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British Steel – The legacy of UK Metal

E-Streeter pays a fond tribute to the metal behemoths, and invokes a few names from back in the day as well. British metal once ruled the roost, you know… 

You’re unlikely to find Judas Priest’s 1980 record British Steel in many top 20 record lists, but it is high in the metal pantheon. British Steel was the sixth studio record Priest recorded, their 4th on CBS, and a tangible departure from the abstract, occasionally obscure lyrical imagery on the first three albums. It was also a conscious swerve from the alien sci-fi sweep of 1978’s Stained Class, building more on the urban landscapes of 1979’s Killing Machine where the tempo went up a notch.

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The Friday 5 – Great Guitar Work

“I’ve got Friday on my mind” sand The Easybeats in 1966, and how right they were. Yes, it has rolled round again, all bells and whistles and here we go for the weekend. Here at ELM we do enjoy these little Friday chats we have, it somehow seems more relaxed. Bad news dominated the headlines this week, as the world slides further towards financial meltdown and it now seems compulsory for everyone under the age of 18 to carry a knife. It’s very hard not to lapse into a deep and unmistakeable depression when one thinks of the world in which we are living in. Indeed, in today’s edition of The Sun ‘newspaper’ a story caught my eye about a 15 year old girl who is 33 stone (or 460 pounds for our metric readers.) This was illustrated by a picture of said lardarse with ‘what she would eat during an average day’. And funnily enough, it wasn’t hummous and foie gras, but pies, fries and chocolate. The headline said it was ‘TRAGIC’ and she said it was like being addicted to heroin. No, it isn’t love. It’s like being a fat bastard who can’t say no to stuffing her already engorged face. Though it did get me thinking. Surely in the future, The Sun now have a responsibility to show Amy Winehouse next to a big bag of horse, a needle and a spoon saying ‘this is the amount of gear that Amy gets through in a normal day’ and Amy can say ‘it’s just like being addicted to Mars Bars and doughnuts’. Come on, fair’s fair.

So with the actual world not much fun to live in at present, it is time to visit Planet Rock. There are always, always bountiful, joy-giving things aplenty there. And today, we celebrate five stunning pieces of guitar invention. These are yer actual, foot-on-monitor, air guitar classics. They are at times silly, at times innovative, but above all, they are all simply great. God gave RockN’Roll to you; thank him for that.

The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet
Dunno whether talking about heroin got me thinking about Peter Perret’s gang of pharmaceutical cowboys, but what a tune this is. A slippery, eel-like thing which is just the perfect 45, back when you got such things. Perret’s voice, a strange mix of ennui and hope, is fantastic but the guitar solo is just unforgettable. Technically brilliant, there is not a note that doesn’t sound as though it is living exactly where it is supposed to be.

Dinosaur Jr. – Freak Scene
J.Mascis was simply cool, man, in a way Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder just never managed. You can argue about the different social levels they came from, of course – Mascis is the son of a wealthy Doctor – but he fundamentally just had it going on. The end of this song is the epitome of his sclerotic genius – buzzsaw guitars take off in about eight different directions, before collapsing into themselves in an exhausted heap, leaving a ringing and deeply satisfying noise in your ear. It makes for an exhilerating end to possibly the best statement grunge ever made about itself. And he now looks like Gandalf. Sir, we salute you.

Metallica – Enter Sandman
Metallica have become a bit of a joke recently and it’s hard to argue with that. But back in the day, when they were in their pomp, they were the flag-bearers for proper old-school rawk, and they were peerless. This was their anthem and acted as the bridge to straddle their thrash days with the more conventional route they took through the 90’s. And it’s just fucking great. If ever a solo deserved to be played loud, this spinning, virtuoso barrage of noise is it. And it is actually far more subtle than many would give it credit for. A masterly change of pace and tone towards the end and you are in hard rock heaven, frankly.

Mission of Burma – Academy Fight Song
What a strange song. Mission of Burma are often labelled as being just another US punk band when in fact they were always a band whose horizons stretched much further. The Mish, as no-one called them, were more influential than successful – several tracks of Blur’s eponymous album are direct cribs – and this is the perfect distillation of their ideas; unlike doing a Dave Gilmour (eight bars to fill of signature sound; go) or simply going high in the neck and having a wank, this little sequence is perfectly thought out and really, really lovely. A band for whom the only fitting epithet is ‘ahead of their time’.

