Stowaway Heroes – Daniel Miller

Our first stowaway hero is Daniel Miller, boss of Mute Records, and one of the most influential and seemingly hands-off individuals in the world of electronic music. In his late twenties, he was working as a film editor, and scraped together enough money to buy a synthesiser. His resulting 1978 solo double a-side single T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette, released as The Normal, is fundamentally brilliant:

It’s not clear to me whether Miller actually intended for Mute to become a fully fledged record label or whether it was all supposed to just be a one-off, but always way ahead of the curve, he also came up with his own virtual group Silicon Teens, who released a couple of great singles including Memphis Tennessee:

But of course, Mute is most famous for the astonishing roster of artists who were signed over the decades that followed, including mainstream acts such as Depeche ModeYazooMobyNick CaveNew Order, underground and cult successes including Fad Gadget and I Start Counting, and even (briefly) Kraftwerk. And he didn’t completely keep his hands off their output either – here’s his take on Erasure‘s Supernature:

He also presented a radio show on Berlin’s Radio Eins and remains well respected throughout the music industry, despite the slightly questionable sale of Mute to EMI for £23 million in 2002 (which was fortunately rectified by a split in 2009). It’s rare for someone so influential to turn up in so many places but be so unknown. So he’s a worthy first hero for this blog – hats off to Daniel Miller.

Moby – Moby

It’s a quarter of a century since rave happened. Specifically, it was 25 years this week that Moby‘s debut album Moby was released. For the preceding couple of years, he had been churning out 12″ singles under various pseudonyms, and so most of his early albums really seem to be compilations rather than actual albums. Having said that, it’s still annoying to me that the version that I own of this album has a slightly different track listing to the original one, and so I had to search around on YouTube to find the first track. Mind you, the UK release, The Story So Far, has a completely different selection of tracks altogether.

Anyway, having tracked the original album down, it opens with the slightly daft rave piece Drop a Beat, a single from early 1992 which would not have sounded entirely out of place on an early record by The Prodigy.

It’s fair to say this album hasn’t entirely aged well. Everything, originally from 1991’s UHF EP, is better, particularly when the house piano arrives, but it still all feels as though you have stepped out of a time machine into the early 1990s, rather than a coherent album track. I gather that’s what Moby thinks as well.

Yeah is less inspired, and then comes Electricity, which was previously the b-side to Drop a Beat, is a bit dull, but is one of the more pleasant tracks on here. Next is Next is the E, or I Feel It, as it was renamed for the UK charts. Quite why this was picked as the second UK single is a total mystery unless you imagine yourself in a sweaty early 1990s, drug-fuelled haze, at which point it starts to make some kind of sense.

Mercy is one of Moby‘s ambient moments – a little out of place here perhaps, and there isn’t a lot to it, but it’s one of the best things so far on here. It leads us on to the Woodtick mix of Go, the huge single which had just taken Europe by storm and probably led to the release of this album in the first place. It had originally appeared on the Mobility EP as his first release in late 1990.

It’s difficult to know what to say about Go – it’s certainly Moby‘s finest hour, and honestly if this album hadn’t existed then it would have been another five years or so before this turned up on one, which would have been a lot less than it deserved. It’s so good! Those huge string chords from Twin Peaks, the enormous drums. Not to mention the millions of alternative mixes, which we probably didn’t need.

Help Me to Believe follows, released under the Mindstorm and Brainstorm pseudonyms in 1991. It’s definitely nice to have something that’s fairly pure dance music, but not nearly as manic or crazy as most of the things on the first half of the album. You do get the feeling that probably isn’t going to last long though.

Your gut is right, although Have You Seen My Baby?, silly though it is, isn’t too offensive. Ah-Ah is much more what you might expect from a rave track, but it bounces along without causing too much trouble. Maybe it just feels less of an affront on the senses by this stage in the album.

Slight Return is next, definitely belonging on the Ambient album rather than here. It’s a very sweet piece, and although it doesn’t really go anywhere in particular, it’s difficult not to enjoy. The same is true for Stream, which has some lovely gentle tribal drumming and lots of pads. It’s a world away from the first few tracks on here.

