31 December 2016

Nine Inch Nails - Not The Actual Events EP

So, Trent Reznor kept good on his promise to release new Nine Inch Nails material in 2016!  It is always an event when these guys release something, but when I found out it was an EP, it took me a little by surprise.  Mainly because NIN have only ever released two other EPs, the perfect 'Broken' and its fantastic remix sister, 'Fixed'.  Both of those releases were back in the days before 'The Downward Spiral', before 'The Fragile' and so on and so forth.  The main thing about those EPs is that they were feral, I mean they were downright angry with the world and everything in it; Trent Reznor is now a different man; business man, Oscar winner, Apple employee, he is now the man on the inside, he is not the maverick on the raggedy edges that wanted to make noisy Depeche Mode/Ministry music.  So, whilst I am happy to be reviewing this, I am also approaching it carefully as the times (as well as myself) have changed and will this Nine Inch Nails release speak to me in the same way that those earlier (and to be honest, some of their recent) music did in the past?

01 - Branches/Bones

It starts with a low fuzz, machine noises and that haunting voices; it sounds as if it is aiming for the angst of former years and the chorus has that loud apathetic noise that you associate with Nine Inch Nails; but it also feels like a cross between 'Getting Smaller' from 'With Teeth' mixed with 'Mr Self-Destruct' from 'The Downward Spiral'.  It is over very quickly as well, as it starts to hit is groove it ends with little to no finale; a quick introduction, but lacking fire.

02 - Dear World

A pulsing, electronic beat drives this song forward, it swirls around you as the listener and loops from ear to ear.  However, it plods when it should seduce, it distracts when it should enthral; it bores when it should entertain and that is a sad state of affairs on any release, let alone one by Trent Reznor.

03 - She's Gone Away

Featuring vocals from Mairqueen Maandig, the wife of Mr Reznor and vocalist of How to Destroy Angels, this song is slow and moody once more.  However, this one has a little bit more to it; but only a little bit to it.  The verses sound as if there is still energy left in the tank, like there is some spark that will ignite and take over the song.  But the chorus sections are lifeless, even when the sirens vocals are unleashed and it makes for another plodding listen on this EP.

04 - The Idea of You

With drumming from everyone's favourite drummer for hire, Mr. David Eric Grohl, 'The Idea of You' actually sounds like it is actually going to give something other than tribute to the past.  The chorus sections sound manic, the verses are full of sinister whispering, the riff gives you a kick in the head and whilst it is once again reminiscent of previous endeavours (this time 'Wish' from the 'Broken' EP), it does at least pass on a little bit of energy and final gives the EP something a little interesting.

05 - Burning Bright (Field on Fire)

Ending the album is the song 'Burning Bright (Field on Fire)' which features another guest, this time it is Jane's Addiction & ex- Red Hot Chili Pepper guitar player, Dave Navarro.  Although you would be struggling to hear it under the dark production that has been added to the music here.  It feels like they were aiming for a wall of noise and it ends up a little 'St. Anger' for my money here, a bit like people are trying very hard to regain their youth a little and trying to make what would be a good NIN song, instead of trying to make a natural feeling song.  It has some good moments in it too, I am not going to deny that, but once again it does not feel natural to these ears and it loses appeal for that alone.

When all is said and done, this is not the best work from Nine Inch Nails; it is an EP that does not move the world, it is very faithful to the past and it does not contain the spark of excitement for me.  I spent more time being reminded of previous songs that I hunted them out, whilst not being held in rapture by the best percentage of this release.  It is not an awful EP, it is still Nine Inch Nails and the music quality is as good as ever; it is just that I have heard this from them before with more passion, innovation and fire in the belly.  I think they could not have picked a better title for the EP to be honest.

2.5 out of five - Not bad, not good - So average it is Zen.

Top track - The Idea of You

You can purchase the Not The Actual Events EP on Amazon here.

You can visit the Nine Inch Nails website here.

You can follow the activities of Nine Inch Nails on Facebook here..

You can stream Not The Actual Events EP on Deezer here.

You can stream Not The Actual Events EP on Spotify here.

You can stream Not The Actual Events EP on Tidal here.

27 December 2016

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

The way we review album series is sometimes back to front, considering the last two in this series of Led Zeppelin reviews are 5th & 6th studio albums to be release by the rock colossus that is the mighty LZ.  When this album was first recorded for their newly formed Swan Song record label, the original eight tracks recorded were longer than the length that a standard album could hold in 1975.  Therefore, they decided to add on some unreleased tracks from 'Led Zeppelin III', 'Led Zeppelin IV' & 'Houses of the Holy' (including the unused title track from 'Houses....'). The recording session was also delayed a bit as bass player John Paul Jones temporarily left the band (only to come back), also the length of the album and the way that the band recorded added to the time it took for the album to be released.  However, according to singer Robert Plant & guitarist Jimmy Page, 'Physical Graffiti' represents the band at the height of the creative and expressive powers.  It has been held as one of their best album, so how have the last forty plus years been to this album since it was released?

