Sunday, April 22, 2007

What happened to this song we once knew so well?

Kicking and screaming, I drag myself into the 21st century. I've finally bought an MP3 player - let the early adopters spend their month's pay-packet on these things, I'm happy to wait for the technology to become commonplace and get myself a bargain.

Up till now my mobile musical needs have been adequately met by an old Walkman. Yes, magnetic tape. (If it slurs when I'm doing anything more energetic than a stroll, well, that's still better than the skipping I got when I tried using a portable CD player.) It has meant carrying something like a saddlebag around to hold the machine, tapes and spare batteries, but I'm a big man and I quite like the physicality of big gadgets. That said, I can see the appeal of replacing it with something keyring-sized.

The main incentive for this is another purge of the CDs. It's good to prune the collection down now and then, and to let Oxfam benefit from my musical fickleness, but all the real chaff went months ago and I'm now looking askance at those albums that don't really merit a place on the shelves, but are hanging on by virtue of one or two good tracks. The solution: give the odd tracks a new home on the MP3 player, and the CDs can be safely disposed of.

Here are some of the albums now shaking their heads in forlorn disbelief at their P45s.

Jethro Tull - J-Tull Dot Com
Some Tull fans say that the party ended in the 1980s with A; others say that nothing after the 1978 live album Bursting Out is worth hearing. Personally I feel that things got a bit patchy between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, but recovered again with Roots to Branches. However, the Tull sound by then was remarkably similar to what Ian Anderson was doing with his solo albums, and frankly if you've got his Secret Language of Birds then you've already got all the good bits of J-Tull Dot Com. All except one track: "El NiƱo". A saucy little number with a driving electric guitar motif.
(The real heresy for Tull fans, mind you, would be that I'm also getting rid of Aqualung, widely supposed to be the zenith of Tull. And it wasn't even one of the main album tracks I saved, but a bonus track. The thing is, because it's so often claimed to be the best album, the interesting songs have been wheeled out on every compilation and live album since. It won't be missed.)

Yes - Close to the Edge
Apparently a lot of people like this album. However, of its three lengthy songs I've only ever really liked one, and it's not the title track. It's the ten-minute romantic ballad "And You and I". The three Yes fans in the world who don't now think I'm mad will do when I tell them that I really, really like Tales From Topographic Oceans and Time and a Word. Fortunately the chances of them reading this blog are zero.

Kosheen - Kokopelli
I have the same problem with Kosheen that I had with Portishead and Talvin Singh - fantastic sound, but what's the good of having the second album when it's just the same as the first? Only one song on this album distinguished itself, pushing its little synth/vocal hooks into my brain, and that was "Recovery". It lives on in electronic form.

King Crimson - Thrak
Like Tull, King Crimson kept themselves fresh over the decades by changing their line-up and sound, although with Crimso the changes were much more pronounced. No one can agree on precisely how many King Crimsons there've been, but broadly they split down into: 1969/flower-people, early 1970s/freaky jazz, mid-1970s/prog rock, 1980s/experimental pop, 1990s and after/hard rock. That's the very vague, unhelpful and somewhat inaccurate version. Thrak is the first of the 1990s albums.
Two tracks have been saved here: "Dinosaur", a hard piece, and "Walking on Air", a gentle piece, both of which are fine and have some rather nice lyrics. The rest of the album is filled with instrumentals that just didn't grab me and songs that hint at the predilection for gibberish/stream-of-consciousness lyrics Adrian Belew would indulge in later albums. Not my favourite era of Crimso. I am, however, keeping hold of the Happy With What You Have to be Happy With EP, which has four strong tracks (including the title track, a nice heavy rock parody) and some unobjectionable instrumental links, and which works better as a whole than the albums either side of it.
The freaky jazz albums, incidentally, went out almost as soon as they came in.

Call of the Wild
A bit of a novelty item, this. Back in Exeter a few years ago, we went to see Ken Campbell's stage show The History of Comedy, Part One: Ventriloquism. The show was introduced by a weird but infectious drum 'n' bass tune featuring a woman's voice and the barking and howling of some dogs. I was curious, and shelled out for this CD, which is a kind of soundtrack to that show, and which incidentally benefited the dogs as well. It's for charidee, mate.
The rest of the CD turned out to be half composed of the constituent bits of the interesting tune, and half snippets of Ken talking with some low-key synth laid over it. Still, it was worth hanging onto for that one weird tune. But no more! Let someone else discover its wonders.

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