Massive Attack – Protection

For a lot of people, Massive Attack‘s debut Blue Lines (1991) seems to be their definitive album, but for me I think it’s their second, Protection (1994). I’m not sure why – perhaps because it was the album that relaunched Everything But The Girl‘s career, or because the singles were so good. Perhaps because of the nutty No Protection dub remix album, or maybe just because I was there at the time.

Whatever the reasons, Protection, to me, is a very good album indeed. It opens with the title track, in its full eight minute glory. Tracey Thorn‘s vocal and lyrics, always surprisingly powerful, are the perfect complement to Massive Attack‘s enormous backing.

Tricky turns up next, sounding amazing on Karmacoma. If you’re not nodding your head along to this, there has to be something wrong with you. There’s something very confident about their delivery this time around – it’s not as naïve as Blue Lines might have been, but they still sound amazing.

The next guest vocalist is Nicolette, for the third track Three, which although somehow rather impenetrable is also very enjoyable – if nothing else, it helps hold the mood of the album until Weather Storm, a lovely instrumental of the kind that Röyksopp would be trying to recreate a few years down the line.

Returning collaborator Horace Andy turns up next for Spying Glass, probably the most dub tempered track on the album up to now. It closes Side A, and there hasn’t been a single clunker on this half of the collection, which is pretty impressive.

Side B, slightly unusually, is made up of a second collaboration with each of the same artists. Tracey Thorn returns for the lovely Better Things, which could easily fit on any Everything But The Girl album. And Tricky‘s return, on the lively Eurochild, is brilliantly dark and haunting.

Then comes the lead single, which was unpredictably Sly, featuring Nicolette again. Somehow it’s one of the more forgettable tracks on the album despite also being absolutely great – perhaps it just gets a little overshadowed on here by its neighbours.

The penultimate track is the chilling instrumental Heat Miser, with its enormous bass part, and would really close the album perfectly – except for the live cover of Light My Fire which turns up at the end. This has never quite made sense to me – I can see how it would be a live favourite, and Horace Andy is typically brilliant on it, but what a strange way to close an album!

Either way, Protection is a brilliant second album from Massive Attack, and for me it was with this rather than its more popular follow-up Mezzanine (1998) that they ensured their place in history. The collaborations are perfect; the mix of tracks exceptional; and the whole product great – in spite of the slightly strange closing track.

You can still find Protection at all major retailers.


Chart for stowaways – 26 July 2014

A bit of a reshuffle on the singles this week:

  1. Saint Etienne – Pocket Call
  2. Delerium – Monarch
  3. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do it Again
  4. Napoleon – Dawn
  5. William Orbit – On Wings
  6. Mikro – Full Speed Ahead
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Love is a Bourgeois Construct
  8. The Chanteuse and The Crippled Claw – Are You One?
  9. Diamond Version with Neil Tennant – Were You There
  10. Röyksopp & Robyn – Every Little Thing

Beginner’s guide to Delerium

From humble beginnings as an ambient side-project for Front Line AssemblyDelerium grew through the 1990s into a unique mix of global influences with electronic backing, before discovering remixes and taking the charts by storm with the help of Sarah McLachlan.

Key moments

Obviously the enormous Silence (reissued in 2000), their contributions to the Tomb Raider soundtracks, and you probably won’t know a lot else.

Where to start

The 2004 compilation The Best Of has its failings, but is a fair introduction to all the different aspects of their sound. If you’re feeling confident, you could just jump to the trio below.

What to buy

The best way to experience their studio albums is probably to start with Karma (1997), and then move on to Poem (2001). Then you could go in a couple of directions, but my recommendation would probably be Chimera (2003).

Don’t bother with

Much from before 1994 – the compilations Archives I and II (2002) will likely give you everything you need. The acoustic collection Voice (2010) is rather anticlimactic.

Hidden treasure

Semantic Spaces (1994) documents the development of their sound, and has some great tracks hidden on it too. Stargazing, one of the bonus tracks from Music Box Opera (2012) is incredibly good. Oh, and apart from the album version, the essential mix of Silence is probably the Airscape one, available in a couple of different places.

