Beginner’s guide to Alpinestars

With a brief two-album career an entire decade ago, you could well have forgotten about Alpinestars, so it’s worth taking a moment to remind ourselves who they are and what they achieved.

Key moments

Collaborating with Placebo‘s Brian Molko on Carbon Kid on their second album.

Where to start

Set off with second album White Noise (2002), making sure to get the UK version, which has a couple of bonus tracks (the US version has a video instead).

What to buy

Roll back to the debut album BASIC (2000) and enjoy the exquisite Green Raven Blonde. Actually, those two albums are really all you need.

Don’t bother with

Anything else. Some of the singles have nice extras, but you don’t have to go with them.

Hidden treasure

Partisan Song, the first of the two extra songs on the UK version of White Noise, which is one of the best tracks on the album.

For stowaways

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Random jukebox – Zero 7

The Random jukebox is where I ask my computer to pick out something nice for us to listen to, and then attempt to track down a video, so we can enjoy it together. This week, it chose Zero 7‘s Swing, and so here’s a live performance from 2009:

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Junk Culture

A few weeks ago, I revisited OMD‘s Crush (1985), and found it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered. Another album which I’d always dismissed, perhaps unfairly, was the one which came before it, 1984’s Junk Culture. It was genuinely surprising to me when Andy McCluskey appeared on the radio earlier this year to announce a new deluxe reissue, as I’d genuinely assumed it needed to be forgotten about. But maybe I was wrong.

It opens with Junk Culture, a nondescript instrumental which is nice, but somehow seems a little pointless. It bobs along for four minutes or so, and it would be easy to think you might have accidentally picked up the b-side to one of their singles.

Then comes Tesla Girls, which jumps unapologetically between being a very silly instrumental and being a classic OMD track. The combination, although probably very iconic and era-defining, and definitely memorable, really isn’t especially good unfortunately.

The lead single Locomotion is next. It’s particularly cheesy, daft, and meaningless, but it does have a certain charm if you try to put yourself in a 1984 mindset. This was the album’s one sizeable hit single, and I think that’s a fair legacy for it.

The rest of Side 1 is totally forgettable – Apollo feels a little bit as though they’re trying to write a song just for the sake of it, and fourth single Never Turn Away has a nice rippling synth effect towards the end, but is otherwise completely forgettable. There’s nothing really bad here, and it is at least varied, but neither does there seem to be anything to call out as particularly special.

Side 2 brings us Love and Violence, which seems to be hiding a reasonably good song amidst some cacophonous backing sounds. Hard Day is nice, but ultimately a little dull. All Wrapped Up is nearly a nice party song, but it still feels a little bit as though I haven’t been invited to the party.

Maybe this is the theme of Junk Culture – maybe it’s just me who isn’t really understanding what’s going on here. It would be impossible to argue that it’s a bad album, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m really not finding much to enjoy here – and that includes the bizarre blurry flower cover image. Onwards we go with White Trash, with mainly lots of chanting of “trash,” broken up with some silly and/or cheesy noises.

After all of that, second single Talking Loud and Clear sounds fantastic – probably unfairly so, actually, because when you listen to their greatest hits albums, it seems to pale into insignificance among the likes of Electricity, Messages, Walking on the Milky Way, and so-on. But on Junk Culture, Talking Loud and Clear is definitely one of the highlights.

You can disagree if you like – you probably do – but if so, please explain what it is I’m missing here. I may not have been listening to much music in 1984, and that would be a valid reason for what’s going on, but surely there must be something else? Or is Junk Culture just not very good?

You can find the new reissue of Junk Culture with a bonus disc of extra goodies here.

Music for the Masses 31 – 9 February 2005

It’s always a pleasure to be able to hide the odd nine-minute gem in the middle of a radio show, such as the brilliant Virus Mix of Everything But The Girl‘s Lullaby of Clubland. Surprisingly, the webcam shows me looking relaxed in the extreme.

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Show 31: Wed 9 Feb 2005, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Massive Attack.

  • The Grid – Heartbeat
  • Trance Atlantic Air-Waves – Chase
  • Sylver – Take Me Back
  • The Human League – Love Me Madly?
  • Everything But The Girl – Lullaby of Clubland (Virus Mix)
  • The Postal Service – We Will Become Silhouettes
  • Inspiral Carpets – Saturn 5
  • Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy
  • Camouflage – The Great Commandment
  • Visage – Fade to Grey
  • Pet Shop Boys – How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously? (Ragga Zone Remix)
  • The Orb – Once More
  • Massive Attack – Karmacoma
  • Mirwais feat. Craig Wedren – Miss You
  • Lemon Jelly – The Slow Train
  • Moby – Lift Me Up
  • Mylo – Destroy Rock and Roll
  • Ron Grainer – Doctor Who Theme
  • Massive Attack – Butterfly Caught (Paul Daley Remix)
  • Kings of Convenience – Know-How

Retro chart for stowaways – 24 July 2004

Here’s another singles chart from ye oldene dayse!

