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All Filler, No Thriller: The Michael Jackson 30 year anniversary covers album

November 30, 2012

note 4Alternative Album: Thriller

Thirty years ago today, Michael Jackson was finally ready to unleash his magnum opus ‘Thriller’; a genre-mashing, culture-defining work of pop perfection that would sell over 110 million copies across, become the best-selling record in music history, and revolutionise both MTV and the music industry along the way.

So it’s a surprise to hear the King of Pop’s own thoughts on the album were anything but positive. In an interview discovered posthumously, Jackson said:

“Thriller sounded so crap. The mixes sucked. When we listened to the whole album, there were tears… I just cried like a baby. I stormed out of the room and said: ‘We’re not releasing this’.”

Surely any music critic caught writing such musical blasphemy now would be derided. But Jackson is not talking about the version released to the masses – that is very much Thriller Mark II. Instead, his disappointment was aimed at the first supposedly final mix.

So, Jackson returned to the studio with producer Quincy Jones – trusted from his work on Off the Wall three years prior – and revamped the whole album.

But what if Quincy hadn’t been given a second chance? What if other musicians were brought in to spruce up the album?

Well, after many hours mining through turgid heavy-metal covers of Beat It, we have compiled an alternative Thriller album, i.e. what it might have sounded like had Jacko been able to consult any artist over the past 30 years.

And so here it is: the dubiously titled ‘All Filler, No Thriller’:

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin

There are Youtube covers aplenty of WBSS – one of the biggest selling songs on the album – but only John Mayer diverged from the original disco template. His scuzzy rework adds a little grit to Jacko’s slick, staccatoed introduction.

Baby Be mine

Quadron swaps the disco-stomper’s jumpiness for a slowed-down sultry version.

The girl is mine

The success of Ebony and Ivory six months prior suggested that this duet with Paul McCartney should have been a bona fide hit. But releasing the saccharine duet as Thriller’s first single is like Beethoven introducing his first ever performance of Moonlight Sonata with a wet fart. After the anticipation Off The Wall had created, it was an anti-climax to say the least. To get past the cheese, we give you a glitchy modern rework by Eurothug.

Thriller

Why would you even attempt to cover this? The eponymous single that didn’t so much capture the zeitgeist, it created it. And it revolutionised MTV too. It’s heavy playlist rotation – the full 14 minute version was played twice every hour at the height of its popularity – helped the station to alleviate their reputation of favouring white artists. Ian Brown’s suitably baggy attempt might have given the alternative Thriller album a much-needed indie flavour, but even The Twang would be ashamed off  the Stone Roses frontman’s dreary effort is something. Instead, let’s go for Imogen Heap, whose acoustic cover is crying out to soundtrack a John Lewis advert.

5 Beat It

Beat It – Jackson’s attempt to write a black ‘My Sharona’ – also helped overcome racial barriers in the States. Despite listener protestations, New York’s WPLJ FM radio station – known as a “white station’ – played Beat It because of Eddie Van Halen’s appearance.  It feels a little disingenuous then to choose Fall Out Boy featuring John Mayer for the alternative Thriller album – a version that is not so much a poor man’s Beat It, as a poverty stricken deaf man’s Beat It. Instead, for someone with actual talent, try Russian guitarist Igor Presnyakov’s acoustic offering.

Billie Jean

Jackson apparently insisted on keeping Billie Jean’s 29-second intro, despite its unsuitability for radio, because it “made him want to dance.” Indeed, it was the song that gave birth to the Moonwalk. But as he gyrates across the stage in his inimitable jerky style, you can’t help think he could do with a rest. So, we have Chris Cornell’s earnest acoustic cover to keep the King of Pop sitting still for a minute.

 

Human Nature

There is fine warbly cover of this melodic gem – written by eighties soft-rockers Toto – by Boys II Men. But if Miles Davis has covered it, anything else will always be second best. Here the legendary jazz-man keeps the slick eighties sheen and adds a sultry layer of trumpet.

8  PYT

In an age when any gimmick can make you a YouTube star, the alternative Thriller album lacks a novelty song. So, with that in mind, we give you an a capella cover by Mike Tompkins. N.B If you’re struggling to cope with Tompkins smug ‘I’m so wacky’ face, try The Wood’s Brother more earnest take on the song.

