Bad Album Club – P4k Editions – Travis Morrison

bad album club

Spiel: In it’s early(ish) days Pitchfork gave some 0.0 reviews out. Speaking about them P4k founder, Ryan Schreiber,  commented that he found these records to be “devoid of worth” to him personally and stood by the rating.

Pitchfork now brands itself as “The Most Trusted Voice in Music” so WE MUST ACCEPT THEIR JUDGEMENT.

My Previous: I love Travis Morrison’s previous band The Dismemberment Plan’s albums “…Is Terrified” and “Emergency and I”. I have heard one song from this album – way back in Ought 4 – “Song For The Orca” which I enjoyed.

Pitchfork Says: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/5607-travistan/

They called it, “one of the most colossal trainwrecks in indie rock history”. Again, this is an attack on someone who they previously lionised (see Liz Phair), putting ‘Emergency and I’ in their top albums of the 90’s. Reviewer Chris Dahlen says, “Travistan fails so bizarrely that it’s hard to guess what Morrison wanted to accomplish in the first place.”

P4k are mainly taken back by the messiness, the lack of lyrical acuity, the repetition and the lack of resolution or hope given in this album.

My Take: OK… this honestly does sound like an anemic Dismemberment Plan – no killer lines and a complete lyrical mess. Where the Plan had bite, the rhythms here seem to have been neutered, cleaned and straightened out. It honestly sounds like someone who got Cubase for the first time and went, “Hey this almost sounds like a real studio!”

The tonal choices are particularly bland – especially on the ‘Get Me off this Coin’ series and ‘People Die’. The lyrical choices do seem like first drafts and first thoughts put together. God, I’m agreeing with Pitchfork.

I really want to skip this airless DI’d boreathon of an album… checking how many more songs to go. I just want it to end. Please.

Song For The Orca is still… kinda cool, in a bad production Death Cab For Cutie way. Honestly, in the context of the album the song loses almost all of its charm.

As someone who has put out way too many halfassed, badly produced and ill thought out albums I can empathise with Travis. But, I’m sorry, this album sucks. It really sucks.

I like the album cover though, it’s cool.

Will I Be Listening To It Again: Jesus, no.

https://open.spotify.com/album/2RCs7zLOCB6CaY0bTUzzk4

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Bad Album Club – P4k Editions – Liz Phair

bad album club
Spiel: In it’s early(ish) days Pitchfork gave some 0.0 reviews out. Speaking about them P4k founder, Ryan Schreiber,  commented that he found these records to be “devoid of worth” to him personally and stood by the rating.

Pitchfork now brands itself as “The Most Trusted Voice in Music” so WE MUST ACCEPT THEIR JUDGEMENT.

My Previous: I finally gave Liz Phair a proper listen this year and fell in love with the lofi honesty of “Exile in Guyville”. Spotify randomly played me a song from this album  (HWC, which I loved and automatically made this album not a zero)  so I was curious to hear more.

Pitchfork Says: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/6255-liz-phair/

Matt Le May, who wrote a boring book on Elliott Smith, actually makes a variety of fair points about Liz Phair. He mainly seems personally affronted that Liz Phair could become bland, become crude without being clever and, oh god, become a sell out.

However, Pitchy’s review of Liz’s next album states clearly: “0.0 was wasted on that album, because it’s much better than Somebody’s Miracle”. But, but, but Pitchy, you’re the most trusted voice in music, can I trust this 0.0 or not?


My Take:

OK, in general this is pretty crappy early 00s radio fodder. You can definitely hear production team The Matrix’s influence throughout even if they did only work on 4 songs – musically most of this sounds like it could be sung by Avril Lavigne and there’s definitely a cynicism in the boring production and arrangement.

But honestly, would Avril Lavigne have sung “we haven’t fucked yet” in her biggest hit (As Phair does here on “Why Can’t I”)?  Sk8r Boi might have been more interesting if she had. Honestly, it’s tempting to try and recast this album as an interesting subversion of early 00’s AOR pop but… nope, musically there’s not enough going on for that, it’s Liz Phair wanting a payday and that’s fine.