And that’s about it. Except that the German CD closes with Thousand, which has pretty much nothing going for it except for the concept, and therefore also the title. It’s silly, but fun.

But Moby was the album that introduced us to Moby, the eccentric multi-instrumentalist who periodically sets the world alight

Perhaps surprisingly, Moby is still widely available.

Greatest Hits – Vol. 10

A couple of times a year, I like to take a little breather and highlight some of the reviews that you might have missed on this blog in the past. Here are my choices this time. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed that, why not check out Volume 9, here?

Moby – 18

It has been suggested by many that Moby‘s 18 showed a certain lack of creativity. Play had definitely been something completely new – and it had taken a long time to get off the ground – but by 2002 we were all well familiar with its contents from every TV advert and film that had appeared in the last few years. Time for a follow up.

But 18 opens with We Are All Made of Stars, which was also the first single, and is undeniably very different from anything Moby had done before, so creativity was not lacking completely. It’s a great song, which owes a lot to David Bowie, and a great opening track.

Jennifer Price turns up next to deliver the vocals for third single In This World, a beautiful track, but very much in the vein of Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? If you were looking for excuses to accuse Moby of repetition, they definitely exist here.

Next come The Shining Light Gospel Choir to help out on the irritatingly similarly named In My Heart. This one is sufficiently different from most of Play, but by now you’ll definitely be finding it difficult  not to make the comparison.

As with Play, there are eighteen tracks on here, and Moby does a good job in structuring them and making them different enough that they flow together well as an album without being boring, but that’s a tough ask with so many different tracks. The big change from the preceding album is the focus on collaborations, rather than sampling old records, and so the soft vocals of Azure Ray make a pleasant change on Great Escape.

However, when Moby turns up to deliver his own vocals against his thick pads and gentle drums, you can’t help but thinking it sounds familiar. Signs of Love is great, but surely he did something like this an album or two ago? Well, probably not two, because that would get you to Animal Rights, but you get the point…

Dianne McCaulley sounds like a sample on One of These Mornings, but I don’t think she is. It’s another great song, but it could very easily have fitted on Play. Same with Another Woman and the sweet, semi-acoustic Fireworks.

Second single Extreme Ways is next, and is characteristic of the fact that Moby really was extremely creative with this album – he just underplayed it very badly. As a single, it peaked at number 39 in the UK, performing less well than several of its neighbours, and yet it has appeared in pretty much every Bourne film ever since, and the Bourne’s Ultimatum remix performed nearly as well on the charts as the original. Clearly there’s nothing wrong with the song – in fact it’s excellent – but perhaps people were a little burnt out from hearing too much Moby in 2002.

Having heard the German single version with Princess Superstar, the album version of Jam for the Ladies, with MC Lyte and Angie Stone falls a bit flat. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it – it just seems a bit dull compared to the reworked version.

Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday) is a beautiful piece – it’s built around a sample, so it’s very much Moby‘s turn-of-the-millennium signature sound, but it’s also one of the best, and was a worthy single, even though it failed to make the charts. This is followed by a sweet instrumental, the title track from the album.

It’s worth remembering that Moby was a long-term New York resident, and released 18 just six months after the September 11th terror attacks. But there’s relatively little sadness or introspection on here, until the beautiful Sleep Alone. Written just the week before the attacks, it’s a haunting piece about lovers dying in a plane crash.

There’s a certain sadness to At Least We Tried as well, and then Sinéad O’Connor turns up for Harbour. I’m not actually overly enamoured with her voice, and this is a nice track, but I’ve always wondered if it actually really goes anywhere. After a while, you’ll just find yourself drifting from one song to the next, as Look Back in carries you onwards.

The Rafters is a bit different – a little bit, anyway, with a gospel “mmmm” most of the way through it, and then we’re on to the final track I’m Not Worried at All already, a beautiful closing track, and a very different one to the preceding album.