01 - Custard Pie

Full of double-entendres and more blues references than your local blues bar, 'Custard Pie' opens the album in the only way a Led Zeppelin album could be opened; full of energy, sexual imagery and a blues riff that lays the foundation for other songs to come on the album, it is sometimes overlooked for other songs on the album.  This might be rightly so, due to those other songs being monumentally huge, but it is still a good opening for this album.

02 - The Rover

'The Rover' was originally recorded during the 'Houses of the Holy' sessions, but you would be pushed to guess that to be honest.  It is a song about the nomadic lifestyle of the band and how they are never settled in one place, it was not a song that the band seemed to perform in its entirety.  I always liked this song, it was not the most obvious song from the album, but it spoke to me in ways that other LZ songs could not.  The riff at the beginning just keeps on giving and it is a song which should be given more praise.

03 - In My Time of Dying

A traditional song which has song writing credits for all four of the members of Led Zeppelin (as well as Blind Willie Johnson), despite being a traditional gospel that had already been recorded by other artist, namely 'Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed' by the aforementioned Blind Willie Johnson, Bob Dylan’s 'In My Time of Dyin'', and John Sebastian’s 'Well, Well, Well'.  It is also the longest studio song by LZ, coming in at eleven minutes and six seconds in length.  It has been crafted into a blues sermon, it is a captivating number and your attention does not wonder as the solos, slide guitar, hard drumming, walling and pounding bass take over the world.  It is a beautiful version of this blues standard, it is easy to be lost in that riff and to find yourself tapping along to it for hours after it has finished.

04 - Houses of the Holy

The original title track for 'Houses of the Holy', it was removed as it did not fit in too well with the rest of the album.  Some people say it is a song about sexual rites of passages, some people say it is about the larger arenas and auditoriums that the band were starting to play as they became more famous.  To be honest, I always thought it was about sex and getting your end away, nothing has changed that opinion and I doubt anything ever will.  It is a mid-temp number and I can see why it was kept off the album that took its name, but it is still one of my favourite songs from Led Zeppelin as it keeps its simple and it is to the point!

05 - Trampled Under Foot

A funk rock song inspired by 'Terraplane Blues' by Robert Johnson, this song is about sexual temptations and uses car metaphors once again to talk about sex.  It is such an obvious statement that I am sure it can be seen from out of space.  It is a one of the most recognisable riffs of the bands catalogue and it has that clavinet chord running all the way through (which bass player John Paul Jones has admitted was inspired by 'Superstition' by Stevie Wonder).  It is a classic, one of their best and still it is not the best on this record.

06 - Kashmir

This song is the perfect representation of Led Zeppelin, some people say it is 'Whole Lotta Love', some say it is 'Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You', some say 'Stairway to Heaven'; no, with the greatest respect to those opinions and songs, it is 'Kashmir'. The band themselves has all said it is one of their best moments, Robert Plant says it is the definitive LZ song and I agree with him on this one.  It contains everything you expect from a Led Zeppelin song; OTT lyrics, a powerhouse of a drum performance, the bass sounds so powerful and the guitars are in charge of everything.  Even Puff Diddy's use of the riff for the song 'Come with Me' has not ruined this number, it is the best song on this album and the best song ever created by Led Zeppelin.

07 - In the Light

The second part of this double album starts with 'In the Light', this is based on an earlier song that they had wrote called 'In the Morning'.  After the grand tour-de-force of 'Kashmir', it is a steady progressive rock number that is another favourite of the band, but it was one that they never performed live as a band, due to John Paul Jones vetoing the idea as he could not replicate the opening sound of the song outside of the studio.  I like this song, but it is not one of my favourite off the album to be honest as it feels a little too light for me.

08 - Bron-Yr-Aur

'Bron-Yr-Aur' is a short instrumental which was original recorded for 'Led Zeppelin III', it is the shortest song that the band recorded and it is also one of the gentlest that they laid down.  It is a song that is very simple, a gentle number that allows the listener to reminisce about the past and not to be lost in those moments either.  The rising and falling riffs are a joy to the ears and it makes a powerful, yet gentle impact on the listener; an under rated number for my money.

09 - Down by the Seaside

The first of three outtakes from 'Led Zeppelin IV', 'Down by the Seaside' sounds like a cross between a Southern Blues number and a psychedelic nightmare.  I have never made peace with this number, it has always jarred in my head for the most part and only comes to life when the hard rock section of the song kicks in.  But that is short lived and I am left wondering why it was included on this album and glad it was kept off 'Led Zeppelin IV'.

