Pink Floyd - Obscured by Clouds

Album Cover of the Week: Pink Floyd, Obscured by Clouds

For a long time I thought of Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds as little more than the album that came before The Dark Side of the Moon. And while it certainly doesn’t nearly measure up to the latter, it has its own charms — not the least of which is its album cover.

Pink Floyd - Obscured by Clouds

For reasons unknown to me, this is actually an intentionally out-of-focus photograph of a man in a tree — not, in fact, clouds. The sleeve design is by Hipgnosis, who of course designed several other Floyd albums throughout the years. I really like this one because it suits the rather hazy nature of some of Obscured by Clouds.

The album was intended originally to be the soundtrack for a French film called La Vallée (The Valley). When Pink Floyd later had a falling out with the film company, they decided to call their album Obscured by Clouds. In response, the company re-titled the movie as La Vallée (Obscured by Clouds) to maintain the connection.

The soundtrack reached #1 in France, which is why I’ve chosen the French album cover (Harvest Records 2C 064, 1972). It’s basically the same as the other versions, except for the slightly obtrusive Harvest logo in the upper left. The British version, by contrast, has a much more subtle, green-tinged logo in the same place and no “stereo” marking at all on the front.

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Wendy's "Grill Skills" training video

A Fast Food Training Video Roundup

Wendy's "Grill Skills" training video

As much as we (OK, I) like to mock the typical fast food employee for having rather low career aspirations, I know that’s kind of unfair. After all, someone has to cook that food and process those orders, right? And it’s not like most people in fast food service are looking to make a career out of it. It’s just a job. A shitty, smelly, greasy job with terrible wages. But one with awesome employee training films and videos.

Speaking of which, let’s look at some of those classic employee training videos for various fast food chains and share a good laugh, OK? OK.

McDonald’s

McDonald's logo, 1968-1983

Long the king of fast food, McDonald’s has more than 33,000 locations worldwide. All those employees rely on cutting edge, informative and entertaining training films to guide them while working under the glow of the Golden Arches. Instead they get warmed over crap about smiling a lot and not pissing all over the customer. I suppose that’s not intuitive for some.

Here’s a training film from 1972, in case you don’t know what I mean.

Huh. So Mickey D’s employees were actually trained to not be surly and unhelpful? I think corporate needs to bust out this video again, based on what I’ve seen during my last few visits. And they need to bring back those light blue uniforms too, they’re most excellent.

But as this next video shows, it’s the attention to detail that separates McDonald’s from the rest of the fast food pack. Why, even the custodial staff gets a multimedia training blitz. Just think, you could be the next “McC”!

I’m starting to think that this mysterious “McC” only appears after prolonged exposure to cleaning chemicals.

Burger King

Burger King logo, 1969-1994

Thanks to this Burger King training film from the early ’80s, I will never forget the haunting “Remember Me (Love Theme from Burger King).” What I also won’t forget is that in a roughly 11-minute video aimed at new Burger King employees, we don’t even see a Burger King location at all. Not even a single Burger King employee. Instead we just get what looks like a prequel to Falling Down, minus all the hilarity and gunplay.

Hardee’s

Hardee's logo, 1982-1999

Hardee’s may only be #5 among fast food chains in the U.S., but it’s not for a lack of totally snazzy training videos. Take, for example, this epic three-parter from 1986. Hardee’s really gets what customer service is all about. No, not being friendly or courteous, but sell, sell, sell!

Man, Hardee’s does not leave anything to chance, do they? They have the entire meal assembly process down to a science.

Wendy’s

Wendy's logo

Yes, I have saved the best for last. I am not exaggerating one bit when I say that “Grill Skills” from 1989 may just be the greatest film of any genre, training or otherwise. This thing has it all. Late founder Dave Thomas opines on the glory of his “old-faishoned haimburgers,” he introduces the revolutionary four-corner press method, and oh yeah, THE WENDY’S GRILLING RAP SONG.

Both parts of “Grill Skills” are here, but if you just want the glory of the greatest piece of mass market rapping since “Zip Zap Rap,” just skip to about 3:30 into the first video. Astute music fans will note the shameless pilfering of a piece of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” just before the song starts, which is all kinds of ironic.

