Saturday, 24 January 2015

Dire Straits (II): so good, so short

Mark Knopfler didn’t waste time after Communiqué, and Making Movies, the band’s third album, was ready only months after their sophomore effort. His brother Dave left the band before finishing the album and, although most of his guitar parts were ready, Mark re-recorded them.

The sound is more mature than ever before, and, except from Expresso Love, which I personally find rather dull, every song is entertaining enough at the least. Making Movies does have a pop-ish touch at times and, although that’s often not too good in my book, it helps Dire Straits lose a bit of their occasional one-dimensionality.

There is one song that stands tall above all the others: Tunnel of Love. This one is actually the most well-rounded song the band ever did. I’ve probably said at least once or twice that I’m not a huge fan of rock bands that stay in the guitar-bass-drums comfort zone, and here the keyboards add a refreshing touch to an already excellent song. The beginning may sound familiar to some of you, and that’s because it’s an extract from The Carousel Waltz, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. This is the reason the song isn’t credited to Knopfler alone, which only happens in two other Dire Straits songs: Money for Nothing and What’s the Matter Baby?

Making Movies is a relatively short album, with only seven songs and a running time of thirty-seven minutes. There are, then, only five more songs to mention. First of all, there’s of course, Romeo and Juliet, the album’s most successful song. I’m usually not crazy about romantic songs, but I must admit this one is pretty good, and Knopfler’s singing is really powerful here. I think I don’t need to explain the reference the title contains, although many of you probably don’t know the story behind the song (not gonna lie, I was one of those people until a few minutes ago). The inspiration comes from Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent, lead singer of a short-lived band called Holly and the Italians. Dire Straits’s frontman implies that Holly Vincent used him to boost her career.

The other romantic slash cheesy song is Hand in Hand, which is not bad, but pales in comparison to Romeo and Juliet. The album also features the highly enjoyable Skateaway, the catchy rocker Solid Rock (another of my pre-party songs) and the strangely amusing Les Boys.

All in all, this is probably the band’s best album after the brilliant Brothers in Arms. If only, it’s a bit too short, and I miss one or two more songs. The funny thing is that four more songs were recorded but not released: Making Movies (the fact that the album took the title of a song that wasn’t finally featured on it is pretty strange, although it’s also in a line from Skateaway), Suicide Towers, Twisting by the Pool and Sucker for Punishment. The first two appear in bootlegs, and Twisting by the Pool, which is extremely catchy (and extremely eighties-cheesy), was released on the ExtendedancEPlay EP on 10 January 1983.

Finally, here's the link to the blog's facebook page, in case you want to discuss music or listen to random songs from time to time.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Simon & Garfunkel (II): from disbandment to success

I’ve been itching for more and more Simon & Garfunkel lately, so I suppose it’s time to back to them, after writing about their debut album a two or three months ago. Although Wednesday Morning, 3 AM was a lovely bunch of songs, the duo were not successful, and Paul Simon went to England, where he recorded The Paul Simon Songbook, which wasn’t didn’t make a big splash either. Despite that, Simon was happy in England and wasn’t planning to go anywhere else.

And here is when one of these funny twists of fate happened.

While Paul Simon enjoyed life in England, a late-night disc jockey at WBZ-FM in Boston began to spin "The Sound of Silence" overnight, where it found a college demographic, which extended along the East Coast. This led Tom Wilson, the song’s producer, to remix the song, overdubbing electric instrumentation with the same musicians who backed Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. Simon & Garfunkel didn’t know about this until the remix was released, and even though the success was big, the duo weren’t happy with it (actually, Simon was “horrified” when he first heard it).

But success can’t be ignored, and by January 1966, more than one million copies had been sold. Simon went back to New York, leaving his girlfriend Kathy Chitty in England. The new album was recorded in three weeks, and it consisted of re-recorded cuts from The Paul Simon Songbook and four new songs. The new album was called Sounds of Silence, because the wave of the hit had to be ridden, obviously. Although some critics considered the album a manufactured imitation of folk, the success was immediate.

The difference between Wednesday Morning, 3AM and Sounds of Silence is huge. In the former, as I said in the post about that album, “the album’s formula is simple: guitar, bass (which is often not very noticeable) and then banjo on Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”. Here, the beat is amplified, and electric guitars can be found in about half of the songs.

And now comes the hardest part... which song is best? Hell, it’s such a well-rounded album, I just can’t choose. From the new version of The Sound of Silence (or Sounds of Silence, or The Sounds of Silence, you choose), which is great despite what Paul Simon may have thought at first, to I Am a Rock, a childhood favourite of mine, the album is filled with great tracks. There’s room for romantic stuff, and I mean really beautiful romantic stuff, such as Kathy’s Song, dedicated to the aforementioned Kathy Chitty and April Come She Will; more rocking songs such as Blessed and Somewhere They Can’t Find Me (a revision of Wednesday Morning, 3AM); sad songs such as A Most Peculiar Man and the harpsichord-garnished Leaves That Are Green. The duo’s voices were always on top of all that, of course (except for the short instrumental Anji).

Simon and Garfunkel were there to stay. They would also take more time to produce their next album, which was also excellent... but that’s another story.

P.S: thanks a lot to my grandmother, who gave me this CD when I was twelve or thirteen years old.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Oaksenham: progressive rock is not dead

It often happens that, when I’m listening to music from the seventies or eighties, I go full cliché and think “man, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore”. Sometimes, fortunately, I’m proven wrong.

A while ago, I was downloading music randomly from Brain Damage (check that blog, by the way, there’s lots of great prog rock to discover) and stumbled upon this Armenian band... Oaksenham, they’re called. Weird name. Whatever, let’s see, or rather listen. Apparently they’re all professionally trained musicians, it shouldn’t be bad.

Mindblowing. Conquest of the Pacific, Oaksenham’s studio debut, is probably the most surprising album I listened in 2014 (the album is from 2007). I certainly wasn’t expecting such a quality effort from a virtually unknown band that had no previous studio albums. Yes, half of the material is “borrowed” from other artists, but the adaptations are superb. First, they did their own versions of Gentle Giant’s Talybont and On Reflection. Then, they made a song (Jester's Pipe) that is not exactly a cover of Jethro Tull’s Velvet Green, although it’s very similar (Jethro Tull is actually credited on the album, I think). Finally, in Golden Hind, the song that closes the album, they start with Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and finish with Pomp and Circumstance, which doesn’t really fit that much here, I guess, but I still love it.

The whole album combines mainly progressive rock and folk, but there are also hard rock and classical music elements here and there. That, and the flute playing (for example, there are some really cool bits in Water Spark and, especially, Merlin’s Jig, a lovely song that could be in the soundtrack for some Middle Ages based adventure movie) remind me of Jethro Tull so much, which obviously means I’m in love with this shit.

Progressive rock is not dead. Ok, the band doesn’t even have a hundred likes on facebook, which shows how well known they are, but I’m really happy to see that some people still do this kind of stuff. I seriously encourage whoever reads this to give the album a try, it can be found on youtube.

That’s it for this time; I should be able to write another post this month, although I don’t know what I will write about. It’s been a long time without writing (family time in holidays, exams, etc) and I miss it. By the way, here’s the facebook page for the blog, just in case you have any suggestions, want to discuss music, whatever.