10 - Ten Years Gone

A song that was originally meant to be an instrumental, but was changed into a song about Robert Plant's formed girlfriend who said it was her or the music; it is a choice which obviously worked out well for Mr Plant, but it could have also worked out for the worst as well (what if their album had not been picked up, things like that happen all the time).  It is a slower rock song, it has many overdubs and it sounds spectacular and understated.  I love the riff that runs through this, I have also wondered what an instrumental version of this song would sound like.

11 - Night Flight

Another outtake from 'Led Zeppelin IV', this song is about a man trying to avoid an army draft and being on the run.  It is one of the few songs by Led Zeppelin not to have a guitar solo and it is a standard hard rock/blues number that the band could turn out time after time.  It is a decent number and I can see why it was not included in 'Led Zeppelin IV', but having it on this album is not a bad thing either as it has a good riff at its core and it makes for some charming pace.

12 - The Wanton Song

This is a standard rock song about a man being done rock, it has a riff that is reminiscent of 'Immigrant Song' and 'Trample Under Foot' with neither of the other songs charms.  It is ok and it does the job, but it is not one that I rush to listen to that often if the truth be told.

13 - Boogie with Stu

The last of the tracks recorded during the 'Led Zeppelin IV' sessions, this one has the most charm with a live improv that had Ian Stewart (former member and road manager of the Rolling Stones) on the piano on this 12-bar blues jam session.  It might seem like a throwaway song, but it has a wonderful vibe to the song and it sounds so natural and free.  It is a brilliant number that makes the world a happier place just for existing.

14 - Black Country Woman

The final of the studio outtakes from previous sessions, this song was original recorded during 'Houses of the Holy' and it is a stomping acoustic blues number that still gives me shivers all these years later from when I first heard it.  It is a loud acoustic song, you cannot call it a gentle piece and it has such a large amount of energy that it will start a party in an empty room.  What a song, what a performance.

15 - Sick Again

Ending the album is this song which gives the band's view on the groupies who surrounded the band at the time that the album was recorded.  In the modern age, this song will seem a little sleazy in place and I can see why.  But it is also showing that the band felt sorry for these girls who were throwing themselves at the band and how they were trying to let them down gently.  It has a great riff and ends the album with a large degree of thunder. 

'Physical Graffiti' for me is the album that best represents all sides of Led Zeppelin; it covers all their styles and apart from a few tracks which has not aged too kindly, it represents their best overall work as well.  It holds their greatest song 'Kashmir' (no arguments there), it has the best beginning from the band and whilst I would have trimmed it down by two songs, it has the most consistent feeling for me.  Such a classic album, definitely in my top twenty albums ever created.
9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost....

Top track - Kashmir

You can purchase Physical Graffiti here on Amazon.

You can visit the Led Zeppelin website here.

You can visit the Led Zeppelin Facebook here.

You can stream Physical Graffiti on Spotify here.

You can stream Physical Graffiti on Deezer here.

You can stream Physical Graffiti on Tidal here.

26 December 2016

Ensemble Modern - Ensemble Modern Plays Frank Zappa (Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions)

I have been meaning to review this album for a few years now, it has been on the list to blog since I received it for Christmas in 2014 (or was it 2013); either way it is long overdue for this album to have another airing and I can give it a review.  To quote directly from Wikipedia - Ensemble Modern is an international ensemble dedicated to performing and promoting the music of modern composers. They were formed in 1980, the group is based in Frankfurt, Germany and made up variously of about twenty members from numerous countries.  The Ensemble Modern were the orchestra played on the album 'The Yellow Shark' which was the final album to be released before he passed away in 1993, an album which he described as one of the most fulfilling of his career.  This orchestra could tap into Zappa's music as they base they own sound in the modern interpretation of the orchestra and go for challenging pieces.  Now, some of the music on this album is taken from 'Jazz From Hell' and 'Civilization Phase III', it is short on what you would call 'hits' (as if you could use that word with Zappa); but it has ten tracks of seriously challenging orchestra music, so let us see what sweet music they make....

01 - Moggio

The first version of 'Moggio' I heard was in the album, 'The Man From Utopia' and it was a challenging piece when completed by a rock band; in the hands of the Ensemble Modern, it is transformed into a fascinating piece of orchestral music that keeps on giving.  It gives the music more substance and depth, given the fact that this is a Frank Zappa song, this is a tiny bit of a modern day miracle.

02 - What Will Rumi Do?

Originally performed as 'T'Mershi Duween' and first brought to the attention of the world when it was released on 'You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 2', this short building track is a joyful little piece that is sadly over far too soon, it is really beautiful and I wish it was longer.

