Sunday, 30 November 2014

AC/DC - Rock or Bust, album review

Three Maxims And You’re Out

I usually like and agree with Kitty Empire’s Album of the Week review in the Observer Magazine, and today’s is no exception, this one celebrating the signature return to a sound from which they never moved, AC/DC’s latest release Rock or Bust.

To pilfer and add to Empire’s ironic premise which is based on the quote from Heraclitus of Epheus there is no constant in the world but change, I will mention Man’s yesterday may ne’re be like his morrow/Nought may endure but mutability by PB Shelley, and what does not change/is the will to change by Charles Olson as two further axioms consigned to the embarrassment of irony when flouted by the stickingmast of AC/DC’s courageous rock-riff adherence.

Opener Rock or Bust epitomises and exemplifies [one more?] and envelopes that proven simple rock pattern to perfect effect, the four-part riff quick-strummed until the bass thuds in at a mono-note, and Johnson’s high-pitched rasp begins the ascending vocal melody. It is a classic corker.

And this is where H-of-E, PBS and CO get immediate short shrift because second Play Ball is more of the same, obviously a difference in the riff – too symptomatic to embellish it as a nuance – and the pounding places us straight back into the head bang.

Miss Adventure gets linguistically playful, but it is another in that riff-groove - this one ever-so-slightly more elaborate - and closer Emission Control deserves a mention now as another linguistic tease, albeit silly, but a chugging rhythm keeps a grip on the musical template.

There are relatively duller spots: Dogs of War is more generic than signature, the semi-thrash vocal and chorus providing a glint of Metal; Hard Times starts well enough but has quickly fallen on them; Baptism of Fire searches for that elusive original riff climb and fall, but the hot apocalypse eludes.

Rock the House, as Empire notes, soundchecks Led Zep to a degree, and the guitar/bass tandem riff supports Johnson’s Plant-esque squeeze well; Sweet Candy follows and soundchecks a Hendrix feedback intro: all masters in their own ways.

This is an album I now know better than any of their others, having listened and written about briefly when it was streamed, and since acquiring I have returned to it for loud assimilation. Having, in its steadfastness, defeated three philosophical/poetic maxims to their irrelevances, I’m guessing I don’t need to search out more. 

Friday, 28 November 2014

Gong - I See You, album review


Forty years into their musical journey, and Gong is still resonating adventure and impact. Core remaining member Daevid Allen is at 75/76 still leading the line with a psychedelic and jazz baton that flourishes across twelve excellent tracks. It is overall quite melodic although also necessarily loud here and there, and the progrock orchestrations remind often of King Crimson, down to the Fripp-esque guitar work on the stand-out song The Eternal Wheel Spins. There is a spoken word with background jazz saxophone interlude in The Revolution, name-checking and echoing Gill Scott-Heron, reminding us that political preoccupations have not withered over time either: I presume the raucous Occupy – and its hint of VDGG – invokes the demonstrations against global greed. This is a furious track, Ian East ‘Wind’ blowing up a horn-storm.The musical whimsey for which Gong is historically well known [and by those more closely following over that time than me] is supplied on ninth track Pixielation and is a bright and breezy example.

As I begin to think about the best albums of 2014, I'm sure this is going to be near the top of the list.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

AC/DC - Rock or Bust

Lamp posts

Waking up wildly this morning to AC/DC's latest - released on the 28th but out there for a listen - and it's everything you could reasonably expect, even if, like me, you are not a huge fan [not not a fan, but a more casual admirer, hearing them on the radio and always enjoying]. It is all in the formula, pulsing riffs and Brian Johnson's unique vocals. It's like a dog that runs in its sleep, chases cars and liquifies lamp posts: instinct.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Thompson Family album review

Bonny Without the Bonhomie

Listening again to Teddy Thompson’s confessional opener Family on the album of the same title, it is a darker affair than when I first heard it on an album stream. Referring to light over dark as a seeming choice one chases in life; the honesty of being not too secure, very unsure who to be; complimenting two pretty sisters but one candidly given the superlative in a direct comparison; a grandmother who never dealt with her pain, and I done exactly the same….trying to drown in a way, and the painful offering I’ve come very close to a family of my own: these are public statements usually preserved for the intimacy and secrecy of the psychiatrist’s couch.