Television – Marquee Moon
How could you have a list about guitar parts and not include Television? A perfect economy of sound, not just on this song, but the whole album. There just isn’t one note wasted and there just isn’t one note that could be altered to improve it. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s duelling guitars were spiralling on the edge of breakdown on this one, but never quite did, giving it a taut, tension-filled claustrophobic feel. If your idea of guitar hell is Eric Clapton and his fucking blues, then get this – these guys can do things with a guitar old Eric hasn’t even had a nightmare about.

So, onwards and upwards people, and remember, if you see ELM standing furtively in the corner of a bar this weekend, it’s because we are waiting for you to buy us a drink. It’s the least you could do.

What Were You Thinking? Ten Terrible Albums by Ten Terrific Artists

If ever you could argue a concept is universal, then surely ‘a bad day at the office’ has a strong case. We’ve all had them – late bus, pissing rain, boss on the warpath, deadline missed, no time for lunch, bollocking from MD, work late, miss train, home at 8pm freezing, pissed off and borderline suicidal that you need to go back the next day. It happens to us all. But at least when it has gone, it has gone. Think of our poor, benighted rock stars. Not only do they suffer in their jobs, there is a permanent document of their misendeavours for all to share in. It’s there forever . Here we look at some examples by otherwise talented performers….

U2 – Rattle & Hum; U2’s elevation to ‘Most Important Band in the World’ after ‘The Joshua Tree’ had a crippling effect on them. Unsure of what direction to take, they decided on a rag-tag, half-live/half-recorded double album with the spurious and loose aim of celebrating rock’n’roll history to prove that they, the biggest band in the world, were still fans. That struck the critics as pretentious and already uncomfortable with U2’s values in the glossy and soulless 80’s they savaged it with a ferocity that shattered the band’s confidence. It’s not all bad – ‘Desire’ and ‘Angel of Harlem’ sit comfortably with their other more celebrated 80’s output – but it brutally ended the big hats and flags era. They went away, struggled and found a new direction and returned swathed in irony and leather and embarked on the greatest period of their career, starting with the excellent ‘Achtung, Baby!’ and ending with the underrated ‘Pop’.

Morrissey – Kill Uncle; Post-Smiths Mozzer really snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with his excellent debut ‘Viva Hate’ and then a great run of singles (collected on ‘Bona Drag’.) For this 1991 effort, he curiously decided to write with fairground Attraction’s Mark Nevin and produced a strangely passionless, anodyne album. Without doubt his most drab album, there is none of the sparkling wordplay which characterised the rest of his work (‘your boyfriend he went down on one knee, could it be he’s only got one knee?’) Again, not a total disaster – ‘Our Frank’, ‘Mute Witness’ and ‘Sing Your Life’ stand up well – but it took a re-awakening of his love for Glam Rock and the production skills of Mick Ronson for him to rally with the glorious ‘Your Arsenal’.

The Cure – Bloodflowers; The Cure’s critical and commercial peak, which people often forget, was not in fact the 80’s at all, but the early 90’s. With grunge in full flow, Bob’s madcap gang led the line for traditional British Indie values of not being able to get your end away and stunningly good tunes. 1992’s behemoth album ‘Wish’ led to 6 hit singles (all of them great) and two year tour, two live albums (one of them a double) and a plan to take a break, watch England in the 1994 USA World Cup and then start writing again. Sadly, Graham Taylor rather scuppered that plan, and six months turned into two years, before the band returned with patchy 1996 effort ‘Wild Mood Swings’. After such a long gap, returning with a lightweight collection of knockabout songs was never going to do, and in a Britpop-dominated world the band seemed to have lost their raison d’être. Panicking, they decided they’d dance with the girl they’d brought and recorded an almost industrial, gloom-ridden gothic extravaganza. Sadly, it sounded like some old men trying to record an almost industrial, gloom-ridden gothic extravaganza. Career put back on track by Ross Robinson (producer of nu-metal bands Limp Bizkit, Korn and Slipknot) who challenged them for the first time in 15 years on 2004’s rather good ‘The Cure’.

