were so special in the first place.

In summary, then, Music from the Motion Picture Control, to give its full name, is a perfect companion to an exceptionally good “motion picture”, and comes highly recommended if you haven’t heard it yet.

Free mp3 of the week – Polydor New Music

Here’s a batch of new music from Polydor Records:

  1. Imagine Dragons – It’s Time (Passion Pit Remix)
  2. Rhye – The Fall (Live)
  3. Ellie Goulding – Anything Could Happen (Butch Clancy Remix)
  4. Nick Mulvey – The Trellis
  5. Findlay – Your Sister
  6. Hudson Taylor – You’re Not Alone

Download here.

Preview – Sparks

It’s irritating to report that we’re still running a little behind schedule with these previews. Sorry. Leaves on the line or something.

Anyway, Sparks are back with a live album, and it’s out now. It’s called Two Hands, One Mouth, and this is the title track:

Record Store Day 2013

There’s something rather exciting about Record Store Day – loads of your favourite bands start throwing out obscure releases on bizarre formats. Not downloads, but real, tangible formats.

There’s also something rather disappointing about the whole thing. Of all of the releases I’ve heard about and wanted on Record Store Day, I’ve never actually seen a single one of them. Partly because I’ve always been out of the country every year so far, but partly also because I have a sneaking suspicion that what happens is that it’s actually a day for private dealers and too-keen collectors to swamp record shops and buy all the good stuff out. Anything worth having will be up on eBay within the day. Which seems to slightly defeat the object to me.

In fact, the only release from previous years that I remember having seen is the cassette version of Goldfrapp‘s last album Head First – which is a brilliant idea, but the knowledge that I’d never actually listen to it was what stopped me from buying it at that point.

Anyway, this year’s Record Store Day is this Saturday, and I’m actually going to be in the UK this time, so we’ll see if I can keep hold of my wallet while it happens. Here are some of the highlights of the releases that I spotted:

  • Bent – From the Vaults 1998-2007 (unknown format, 500 copies)
  • Booka Shade – Black Out: White Noise EP (12″)
  • David Bowie – Drive-In Saturday Night (7″ picture disc, 3000 copies), The Stars Are Out Tonight (7″ white vinyl, 5000 copies) and 1965 (7″)
  • Calexico – Spiritoso (LP, 2200 copies)
  • CaribouStart Breaking My Heart (LP), Up in Flames (LP) and The Milk of Human Kindness (LP)
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Animal X (7″ picture disc, 2500 copies)
  • Cut Copy – Bright Like Neon Love (12″, 4000 copies)
  • Duran Duran – Is There Something I Should Know? (7″)
  • Brian EnoNicholas Jaar x Grizzly Bear (10″, 2000 copies)
  • Frankie Goes to HollywoodThe Eye Has It (7″ shaped picture disc)
  • Garbage – Because the Night (10″, 5000 copies)
  • The Human League – Don’t You Want Me (12″)
  • Inspiral Carpets – Fix Your Smile (7″)
  • Junior Boys – Even Truer Remix EP (12″, 400 copies, “regional”)
  • MGMT – Alien Days (cassette single, 2000 copies)
  • Moby feat. Mark Lanegan – The Lonely Night (7″)
  • Mike Oldfield – Theme from Tubular Bells (7″)
  • Pink Floyd – See Emily Play (7″, 5000 copies)
  • Röyksopp – Ice Machine (10″)
  • Sigur Rós – Ágætis byrjun (12″, 982 copies, “regional”) and Hvarf / Heim (double LP)
  • The XX – Jamie XX Edits (12″, 1600 copies)
  • Various Artists – Astralwerks 20/20 (seven 7″ box set, including rare and unreleased tracks by KraftwerkAirThe Chemical Brothers and others, 100 copies, “regional”)
  • Various Artists – Factory Records – Communications 1978-1992 (10″ or 12″ including tracks by Joy DivisionNew OrderDurutti Column and Happy Mondays, 1000 copies)
  • Various Artists – Music from the Motion Picture Drive (LP picture disc of the excellent album with tracks by Kavinsky and Cliff Martinez, 1000 copies, US only)

Which should be more than enough to keep you busy. I’ve no idea what “regional” means. Thanks to the New Vinyl blog for helping with information about the releases. The full list is here for the USA and here for the UK.

Erasure – The Innocents

Unnerving as they may be, I think it’s already time for another anniversary. I’ve mentioned already a couple of times that I think Erasure‘s third album The Innocents really kicked off what one of their biggest pop rivals famously referred to as their “imperial phase”. It therefore seems only fitting to celebrate the anniversary of the release of that album. What’s perhaps more surprising though, is that its original release was exactly 25 years ago this week.