Oh lord is that ever glorious. I need to watch it again.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken, 1973-1991I’m struck by one thing watching this 1985 KFC training video, other than the fact that out of all the videos in this roundup, this is easily the blandest and squarest one. No, what I realize now is that working at KFC (at least circa the mid 1980s) seems really, really dangerous. Like some kind of low-paid Fear Factor segment. The only thing separating the average KFC employee from horrible third-degree burns due to super-heated shortening is, well, nothing really.

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Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments

My favorite music: 1983

If there’s one thing the internet lacks, it’s pointless music lists. So to fill that void, here’s a sampling of my favorite albums from some random year. Let’s say, 1983.

(Spotify users, check out the accompanying playlist and subscribe!)

Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments — While I would in no way claim that Robert Plant’s solo output bests Led Zeppelin’s music, a lot of times I simply prefer to listen to Plant. In fact I’d say that Plant has enjoyed one of the most artistically rewarding solo careers of any artist who was part of a popular band that I can think of. The Principle of Moments is probably my favorite Plant solo effort (next to Fate of Nations) — he sounds freed from the constraints of creating larger-than-life rock and the music just crackles with energy. “In the Mood” and “Big Log” are all-time classics.

Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind — Four albums into their career, Iron Maiden had gone through just as many lineup changes. But when drummer Nicko McBrain replaced Clive Burr (trading Burr’s pocket groove for McBrain’s heavy metal thunder), the classic Maiden lineup was complete. With McBrain behind the kit the band released Piece of Mind, their most ferocious LP yet. While not the top-to-bottom classic that The Number of the Beast was, this album boasts some of the best songs in Maiden’s catalog — “Where Eagles Dare,” “Flight of Icarus,” and “To Tame a Land” just to name some. Even so-called filler songs like “Sun and Steel” or “Quest for Fire” are raucous fun.

“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Weird Al” Yankovic — It feels like Weird Al has been making fun of popular music forever, but in fact it all started with his modest self-titled debut in ’83. I can’t imagine this being of interest to someone just getting into his music, but I love all of it. The parodies are strong — “I Love Rocky Road” and “My Bologna” being the best — but the originals carry this disc. “Gotta Boogie” and “The Check’s in the Mail” are absolutely products of their time, but are musically strong. Capping the whole thing off is the absolutely twisted and hilarious “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung,” a touching tale of the friendship between a young man and his terminally ill pal.

Yes, 90125 — I would have been perfectly happy with another album from the Drama lineup of Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Trevor Horn, and Geoff Downes. I loved that album so much. But it’s hard to deny the greatness of 90125, even as slick and thoroughly ’80s as tracks like “Changes” and “Leave It” sound now (or perhaps because of that). This album (thanks in no small part to “Owner of a Lonely Heart”) achieved something most probably thought was impossible — it made one of the champions of ’70s progressive rock artistically and commercially relevant for a whole new generation of music listeners.

R.E.M., Murmur — There’s a small but vocal legion of R.E.M. fans who hold that nothing the band did after Murmur measured up to the group’s debut LP. I don’t buy that, but I can see where they’re coming from. There are just so many strong songs here — especially “Perfect Circle” and “9-9” — and they’re all delivered in such stark, simple fashion. And as I wrote in the second part of my ongoing R.E.M. exploration series, Murmur seems to get stronger as it goes on.

AC/DC, Flick of the SwitchAC/DC, Flick of the Switch — This is the last album AC/DC released in the ’80s that’s worth hearing, although admittedly it doesn’t stack up to Back in Black or For Those About to Rock We Salute You. Still, Angus Young’s thunderous riffing is mostly on the money on this record, and Brian Johnson still sounds energized behind the mic. Overall the tried-and-true hard rock-meets-blues formula feels fresh here, and songs like “Rising Power” and the thundering title track are the best examples of that.

Journey, Frontiers — I knew nothing of the older, more rock and fusion-oriented sounds of Journey before I bought this on cassette in ’83 and I didn’t care. Hell, I still don’t. I love everything about Frontiers — from the arena-ready rockers (“Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”) to the tender ballads (“Send Her My Love”, “After the Fall”) to the obscure, off-kilter cuts (“Back Talk”). In my mind’s eye, Journey will be forever rocking out on the pier with invisible instruments.