9 The Lady in My life

And we finish with a tender ode to the lady in Jackson’s life.  It’s an easy choice for this one: Lou Rawls. The US crooner, once described by Sinatra as having the “silkiest chops in the singing game”, opts for a classic sounding reworking.

Rolling Stones: The ultimate sell-outs?

November 24, 2012

rolling stones pic

note 4Opinion: Rolling Stones gigs

This week, old-time rockers Rolling Stones are playing sold out shows in London and New Jersey. They’re putting on quite a show according to the five star reviews for the first show this side of the Atlantic. But if I were paying a minimum of £106 for the gig, that’s the very least I’d expect. And if I were paying £950 for the deluxe VIP package, I’d only be happy if it came with a post-gig hot tub session with the band, sipping free Moet whilst being taught guitar by Keith.

But what I’d really like is a ticket that didn’t rip off a devoted fan who has already bought far too many reissues and poor-fitting merchandise. Mick Jagger excused the cost saying it was “expensive to put on,” forgetting that fans had turned up for the band, not a fancy light show à la Muse. He explained too that the price reflected the market, sounding like a free marketeer, rather than a grateful musician whose countless adoring fans have kept him comfy in his country pile for the past 50 years. And what will Mick and the gang be paid for the shows? Reportedly $25 million.

I guess it’s time to resign ourselves to the fact that the Rolling Stones have sold out. We live in an age where the attraction of filthy corporate lucre has enticed bands previously thought impervious to bribes to reunite, lend songs to adverts, and endorse Sony (shame on you Alice Cooper).

Paint it Green

It might have seemed a triumph, for example, when Sex Pistols turned down an invitation to play the London Olympics. Playing an event steeped in corporate sponsors would have contradicted the band’s legendary agenda, and so too would a sudden show of patriotism. Their revolutionary punk was the very definition of ‘Sticking it to The Man’. But alas, only a couple of years beforehand John Lydon was happily flogging butter (and his soul) in the Country Life adverts. In 30 cringeworthy seconds, the Sex Pistols legacy had been tainted.

And he’s not the only guilty artist to blemish their heritage: Iggy Pop hamming it up in the Swiftcover adverts, Bob Dylan shilling for Victoria secrets, and Stone Roses reuniting just for the moolah.

It seems music and money have sadly integrated and sell-out no longer feels like such a dirty word. But at least there is some hope for the anti-sell-out crowd. Adele, in a refreshing – albeit perhaps anachronistic – statement to Q magazine in 2011, said:

“I don’t want my name anywhere near another brand. I don’t wanna be tainted, or haunted, and I don’t wanna sell out in any way. I think it’s shameful.”

She is a lone voice though.

Workin’ 9 to 5 – Daughn Gibson

October 21, 2012

Profile: Daughn Gibson

Hype comes too early for many, but for Daughn Gibson it’s taken 10 years of hard work for the blogosphere to take note. The baritone singer-songwriter talks to Noise Notes about his journey…

It’s perhaps unusual for a hyped artist on Pitchfork to have a CV that includes court reporter, adult video clerk, and bricklayer. But Daughn Gibson, it seems, is different. The 31-year-old has spent the past decade working, mostly trucking up and down the east coast of America. Music was always the ambition – having played in various bands since adolescence – yet it was only recently that the Pennsylvanian native decided to go it alone. And it’s the resulting debut L.P, ‘All Hell’, that means music might finally become a full time occupation for Gibson.

Gibson grew up in Nazareth, a place “rural enough to fish, hunt or be totally bored” and whiled away his teenage years playing frenetic punk, hardcore and grindcore in high school bands. “Never was I under the delusion that there was some kind of lucrative career to be had playing music,” he says, having dropped out of college twice to tour, “more like: can I pay rent, eat and stay out as long as possible without having to come home and sweep a warehouse or whatever.”

Though he found modest success drumming for stoner-metal band Pearls and Brass in his twenties, music remained only a part-time distraction as he worked a variety of jobs to stay solvent. It was only when he moved to sleepy Carlisle that his song writing changed tack and everything started to progress. “The isolation just coincided with my love of electronic music,” he says, “It’s not that I had a change of heart with regards to playing heavy music, it was that I didn’t have anyone around here I could connect with.”

