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
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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?

Preview – Band Aid

A lot of The Internet seems to have got very upset about the new Band Aid single, because apparently a load of talented musicians getting together to raise awareness of a virus which has killed several thousand people already and continues to spread is A Bad Thing.

Anyway, better writers than me have talked about the rights and wrongs of it. If you like it, buy it. If you don’t like it, give some money to help fight ebola – or some other cause that you believe in. Either way, accept that you live an extremely privileged life, and shut up complaining.

Erasure – I Love Saturday

This week two decades ago saw the release of one of Erasure‘s last successful singles, I Love Saturday. It’s an interesting novelty, having been released on an enormous number of formats (I’ve got three CDs, a cassette, and a very scratched jukebox 7″, and there’s a 12″ too), and so includes more than enough tracks for it to be worth reviewing.

The lead track is one of the less interesting moments on the not-entirely-interesting 1994 album I Say I Say I Say, and the first CD brings dull remixes from JX and the disappointingly off-form Beatmasters, plus a new instrumental b-side Dodo, on which Vince Clarke gets to flex his long-neglected Irish muscles. Erasure b-sides are always a mixed bag, and this is far from one of their best examples.

Disc two includes the best of the remixes, Andy Bell‘s own Flower mix, in collaboration with Neil McLellan and Gareth Jones, which downplays the original song to the point where it barely appears, and replaces it with a bouncy synth part and some backing vocal wailing. In addition, there’s another Beatmasters attempt, the less exciting 303 mix and a dreadful dub version of Always by DJ Professor.

It’s the third disc, though, the EP, where things get really interesting. After the lead track comes the lovely Ghost, which is haunting, dark, and actually considerably better than many of the songs which made it onto the album six months earlier. It’s also six minutes long, and half way through it goes instrumental in a way they would explore on the brilliant subsequent album Erasure a year or so later, so maybe it was a hint of things to come.

Next is Truly, Madly, Deeply, another great song, much darker than anything else they were doing at the time, and again rather better than a lot of what they had recently released too. It’s beautiful, but with an air of mystery and darkness which they hadn’t really explored before.

The Live Vocal version of Always b-side Tragic is a pleasant inclusion, and although it is a worthwhile reminder that Erasure‘s lyric writing isn’t always the most profound on the planet, it is definitely nice to hear, and it’s good to have another version of this song. And if it was actually performed live, as the version name implies, then Andy Bell does deserve a lot of respect as a vocalist. It closes the EP in appropriately pleasant form.

If you took the trouble to track down the cassette (or US CD) version of the single, you’ll have also got the acoustic (well, acoustic-ish) version of Because You’re So Sweet, which for me is the best recording of what should have been a very nice song, but was a little overblown on the album. Originally performed as part of the Unpeeled sessions during the summer for the Andrew Collins and Stuart Maconie radio show alongside a version of Heart of Glass, it cuts most of the instrumentation back to a simple synth line or two and the vocals, revealing it to be a very beautiful song.

So the I Love Saturday single package is proof that you shouldn’t always judge an entire single by its lead track – the EP in particular is well worth owning, perhaps more so even than the album it came from.

It appears the I Love Saturday EP is still available, and is definitely worth a couple of pounds. Skip the other two discs, but maybe get the American version if you’re desperate for more.

Preview – David Bowie

If you had to pick one David Bowie song to preview his new best of Nothing Has Changed, what would you go for? I was trying to pick something that wasn’t too predictable, and in the end I chose this because it’s a good song, and I don’t think it’s been on any of his previous greatest hitses:

Music for the Masses 1 – 17 November 1999

Hopefully you’ll excuse the interruption of normal service, because I stumbled across this in my archives and wanted to share it! Long before this blog existed, there was a student radio show called Music for the Masses, and the first ever show took place fifteen years ago today, on Aberystywth’s brand new student radio station, Bay Radio. The gaps in the playlist are the bits where I talked.

show1br

Tracks played on the first show, Wed 17 Nov 1999, from 11am-1pm

Tracks taken from the playlist (Total 12 tracks). A indicates A-list (7 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 8 tracks). L indicates tracks we grabbed from the drawer to impress people (Total 9 tracks).

  • 1. Everything But The Girl “Before Today” R
  • 2. Garbage “The World is Not Enough” A
  • 3. Jamiroquai “Canned Heat” L
  • 4. Manchild “Return to the Dragon” C
  • 5. Gay Dad “Joy” L
  • 6. Offspring “She’s Got Issues” S
  • 7. R.E.M. “At My Most Beautiful” L
  • 8. New Order “World (The Price of Love)” R
  • 9. Amar “Red Sky” A
  • 10. Jean Michel Jarre “Oxygène 10” R
  • 11. Beastie Boys “Alive” A
  • 12. Cartoon “Alcoholic Show” L
  • 13. Murry The Hump “Colouring Book” A
  • [Advert Break]
  • 14. Barenaked Ladies “It’s All Been Done” L
  • 15. Spacedust “Let’s Get Down” L
  • 16. Beloved “Sweet Harmony” R
  • 17. Primal Scream “Swastika Eyes” C
  • 18. Cast “Magic Hour” L
  • 19. Atomic Kitten “Right Now” B
  • 20. Pet Shop Boys “Happiness is an Option” R
  • 21. Roni Size/Reprazent “Watching Windows” L
  • 22. Wheat “Don’t I Hold You?” B
  • 23. Olive “Miracle” R
  • 24. Glamma Kid “Why?” L
  • 25. Saint Etienne “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” R
  • 26. Madonna “Nothing Really Matters” L
  • 27. Muse “Muscle Museum” A
  • 28. Depeche Mode “Only When I Lose Myself” R
  • [Advert Break]
  • 29. Aim & Kate Rogers “Sail” B
  • 30. Longpigs “The Frank Sonata” A
  • 31. James “We’re Going To Miss You” A

Producer: Mark (and, unofficially, Karl Homer)

Notes: A reasonable flow to the tracks, considering the complete lack of planning. A slight surplus of playlist tracks at the end meant that I over-ran by about 2 minutes. Odd selection of music I suppose, but given the limitations, this is unsurprising. Better luck next time!