You could be forgiven, if half listening, of thinking it’s all just bland vaguely risque stuff, until you realise it’s not subtle. There’s a song explicitly about fucking a younger guy. There’s a song about a son imagining in great detail his mum fucking a man who’s not his dad (“Your thinking little thoughts about her taking every inch of him in”). Then there’s HWC…

Hot White Cum sort of encapsulates this album – it’s kind of awesome, it’s filthy, it’s hilarious and catchy but… there’s a terrible harmonica solo and there’s some unbelievably lazy lyrics, the first verse even has “nananana” as a line.

In the end, it’s nice to imagine a world where I could turn on Radio 2 and hear incredibly filthy lyrics hiding behind bland production. Or to imagine when every alt artist embraced their mainstream equivalent –  Radio 1 playing Neutral Milk Hotel sounding like Mumford and Sons but slipping in the occasional line about malformed children in semen, perhaps?

Will I Be Listening To It Again: Oh God, no. Except for Hot White Cum which I will listen to all the time.

 


Bad Album Club: Dire Strait’s Brothers In Arms

bad album club

My dad loves dadrock. On reflection, my dad is squarely in the demographic which dadrock seemed to be designed, almost by committee, to appeal to: the generation who had grown up with the Beatles and Stones but had now grown up. Music to tap the steering wheel to as you’re driving your kids around, if you’re being cynical, which is exactly how I remember Brothers in Arms – specifically, whilst holidaying around North Wales in the late 80s.

My dad was one of those baby boomers who helped Brothers in Arms become the first album to sell a million copies in CD format (going on to sell a truly staggering 13 million copies). Rather than repurchase the music he had bought as a teenager on vinyl, as many did, in the newfangled CD format, he listened to the music made a generation later which was heavily indebted to the music he grew up with but infinitely less compelling: Chris Rea, No Jacket Required by Phil Collins, ‘Baker Street’…

Brothers in Arms is hideous. Despite its popularity in its day I can’t imagine too many people wishing to defend it now and I sure as hell wouldn’t. Still, Brothers in Arms is responsible for my earliest memory of being really excited by music: hunched in the corner, headphones pressed to my ears, the wispy strains of Sting intoning “I want my MTV” emerging out of the fog, the rising anticipation, those drums, that riff… before Knopfler (ahem, “the new Dylan”) starts blathering on about ‘faggots’ and ‘chicks for free’ and it all goes downhill very quickly.

And yet, I’m pretty sure if I was to whack on ‘Money for Nothing’ I’d be pulling air bass like Alan Partridge before the first verse even kicked in.

Max Sep 15

Before I begin, I have to admit that, whilst I had previously never listened to “Brothers In Arms”, I do have a personal relationship to the album and, therefore, am not unbiased. You see, I once played in Steven J Kirk’s backing band and Steven J Kirk’s drummer once had a single produced by the bassist from Duran Duran and Warren Cuccurullo was in Duran Duran (penning “Ordinary World)” and previously Cuccurullo was in Frank Zappa’s band and Sting appears on Zappa’s 1988 Live album “Broadway The Hardway” and, naturally, Sting is on Brothers In Arms. Now this is off my chest, I feel like I can honestly start.

Preamble: “This album sucks.” Was what I was going to say. But then I changed my mind. And didn’t….

A Postscript to the Preamble: Brothers in Arms has sold over 30 million copies so it has obviously resonated with people. I actually did already own this, knowing Max’s fascination with it, but just couldn’t bring myself to listen to it. Now I have I can say one thing: It’s so very, very 80s.

Song by Song:

The first track “So Far Away” made me originally say “this is like Bob Dylan if he couldn’t write lyrics or Fleetwood Mac if they sucked”… and I was going to say it’s instantly forgettable. Lovely filler. But on second listen: I quite like it. It reminds me of Dylan circa Time Out Of Mind – it’s got a laid back groove. Oh God. Am I starting to like this?