The result was a compelling debut album, All Hell, released in 2012 on indie label White Denim. “Making the record, I’d mostly listen to the Classic Country Music Choice channel on Comcast when I was at home,” he says, of the album’s eclectic mix of influences, “and then ride my bike and blast Demdike Stare or Gonjasufi on the headphones.”

Dubbed country-noir by Spin magazine, Gibson’s rich baritone haunts each song telling tales of small-town tragedy. Where does his inspiration come from? “If you are into other people’s tales, no matter how tragic or funny, listening is currency,” he says, adding that it’s also an attempt to emulate the writing of Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, and Charles Bukowski.

The live show – comprising guitarist Franco accompanying Gibson on MIDI keyboard and laptop – is rehearsed and ready for upcoming shows at Chaos in Tejas, Austin, and a potential September tour down the west coast of America. “In my early tour days I just loved hanging out with females after shows and partying,” he says, “Now I’m into getting a good meal and checkin’ out the local bullshit.”

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Song: Lite Me Up

“This song is about getting turned on by that special someone or someones.  It’s a new one off a 7” coming out on Dull Knife Records in June. It’s summed up by a quote from Donald Barthelme’s book The Dead Father: “Where can a body get a bang around here?”

Atrocities Blamed on the Arts

July 23, 2012

Opinion: Denver shootings

As Batman lit up the screen in a Denver cinema last week, a young man wearing body armour and a gas mask stood up, threw two gas canisters into the stalls and opened fire. Twelve innocent people were killed and 58 wounded in an act of horrific violence that defies explanation. But an explanation is what the survivors and families of the victims need. Reasoning behind the evil; something to explain the cold-blooded murder.

And, as is so often the case, some parts of the world’s media were quick to apportion blame to the Batman trilogy. Director Christopher Nolan gave what had essentially been a camp superhero romp a realistic edge that seemed to mirror current world issues. The film was accused of glamourising violence – the nihilistic attitude of The Joker for example – and ultimately influencing the cinema massacre.

Blaming the arts for acts of horrific violence is not new and examples across cinema, music and literature are manifold. Born Innocent, a 1974 film dealing with the physical, psychological and sexual abuse of a teenage girl, showed a girl violated with a broom handle. The controversial film was later accused of inspiring a brutal attack on an 8 year old by a group of girls. In 2002, Marilyn Manson was blamed for the Columbine massacre by reactionary politicians and religious leaders. And Texan alt-rockers Drowning Pool felt obliged to release a statement condemning the shooting of 6 people and US congresswoman Gabrielle Gliffords, when it emerged that their 2001 hit ‘Bodies’ had been a youtube favourite of the offender, Jared Loughner. Even Bugs Bunny and Road Runner have been accused of desensitizing children to violence.

Yet blaming the arts only serves to excuse the perpetrator. It undermines a complex explanation – childhood trauma or mental health issues for example – and replaces it with reactionary one-dimensional reasoning. However, it must be conceded that art can be incredibly influential, in any medium. It might not be the root cause, but few would deny that it has the ability to inspire ideas – good and bad. Disturbed minds are just as malleable to violent ideas in books, films, and music than those with a healthy amount of morals.

The Catcher in the Rye provides an interesting case study. The rebellious and blasphemous protagonist, Holden Caulfield, in J.D Salinger’s classic, meant the book has been dogged with censorship over the past 50 years. And those hostile to the classic have had a number of cases to back up their argument. None more infamous than when Mark David Chapman was found with a copy of the book upon arrest after assassinating John Lennon. Inside was a scribbled note reading “Dear Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, This is my statement”. But how can Salinger be blamed? As an author, it was not his responsibility to censor. It is not the duty of any artist or creative to be a moral arbiter. Instead, it is their job to entertain, to push boundaries, or to challenge attitudes.

Batman certainly fulfills this criterion. The tragic event in the Denver cinema is understandably now indelibly linked to The Dark Knight Rises, but any notion of blame shouldn’t be.