Frank Zappa, The Man From Utopia — One of the most-asked and most difficult questions in music fandom is, “Which Zappa album is the best for a non-fan to start a collection with?” There are a handful of outstanding options, one of them being The Man From Utopia. Zappa plays it relatively straight here — well for him anyway, although the music is unmistakably his. If the crude humor of tracks like “SEX” or “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats” isn’t your style, there’s always the excellent instrumentals “Tink Walks Amok,” “We Are Not Alone,” and “Mōggio.”

Genesis, Genesis — I’m not one of those Genesis fans who gnashes his teeth over any album that isn’t 100% prog rock. They have plenty of really good songs that are relatively straightforward and poppy. And this album (aka Mama) has very good pop songs (“That’s All”, “It’s Gonna Get Better,” and “Silver Rainbow”) as well as very good art rock (“Mama”, “Second Home By the Sea”). Yeah, “Illegal Alien” is a but much to take, but it’s the only really dodgy song here. It’s also a more consistent record than Abacab.

Paul Simon, Hearts and Bones — I’ve never been a huge Paul Simon fan but this album has resonated with me for some time. The title track alone is worth the price of admission, and ranks among Simon’s greatest compositions. The up-tempo tracks are uniformly good, but I go for the more melancholy numbers like “Train in the Distance” or the excellent “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” the latter of which was as much a eulogy to John Lennon as to the titular rock and roller.

Metallica, Kill ’em All — Raw, powerful, visceral. From the fade-in of “Hit the Lights” to the fade-out of “Metal Militia,” Kill ’em All is 50-plus minutes of some of the finest thrash metal ever recorded. Metallica wanted to release this with the title Metal Up Your Ass but was convinced by Megaforce Records to ease up a bit. But musically, there is no compromise on this album. And although guitarist Dave Mustaine was booted from the band just prior to the recording sessions, his fingerprints are all over it in the form of four co-writing credits and numerous uncredited guitar parts. (I’d include a song sample here but, you know, Lars.)

Randy Newman, Trouble in ParadiseRandy Newman, Trouble in Paradise — The sound is sleeker, and the arrangements are a little slicker, but this is Newman near the top of his game. This is worth the price of admission just for the timeless pop paean “I Love L.A.,” but the one-two punch of the melancholy “Same Girl” — his best ballad since “Marie” — and the acerbic yet mechanical “Mikey’s” is stunning.

Kiss, Lick It Up — A lot of people attribute Kiss’s resurgence in the ’80s to them taking off the makeup and getting out of the 1970s. That’s probably true, but I think it was also a case of them finally producing kick-ass rock for the first time in years. With short-timer Vinnie Vincent in the fold, the band effectively straddled the squiggly line between hard rock and heavy metal. Dismissing Lick It Up as mere hair metal is lazy and misses the point — groups like Poison and Cinderella never put out music with as much power or ferocity as songs like “Exciter,” Fits Like a Glove,” or “Young and Wasted.”

XTC, MummerMummer seems to take a bit of a beating from fans and critics who didn’t care for the more pastoral and introspective bent XTC took after Andy Partridge retired from public performing. As it turns out, this is the one album of theirs I never get enough of, and it’s by and large because of the pastoral and introspective moments (“Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” and “Ladybird” are simply divine). Of course if you like your XTC angular and nervous, there’s still the outstanding “Beating of Hearts” or “Deliver Us From the Elements” to satisfy.

Queensrÿche, Queensrÿche — While Queensrÿche’s debut EP did little to distinguish them as a metal act, it was a surprisingly mature and accomplished effort all the same. The entire band is ferocious, but it’s Geoff Tate’s soaring and Halford-esque vocals that push songs like “Queen of the Reich” into the stratosphere. The band’s full-length debut (The Warning) showcased their ambition much better, but the 18 or so minutes of this release are much more aggressive and laser-focused, setting the stage for things to come.