So 18 may not have actually been Moby‘s second album, but it is a difficult second album, in its own way. It has a lot to offer – it just might have been better regarded if it hadn’t come out quite so soon after the success of Play. If you know his works but not this album, now would be a good time to give it a go.

You can still find 18 from major retailers, at a bargain price.

Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine

I don’t know, you wait eight years for a new Jean-Michel Jarre album, and then three turn up at once. Sorry, I know that’s an obvious thing to say, but it is amusingly apposite. The fun but definitely questionable Téo & Téa (2007) left a slightly iffy taste in a lot of people’s mouths, and apart from the re-recorded and questionably legal version of Oxygène that followed the same year, there was then an extended silence until 2015.

What he was doing, it turns out, was working with every other electronic musician under the sun to create a two volume album, Electronica. The first opens with the sweet title track The Time Machine, with Boys Noize, and then comes one of the opening singles, Glory, with M83. So far, so pleasant.

Both of these albums have been criticised for being a bit disjointed, which, while not entirely unfair, seems a bit of an odd thing to say – of course they are, they’re effectively compilations of collaborations. But the sequence is generally logical, and there isn’t really anything particularly bad on here, so it’s hard to be too critical.

Fellow French musicians Air turn up next, for Close Your Eyes. Some tracks seem to have a lot more of Jarre, and others have a lot more of his collaborators on them, and in general, this one ends up sounding like Air might if they employed Jarre as a producer. That is to say, pretty good.

The first time you can really call something here “brilliant” is on the two parts of Automatic, both collaborations with Vince Clarke. For Clarke, this sounds a lot like his recent solo and collaborative electronic projects, but Jarre’s influence is clearly audible here too, particularly in Part 2, and both halves of the track really are excellent.

The increasingly great Little Boots turns up next, pretty much the only musician other than Jarre to make the laser harp part of their live show, and their collaboration is If..! (yes, two dots). While it’s certainly true that Jarre did something on this one, it’s difficult to know exactly what, but it’s a great song nonetheless.

They keep coming – Immortals, with Fuck Buttons, is an excellent meeting of minds, and while Suns Have Gone with Moby may not be the high point of either artist’s career, you have to be glad that it happened.

It is undeniably an odd list of collaborators though – which is not to say that Gesaffelstein shouldn’t be here – after all, why not? Few might put him in their top thirty living artists of all time list, but the resulting track Conquistador is pretty good. This isn’t so true of Travelator (Part 2) (there doesn’t appear to be a part 1), with Pete Townshend, which I’m not convinced does the legacy of either great musician any particular favours.

That isn’t true of what is apparently Edgar Froese‘s last recorded work, Zero Gravity, which after so many decades finally brings us the joint credit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream, and it’s ever bit as excellent as it should be. It’s also nice to see Jarre revisiting his earlier musical partner Laurie Anderson for the decidedly odd Rely on Me.

Where these two albums both go a little astray for me is with the number of tracks – they’re varied, but after thirteen pieces of music and with no end in sight, you’re always going to be a little weary. Towards the end of the first volume, we get a fun trance excursion with  Armin van BuurenStardust, followed by the weirdly dubby Watching You, with 3D from Massive Attack.

Right at the end, John Carpenter turns up for the appropriately creepy A Question of Blood, and finally pianist Lang Lang accompanies an atmospheric piece on album closer The Train & The River. It’s a long, varied, and complex album, but in general it stands well on its own, and if you consider yourself a fan of any sort of electronic music, you should probably be a fan of this.

You can find part 1 of the Electronica project at all major retailers.

Chart for stowaways – 23 July 2016

Possibly not much change from a couple of weeks ago, but here are this week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  3. Clarke Hartnoll – Better Have a Drink to Think
  4. I Monster – The Bradley Brothers…
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – The Heart of Noise
  6. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  7. Clarke Hartnoll – Single Function
  8. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  9. Moby – Slipping Away
  10. Dirty Vegas – Let the Night – EP