Money For Nothing. Big Big Hit. Ridiculous drums, pandering-to-the-sponsors-Sting, a song made just out of hooks. The 80s were a weird time. This sounds simultaneously like a smash hit and a half finished song with a cranky old man slurring over it at the same time. I guess Phil Collins was a “pop star” so it’s not so strange Knopfler was too…

Knopfler. It sounds like a verb. “lets Knoplfer this up”. Which I assume means to play the electric guitar with ones fingers – preferably with lots of suck added. Or: we take the best part of the chicken and really Knopfler it up, mmmm mmmmm.

Two more things to note: The video. It’s the Lawnmower man of videos. The concept .Being blue collar workers moaning about Mark Knopfler, perfectly crumulent thing for Mark Knopfler to sing about like a grumpy old man.

The next track: Walk of Life. Weeks ago I dreamt I heard Walk of Life and it was so powerful it made me cry – I was embarrassed but I wanted the sweet melancholy sensation, so I went to listen to it on my own. This is not how I actually feel about the song.

It’s a song that has a hook and is not afraid to hammer it to the ground. It makes me think of middle aged children’s entertainers trying to enthuse tots into dancing at Pontin’s. The best thing about it is how I’ve heard it millions of times and I always immediately forget how the verse goes – future John, just so you know, it’s boogie Dylan all the way. And it goes on forever.

Your Latest Trick. Egregious saxophone. I’m guessing after two huge hits this is going to be filler. The sax reminds of an 80s TV theme tune – something I would have to watch when I was really bored at my grandparents. Again there’s something slightly enticing about the laid back feel, and the melody is subtly hooky… but but but then the sax comes in and I can hate it again.

Why Worry. Nice guitar to start it off. Plus the Knopfler on it isn’t too prominent. It’s pleasant enough and ignorable but I’m waiting for the pay off… is it coming? Is it? Why worry? Oh ok the pay off doesn’t come, but I stopped paying attention so it was ok.

PLEASE TURN OVER YOUR CHARITY SHOP VINYL.

Ride Across The River. The title itself sucks. But the song? Weird mix of influences. I can’t shake the feeling I’m listening to a Dylan album where they’ve mixed him low so you don’t have to listen to his lyrics too much. There’s mariachi trumpets in the background and the rest is mainly 80’s bass and Knopfler. I could imagine being at a wine bar in the 80s not listening to this. I think there’s panpipes on this. It goes on forever and is only the 4th longest song on the album. Wait, does the break down sound like Talk Talk? Oh god, again, am I enjoying this?

The Man’s Too Strong: The start’s very Lindsey Buckingham in the guitar – almost explaining the all metal country blues guitar on the front of an album that is chock full of synths. Then Bob Dylan starts singing. My vinyl is pretty warped here. It’s more of a field recording. I assume they’re having fun playing. And I think there’s a dramatic bit? Oh wait, it was fluff on the stylus. Yes there is a dramatic bit. next.

One World. Ooooh someone’s found the funk bass. This sounds like – and I’m going to stretch to a third musical reference point to show my learnedness – Huey Lewis and The News. Considering Knopfler was a multimillionaire he sure moans a lot about what he can’t get. I mean I don’t expect him not to be depressed, but most things he can get if he wants. Plus, if the song’s from the point of view of a character, I don’t want to hear him. Lot’s of hooks + some Knopfler too.

Brothers In Arms. Ah the ironic title track. I say ironic because, you know, Mark Knopfler’s brother used to be in the band and then he wasn’t so they’re not brothers in arms, you know? This has a traditional tune. And I can’t place it. It’s ummmm yes, Wikipedia says “The Patriot Game”, it’s a good tune. OK a fourth reference – Pink Floyd. There I said it.