For stowaways

Mercury Prize 2014 – Nominations

For all its failings, the Mercury Prize remains one of my favourite music awards. It’s always stuck to its guns by only ever having one single prize, and the only real change that’s ever occurred was the increase from ten to twelve nominations.

There are those who have argued in recent years that it has become too commercial, and if anything, this year’s nominations should put paid to any of that nonsense. Here are the twelve choices for 2014:

  • Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
  • Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
  • Anna Calvi – One Breath
  • East India Youth – Total Strife Forever
  • FKA twigs – LP1
  • GoGo Penguin – v2.0
  • Jungle – Jungle
  • Nick Mulvey – First Mind
  • Polar Bear – In Each and Every One
  • Royal Blood – Royal Blood
  • Kate Tempest – Everybody Down
  • Young Fathers – Dead

If, like me, you’ve never heard of the vast majority of them, you should head over to the Barclaycard Mercury Prize website and give them a listen. Some are actually quite good.

See also: Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize 2013, Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2012.

Client – City

I’ve felt in the past that I’ve been a little unkind to Client on this blog, and not intentionally so. Their first two albums Client and City are both great in their own way. Subsequent albums Heartland and Command might have been mistakes, as they decided they could go it on their own without a major record label and set about trying to make their fans give them as much money as possible, but those first two albums are undeniably good.

City opens with the brilliant single Radio, and Sarah Blackwood‘s (Client B) brilliantly deadpan vocal complements it perfectly. They do, from time to time, succumb to the idea that the noise-based shock factor is more important the song, as with second track Come On, which is one of the weakest on the album, but by and large City is a pop album, and a very good one too.

Overdrive brings the melody back to the fore, where it definitely belongs. It’s raw and gristly, just as Client‘s sound was always meant to be, but it also has a very melodic, human side. One Day at a Time illustrates this even better – again, it’s dark, and you probably wouldn’t want to look at it the wrong way if you passed it in an alleyway, but it’s also a chirpy little synthpop tune that might even feel at home in the early 1980s. It even has a little help from Martin L. Gore on vocals.

First single In it for the Money follows, with a lot of chanty shouting. They were obviously a little conflicted here – some versions are rather more obscene than others (the “sucking corporate rock” line varies between recordings) but the album version is very definitely censored.

Third single Pornography follows, Client‘s only top 40 hit, and the first of two tracks in collaboration with The Libertines, this one with Carl Barât. It’s easily Client‘s catchiest track, and with a bit of work might have actually made a decent impact on the charts (it peaked at number 22).

Barât’s bandmate Pete Doherty turns up on the next track Down to the Underground, and as with Pornography it has a gloriously chaotic feel to it, as though it was recorded within a couple of hours and nobody really knew what was going on.

The Chill of October is probably the most laid back song on the album, and also one of the best. It’s orchestral, it’s autumnal, and it’s also rather angry too. The little instrumental that follows, entitled Theme, gets us back to the more electronic side of things in time for another potential single Don’t Call Me Baby, which is in a slightly odd place on the album given how cheery it is, but again it’s one of the best tracks on here.

Early Client albums always seemed to illustrate a certain anger with rock and roll, and It’s Rock and Roll is where that happens this time around. Again, it’s chirpy, slightly cross, and another great song.

But in spite of having a lot of tracks, this album is short and sweet, and the final song is Everything Must End, one of the less catchy entries on here. This isn’t a perfect album, but it’s as close as Client would ever get – it’s definitely a shame it wasn’t more commercially successful, as this was really the time when they deserved to do well.

You can still find City from all major retailers.

Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward

Depeche Mode‘s fourth album Some Great Reward, released an astonishing thirty years ago this week, is always something of an enigma for me – I know there are good tracks on there, but somehow I always forget about them, and therefore the entire album, so when I pick it up to listen, it’s a bit of a surprise.