Pink Floyd, The Final Cut — Yeah it’s basically a Roger Waters solo album, so what? While more David Gilmour would have been welcome, it’s clear that the band was done by this point. Even so, this is a powerful album that is made all the more so because it largely bypasses the excesses of The Wall. Waters’ sense of weariness and betrayal is evident throughout the entire record on songs such as “The Hero’s Return” and it makes for riveting listening.

Mötley Crüe, Shout at the Devil — The amount of really good music Mötley Crüe released relative to their stature is not all that much. But this is one of the defining metal albums of the ’80s, and nothing can change that. This is the sound of a hungry and creative band, before drugs and glam metal excess took their toll. Side B runs out of steam just a bit, but there are so many killer songs on here — the title song, “Looks That Kill” and “Too Young to Fall in Love” just for starters — that you won’t even notice. And I still maintain that Tommy Lee’s name deserves to be included in the list of great metal drummers of all-time.

The Police, SynchronicityThe Police, Synchronicity — The transformation from the Police’s first album to Synchronicity is astounding. While some of the punkish aggression heard on Outlandos d’Amour is still present here (especially on the Andy Summers-penned “Mother”), there is a high level of gloss now. Sting is very clearly in the driver’s seat from a creative standpoint, although in retrospect it’s clear that Summers and Stewart Copeland kept him somewhat in check. How else to explain numbers like “Every Breath You Take” and “King of Pain”, which are still essential listening today rather than forgettable soft rock dreck Sting was to become known for?

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Texas Flood — I can count the number of blues or blues rock artists I like on one hand and still have fingers left over. And yet there’s something so positively mesmerizing about Stevie Ray Vaughan and his debut album. I guess the only way I can put it is that Vaughan just oozed authenticity. Oh yeah, and there’s that instantly recognizable playing style and guitar tone. How can a song like “Pride and Joy” not make you want to boogie? The best thing about this album is that as popular music was becoming buried in synthesizers and other artifice, this album took three musicians (Vaughan, bassist Tommy Shannon, and drummer Chris Layton) a total of three days to record.

Def Leppard, Pyromania — In retrospect it’s easy to see how Pyromania was just another step on Def Leppard’s road to blandness (under the guiding hand of producer Mutt Lange). But at this point, they still delivered the best pop metal in town. There’s enough crunch to please all but the most hardcore metal fans, and of course there are hooks and melodies to spare. You’d have to have a cold, cold heart not to love songs like “Photograph” or “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop).” And of course there’s my absolute favorite, “Foolin’.”

Billy Joel, "Tell Her About It"Misc. 1983 songs that I love:

  • U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
  • Black Sabbath, “Zero the Hero”
  • Frank Stallone, “Far From Over”
  • Tears for Fears, “Pale Shelter”
  • Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon”
  • Elton John, “I’m Still Standing”
  • David Bowie, “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl”
  • The Beepers, “History Lesson” (WarGames soundtrack)
  • Ozzy Osbourne, “Bark at the Moon”
  • Madonna, “Borderline”
  • Asia, “Eye to Eye”
  • Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say”
  • The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another”
  • Duran Duran, “Union of the Snake”
  • John Cougar Mellencamp, “Crumblin’ Down”
  • Dio, “Rainbow in the Dark”
  • Billy Joel, “Tell Her About It” & “Easy Money”
  • The Tubes, “She’s a Beauty”
  • Men at Work, “Overkill”
  • Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”
  • Herbie Hancock, “Rockit”
  • Steve Hackett, “Bay of Kings”
  • Tangerine Dream, “The Dream Is Always the Same”
  • The Human League, “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”
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Jimi Hendrix

“Hope I die before I get old” — Do famous musicians really die young?

Jimi Hendrix

With her tragic and untimely death, Amy Winehouse became the latest member of a grim group — the so-called Club 27, whose only entrance requirement is to be a famous musician and to die at age 27. The club also includes legends such as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. This got me to thinking — is it really true that the brightest stars burn out the earliest? Or does it just seem that way because of our fascination with stars who die young?

Curious, I decided to conduct a little research so I compiled a list of famous and influential dead musicians. Of course that list could be limitless, depending on your standards for fame and influence. I ultimately opted to use Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, first published in 2004/05 and updated in 2011. So yes, it focuses heavily on rock and pop, leaving out a ton of worthy artists from country, jazz, hip hop, and other genres. No Patsy Cline, no Biggie Smalls, not even Miles Davis. So if you want to complain that your favorite musician was left out, take it up with Rolling Stone. Sorry!

