iJAMMING! album reviews
While the cross-referencing to wine is presented in good humour (and with genuine forethought), the reviews stand seriously on their own; these are the new albums that push my buttons, twist my knobs and otherwise get me off!
Older album reviews are listed here - or use the search engine at left
ME WITHOUT YOU (Music from the Motion Picture)

The most bizarre soundtrack I've heard in years. And one of the best.

Review posted Aug 15

The soundtrack has become an ever more important marketing tool in recent years, featuring all kinds of interesting tricks designed to inspire success at the record store. (Collaborations, covers, exclusive material, original scores, interspersed dialogue, incidental music and so on.) But I'm not sure when anyone last sat down and assembled such a seemingly motley collection of music - and actually made it work.

The British-made movie Me Without You, which I have yet to see, apparently follows the friendship of two suburban London girls through the 1970s and early 1980s. The soundtrack goes further, drawing from all over the musical landscape. Its schizophrenic nature is revealed from the off: a re-make of the 1968 Jackie Lee hit 'Wild Horses', 'I Got You Babe' by Sonny & Cher, 'White Man In Hammersmith Palais' by the Clash, and 'Just Can't Get Enough' by Depeche Mode. Come again? Surely, I thought on inspecting the track listing, the heavy-duty punk-reggae 'White Man', which I fell back in love with at Joe Strummer's concert in April and currently consider one of the greatest records of all time, is entirely misplaced in-between the sugary pop of 'I Got You Babe' and 'Just Can't Get Enough.' Then why does it sound neither cheapened nor threatened? Because just like an ideal oldies station, or (more realistically, your favourite mix tape), all songs sound good next to each other when they were great to begin with.

It helps, of course, if such great songs have always meant something to you, and given my worship of 'White Man,' and the fact that 'Just Can't Get Enough' was the bubble-gum theme song to my first real teenage love and routinely conjures up wonderful carnal memories, I'm clearly an ideal candidate for the movie and its music. But several songs here qualify as classics by almost any criteria: there's 'The Cutter' by Echo & The Bunnymen, 'The Sweetest Girl' by Scritti Politti (how rarely we hear that song any more, how other-worldly it sounded when we first did), 'Warm Leatherette' by Daniel Miller posing as the Normal, 'Another Girl, Another Planet' by the Only Ones, and a couple of corkers from 1977: 'White Riot' by the Clash, and 'Whole Wide World' by Wreckless Eric (effectively covered by Laptop recently and an instant hit when I played it at Transmission the other week).

Not content with milking some of the best of punk and its fall-out, Me Without You features both the celebrated dead cult folkies of the early 1970s - Nick Drake ('Cello Song') and Tim Buckley ('Strange Feelin') - and has no qualms about following the latter with the reggae anthem 'Cocaine in My Brain' by Dillinger. In fact, only once on this unwieldy soundtrack have I found myself hitting the fast forward button, and that's during the awful schmaltzy pop of the 1980 hit 'January February' by Barbara Dickson. But the fact that it's followed by the equally overbearing ballad (though with surprisingly enduring lyrics) 'I've Never Been To Me' by Charlene indicates that the producers know exactly what they're doing. You don't place two such syrupy AOR songs-your-mother-liked back to back, and at the very heart, of such a superbly constructed and utterly cool soundtrack unless you're being true to your movie and trusting your audience to get the joke. Likewise, you don't come of age without listening to bad music now and then, and it's worth noting that 'I've Never Been To Me' is the only song on this album, apart from 'I Got You Babe', to have been a number one in the UK.

The only remake here is the opener, Lucy Street's 'White Horses.' The only up-to-date original is the excellent finale, Super Furry Animals' '(Drawing) Rings Around The World.' Inbetween, Me Without You provokes a cornucopia of memories even for someone who hasn't seen the movie; in fact, it's been the soundtrack to my summer.

Better I just complete the track list. The Stranglers' 'Skin Deep' holds up better than many of their other mid-eighties ballads. (The UK version featured their 'Peaches' instead, the only variation between the two releases apart from the cover - the UK one is featured on the right.) In comparison, Adam & The Ants' 'Kings Of The Wild Frontier' sounds incredibly dated, though I may be alone on that one: I've been wondering why this album didn't make more of a splash in the UK upon release last year, but then I remembered that when I DJ'd Death Disco in April, I was informed that the club's two biggest crowd-pleasers were 'Ant Music' and 'White Man In Hammersmith Palais.' Either more people bought this album than let on to it, or the soundtrack producers captured the current zeitgeist for nostalgia but sadly failed to connect it with the potential public.
Even by genre-busting soundtrack standards, Me Without You defies all logic. Fortunately there's an equally absurd and pleasing rose out there to match it: Charles Melton's Rose of Virginia - from the Barossa Valley in Australia.
You don't have to have your own web site to post a review. Amazon.com helped invent the concept of the punter's review, and Jason Parkes in Birmingham has written a particularly well-informed review of this album, based on his extensive musical knowledge and his keen viewing of what he considers a flawed movie. You can read it here.