It has an oddly illustrious history, having entered the charts at number one and then returned there nearly a year later, less thanks to the singles from the album than the chart compilers’ decision to exclude compilations from the chart. Then finally, a couple of years ago it was the first of Erasure‘s albums to see the full remaster treatment, resurfacing with a breathtaking level of clarity and also a slightly unnecessary second disc of remixes and live tracks.

The Innocents opens with one of Erasure‘s best known and loved singles A Little Respect. For my part, I’ve never quite been able to enjoy this song in the way everybody else seems to, but it’s undeniably strong.

Second up, however, is lead single Ship of Fools, which by way of some kind of connection to my childhood has always been an exceptionally powerful and evocative song for me, and one about which I could probably write several hundred words without any effort. It’s an unusual and unpredictable pop song: dark, stomping, and atmospheric in many ways; and yet as with all of Erasure‘s finest songs it also has many chirpy pop elements. I suppose that’s the key – it’s the perfect mixture of happy pop with hidden darker elements.

The third track is Phantom Bride, the single that never was, until the 2009 reissue, when it finally appeared alongside a package of new remixes. Another beautiful pop song with an oddly mediaeval atmosphere, you have to wonder slightly why it was never released as a single in the first place.

Second single Chains of Love follows, an energetic, pumping song which pushed them back into the top five for the first time since Sometimes in 1986. But it’s the following track Hallowed Ground where Erasure truly show their colours. Full of grimy post-industrial urban atmosphere, it’s an early example of Andy Bell‘s ability to compose total lyrical perfection while Vince Clarke constructs an apocalyptic backdrop. Hidden away halfway through the album, it’s probably easy to forget, but it may well be one of the best songs Erasure have ever written.

Also easy to forget is the following piece. After the continuous brilliance of Side A, the bubble probably had to burst at some point, but why did it had to burst to this degree? Kicking off Side B is the entirely unnecessary 65,000. Vince Clarke‘s instrumentals have always been variable (I’m looking at you, I Before E Except After C), but quite what possessed them, pretty much at the height of their careers, to put this turgid dross onto the album and to omit the exceptional When I Needed You is entirely beyond me. Maybe they just thought things were getting a bit too heavy at this point.

Next up is Heart of Stone, which benefits somewhat from Stephen Hague‘s mature production, but to me is clearly a leftover track from one of their earlier albums. With its unnecessary brass lines, it’s passable at best. And the downturn continues with the entirely forgettable soul-flavoured Yahoo!, after which the search engine was famously named (OK, I made that fact up purely so I had something interesting to say about this lousy track).

Amongst all this negativity it’s worth a mention for the album’s packaging. After the naff faux-storybook sleeve of Wonderland (1986) and the odd technicolor of The Circus (1987), they truly excelled themselves by half-inching a stained glass window from Chartres Cathedral. The remaster also comes in lovely book-like packaging.

Halfway through Side B, Imagination is an odd inclusion. Much of its style is again reminiscent of their earlier albums, but on either of them it would have been one of the strongest tracks. Despite some questionable rhymes (Medusa… will seduce you?) it’s a sweet and catchy song, which has dated rather less well than anything on the first half of the album, but still has a lot in its favour. It also holds a strange place in my heart, having once woken me up going round and round in my head despite the fact that I didn’t at the time own a copy of the album and so couldn’t have heard it for at least five years.

Witch in the Ditch is another one to forget, and the final track Weight of the World brings something of a return to the atmosphere of earlier tracks, but still has little to say for itself. Sadly, the general theme of the second half of the album seems to be a series of leftovers from Wonderland and The Circus. This might well have been a good idea at the time, particularly if they needed to put the album together quickly, but after the total excellence of Side A, it’s easy to be disappointed now, exactly a quarter of a century later.

Unusually, I think it would be impossible to review this album without mentioning the bonus tracks. It was still early days for the CD album, and even for the cassette, and so both formats added two extra tracks, alternative versions of the b-sides from the first single. So firstly When I Needed You is, as I suggested earlier, one of the finest tracks on the album, even if it didn’t make it onto the LP. It has all the power and emotion of the first half of The Innocents, without all the silliness of the second half.

The final track is perhaps the oddest of the lot, the seven-and-a-half minute cover of River Deep, Mountain High. I have no idea what possessed them to do this, and it definitely hits its strangest point in the first verse when Bell sings “When I was a little girl I had a rag doll.” But it’s strangely compelling, and extremely enjoyable, and the false ending is inspired.

So, taken as a whole, The Innocents is a somewhat schizophrenic third album, but on balance and in the Catholic spirit of the packaging I have to be forgiving and say that the bad moments are far outweighed by the excellent ones. All told, this album may not have aged especially well, but it did deserve its time at the top of the chart and the many awards it won at the time. Twenty-five years ago.

If you don’t already own a copy, the only version worth owning of this album is the 2009 remaster in the lovely packaging, but that seems to have long since sold out, so instead I’d advise you to go for the single disc remastered edition, on Amazon.co.uk here.