That means this data includes solo artists from Rolling Stone‘s list, as well as members of groups that made the list. And believe me, for some of those Motown and southern rock groups, it was not fun collecting that data.


What I Found

Here are some interesting facts I picked up from this list:

Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious

Youngest to die — Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), age 21. On the evening of 1 February 1979, Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie) overdosed on heroin at his new girlfriend’s (Michele Robison) New York City apartment. He was reportedly revived by those in attendance, and went to bed with Robison at approximately 3am the next morning. On the morning of February 2 his body was discovered. No autopsy was ever performed.

Oldest to die — Bo Diddley, age 79. Diddley was one of the most influential guitar players in history, and his trademark shuffle is instantly recognizable to this day. His career spanned more than six decades, until a stroke and heart attack in 2007 put an end to public playing days. He finally died of heart failure on June 2, 2008, with more than 30 family members at home with him. His grandson, Garry Mitchell, stated that a gospel song was sung at Diddley’s bedside and afterwards the legendary musician’s last words were, “I’m going to heaven.”

Age with the most deaths — You guessed it, 27. Eight members of the RS 100 (Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Dave Alexander, and Rudy Lewis) died at 27, twice as many as any other age.

Most lethal age groups — Bolstered by the members of Club 27, the 26-30 group had 15 members. After that there is a pretty big dropoff until things pick up again in the 46-50, 51-55, and 56-60 ranges.

Lynyrd Skynyrd (1977)

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Group with the most deaths — Due in no small part to a tragic 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of three members, seven members of Lynyrd Skynyrd have died since the group’s inception in 1964. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines (as well as assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray) were killed in the crash.

Since then four other members of Skynyrd have passed — Allen Collins died in 1990 from chronic pneumonia, a complication from paralysis suffered in a 1986 car accident; Leon Wilkeson died in 2001 after suffering from suffering from chronic liver and lung disease; Billy Powell died in January 2009 of a suspected heart attack, but no autopsy was performed; Hughie Thomasson died in September 2007 of a heart attack; and Ean Evans died in May 2009 from cancer.

Collins, Wilkseon, and Powell were survivors of the plane crash in ’77, incidentally.

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My favorite music: 1972

If there’s one thing the internet lacks, it’s pointless music lists. So to fill that void, here’s a sampling of my favorite albums from some random year. Let’s say, 1972.

Fleetwood Mac, Bare Trees — Oh sure, I love Rumours as much as the next person. But there’s something about this particular, pre-Buckingham/Nicks incarnation of the band that speaks to me. Bare Trees is a bit uneven in spots but I keep coming back to it just the same. That said, the original version of Bob Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” found on this record is far superior to the 1977 hit single version.

Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill — I don’t care if Donald Fagen and Walter Becker want to disown this record, I love it and I know a ton of Dan fans love it. Like all classic Steely Dan records, the hits are only part of the picture. “Fire in the Hole” has a killer hook and an arrangement that presaged their more refined work on Katy Lied. And holy shit, that chorus on “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” is so damn smooooooth.

Chicago, Chicago V — This is the perfect marriage of Chicago’s progressive arty side and their burgeoning pop sensibilities. “A Hit by Varèse” opens the LP and is as angry as the band got back in the day, while this album also boasts the bulletproof “Saturday in the Park.” How’s that for extremes? Peter Cetera, long before he discovered the glory of love, absolutely kills on bass all through this record. What the hell happened to that guy?

Yes, Close to the Edge — One of the crown jewels of progressive rock, bar none. Three songs, 38 minutes of pure bliss. “And You and I” and “Siberian Khatru” are fantastic all on their own, but the centerpiece is the nearly 19-minute title track. It encapsulates all that the genre has to offer musically, driven mainly by Steve Howe’s stabbing guitars, Chris Squire’s meaty, nimble bass, and of course Bill Bruford’s spastic, wrist-snapping percussion.