Sixties-obsessed pop trio deliver elegantly understated epic.

Review posted July 25

On his fourth album fronting the Doleful Lions, singer-singwriter Jonathan Scott's infatuation with Brian Wilson reaches a dangerous peak. The song 'Surfside Motel' quotes a line from 'Heroes and Villains,' after which Scott sings, "And don't you know it was the government stopped the Beach Boys from releasing Smile?" Fortunately there's more than recycled surf group harmonies and conspiracy theories at work here. There's acoustic psychedelia, a suprising amount of history and allegory, and whenever Aynsley Pirtle takes to the microphone, either in harmony or to lead, there's also a kitten-like feminity to these Lions. The combination of medieval and modern folk, male and female vocals, and acoustic and electric rock proves surprisingly reminiscent of both the Mamas and Papas - and Chumbawamba.
'1723' and 'Dear Lazarus' for sense of history, 'I Can Take You To The Sun' for unabashed retro-psych folk, and 'Stand In The Colosseum' for a Travis-like simplicity of purpose.
Sweet but not sickly, old-fashioned but not out of style, and ever reliable, an ideal match for Doleful Lions is Paul Jaboulet-Aine's Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.


Dub-Blues. Their description.

Even if you don't know Little Axe, you ought to be aware of the duo behind it. Producer Adrian Sherwood founded the On-U Sound label (African Head Charge, Dub Syndicate, Tackhead etc.) and has also (re)mixed Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Skinny Puppy and others. Skip McDonald, who was born Bernard Alexander in 1949, was the in-studio guitarist for Sugarhill Records (where he played on the seminal Grandmaster Flash singles 'The Message' and 'White Lines') before teaming up with Sherwood and relocating to the UK.

Little Axe is the project under which the two fuse their core talents: Sherwood with his Jamaican production style, McDonald returning to the blues from whence he originated. But almost everything these people touch draws on their other long-standing partnerships, which means, in particular, the esteemed rhythm duo of drummer Keith Le Blanc and bassist Doug Wimbish. The Little Axe sound hasn't changed enormously from the 1994 debut, The Wolf that House Built (I don't have 1996's Slow Fuse), but Hard Grind makes an effort to expand its dub-blues base into soul, lovers rock and bluegrass too.

For those who think that maybe Moby did the sampled blues thing adequately on Play, or that Leftfield got the dub thing down before recently calling it a day, the bio is appropriately cutting: "Over the past few years it's been an easy trick to use blues samples to give humanity to soulless electoronica, and dub has been plundered for decades to enhance the feeling of sterile dance music. " Ouch and double ouch. Still, don't confuse Hard Grind for a dance album, though; this is mid-afternoon or late-night spliff music, even if, like me, you don't smoke.
'All Night Long' best defines the album, with a vocal sample from Junior Kimsbrough, spoken word over the top, the solid Wimbish-Le Blanc foundation, Alan Glen's restrained harmonica playing, and Sherwood's head in a haze. 'Down To The Valley' sounds like it was lifted and remixed from O Brother Where Art Thou and the closing 'Seek The Truth' benefits from Bim Sherman's lovers rock vocals.
You can play at being Mr Sherwood yourself on the track 'Long Way To Go', via the superbly entertaining interactive DubSelector.
This album presents a challenge. Thinking of the deep south, there's some highly-regarded Texan wine around (seriously); I just haven't tasted any. If you want an American classic as steeped in tradition as the blues, it has to be an old vines zinfandel. Then again, Hard Grind was recorded in the UK by a British producer working a Jamaican sound. Red Stripe is probably perfect. And of course, there are those who'd recommend an entirely different plant than the grape. But if Red Stripe or high alcohol Zin seem too heady for a late summer afternoon's aural relaxation, then try a Vernaccia di San Gimignano: like the blues, it's been around for ever (or at least 800 years) and producers continue to tailor it for the modern market.

(Review posted May 23, 2002)

Hardcore techno-instrumentalist welcomes vocalist, writes real songs, makes great album.

