Friday, 24 June 2016

Take Me Back: Jeff Buckley - Sweet Thing

Van Morrison has a knack for writing beautiful songs, his masterpiece Astral Weeks featured many of his best works but "Sweet Thing" stood out as one of his optimistic songs in a period of hurt and soul searching. The recording on Astral Weeks featured Van Morrison's best vocals and musicianship, with additional strings added by Larry Fallon; the strings make the song on Astral Weeks, but it's the stripped back lyricism and sheer solo beauty which attracts me to "Sweet Thing", which is why Jeff Buckley's 10 minute individual effort is one of the best covers Van Morrison could ever ask for. Buckley has a knack for this, his angelic voice is like a soothing presence needed at a funeral - it's the sound of a timeless, motionless man popping in when it matters, and fading out when the time is right. That's why Buckley's tribute to his late great father Tim in 91', specifically the track "Once I Was" becomes tragic, bringing a new meaning to a song already placed in time by Tim. You feel that in every single one of Jeff Buckley's covers, because he was a truly a marksman of playing other peoples songs the way he felt he wanted them to be played, "Once I Was" being the catalyst for "Sweet Things", and the Dylan / Simone / Morrissey covers aplenty.

Here's someone who was always ignored or pushed aside by the music press because nobody knew how to categorise his music, his sound. Those dumb enough to put him with his father were left confused; those even dumber to consider him part of a 90s scene which just didn't exist in Buckley's world were over committed to defining something which was just unrecognisable. You have a voice, you have a Telecaster, and somehow somewhere this defines him. We're all culprits especially me, but when it comes to Buckley you just can't. Tim was the master of change - he followed in the footsteps of Miles Davis; not musically, but in terms of progressing through life and feeling. Jeff who had a good understanding of Tim's music, he took the almost definitive vocal style of his father and accompanied it with consistent ethereal beauty. Live at Sin-E was Buckley's first release, we're talking pre-Grace hype - and to think how competent of a vocalist and musician he was then just a few years after only having a handful of covers and a fathers last name; the turnaround was a phenomenon label execs and audiences missed the chance to champion. "Sweet Thing", although not on the original release but on the 2003 edition was Buckley's penultimate track to "Hallelujah". And it's evident how an audience feels via the feedback sound of sheer openness towards the finale. In 10 short... minutes, Buckley managed to do what musicians spend a lifetime trying to work out, he solved how to play a pre-existing song without showing disrespect to the originator. In fact all of Buckley's covers do this but "Sweet Thing" in particular with it's message of optimism, happiness, and autumn strikes a chord in the heart no other musician can hit.
Eddie Gibson

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Take Me Back: Slowdive - Crazy for You

There's nothing quite as addictive as Slowdive, nothing more so than their third and 'final' album Pygmalion, which regularly does the rounds through my ethereal and atmospheric period of bi-monthly un-categorised music listening. Often jumping from Slowdive to Galaxie 500 and back again with a few rarities inbetween I always find myself back at Pygmalion. There's something quite sincere about this record which just isn't focussed on nearly enough in 90s discussions. Slowdive really achieved greatness in releasing three top class albums, all with a different mood, a different feel, uncategorised, never once pigeon hole’d in my false reality. You can't call Pygmalion shoegaze because it's not brash enough, and you can't call it dream pop because it's too reliant on ambience to even bare the label.

"Crazy for You" is a standout on Pygmalion which is saying something considering the entire 50 minutes of Pygmalion is a musical experience everyone deserves to have. This is where the listener gets involved, Slowdive are doing all the work, but the listener is taking it, and making it their own. Neil Halstead in godlike fashion delivers four simple words, four words: "Crazy for loving you," that's all Halstead and Slowdive need to create. It doesn't matter if it's live, studio, or demo; "Crazy for You" is what it is, an excellent track full of looped repetition and atmosphere. Words honestly can't describe what mood Slowdive put me in, but  I know it's a happy place. If there's one thing Pygmalion loving Slowdive fans want from their upcoming reunion release, its simplicity. Pygmalion will always be overshadowed by "Alison" and the poppier nature of Souvlaki with "When the Sun Hits" (my personal favourite Slowdive song) and "Souvlaki Space Station", but they, specifically Halstead's creativity progressed and peaked in 95' with Pygmalion. "Crazy for You" is just a placebo for Slowdive's never ending atmosphere, whether you call them dream pop, shoegaze or fugazi is completely up to you, but they'll always be that special misunderstood looping distortion on Boss pedals to me.
Eddie Gibson

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Pop Corner: Rihanna - Work

In times of short attention spans, Smartphone news and top 40 rotations being shorter than ever, its important pop artists produce the catchiest, most extravagant piece of art they can draw up from the most unlikely source. Rihanna's team achieved that with "Bitch Better Have My Money", but it's still a forgettable single, and one which listeners ultimately forget after a repetition of simple minded and one dimensional lyricism - which happens to be the key to Rihanna's downfall on a consistent basis.

The big question leading up to Anti, and "Work" was which direction will Rihanna go? Will she progress further down this aggressive dominant figure, the polar opposite to her predecessors of bdsm humiliation and sexual gimmicks. Drake's sexual gimmicks are among the worst in popular music. But it's his work with Rihanna, specifically "What's My Name" which forms the early opinion as to why "Work" suffers. What world are we living in that "What's the square root of 69 is eight some," constitutes as a well-written lyric and "ooh na na, what's my name," is a catchy refrain. Extended vocal pronunciations are something of the present, you never heard Eazy E spending more than five seconds pronouncing one letter of the alphabet, and you sure as hell never heard Lauryn Hill making up expressions like 'ooh na na'", that's some N-Dubz level unintelligent for the purpose of being unintelligent nonsense talk.

Where "Work" falls flat, honestly it's all of it. The beat is special in the bad way, without the blatant electronic bass, it could be a Thom Yorke B-side just waiting to be time stretched to more ambience, but the mainstream electronics kill off any form of experimentation and uniqueness from the norm. Azealia Banks' production, though not lyrically or musically in the same region as Rihanna's here, it has character and develops an emotional attachment to the audience, be it the jungle house "1991", or the ice cold electro-pop "Feeling It", the beats and instrumentals supporting Banks are superior to anything on Anti. The inclusion of Drake's verse is there simply because of commercialism. There's actually no need for Drake on "Work", with Drake, the song becomes boring, but without Drake you have three minutes of complete randomness. Rihanna's lyrical repetition of the song title is quite frankly annoying, added to the auto-tuned exclamation of a non-world "mmmmmm," or something of similar ilk. Something different from Rihanna? Don't think so, "Work", just like Anti is a placebo unintentionally tricking audiences and critics in to believing this is a good enough lead single from two of the biggest names in pop music. It's the musical equivalent of taking a piece of paper, drawing one line and calling it art. 
~Eddie Gibson