The Crusaders, Crusaders 1 — No longer the Jazz Crusaders, the newly christened Crusaders were finally free to embrace their funky side. The in-your-face horn section is still present and accounted for, but guitarist Larry Carlton brings a whole new dimension to the group’s sound.

Can, Ege Bamyasi — Even if you think Can would be too out there for your tastes, this album is not to missed. The skittering, insistent beat and nerve-fraying guitar on “Vitamin C” is the highlight of the record, but the whole thing is a case study in how Krautrock need not be scary.

Focus, Focus 3 — Man, what a year for prog rock eh? If you think this Dutch outfit is all about “Hocus Pocus,” you are mistaken. And it turns out that tender Focus (“Love Remembered” and “Focus III“) is just as entrancing and effective as rocking Focus (“Round Goes the Gossip” and “Sylvia”). Jan Akkerman is a guitar god but you almost never his name outside of fan circles anymore.

Genesis, Foxtrot — I can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to hear this band follow up on the promise of Nursery Cryme and just explode creatively. This seminal prog album is book-ended by two of the greatest songs the genre has to offer — “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready.” All of the other tracks (with the exception of “Time Table”) are just as strong.

Neil Young, Harvest — I’m not even that big a Neil Young fan, and this album is a must-own.

Deep Purple, Machine Head — Yeah yeah, “Smoke on the Water” and all that. Thing is, even without that song Machine Head is a stone cold classic. “Highway Star” is one of the few songs about car racing that is every bit as furious musically as it is lyrically. It’s all singer Ian Gillan can do throughout Machine Head to match the sheer intensity of Blackmore, Lord, Glover, and Paice. The album ends with “Space Truckin’,” which sounds like a stupid title but in fact has the riffage and groove to stomp your face into the mud and have you asking for more.

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Album review: Doves – Kingdom of Rust

Doves - Kingdom of RustI think it’s fair to say that I was spoiled musically by growing up in the ’80s, the tail end of a long period where bands usually released albums no more than 1-2 years apart.  So when great newer acts like Manchester’s Doves come along and take longer than that I get impatient.  It’s been more a little more than four years since the group’s excellent third record, Some Cities, and after reading about so many delays with their newest I was starting to lose hope.  But now Kingdom of Rust is here, and all is well.

My overall impression of Rust is that it represents a nice synthesis of the sounds and styles the band explored on their first three albums, but is by no means an artistic retread.  The bulk of the record leans more toward the dense and atmospheric tendencies displayed on Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, but the direct approach favored on Some Cities rears its head on occasion.

The beauty of Doves’ music has always been their uncanny ability to make even the simplest tunes sound and feel epic – witness the bouncy opening cut, “Jetstream”, which is really a dance-rock song disguised as neo-prog.  Similarly there’s “Spellbound”, which makes up for its lack of immediate gratification with an aura of darkness and considered songcraft.

The band deviates from their typical approach a few times, however, to marvelous effect.  The first is the title track, a danceable but melancholy alt-country shuffle (I love the chorus of “My God, it takes an ocean of trust/In the kingdom of rust”).  Then there’s one of my early favorites, “Compulsion”, wherein Doves reveals their funky side and call to mind the recent work of bands like TV On the Radio.  It probably goes on a tad too long but is a real treat.

Elsewhere on the album, I was reminded of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (with the harsher and weirder edges smoothed down) on “Outsiders”, which explodes out of the gate with an urgent rhythm and a liberal dose of analog-sounding synthesizers.  Add in the deliciously fat, distorted bass line and you’ve got another winner on your hands.  Likewise I felt another callback to early Floyd on the vaguely psychedelic stomp-rock of “House of Mirrors”, which revels in heavy reverb and hard-panned effects and guitars. It’s one of the many examples of why listening to this album with a good pair of headphones is a must.

Of the 11 songs on Kingdom of Rust, only the peppy but not particularly memorable “Winter Hill” feels superfluous.  But that’s remedied with the next song, “10:03”, which begins with a pleading, spiritual vibe.  Just as it starts to feel like nothing more than an interlude it gathers steam at the halfway point and builds to a satisfying, beefy crescendo.