Luke Slater is something of an idol among the techno cognoscenti, a UK counterpoint to Canadian label partner Richie Hawtin. And though Slater's two previous novamute albums Freek Funk and Wireless were difficult home listening for the uninitiated, relentless uptempo singles like 'Body Freefall, Electronic Inform' and 'All Exhale' provided a euphoric dancefloor experience when heard in the right environment.

Slater's decision to slow down, acquire a vocalist (Ricky Barrow, formerly of the Aloof) and write real songs may therefore come as a surprise. To some it could even suggest a cop-out - especially given that Alright On Top is imbued with the sound of the electro-pop renaissance. But unlike many of the '80s revivalists, Slater ensures to sound contemporary; check out the offbeat percussive intro to 'Only You', or the complex backing to 'Searchin' For A Dream' for proof of a distinctly 21st Century composer. Likewise, Barrow's voice, supremely soulful but blessed with a comforting laziness, ensures that even the most retro cuts ('Stars and Heroes') maintain a modern atmosphere. Barrow sings mostly of personal emotions: "I can tolerate you now you're not around" from 'Nothing At All' is a particularly attention-grabbing line. Still, it's less the words that grab than the complementary juxtaposition of solid dance arrangements and languid vocal delivery.

While Slater must surely have known which way the musical wind was blowing when making Alright On Top, he probably didn't realise how many other artists, from contemporaries Moby, Green Velvet and Felix da Housecat through to newcomers like Fischerspooner, Morel and Adult, were immersing themselves in similar musical territory. As such, there's a danger that Slater will be accused of bandwagon-jumping, especially given his previous status as an underground icon, but even the most hardened cynic should emerge from Alright On Top praising instrumental imagination and song-writing sincerity when they hear it.
The opening track (and first single) 'Nothing At All,' represents everything that's best about Alone On Top: driving octave synth motifs, solid beats, a nod to the past with a focus on the future, and an emotive vocal delivery. 'I Can Complete You' is a delightful throwback to the era when his label Mute first invented synth pop (we'll even forgive the vocoder). The finale, 'Doctor Of Divinity,' is the album's lone example of speaker-blowing, gradually crescendoing, minimalist instrumental techno such as Slater used to offer by the dozen.
This music is equal parts past, present and future; a full-bodied liquid complement is provided by Le Fruit Défendu.
club anthems

“A lot like the Wedding Present playing hopscotch with Belle & Sebastian.” So says the NME - as quoted on a sticker attached to the CD - and it's a good starting point.

There’s an easy test to distinguish great music. Ask a bunch of friends round for drinks, dutifully get them drunk, put six different CDs in your six-CD changer, and make sure everyone is talking loudly. When someone halts the conversation to demand “Who’s this record by? It’s brilliant” you know you’ve got some quality music cutting through the crap.

Such was the effect, at a recent get-together, of ‘I Hate Scotland,’ the opening song from Edinburgh band Ballboy’s debut album Club Anthems. It is a truly arresting song, opening with a deliberately droning two-chord guitar riff (the Wedding Present reference), giving way to a monologue in a particularly strong but 'twee' Scottish brogue (a la Belle and Sebastian). But it’s far more than the sum of its apparent influences. Lyrically, ‘I Hate Scotland’ is a blazing anti-manifesto: singer and lyricist Gordon McIntyre eschews tartan nationalism to delivers this harsh epigram at the core of a song full of them: “I hate the way that we expect to fail and then we fail/and then we get bitter because we failed.” When you find out that McIntyre, like keyboardist Katie Griffiths, is a primary school teacher, you realise there’s hope for Scottish youth despite these bitter home truths.

‘I Hate Scotland’ is but the first of fourteen lo-fi classics here. In fact, considering that Club Anthems was compiled from three EPs that date as far back as 1999 - and forgive those of us overseas for not hearing more about Ballboy earlier - it’s amazing that there’s not one disposable or outdated track. The Wedding Present comparison is apt: it serves as a gateway back to whole C-86 shambling movement of the June Brides, Shop Assistants, the Pastels and co., all of whom make their presence felt here. So does Martin Phillips’ Chills, for simplicity of purpose and lyrical nakedness. In particular, I was reminded of the obscure Jamie Wednesday, whose ‘Vote For Love’ I’ve sucessfully just unearthed on a mix tape from 1985, and who serve as my personal reference point for this album. (No wonder John Peel loves Ballboy; Britain’s favorite pensionable DJ just sits there at Radio 1 and waits for musical cycles to come round again.)