It is a startling premise to the apparent purpose of the album: to unite – musically at least – the talented but disparate musical Thompson family. Former husband/wife and current father/mother Richard and Linda have already laid bare their love and then disdain for one another in a famous past musical and mutual life, so such candour from the ‘middle’ sibling is no surprise. 

As an overall listen, the album lacks some cohesion musically, but it is nonetheless engaging. It also lacks cohesion as a familial template where one might have expected a shared reflection on the meaning – light and dark – of being related by blood as well as songwriting and performance expertise. What I mean is its appeal will be to those, obviously, who have an interest in the Thompson family relationships dynamic. Like me. And for those who have a special interest in the brilliance of Teddy Thompson. Like me. And maybe most widely those who have an interest in Richard and Linda, fuelled by years of following and listening, and wondering if they would perform together on the album and articulate any measure of reconciliation and/or forgiving. Like me. And no they haven’t really. Indeed, one of Richard’s two contributed songs That’s Enough choses to expose the failings in politics rather than family.

There is also the broader interest in the wider Thompson performing family represented here, but I suspect this is the lesser interest, and I wonder how those members feel about these, to some degree, cameo roles? Perhaps it is something with which they are very experienced. I must mention how Teddy’s nephew Zak Hobbs provides a solo folk song Root So Bitter that has a pleasing echo of very early John Martyn.

The lack of a musical cohesion isn’t serious at all, and this is naturally the consequence of any compilation which in itself can be appealing to the listener. Kami’s pop-rock offering Careful is one that resides outside the ‘folk’ expectation; Jack Thompson’s fine guitar instrumental At the Feet of the Emperor is another. Closer I Long for Lonely is a sweet duet, the one we all might have unrealistically yearned for from Richard and Linda, but is instead by Kami and James Walbourne, partners in life and in their band The Rails.

As I observed in my previous posting on the album stream, Linda’s contribution Bonny Boys is the most plaintive and beautiful, offering advice on love and relationships to her son, full of tender concern, care and irony.

An excellent and detailed review by Susan Dominus on the background to this recording from The New York Times can be read here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


In 1979, 25 years old and trying too hard to be Seamus Heaney, I wrote the following. One year away from graduating in Oxford, I had before this lived, studied and worked in Ipswich, three years as an agricultural labourer, thus the rustic roots celebrated in the poem and providing an affinity for rural preoccupations in the poetry of Heaney and Hughes. But who didn't revere these two at this time, whatever their themes, if you wanted to be a poet?

From working on a 3000 acre farm near Ipswich, I then helped to run with one other a 200 acre farm on the Chiltern Hills near Stokenchurch for two years. This poem was written two years after that time, those farming days still pumping the poet's blood.

I post this now having been reminded of the poem during research today about a wonderful man and farm worker [also horseman in his youth] I knew and will write much more about later. He is the Arthur of the haiku posted a little earlier, and that is a true story.....

The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
1979 Crabbe Memorial Competition - First Prize
Adjudicators: Wes Magee, Marguerite Wood

Tom turns a spaded clod upside
down and prods it to levelled crumbs.
He grips the handle between thumb
and palm while a laugh jerks his side,
then stabbing at the crusty surface loam
a booted step thuds it home.

His smiles are a unique arcana,
mysteries to break the slow toil
into rhythms: movements of compact soil,
once turned, are finished like a coda.
It's a simple talent. Using these secrets
his arms work on through leather singlets.

On stopping, his fingers stretch to unhitch
a clutch nine decades old. Tom stalls
to review through eyes that can recall
backwards as a Suffolk horse-witch
when instead of taming this dark loam
his skill with a dried fresher's back-bone

worked a different gardening.
Pocketed in thick farmer's corduroy
the thin frog-bone was a ploy
to coax some Punch to its tugging
charm. Sweating to the potion
its great legs heeled tight at Tom's motion.

The plough-team's raven-feathered shine
oiled itself through strange antidotes
Tom brewed and added to blander oats.
Each bait was mixed from some design
of his own, or a Horsemen's select cabal
whose shared magic suggest 'Paddock calls',

their witch-like exchange of ideas.
Now moving the stubborn rich earth
he is tending to a similar birth,
and this is Tom's silently smiled panacea.
Molding another cut turf to shreds
he casts his spells into living beds.