Again it goes on forever. It’s kind of emotional. I think it’s about death and war and stuff but to be honest the lyrics wash by me. I think I both simultaneously really like this song and hate it. Oh god. I feel like an observed subatomic particle – I need to take a position but can’t. I’m Schrodinger’s listener… Ummm there’s lots of Knopfler. There you go. I have an opinion.

The Denouement:

So. I can see why this was a big album. Is it terrible? No, not really. Is it great? Again, no. Is it appealing. Very much so. Will I listen to it again. Probably not. Will I listen to Sultans of Swing again? Yes.

4 or 8 out of 10. Let’s go with 6.

John, Sep 15


Bad Album Club: Morrissey’s Maladjusted

bad album club

Dearest Person who reads this,

you’re discerning, smart and knowledgable. Good for you! We’re not. Or we didn’t used to be.
We have decided to do a flip on the wonderful RAM Album Club‘s core concept (you know as opposed to, making music)…. At RAM they take a classic album and have a person who hasn’t heard it review it. Great idea. Good writing.

In true ‘Lub style we’ve decided to give the others a terrible album they’ve never heard before and have them review it.

First up, Morrissey’s Maladjusted; I gave Max this for so many reasons. Max covers most of them in his review. The reason I owned it was my own SMITHS OBSESSION. Back in 2000, Morrissey was MIA  and I was desperate to get my hands on anything this musical genius produced. And I did! “Bona Drag” and “Vauxhall and I” qre legitimate Classic Albums (or bsides collections, whatever). Your Arsenal is fine and I even liked the slightly maligned “Southpaw Grammar” – it’s moody and it’s catchy. There were just a  few more to get back then, before The Pope Of Mope’s 00’s revival (N.B. not reallya  revival) – and one of them was Maladjusted.

Sadly, Maladjusted contains Roy’s Keen….

JP, August 15.


Oddly, as an ardent Smiths fan, I never bothered to investigate Morrissey’s solo career at all until a couple of years ago. At the time I was getting into the Smiths – my early teens, the mid-90s – Britpop was raging but Moz’s career was at something of a nadir. I was put off by the lukewarm reviews of his records I read and underwhelmed by those singles I happened to hear on the radio like ‘Dagenham Dave’ or ‘Alma Matters.’ It was almost as if I didn’t want to taint the image I had of Moz, and the near-perfect body of work he made with the Smiths, so I left him well alone.

In retrospect, it is odd that Britpop did nothing for Moz’s career, even though the Smiths were such a clear influence. Noel Gallagher was an outspoken fan, as were Suede and Blur, and Gene transparently aped their every mannerism. Yet Moz never appeared to get any lift from this endorsement. Compare this with Paul Weller, who rather cannily positioned himself in the canon of ‘great British songwriters’ and endorsed the ‘elder statesman’ role, even getting Peter Blake (he of Sergeant Pepper fame) to do the cover for his 1995 album Stanley Road.

Moz was perhaps unlucky that Britpop hit when he was at a low ebb, creatively and reputationally. Still suffering from the NME’s racism allegations, the only thing of note he was doing was being dragged through the courts by his former bandmates. But a scant couple of years after Moz got pelters for the union jack thing it became the de rigeur emblem of Britpop where any questions of the flag’s connotations quickly evaporated.

It’s not just a series of stronger albums this millennium that has allowed Moz to pack out stadia again. Nowadays enough water has passed under the bridge that the Smiths are held in reverence in a way they probably weren’t in that mid-90s dip. But back in 1997 – a few weeks after OK Computer and shortly before Be Here Now – I don’t think many people were that interested.

Maladjusted kicks off with its title track, which I always think is an unimaginative move, and it’s an ugly, amelodic mess. The words don’t scan at all, as if Moz is making it up on first take. At his best Moz had a knack for making melodies waft over the music in a way that was every bit as idiosyncratic as his lyrics. Think of how he breathlessly manages to make, “Some nine year old tough who peddles drugs I swear to God, I swear I never even knew what drugs were” glide over ‘The Queen is Dead’s hectic backing. But here it’s like the vocal and music have never met each other and have been grafted together as an afterthought.