But don’t assume Club Anthems is all barely-tuned electric guitars: there are some gorgeous acoustic ballads here too, both ‘postcards from the beach’ and ‘dumper truck racing’ offering a refreshing clarity as they strip down to acoustic guitars and Griffiths’ gentle organ/piano accompaniments.

Nor should you be misled by the song titles. ‘essential wear for future trips to space,’ ‘sex is boring’ and ‘donald in the bushes with a bag of glue’ may seem like so many masturbatory indie-rock witticisms on the surface, but each is lyrically rooted in a genuine love for humanity. You’ll know what I mean when you hear them. The CD comes with an evocative video for ‘I Hate Scotland’; the web site offers downloads, a couple of videos, and a bunch of lyrics while maintaining a welcome DIY scrappiness.

I realise that by the time I make this one of my 2002 Top 10s a year from now some of these recordings will be four years old already - more than the life span of most pop stars. But isn’t that also the test of great music?
One after another. How can you argue with the two-chord electric guitar strum of ‘one sailor was waving,’ which opens with McIntyre’s seemingly depressing claim that “I’m not the brightest hope, I’m not the shining light of my generation,” before rising to a euphoric chorus that asks “are you in love with me?” And how can you dispute ‘olympic cyclist,’ a genuine paean to an athletic lover? (Sample line: “in the Athens Vellodrome I listened to the crowd roar you home, you were just a blur when you went past me.”) Virtually the last words of this fourteen song compilation, from 'leave the earth behind you and take a walk into the sunshine' turn out to be, “are you happy with your life?” McIntyre doesn’t appear certain of his own answer, but he’s making plenty astute musical observations along the way.
Club Anthems has enough going for it that you could drink almost anything while listening and see the world better through the bottom of the glass. But because of its acid attack, because it’s honest, clean, pure, vibrant, made to last, off the beaten track and good value for money besides, I recommend you hunt down the Pépière
Muscadet de Sevre et Maine 2000

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What's new in iJamming!...
(Last updated
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Available Now!
The introduction to the new edition of my R.E.M. biography is here.

Ridge Coast Range 2000
A Decade In Dance
10 Years (Apiece)
The October Hitlist
30 Albums 10 Songs
The whole Bloody 1990s cataloge
The Last Great Mix CD?
2 Many DJ's As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2.
Last of The Summer Rosês:
Goats Do Roam, Vin Gris de Cigare and Rose of Virginia.
10 Reasons To Fear The Worst
From the Jamming! Archives:
interviewed in 1978
"A number one single would be a bit scary."
New York's rock'n'roll rescuers play Lowlife - loudly
Local legends and international influence come home to party
28 Albums Rocking Our World
The Who at Madison Square Garden
A wash-out
The Movie
The Party
Cedell Davis, Tuatara, and The Minus 5 atthe Knitting Factory
Still 'A Man And A Half'
30 Albums, 5 Songs, 5 books and a handful of movies
An obituary by Chris Charlesworth
Back On The (Flying Saucer) Attack
The iJAMMING! interview
30 Albums, 10 Songs, 5 books and a handful of movies.
Eight Days in A Week's Music:
Ed Harcourt, Vines, Candy Butchers, Timo Maas, Ashley Casselle & Adam Freeland, Aerial Love Feed, and enough little club nights to shake several sticks at.
Tony's (lengthy) trip down nostalgia lane from his visit home at the end of April. Stop-offs include Death Disco, old Jamming! Magazines, life-long friendships, road trips to Brighton, Damilola Taylor and political frustration, Morrissey-Marr, Zeitgeist, Oasis, Dexys, Primal Scream, the current British music scene and more.
The iJamming! interview:
"'Acid Trax' by Phuture came out and I was just 'Okay, forget all hip hop and all old school rare groove right here, this is it.'"
hostess 'Lee Patrick' recalls her time as Keith Moon's amour
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
NEW CHAPTER now online
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"It's not U2 that's creating this great art. . .There's something that works through us to create in this way."
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
The iJAMMING! interview:
"I don't think people realize that life can become so exciting and interesting that it can draw you away for long periods of time from creating music - & why not?"
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
The iJAMMING! chat:

"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
From the JAMMING! archives: PAUL WELLER ON POP
Featured wine region 2:
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
Featured Artist Web Site:
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The iJAMMING! interview:
"Once you've had your go, what-ever it may be, they want you to piss off, and they can't bear it if you come back, they can't bear it."
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