  1. Front Line Assembly – Vanished
  2. Faithless – Mass Destruction
  3. Rachel Stevens – Some Girls
  4. Girls Aloud – The Show
  5. Client – In it for the Money
  6. Basement Jaxx – Good Luck
  7. Kylie Minogue – Chocolate
  8. Kings of Convenience – Misread
  9. Air – Cherry Blossom Girl
  10. Orbital – One Perfect Sunrise

Beginner’s guide to Death in Vegas

It’s difficult to define Death in Vegas. With their dark experimental psychedelic rock sound, you could pigeonhole them as something stuck in the 1970s, but then the electronic side turns up and offers something entirely different.

Key moments

The collaborations with enormous rock stars – Iggy Pop on Aisha, and Liam Gallagher from Oasis on Scorpio Rising.

Where to start

You could jump straight into the studio albums, but if you want to be a little cautious initially, Milk It is a great “best of” compilation including highlights from 1997-2002 and some selected remixes.

What to buy

Their true masterpiece is The Contino Sessions (1999). Follow that with the more commercial Scorpio Rising (2002) and then the later Satan’s Circus (2004).

Don’t bother with

The more recent Trans-Love Energies (2011), for the time being. Wait until you’ve got to know them a bit better first. Also, most of the singles aren’t really worth bothering with.

Hidden treasure

There are some great pieces hidden away on the debut album Dead Elvis (1997), and the limited edition live album that comes with Satan’s Circus is worth hearing too.

For stowaways

Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder – Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder

It must have seemed a little strange back in 1985, when Phil Oakey, already well established as the frontman of The Human League, recorded an album with electronic producer and mastermind Giorgio Moroder. After the success of Together in Electric Dreams, released the preceding year from the film Electric Dreams (previously covered here) they decided – or were persuaded – to create a full album.

It kicks off with something of a bang, with the huge drums and orchestral hits of Why Must the Show Go On. It’s a great, catchy, pop song – very much stuck in the 1980s, but somehow different enough from The Human League‘s recent output to stand apart somewhat. It morphs into a slightly strange short instrumental called In Transit before a very uncomfortable segue into the single Goodbye Bad Times.

This was the second single, and the one which really launched the album (there was a long gap between the first and this one, presumably while they went away to record the album). It’s a competent song, but you can’t help but feel it’s a little bit forced – Phil Oakey has said before that the album was recorded extremely quickly, and you have to wonder whether it shows in a couple of places.

The pace doesn’t slow with Brand New Love (Take a Chance), which after another awkward segue seems to be playing at several hundred beats per minute. It does have some particularly nice elements though, with some great lyrics from Oakey and a lovely bass part.

With another clunky jump, Valerie is upon us. It has one of the best melodies on this release, with some slightly odd watery backing noises, and in a sense works extremely well, although even if the singles had performed less badly, I can’t see them ever considering this as one. This is a short and frantic album, and that ends Side A already.

Side B opens with Now, presumably an homage to the compilation series of the same name. At this time, with a couple of decades’ experience in the music industry, Moroder clearly knew how to craft a pop song. This is firmly bedded in the eighties, as you might expect, but as with everything else here, it’s a catchy little thing too.

Then comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for – Together in Electric Dreams is finally upon us, and for the first time on this album it comes without being mixed into its neighbours. It’s essentially just the original single version, but it would be churlish to complain – this is an exceptional song which is now regularly performed by The Human League as though it’s one of theirs. And rightly so.

Final single Be My Lover Now follows. It’s a good song, although again it feels a little rushed. The second and third singles were basically flops, and in retrospect the reasons should be clear – while some songs feel a little rushed, they are good, but really most people were only ever going to buy this album for the first thing they had heard.

Then we’re onto the final track already, the slightly daft but extremely catchy Shake it Up. You really could blink and miss this album, and I suspect the annals of music history have, for the most part, long since forgotten about it. But for all its failings, what it doesn’t lack is great, catchy songs, and at only half an hour in duration, you really have nothing to lose by giving it a go.

There’s a lovely 2003 remaster of this album which includes most of the tracks off the singles, and is well worth tracking down.

Music for the Masses 30 – 2 February 2005

For the seven-week Spring term of 2005, Music for the Masses returned with a Wednesday slot, and was an entirely relaxed affair, with the presenter sitting back and operating the controls with his legs crossed. Or maybe I was just posing for the webcam – it’s difficult to know for sure.

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Show 30: Wed 2 Feb 2005, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Retrospective of 2004, with predictions for 2005 (no artist of the week).

  • Kings of Convenience – Misread
  • Delerium feat. Zoë Johnston – You & I
  • Goldfrapp – Strict Machine
  • Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence (Ewan Pearson Extended Remix)
  • Dirty Vegas – Human Love
  • Bent – I Can’t Believe it’s Over
  • Air – Another Day
  • Zero 7 – Home
  • Duran Duran – (Reach Up for the) Sunrise
  • Mylo – Drop the Pressure
  • Basement Jaxx – Good Luck
  • Télépopmusik – Love Can Damage Your Health
  • Röyksopp – So Easy
  • Lemon Jelly – Only Time
  • Moby – Lift Me Up
  • Daft Punk – Around the World
  • New Order – Ruined in a Day (K-Klass Remix)
  • Erasure – No Doubt
  • Faithless – Why Go?
  • Client – It’s Rock & Roll
  • Sohodolls – Prince Harry
  • Ladytron – Seventeen
  • Deep Forest – Will You Be Ready?