I’m hoping for more from ‘Alma Matters’ as I can vaguely remember hearing this on the radio. I can hum the chorus line even if cannot exactly recreate how the music sounds in my head. Disappointingly, my memory of it is a lot prettier than it actually is. The verse is amazingly undistinguished, then you’re in the chorus before you realise it’s meant to be the chorus. Even by the second listen through I can only recognise when we’re in the chorus when Moz sings the words “Alma Matters.” It’s devoid of any hooks whatsoever and certainly doesn’t sound like a single, which shows how hard the record company had to scrape the barrel to find something to promote the album.

In my notes for ‘Ambitious Outsider’ I’ve just written “Strings & no tune.” On second listen I’ve nothing to add to that.

‘Trouble Loves Me’ opens with some plodding and very deliberate piano chords but at least there’s an attempt at a melody here – not a very good one, mind you, but you’ve more chance of remembering it than, say, ‘Ammunition.’ The lyrical hook is not particularly original, but the National thought there was enough mileage left in it to recycle it for their similarly phoned-in album, Trouble Will Find Me.

The only thing of note in ‘Papa Jack’ is the dreadful section where it picks up pace, and I’m desperately willing it to going back to merely extremely forgettable.

However, it’s during the mid-album slump of ‘Ammunition’ (again, no idea where the chorus starts) and ‘Wide to Receive’ (what’s he going on about? who cares?) when I seriously start to worry what has happened to Morrissey’s muse. He built his name on drawing out universal, relatable emotions from very specific, personal vignettes. But these songs are impossibly bland and dreary, with no attempt to engage or interest the listener. It says nothing to me about my life.

“Roy’s keen, oh Roy’s keen. We’ve never seen a keener window-cleaner.” So goes, er, ‘Roy’s Keen’, and now my head is in my hands. Can this be the same man who wrote ‘This Charming Man’? If the preceding songs had been merely nondescript, this is mindnumbingly, insultingly inane, totally pointless. For a second I’m embarrassed how much his songs meant to me as a teen.

‘He Cried’ is not much of a tune but it’s fine, just fine – not the stuff that earned him such an idolizing fanbase, but better than what just come before it. Swelling strings presumably are intended to tug at an emotion, but what? The ‘cried’ in the title suggests it’s emotive, but the whole piece is rigidly passionless. I’m really willing the album to be okay, but it’s hard work.

At least I’m looking forward to the closing ‘Satan Rejected My Soul’ which again I can remember from the radio. Praise be, there’s a hook – a neat, shimmery little Hawaiian riff – and some long overdue pep. In my memory it’s light and sprightly, but here it’s a bit dirgey and turgid, as is the album as a whole. The chorus doesn’t take off like I recall, and it peters out after being launched by the riff. In truth, I wish I’d left this and ‘Alma’ as they had been in my memory. But it’s the only song even attempting to be catchy, which is a welcome change, and it sounds pretty good in this context. And there’s at least even a lyrical idea – sure, it’s a bit pastichey and hamfisted (see also the trite, punning ‘Alma Matters’) but it’s at least memorable and vaguely humorous, and I get the gist of what he’s going on about which is an improvement.

Overall it’s hard to think of a clearer example of an artist going through the motions. Maladjusted is not shrink-away-from-speakers awful, but it’s damningly forgettable.It alone does not ruin his legacy, but it’s painfully clear his muse has abandoned him. I can’t imagine anyone involved in making this album being proud of their work. I try to visualise their faces after recording, at playback. “That’ll do.” Songs drift past without anything to make you sit up and take notice, meaning it feels longer than its 40 minutes (the 2009 reissue includes a bunch of extra tracks taking it to a truly indigestible 73 minutes).

It is obvious he needed a break to regroup. Maladjusted was his last album for 7 years, before returning with the revitalised You are the Quarry. I say that, though in truth I’ve not actually heard it. But I assume it can’t be any worse than Maladjusted.

A scraping 4/10

Max Aug 15