R.E.M. – Around The Sun; The sound of a band trying to find some relevance and failing. Spending far too much time trying to produce into shape an album of simply sub-par songs, the Athens legends produced by far the worst album of their stellar 30 year career. Lacking drive, dynamism and above all tune, this album meanders in, meanders out and leaves absolutely no impression on the listener. The bands confidence was shot; they seriously considered giving up. They re-convened for 2008’s ‘Accelerate’ and actually made a decent album. Still hanging in there.

Wings – Wild Life; It’s easy to knock Wings because, mostly, they weren’t very good. Making music for his own sake and sadly not stopping to let the creative well fill up again, Paul McCartney kept the band on a crazy touring and recording schedule throughout their existence. you don’t have to be Dr. Frasier Crane to work out that he was running away from something. this particular turkey, recorded in the midst of intra-band strife and with no discernible purpose, is the biggest miss in his back catalogue. Contains a song called ‘Bip-Bop’ (‘bip-bop’, it went, ‘bip-bop song’.) Not one for the casual fan.

Ryan Adams – Rock’N’Roll – Adams has always been far too prolific for his own good, and struggles with the dichotomy between what an artists is and what he actually thinks he is. Always sounding uncomfortable when pulling on the leathers and trying to be Suicide, this shambolic collection of driftwood was assembled in two weeks after Lost highway staggeringly declined to issue the brilliant ‘Love Is Hell’ on the grounds it was ‘not commercial enough’. A pathetic thing to say for an indie label, frankly (it came out later as two EP’s.) Drugged up, rambling, unfocussed and hopeless, ‘Rock’N’Roll’ was the first time the boy wonder was roundly criticised and man, was he ever. ‘Uncut’s review could have been termed an assault, but ‘Burning Photograph’ apart, it’s hard to disagree with it.

Tin Machine – Tin Machine; His bus was late. the dog ate his homework. Every excuse he could possibly find, well, the Thin White Duke did. ‘You should hear the demos!’ he famously told Rolling Stone, begging the question, obviously, as to why he didn’t simply release the demos. An over-produced, under-written scab of an album, it pleased precisely one Bowie fan – himself – before crawling back under the rock it crawled from. Simply ghastly.

Mick Jagger – She’s The Boss; Hard as it is to imagine now, there genuinely was the suspicion that if Jagger’s solo career had taken off in the mid-80’s, we’d have no more Stones. Luckily, this crap precluded any chance of that happening. An unspeakably stupid record, from the shiny 80’s production to the half-sexist, mostly inane tripe he peddled as lyrics. Had a song on it called ‘Let’s Work’ in which a millionaire urged young black kids to get off their arses and get jobs. Norman Tebbitt would probably have felt it was a tad crass.

Guns’n’Roses – The Spaghetti incident? Oh Lord, save us from albums with ‘amusing’ titles. Deciding to ‘give something back’ to their influences and not in any way filling a contractual obligation, on no sir, they released this atrocious album of punk covers, including such luminaries as the UK Subs. Yes, those UK Subs. Sadly stands as the bands last will and testament at this point. But not as bad as….

Metallica – St.Anger; A dreadful, post-therapy, possibly post-talent unblocking of creative pipes. Band as parents bickering in front of fans as children. No tunes, no hope and surely the worst album ever released by a Stadium act. And I include Genesis in that.

So there you have it. It happens to the best of us! Come on, it’s nearly the weekend…..

Metallica to Embrace The Digital Age

To much mirth, Metallica announced this week that they had joined the rest of us in the 21st Century and would be making some new product available online as a taster for their new album. Don’t be fooled this was a Radiohead-style bonanza for their loyal fans, who stuck with them through the Napster debacle, band changes and ‘St. Anger’; no, this was the standard, a few tracks and demos available on the website. You know, like everybody else does and has done for years.