Released a year after Construction Time Again, this was the album which saw them break the all-powerful American market with the enormous People are People. Having learnt the art of sampling on the previous album, it also saw them now completely comfortable with using “found sounds” and experimenting with their style.

Some Great Reward opens with Something to Do, which still has very strong echoes of the previous album. It’s not about industrialisation or the killing of the planet, but the sound is familiar. In fact, the change in lyrical theme is a marked contrast – Martin L. Gore had explored a number of styles over the first three albums, but the words this time are distinctly sexual, in a way that even later Depeche Mode never really went back to explore.

The softer Lie to Me is a prime example of this, as singer Dave Gahan seems to explore his own naïvety. Then People are People, with its quite incredible industrial samples, sounds almost entirely unlike anything that’s come before. You can begin to see why the USA got so excited about it, although lyrically it’s probably one of the less interesting tracks on the album.

But it’s the songs that you’ve forgotten about that make the best surprises. The original It Doesn’t Matter (followed a couple of years later by It Doesn’t Matter Two when they wrote another song with the same name) is a pleasant slow track with Martin L. Gore delivering his own vocals, supplemented by a lot of sampled noises. Then Stories of Old could quite easily have been a single if it had been on an earlier album.

Side B opens with another Gore vocal, Somebody, which for the uninitiated is a pleasant piano-based track, supplemented by a whole lot of ambient background noise. A few years later, you can imagine that Depeche Mode might have thought it a little over the top, but on this album, despite being a unique song, it somehow seems to fit perfectly.

The experimental vocal samples which kick off Master and Servant provide an unexpected contrast. It’s probably fair to say that, like much of this album, it does sound every bit as old as it is, but you have to admire the sheer gall of releasing a pop song with lyrics about S&M and backing consisting mainly of samples of people hitting things. An unlikely hit, but definitely one to treasure.

If You Want is probably the weakest track on this album. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it – if nothing else, it has some fun sound effects that turn up in the middle – but somehow it just feels a bit like filler after some of the things that came before it. But then the album closer is Blasphemous Rumours, which is worthy of rather more praise.

It’s dark – very dark, actually – and is probably partly responsible for the group’s obsession with the colour black which would start in earnest with the next album Black Celebration (1986). Again, it’s also quite unlike anything else on this album – Some Great Reward is a surprisingly varied release. But more than anything, it was another astonishingly brave decision to release Blasphemous Rumours as the third single from the album. Did they really think any radio stations would play it? Perhaps that’s why it was released as a double a-side with Somebody, although it’s difficult to imagine anybody playing that either. An odd decision commercially, but one which would pay dividends over the rest of Depeche Mode‘s career.

So Some Great Reward sees Depeche Mode still at a relatively early stage in their career, but at one where they weren’t afraid to make extremely brave statements about who they were and what they wanted to do. And while it may not be the best album in their back catalogue, it’s certainly worth picking up every couple of years.

If you can’t find the two disc reissue of Some Great Reward, go for the remastered version, available here. If you missed it, view the Beginner’s guide to Depeche Mode.

Preview – Aphex Twin

When an ambient master releases his first studio album in thirteen years, it’s probably about time to prick your ears up and listen. I couldn’t find a video yet unfortunately, but here is what appears to be called minipops 67 [120.2], from the new Aphex Twin album Syro:

Chart for stowaways – 19 July 2014

Here are this week’s top ten singles:

  1. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do it Again
  2. Saint Etienne – Pocket Call
  3. Napoleon – Dawn
  4. Delerium – Monarch
  5. Mikro – Full Speed Ahead
  6. William Orbit – On Wings
  7. Diamond Version with Neil Tennant – Were You There
  8. Röyksopp & Robyn – Every Little Thing
  9. Pet Shop Boys – Love is a Bourgeois Construct
  10. VCMG – EP3 – Aftermaths

On the albums, William Orbit holds on to the top spot for yet another week with Strange Cargo 5 and Röyksopp & Robyn are still close behind with their EP.