Bristol’s hip-hop hub: Split Prophets

May 5, 2012

Profile: Split Prophets

The rap collective from Bristol talk to Noise Notes about the resurgence of UK hip-hop and the thriving scene in South West England…

“I remember when I was younger, there were fuck all good hip hop nights on,” ruminates Res, member of hip-hop collective Split Prophets, over the phone, “I think music goes in 30 year cycles. Everyone’s been on this trendy eighties bullshit for a hot minute, so I think we’re due for the nineties now.”

It would certainly be good timing for the Bristol crew. The ragtag bunch of twenty-something’s classic brand of nineties style beats borrows heavily from the era.

Their influences are pervasive on Scribbled Thoughts – the bands debut album released on Standup Recordz earlier this year – and it’s no surprise to hear every member of the crew grew up on a diet of pure hip-hop. Bill’s mum was always listening to Public Enemy, The Disposable Hero’s of Hiphoprisy, and Blackalcious. Paro’s love for beats began when he found a KRS One cassette at six years old. And Res remembers spending his teenage years at the local skate park with Busta Rhymes, Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla, and Wu Tang blaring out the boombox.

The album was produced by Plymouth production duo Krate Krusaders, whose own mixtape ‘Volume One’ is a lesson in quality hip-hop. “It was a turning point,” says Res of the sessions spent with 1step and Badhabitz, “We’d sit there with a zoot burnin’, find a sample and within ten minutes we had a banger.”

References to weed are a constant presence in the Prophets oeuvre. Though it’s not in any sense a creative catalyst. “It’s more a part of life than my muse,” explains Bill, “It’s Bristol innit, cannabis county!” Res, who penned Mary Jane Skit about the habit, adds: “It has its drawbacks, but we always roll the draw fat.”

But there’s more to Split Prophets than one-dimensional paeans to cannabis. “We’re living in a prism with the vision of the freest / democracy’s hypocrisy properly got us seeing / life like we’re free human beings / but I’m still seeing / guns on these streets that we be in,” raps Res on Stuck in a Strategy.

“I think its good to be socially conscious,” says Res, “but it doesn’t mean you have to rap about it all the time, it gets boring when rappers whinge all the time. Switch it up a bit, have a little whinge and then make some joke party banger”

“You got to write what you feel,” adds Upfront, “If you’re forcing yourself to chat about things you don’t do or aren’t into, it will show in your music.”

And it seems the prolific collective have a lot to talk about. Another album and collaboration with New York rap duo Auxiliary Arms is already planned. And solo projects are due for release, including DatKid’s eagerly awaited Home By Eight.

The southwest itself is a hub for hip-hop at the minute. Local emcees take over a local shop for a few hours in the Tshop Cypha sessions on the first Saturday of every month. There’s a southwest community channel called South Blessed and Internet radio show Sensei FM providing a platform. And the King of Paint gallery showcases local underground art.

“Bristol’s producing some of the sickest shit right now,” says Res, “There’s a tight scene down here at the moment. Everyone’s on the same vibe really, just trying to push the scene and make it stronger – we’re moving like a unit”.

With labels like High Focus forging a strong path, a resurgence in classic UK hip-hop could well be on its way. “The scene is coming strong again,” says Upfront, “a lot of talent coming through. Living in Bris, I’m seeing a lot of change, people are starting to like hip hop again.”

Main photo Credit: Chris Hoare

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 Split Prophecy: Bristol’s Next Big Thing

Se Fire | Tee Cee  | Krazy | Buggsy | Lowdose | Laid blak | Evermoor Sound

Can Kiwanuka Claim the Soul Crown?

November 17, 2011

Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

A new British soul singer hyped to rival the greats. What makes him different?

Let’s get the comparisons out the way first: Bill Whithers, Otis Redding, Van Morrison, The Temptations… a musical shopping list of soul greats. It is quite something to be likened to – and music aficionados have never been shy to use superlatives when hyping the next big thing – but for this 23 year old it’s hard not to join in.

Kiwanuka does himself no favours in repelling the comparisons; instead one is compelled to mention them. Sure, there is nothing new about the 23 year old Londoner’s retro Soul:  he is almost Bill Whithers reincarnate and his latest EP cover is an unashamed pastiche of a 1970s soul LP. So why does he deserve more attention than Liam Bailey or Marcus Foster?