Preview – The Knife

The Knife are, without a doubt, one of the oddest acts in the world of modern electronic music. Their releases are typically hard work but rewarding, with moments of genius peppered in between less interesting material.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the video I’ve linked below comes with a wonderful slew of YouTube comments along the lines of “OMG this is sh**!!!!!!!!!!!11one,” but of course this doesn’t make it any less worth listening to. Their last album was a double CD opera based on Charles Darwin‘s Origin of the Species.

The new album Shaking the Habitual came out this week, and this track is called Full of Fire:

Chart for stowaways – 6 April 2013

Things continue to gently shake around. Here are the singles:

  1. Depeche Mode – Heaven
  2. Röyksopp – Running to the Sea
  3. Vanessa Paradis – Love Song
  4. Little Boots – Motorway
  5. Delerium – Days Turn into Nights

And the albums:

  1. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
  2. Karl Bartos – Off the Record
  3. Claudia Brücken – The Lost Are Found
  4. Gary Numan – I, Assassin
  5. The Presets – Pacifica

Pet Shop Boys – Battleship Potemkin

It would be difficult to define Sergei Eisenstein‘s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin as anything short of genius. For many years banned in the UK, West Germany and France thanks to the extreme violence and socialism depicted within it, the west has perhaps been less kind to it than necessary, but it still resonates today, having been listed as one of the top three films of all time in Empire Magazine three years ago.

Unpredictably, and seemingly out of nowhere, Pet Shop Boys turned up in late 2004, announcing that they were about to record a new soundtrack with the Dresdner Sinfoniker, conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer and orchestrated by Torsten Rasch.

In many ways, I think Pet Shop Boys‘ score is not only the best soundtrack to the film, but it’s actually also one of their best albums. Not often are they able to step into deep and dark experimental electronic music to this degree, but it’s a genre which suits them extremely well. Nyet demonstrates shades of Underworld, while To the Battleship, as with much of the soundtrack, complements the film perfectly.

I love in particular the work they have put into synchronising what you hear on the soundtrack with the events on screen, although this must have been interesting to coordinate for the live performances. If you want to try listening to the soundtrack while watching the film at home, it’s pretty easy to keep in sync – all you really need to do is play Men and Maggots twice (the full movie version was edited for the soundtrack as it was thought to be too repetitive).

If you’ve never seen Battleship Potemkin before, then you have at least heard of the Odessa Steps sequence, a total work of fiction which has entered the popular consciousness to such a degree that you would be forgiven for thinking it happened in reality rather than just in a film. In the film, a crowd of happy onlookers is standing on the steps watching the battleship and its revolutionary heroes, when suddenly soldiers appear at the top of the steps shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. Towards the end of the scene, a mother is shot, knocking her pushchair careering down the steps.

Better writers than me have explored in depth the impact of that sequence, and all I really wanted to do here was highlight just how well the accompanying Pet Shop Boys soundtrack complements this. After All (The Odessa Staircase), apart from being one of their finest songs, is an absolutely beautiful punctuation to the harrowing scene. Like the original scene, it’s a pretty brave statement. Even its second half as the violence explodes, the uplifting anti-war song is more of a counterpart to the imagery than a natural accompaniment, but it works beautifully.

The steps, by the way, having undergone a number of name changes throughout the twentieth century, are now known as the Primorsky Stairs, but, quite rightly, seem to be almost universally referred to as the Potemkin Stairs.

Other than Battleship PotemkinPet Shop Boys have never done a full film soundtrack, and in many ways it is completely right that this should be their only one. For such an erudite, detached, academic duo, it would be entirely wrong for them to be scoring the next Star Wars film. As a slight silent movie purist, I can easily see how some people might be offended, but for me this is the essential version of the soundtrack, and it makes a great album too.

At the time of writing, the live screening of the film has, somewhat inexplicably, only been performed nine times, and only the studio recording has ever been released commercially. If you believe the internet, a DVD release was planned for 2005 but was scuppered for rights reasons [citation for made up fact needed], but this seems unlikely given that the film is long since out of copyright. Whatever the reasons, it is worth hoping that a release will one day appear, and that more screenings will also follow.

The CD is still available in the UK through Amazon, but the US will have to put up with this download version with dreadful artwork. You can watch the full movie on the Internet Archive here; re-recorded with the original score here; or with a dreadful avant garde score here.

Preview – Banco de Gaia

Someone I don’t know a lot about but whose music I’ve been enjoying for a number of years is Banco de Gaia. His 1995 album Last Train to Lhasa is exceptional, as is his “greatest hits” compilation 10 Years.

He’s also back with a new album Apollo, out last week, which kicked off its journey into the wild world with a track with the rather whimsical title of Wimble Toot. Here it is: