Chart for stowaways – 8 November 2014

As we gradually get up to speed with the charts, the second week in November found Röyksopp and Robyn still at the top of the singles chart with Do it Again, and simultaneously riding high with Monument too. Here are the albums:

  1. Erasure – The Violet Flame
  2. Sparks – No. 1 in Heaven
  3. William Orbit – Strange Cargo 5
  4. Sparks – In Outer Space
  5. Massive Attack – Heligoland
  6. Maps – Turning the Mind
  7. Afro Celt Sound System – Volume 2: Release
  8. Pet Shop Boys – Battleship Potemkin
  9. Télépopmusik – Angel Milk
  10. Télépopmusik – Genetic World

Beginner’s guide to William Orbit

The slightly crazy producer and remixer who helped make Madonna‘s comeback a reality also has an extended solo career behind him, and if you hadn’t realised that before now then you really have a lot of great music to look forward to.

Key moments

That time he reinvented the concept of classical music with the original Pieces in a Modern Style, or perhaps when he helped Beth Orton kick off her career with the amazing Water from a Vine Leaf.

Where to start

Start with 1995’s Strange Cargo Hinterland (it doesn’t actually have his name on the front), as it’s probably his most varied and representative work.

What to buy

Definitely grab Pieces in a Modern Style (2000) to see what he did to all those classical pieces, and Hello Waveforms (2006) to hear some of his non-themed work, including a great collaboration with Sugababes. Finally go with 1993’s Strange Cargo III, because a music collection without Water from a Vine Leaf would be meaningless.

Don’t bother with

His 1987 debut Orbit, which is largely forgettable.

Hidden treasure

The remixes of his 2009 singles Optical Illusions and Purdy are pretty much all exceptional. All the Strange Cargo albums contain surprises, but my personal favourite is the guitar-driven Via Caliente from the original Strange Cargo (1987).

For stowaways

Special editions

I talked previously about my reservations about remastering as a concept. But remastered albums often come with a second string to their bow, the special edition. Rather than just offering a slightly louder version of the original album, who wouldn’t want a bonus disc in snazzy packaging, with a full set of b-sides, videos, live recordings, and photos?

Welcome to the world of “special,” or “deluxe” editions. You, the fan, are happy to rush out and buy yet another copy of something you already own half a dozen times, just to get the latest remaster or bonus. This is, in a way, all part of the game that consumers play.

A rather different proposition is the special edition of an album which has barely been on the market for a year. How many times have you dashed out to buy something on its first week of release and then, just a few months later, discovered that there’s now a slightly nicer version available? Do you double dip, replace the original, or just steer clear?

It seems a fundamental betrayal of your fanbase in a way, to punish those who bought the album originally. You can see how the artists might be keen – they get to release another product, this time jam packed with extras – but it seems it’s only really the record company who’s the winner.

When the special edition comes out alongside the original, the fans are delighted – in fact, when Pet Shop Boys self-released their latest album Electric, many of their followers were disappointed at the lack of special edition. This seems a strange state of affairs in many ways – after all, the very release of a new album should really be special enough in and of itself, but apparently it’s very easy for hardcore fans to be trained to expect to want to pay more for a slightly different version of the same product.

Even more bizarrely, the practice continues even now – downloads are now available in deluxe form, with added booklets and videos. You can’t doubt that people will be willing to pay the extra price, but is it really worth the cost? It seems unlikely.

Counterintuitively, trying to kill the practice off altogether would probably lead to a much more stagnant music market – we, as music buyers are consumers, much as we might like to see ourselves as something more, so we have our own role to play too.

But, as with all of the posts in this series, this is certainly another example of a way in which the music business has seen itself as an industry, churning out more and more of the same product to the undiscerning buying public.

Preview – Pink Floyd

I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you feel about Pink Floyd, but they’re definitely deserving of legendary status, and they’re definitely back with another new album, after a break of two decades.

And frankly, this is actually pretty good. This is Louder Than Words, from The Endless River, out now:

Massive Attack – Live at the Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, 16 October 2014

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to see Massive Attack for the second time, this time outdoors, at the fantastic Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. They seem to have truly crossed into legendary status now, and kept the crowd entirely enraptured for the duration of the show. The audience, seemingly ageing with the band, are now largely in their late thirties or early forties, but were still ready for an amazing show.

It really didn’t disappoint. After battling the equally legendary LA traffic (described by the duo as “craptastic” during the show) I managed to miss the support act Clark, which I was more disappointed about than I might normally have been, but was there and ready for the sound of Karmacoma when it opened the main show.

Special mention has to be made for the sound, which was exceptional in every sense – both the acoustics of the venue, and also the sound design of the show. And most of the bigger hits were included, although Protection was notable in its absence. The focus this time was on longer, darker, more exploratory tracks, which perhaps suggests the territory the rumoured forthcoming album might take us to.

Some pieces sounded considerably better than their studio versions – so much so, in fact, that in the case of Paradise Circus I found myself forced to completely reappraise my opinion. What previously had seemed a fairly bland track towards the end of a good but largely mysterious fifth album, has now become one of my favourites of their entire career. It’s strange the way music does that to you.

Later tracks saw real attention on the visuals, as Massive Attack wielded their political side with some subtle and not-so-subtle anti-war and counterculture commentary appearing on the screens in the form of tweets, dialogues, and general statements. Which would have been particularly handy if the music hadn’t been quite so good, but it wasn’t really necessary in this instance.

The songs played were an odd selection to say the least, with a total of just three selections from the first two albums Blue Lines and Protection, four from Mezzanine, one from 100th Window, three from the most recent album Heligoland, and a further three which have yet to appear on an album. In a sense that’s the sort of selection which is unlikely to make anybody really happy, but when the artist is as good as Massive Attack I suspect nobody really cares.

The setlist, thanks to setlist.fm:

  1. Karmacoma
  2. Battle Box 001 *
  3. United Snakes
  4. Paradise Circus
  5. Risingson
  6. Psyche (Flash Treatment)
  7. Future Proof
  8. Teardrop
  9. Angel
  10. 3D on Jupiter *
  11. Inertia Creeps
  12. Safe from Harm
  13. Splitting the Atom (encore)
  14. Pray for Rain (encore)
  15. Unfinished Sympathy (encore)

You can view an alternative review by someone who probably knows what they’re actually talking about here.

I’ve corrected the titles here, as I suspect these are the actual ones, but please let me know if not…

Preview – Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode are back with another live release which looks fantastic – Live in Berlin, a new film by Anton Corbijn. The box set contains a whole load of CDs and DVDs, including a 5.1 surround sound version of their last album Delta Machine (hopefully less compressed than the original release). As a taster, here’s a brilliant live version of Enjoy the Silence:

Music for the Masses 2 – 24 November 1999

My second ever radio show took place fifteen years ago today, on Aberystwyth’s student radio station Bay Radio. It may be a little self-indulgent, but as a celebration, this is roughly what the show looked like.

show2br

Tracks played on the second show, Wed 24 Nov 1999, from 11am-1pm

Tracks taken from the playlist (Total 12 tracks). A indicates A-list (6 tracks); B indicates B-list (3 tracks) and C indicates C-list (2 tracks). S indicates the Single of the Week. R indicates tracks taken from my own collection (Total 10 tracks). L indicates tracks we grabbed at random in the vain hope of impressing people (Total 8 tracks).

  • 1. William Orbit “Barber’s Adagio for Strings” L
  • 2. Underworld “Bruce Lee” B
  • 3. Faithless “Salva Mea” R
  • 4. Cassius “Cassius 1999” L
  • 5. Fun Lovin’ Criminals “Couldn’t Get It” B
  • 6. Gene “Town Called Malice” L
  • 7. Offspring “She’s Got Issues” A
  • 8. Dubstar “Stars” R
  • [Advert Break]
  • 9. Blur “No Distance Left To Run” C
  • 10. David Bowie “Thursday’s Child” L
  • 11. Enigma “Beyond The Invisible” R
  • 12. Travis “Turn” L
  • 13. James “I Know What I’m Here For” (Should have been “We’re Going To Miss You” (A)) L
  • 14. Depeche Mode “Enjoy the Silence” R
  • 15. Murry The Hump “Colouring Book” S
  • 16. Grid “Rollercoaster” R
  • 17. Cuban Boys “Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia” A
  • 18. White Town “Wanted” (Vince Clarke Remix 2) R
  • 19. Chicane “Offshore” L
  • 20. Massive Attack & Tracey Thorn “Protection” R
  • 21. Groove Armada “I See You Baby” A
  • 22. Apollo 440 “Heart Go Boom” L
  • [Advert Break]
  • 23. Shamen “Move Any Mountain 96” R
  • 24. Younger Younger 28s “Two Timer” B
  • 25. Rialto “Monday Morning 5:19” L
  • 26. O.D.B. “Got Your Money” A
  • 27. Electronic “Disappointed” R
  • 28. Supergrass “Mary” A
  • 29. Monaco “Sweet Lips” R
  • 30. Muse “Muscle Museum” A

Producer: Karl Homer (I can only presume, unofficially)

Notes: Went very badly on the whole, which is a nuisance. That play button on CD1 is annoying, and it wasn’t just my tools that went wrong – I did too. Still, on the whole a slightly better flow, with a slightly more normal amount of chatter.

Retro chart for stowaways – 26 November 2005

Here are the top 10 albums from nine years ago this week:

  1. Depeche Mode – Playing the Angel
  2. Goldfrapp – Supernature
  3. Madonna – Confessions on a Dancefloor
  4. Röyksopp – The Understanding
  5. Conjure One – Extraordinary Ways
  6. Faithless – Forever Faithless – The Greatest Hits
  7. Sugababes – Taller in More Ways
  8. The Prodigy – Their Law – The Singles
  9. New Order – Singles
  10. Leftfield – A Final Hit

Beginner’s guide to Massive Attack

You’ll pretty much definitely have come across Massive Attack already a long time ago, but if you really haven’t, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. A quarter of a century on from their first hit Unfinished Sympathy, they’re still periodically putting out incredible and groundbreaking electronic and dub music. Oh, and you’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

Key moments

If you missed Unfinished Sympathy or Safe from Harm, perhaps you caught Protection or Karmacoma. Or maybe you didn’t come across them until Teardrop or Angel – however you know Massive Attack, you would struggle to find much to dislike.

Where to start

There’s probably a good case to make for any of the first three albums, but I think their 2006 compilation Collected is probably the best place to start. You get highlights from the first four studio albums, plus the fantastic new track Live with Me.

What to buy

The first three albums are essential listening, and you might as well just listen to them in order – that’s Blue Lines (1991), Protection (1994), and Mezzanine (1998).

Don’t bother with

Either of the film soundtracks, Danny the Dog (2004), or Unleashed (2005). No Protection (1995) is great but not for the faint hearted, and 100th Window (2003) is very dark indeed. Most of the singles after 1992 could be skipped too.

Hidden treasure

Nellee Hooper‘s single mixes of Unfinished Sympathy are every bit as good as the original, and the 1992 b-side Home of the Whale is absolutely fantastic. False Flags, from the bonus disc of Collected, is one of their finest moments too.

For stowaways

Remixes

Remixes are one of those things that really divide people. Some hate them outright; some love each and every one of them. Others recognise them for what they are – a valid form of music, but one which suffers from mediocrity just like every other form.

In a previous post, I talked about the glory days of the 1990s, when a CD or 12″ single could contain up to forty minutes of non-stop music. Over your four permitted formats, you could comfortably fit more than 90 minutes of remixes. Factor in the import versions, and you could literally bore yourself to tears.

Except, who would ever want to listen to that many of versions of the same song? Even if you’re the biggest fan of the single, or even the greatest fan of remixes, the chances of you finding an hour and a half of non-stop enjoyment must be pretty slim.

There were those who broke the boundaries of the format, such as The Future Sound of London, with their forty minute mini-albums, and these rebels are certainly to be applauded. But for the most part, anyone who pushed the boundaries of the 90 minute single was unlikely to also be pushing the boundaries of the remix.

There were – and still are – many cases where a remixer would return three or four different versions of their own mix. Sometimes these would have fairly subtle differences, and other times they would be entirely pointless. Take Todd Terry, to name but one repeat offender, whose instrumentals, dubs, and accapella versions have littered many a bonus 12″ single. And much as I like his versions of Everything But The Girl‘s Missing and Wrong, he did get a little formulaic at times (Driving, for example, is a bit of a travesty).

So part of the problem has always been that the people doing the mixes tended to be picked by their popularity rather than their suitability or merit. Todd Terry is far from the worst offender, as he did at least deviate from his sound from time to time (unlike, say, Motiv8 to name but one). There must be plenty of examples of acts that spring to mind who turned up on single after single in the 1990s, and churned out the same drivel every  time.

Relatively few artists used their remix CD to do anything particularly interesting either – Depeche Mode were one of the common exceptions, regularly crossing into rock and electronica territory with their choices of remixers, but most acts just seemed intent on trying to get their latest single into the clubs, at pretty much any cost.

Things have improved over the last couple of decades, although that legacy does remain. Take Pet Shop Boys‘ recent singles, such as Vocal, where the CD consisted of nine remixes, and the discography lists no fewer than forty-two. Does anyone really need that many versions of the same song? No, of course they don’t.

None of which is to say that remixes don’t have any artistic merit – of course they do. But in the long run, how are the mass-produced mix singles of the mid-1990s any better than the sort of rubbish that Simon Cowell wants us all to waste our money on?