Even at the time, Lars Ulrich’s suicidal decision to go after Napster seemed a bit silly, though sadly not out of character. Metallica had seemingly decided to use decade two of their existence to strip away the mystique and fearsome reputation they had built in their first. The sight of a spoiled millionaire grasping for more cash – and worse, clearly just not getting this new-fangled internet thingy, despite the fact it was hardly in its infancy in 2001, appalled and amused in equal measure. Whereas many in the rock pantheon saw the internet for what it could be (a useful tool in getting your music across) or even what it was (the future), Metallica reacted like dinosaurs. They tried to squash it. they managed. Did it halt the digital revolution? Did it hell. What it did do, however, was make Metallica unequivocally the least cool band in rock music. Which was a shame. By the time the more-Tap-than-Tap near parody that was the documentary ‘Some Kind Of Monster’ appeared in 2004, Metallica were beyond redemption. Everyone was laughing at them.

But fair play to them for trying to claw it back, you might think. But is it really? This is surely a case of ‘too little, too late’ if ever there was one. Metallica fundamentally just didn’t get it; nothing in their announcements suggest that has changed. Indeed, there seems a grudging, resigned aspect to it. It’s almost as if they are saying ‘we know the rules have changed, but we are still sour about it.’ Rock royalty forced to behave in the way that people without even a record deal to their name do? Pah! Beneath them. And THAT’S the reason people will never, ever forgive Metallica. they looked out of touch and arrogance. The reason was, they were.

Dinosaurs died out for a reason. Maybe the days of the rock megaband is gone. A good thing, say ELM. And Metallica did more than most to kill it.

The Friday 5 – The Five Worst Ideas by Established Stars

Welcome to a regular feature, shamelessly stolen from High Fidelity than assigned a regular day for alliterative reasons.

To kick off, we look at when the rock demi-God displays the same intuition and foresight as any normal demi-wit. When the ego took fought off any resistance from common sense, and they went careering off with all the grace of an Apprentice contestent on a flight of fancy.

1. The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Take a load of ‘characters’, fill them full of powerful hallucinogens, get a garishly painted bus, drive around the country and film what happens. The only problem was, nothing did. Spontaniety is a tough thing to capture; its an absolute bastard to create. The soundtrack was decent, thankfully, but the film is best remembered for the scene in which Paul McCartney accidentally gets his gentleman out. And I don’t mean Wilfred Brambell. First time they appeared mortal; they never recaptured that aura of invincibility again.

2. The Stone Roses taking their time over that difficult second album.

It’s hard to grasp now just how much expectation there was over the Roses’ next move. It would have been bad enough given the strength of that incredible debut, but when Silvertone scraped the barrel for a b-sides compilation, it was wonderful, too. But The Roses, never the most driven of bands, got tied up in court for 18 months and then had lapsed into a state of manyana. They went to see Man Utd games, they had beach holidays, they did the odd session. And 5 years later, all they had was an album 60% complete which Geffen made them release. After 5 years, unless you are coming back with ‘Thriller’ meets ‘Sgt. Pepper’ meets ‘The Queen is Dead’ you are going to disappoint. And so it proved. The Roses never recovered, and instead we got The Seahorses and Ian Brown’s solo work. I think we rolled snake eyes on that one, folks.

3. Metallica suing Napster

Seriously, who advised them on this? Dislikeable little shite drummer Lars Ulrich, apparently after having decided to become the most hated man in music, not only gets Napster closed down but sees fit to lecture people on ‘artist’s rights’ and how he is only trying to protect poor struggling musicians way down the food chain. 20 years hard-fought credibility thrown out the window as Ulrich revealed to be an art-collecting, LA bullshit-spouting fuckpig. Probably wears diamond pixie shoes too, the little cunt. Pain all the more real for those of us who grew up admiring Metallica, who then decide that Dave Mustaine was cooler all along.

4. Madonna’s ‘Sex’ Book

I’m sure Madge thought she was shocking the world with her gauché sexuality when she appeared in a bunch of ludicrously staged pictures in her birthday suit. She wasn’t. All this deeply unarousing book did was prove that she was (at the time) defunct musically and that ‘less-is-more’ when it comes to sex appeal. Naomi Campbell was in it. It left one suspecting that if those two ever did have lesbian sex, it would need to be in a mirrored room so they could see the person they were really interested in. Oh, it did prove one other thing; if you want to administer some self-discipline, buy some honest one-handed literature, not some overpriced coffee table soft-porn snooze.