03 - Night School

The good thing about 'What Will Rumi Do?' is that it acts as an introduction to the wonderful 'Night School' which can be found on the scary 'Jazz From Hell' album.  On the original, it was so many synth sounds going in different directions that it gave you an idea what a hive mind would sound like; on this version, it sounds like it has been created by angels and demons to make a luscious and beautiful making up song for the Morning Star and Jehovah - quite frankly, it sounds so much better than it has the right to sound and it gives me a better understanding of what the original was aiming to achieve.

04 - Revised Music For Low Budget Orchestra

This song has appeared with various titles on the likes of  'Läther', 'Studio Tan', 'King Kong' and 'Playground Psychotics', this is one of the most diverse piece on this album and that is no small feat ladies and gentlemen; much like a lot of the great man's work, it is a piece that is constantly in flux, always shifting and evolving.  It does not stop for a moment and I like that sort of piece, I like to be second guessing where the album is going to take me and it is such a joyful piece of art.

05 - The Beltway Bandits

Another 'Jazz From Hell' alumni, 'The Beltway Bandits' is such an aggressive number from the opening, even in this revised formation.  It is the one which stick closest to its original pattern, it is a harsh piece of music in any version and it still hurts the ears.  Not for the faint of heart or untrained Zappa enthusiast.

06 - A Pig With Wings

One of the more sinister pieces from 'Civilization Phase III', which large passages of silence to contrast the piano and guitars and that unsettling feeling is a reminder that music is not always a simple and easy form of expression.  Sometimes it is dark, minimalist and full of nightmarish sections of dread and despair, this piece of music has featured in my nightmares before and this version holds that same impact.

07 - Put A Motor In Yourself

Once more we are brought back to 'Civilization Phase III' with 'Put A Motor In Yourself' and this time we are taken away from the nightmare (to a certain degree) and the piece feels like the rabbit hole is swirling around is getting faster and faster, much like the boat ride on the first film version of 'Charlie & The Chocolate Factory'.  It keeps on ticking forward, still with that obvious Zappa drop in sound, giving the world a feeling that everything is not quite normal; so, business as usual in the Zappa world and the Ensemble Modern have translated it perfectly here.

08 - Peaches En Regalia

If ever there was a list made of the best-known Frank Zappa songs, I am pretty sure that 'Peaches En Regalia' would be quite high up that chart.  Originally from 'Hot Rats', it is one of the signature tunes of the man and it is treat with such respect, you could almost say too respectfully in some ways, but that is just me nit-picking to be honest with you.

09 - Naval Aviation In Art?

A song that appeared on 'Läther'/'Orchestral Favorites', 'Naval Aviation In Art?' is a slow and haunted piece with long passages of notes being held in a suspenseful manner, sharp rises in tone and lulls in sound.  But considering it is just under two and a half minutes long, it feels like it has so much more to give.  Mainly, it is just acting as a pause before we reach the finale of the album, which is perfectly understandable at this point.

10 - The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary

Ending the album is the twenty plus minute song called 'The Adventures of Greggery Peccary', it has the narration, it has changes, it has vocals and it is bonkers.  I mean it is box of kittens, fist of jam in the peanut butter jar and out of the ragged edge of reason crazy.  Couple that with the secret cover of 'Does This Kind of Life Look Interesting To You' on the end, it is a brilliant version of the song.

Covers albums can be hard to get right, even if you have worked with the artist in question before and have released one of his most definitive pieces of work; this album does a few things right, but it also does a few things wrong as well.  It makes sense of some of the more complex pieces of the Frank Zappa back catalogue and that is both brilliant and frustrating in equal measure.  Sometimes it is great to hear music that feels like you are wrestling with a bear who can operate laser chainsaws, danger is a key element to certain pieces of music.  However, it is also very rewarding to hear all the notes in their place and not sounding like they are being thrown into the void on a hope and a pray.  It is a pain to the heart here as they have created some beautiful covers here, but it is also just a cover album at the end of the day.  I love it, it is moving and I would love to see them live one day; but much like a lot of the work of the Lord Deity Zappa, it is as mad as a box of cats (for the most part).

Crazy cat symbols - This cannot be marked, so here is a photo of a box of kittens

Top track - Night School

You can purchase Ensemble Modern Plays Frank Zappa (Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions) of Amazon here

You can visit the Ensemble Modern website here

You can follow the activities of Ensemble Modern on Facebook here.

You can listen to Ensemble Modern Plays Frank Zappa (Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions) on Spotify here

You can listen to Ensemble Modern Plays Frank Zappa (Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions) on Deezer here.

You can listen to Ensemble Modern Plays Frank Zappa (Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions) on Tidal here.

Past sermons

Greatest hits