It’s a difficult question on paper, until you listen to his latest offering ‘Home Again’ from his third EP to be released in the New Year. At first, it’s a gentle rolling acoustic ode to finding an emotionally settled place again with a loved one. Then, just after a minute, a beautifully subtle orchestral backing adds swathes of emotion and the song hits heart-wrenching status. His oeuvre so far has been a decent stab at soul, though it is the forthcoming EP that suggests a growing maturity. Kiwanuka’s voice isn’t yet rich enough to rival the greats, but going on Home Again, his song writing certainly has the potential to take him close.

City & Colour Live at Camden Roundhouse

October 20, 2011

Photo by Genevieve Lui

City and Colour
Camden Roundhouse
18/10/11

“Because staying on stage and pissing myself would have been much cooler”, concedes Dallas Green sarcastically to the Roundhouse. The man behind City and Colour is recounting an episode in Vancouver some years ago when a critic took exception to his desperate need for a toilet break mid-set. The apparent unprofessionalism was enough to overshadow the whole set and he was panned. Though this anecdote is told after a similar occurrence, it is unlikely anyone in attendance will be going home with a similar opinion. Tonight, this sold out show is full of Dallas disciples.

Stepping out onto the roundhouse stage, the previously solo performer now brings a full band in tow. Dressed ready for a hoedown – with braces, waistcoats, and even a cowboy hat – they serve as a reminder that City and Colour has embraced the country influences that were only hinted at on the first two albums. In fact, new album Little Bird is perhaps a little bloated with country-tinged rock ballads. Yet, they seem to want to bring mid-west America to a cold Tuesday night in Camden and begin with album opener We Found Each Other In The Dark.

The band are obviously well-rehearsed and have honed the new songs to near-record perfection. The Grand Optimist is soaked in reverb and lends well to the echoey Roundhouse. Weightless is played with murky vigour and seems grungier live. Both are highlights from the recent album and transcend well live. The band adds a rocky oomph to the golden oldies too – with The Death of Me and Waiting both getting a shot of adrenalin.

It all works, and yet there is something missing. The band adds pitch perfect harmonies and tight playing, but there is a distance between band and crowd. It’s not until they leave Dallas and his acoustic alone on stage that he really begins to connect with the crowd. His rich and soulful voice becomes clearer. The beauty and fragility in the songs are given space to breathe. And, finally, his easy Canadian charm begins to woo the crowd.

He makes a request for the myriad of hands held aloft – not in devotion but holding smart phones – to be put away for one song. It’s a moment of triumph for gig-goers fed up of having views obstructed just so someone can document it for 27 views on Youtube. He righteously sums it up: “Just because you can record everything, doesn’t mean you need to”. There is a hearty applause from a large proportion of the audience, whilst the rest sheepishly tuck their iPhones back into their pockets, as he launches into Sensible Heart.

He continues the interaction by organising a singalong for What Makes A Man and the chorus is sung back with gusto. On comes the Harmonica for Body In A Box and the beguiling performance is stunning. It’s a hit and a reminder that simplicity can beat the bigger band approach if you have a talented performer like Dallas Green.

Back in come the others for the remainder and the added oomph provides a fitting finale for the show. The Girl benefits from the big band bombast and the distance from the crowd suffered earlier has been fixed by the acoustic interlude. “Got your dancing shoes on?” asks Dallas to a surprised audience expecting tissues to be the only necessity, before launching into recent single Fragile Bird. Though not enough for a boogie, it merited a decent shuffle.

“This is the bit where I try to say thank you,” begins Dallas Green as he comes back on for the encore, “It feels like when you win an Oscar and you have a speech prepared. Every time I think that, but I never have anything prepared because everytime I’m surprised by how many people turn up”. Oh Dallas, you spoil us with your humility. Some might find it cheesy, yet the response from the crowd suggests it’s endearing. Either way, completing the night with a stunning rendition of crowd favourite Comin’ Home suggests that City and Colour’s modesty is as unnecessary as his cowboy themed backing band.