5. The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesty’s Request

Confused by the new direction rock music seemed to be taking post-‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Pepper’, rather than concentrate on what they were good at, Jagger persuaded Richards to have a stab at a pyschedelic direction. The resultant mess looked exactly what it was – a bunch of rock n’roll animals wearing kaftans and wondering what the fuck was going on. Richards immediately hauled the band back towards r n’b glory afterwards. He later said ‘it was almost like ‘will this do? Is this what you want?’ And the audience didn’t!’.

Band You Love Releasing New Album Dilemma

Do you remember when you were a kid, when you didn’t just like a band, you absolutely loved them? You weren’t just a fan of the music, you liked them as people? Hanging on their every utterance plastering your bedroom wall with their posters, finding out who their influences were and buying their albums, knowing their back story, counting days down to you saw them live and then spending that gig thinking ‘holy fuck, it’s actually them’?

There was also the strange feeling approaching the release of a new album. Anticipation, sure, but also a slightly clammy feeling of unease, just a chilling little feeling of fear at the back of your mind….what if it’s rubbish? What if it isn’t any good?

Those feelings do go, mostly, as you get older. You still really enjoy new stuff, you still go and see bands, but you just can’t replicate the fervour you had when you were a teenager. It’s probably just as well. When you are a teenager, acting up is cute. When you are an adult, it’s potentially stalking.

But there is one band who are the exception for me, and that’s the Hold Steady. A simply brilliant band, with wonderful lyrics detailing the adventures of a group of characters with a precision and verve Hunter S. Thompson would have admired. Add to that they make a fearsome live noise and you have a great recipe. I’ve done stupid things to follow this band – like flying from Glasgow to Colorado for the weekend JUST TO SEE THEM PLAY! – and I’ve bored everyone I know about how wonderful they are. If people don’t like them, I think less of them as humans. And they have a new album out next month.

On the one hand, I’m excited, of course I am. I want to see what’s happened with the gang. But I’m also gripped by the fear – what if it’s rubbish? What will I do then?

I actually think I know. I’ll listen to it over and over again, looking for any way into it, any little glimmer of hope. I’ll launch myself further into denial than Moses and pretend it’s a masterwork. Look at the poster on another thread heroically defending ‘St.Anger’ by Metallica despite the overwhelming aural evidence that’s it’s utterly dreck. Now, eventually I’ll come clean, and it will go into the category marked ‘never listen’ along with ‘Kill Uncle’ by Morrissey, ‘Monster’ by REM and ‘The Second Coming’ by the Stone Roses, all albums by bands I love that I just don’t love as much as their other stuff.

So, come on lads, don’t put me through that. Please tell me that it’s even better than the last three (which I know will be tough.) You are special, you can do it. I BELIEVE!

No pressure…..

Can you make too much music?

Was thinking about Kim Deal and Frank Black after the Breeders gig (see reviews) and was comparing their respective solo outputs. The Breeders have made four albums in 20 years. In all his guises, FB is well into double figures. In terms of who has the stronger cannon, I’d plump for Deal. It’s not that there aren’t great moments in the Black back catalogue, but you do have to panhandle to find a lot of it. Is it talent or is it quality control?

Ryan Adams springs to mind. Including Whiskeytown work, he has released a dozen albums, one a double, in 10 years. That’s a hell of a lot of recorded music and you would need to be his Mum to love all of it. Now, I’m all for artists working, but you can’t help but feel that given the amount of great music he HAS recorded – and it really is a lot – he could have one of the track records of any artist out there now. But most new releases of his are greeted with a shrug. he’s an artist you would love more if you heard from him less.

Is it fear of being left behind? Of having worked your way into the spotlight, you aren’t going to let people forget you are there? I’d argue that, perversely, it just makes people take you for granted. Look at the Fall; I’m not even going to hazard how many albums he has released – I saw an estimate in a music monthly saying well over FIFTY! – and, if you go by critical reaction, they are usually decent. But who rushes out and buys one the day it comes out? Why bother?

I’m not saying every act should be the Blue Nile and release every 8 years, but surely a sensible rule of thumb is that if you haven’t got the songs, don’t try and force one out? Look at Metallica and the hideous destruction of what they had achieved in a 25 year career that was ‘St.Anger’. They had no juice. They had no direction. They had no tunes. Yet out it came spilling, and it lost them a good few fans.

I suppose in the end it’s whether you believe music is inspiration or perspiration. Count me in the first camp.