The whole affair closes with “Lifelines”, one of the more hopeful-sounding songs on the record.  It serves as a sort of thematic soft landing and was a great choice to finish the album.  So yeah, Kingdom of Rust was well worth the four-year wait , but you won’t hear me complain if they can get the next album out by 2011 or so.

Track listing:
1. “Jetstream”
2. “Kingdom of Rust”
3. “The Outsiders”
4. “Winter Hill”
5. “10:03″
6. “The Greatest Denier”
7. “Birds Flew Backwards”
8. “Spellbound”
9. “Compulsion”
10. “House of Mirrors”
11. “Lifelines”

Watch the video for “Kingdom of Rust”:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS9KDL4hy34[/youtube]

Meme time: Pick an album for every year you’ve been alive

From Idolator via the AV Club comes a pretty cool music meme – compile a list of your favorite albums, with one for each year you’ve been alive. Sounds easy enough, but some years are positively stacked with music I love.  Forcing me to choose among my musical children is just so…cruel.

For me the most bountiful years were 1975-1978, 1980, 1982-1984, 1990, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, and 2007.

1975 – Kiss, Alive!
1976 – Led Zeppelin, Presence
1977 – Rush, A Farewell to Kings
1978 – Ace Frehley/Kiss, Ace Frehley
1979 – Pink Floyd, The Wall
1980 – Genesis, Duke
1981 – Rush, Moving Pictures
1982 – Rush, Signals
1983 – Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind
1984 – Iron Maiden, Powerslave
1985 – Kiss, Asylum
1986 – Queensrÿche, Rage for Order
1987 – Anthrax, Among the Living
1988 – Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime
1989 – King’s X, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
1990 – Queensrÿche, Empire
1991 – Queen, Innuendo
1992 – King’s X, King’s X
1993 – Robert Plant, Fate of Nations
1994 – Queensrÿche, Promised Land
1995 – Faith No More, King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime
1996 – King’s X, Ear Candy
1997 – Hank Jones, Favors
1998 – Pearl Jam, Yield
1999 – Ben Folds Five, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
2000 – Doves, Lost Souls
2001 – Spoon, Girls Can Tell
2002 – Koop, Waltz for Koop
2003 – Muse, Absolution
2004 – Mastodon, Leviathan
2005 – The Bad Plus, Suspicious Activity?
2006 – Muse, Black Holes and Revelations
2007 – Field Music, Tones of Town
2008 (so far) – School of Language, Sea from Shore

As I would’ve predicted, there’s some pretty clear trends at play here.  Most of the bands I grew up loving (Kiss, Iron Maiden, Rush, etc.) were at the peak of their powers during my youth, thus their early list dominance.  That also explains why hard rock and metal are heavily represented on this list until the mid 1990s, when they either dropped off my radar entirely or were just not releasing stuff I was all that interested in.  In fact, metal pretty much disappears for good until 2004, when the awesome Leviathan was released.

The other item of note is that I was listening to most of the albums at the front of the list when they came out.  Starting around the mid-’90s, my musical horizons began to expand and I started going back and filling in holes. Were this list to go back a few decades there’d be a ton of Beatles and jazz on it.

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Album cover of the week: Wish You Were Here

All too often it happens that an album with great artwork is full of forgettable music. Luckily that’s not so with Pink Floyd’s 1975 classic, Wish You Were Here. For my money, this is the ultimate Floyd album and one of the ten best albums of all-time.

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

One of the really appealing things about this cover – aside from how surreal it is -is how ambiguous it is. There may be a definite story or scenario behind this photo, but it’s vague enough to allow you to make up your own. I know I’ve made up more than a few.

This is one of many memorable covers designed by the famed design group Hipgnosis, whose work will undoubtedly pop up at least a few more times in future installments in this series.

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2nd Chance Album Review – The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp

Just one year before prog-rock titans King Crimson released their first album, two-thirds of that band released their first and last studio album as the erstwhile trio of Giles, Giles & Fripp — guitarist Robert Fripp, Peter Giles on bass and brother Michael on drums. Released in 1968, during the height of the Psychedelic era, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp promptly sank into oblivion. But believe me, it’s worth revisiting.

If I had to surmise a reason why this album tanked, I’d say its oddly eclectic songs are a contributing factor. The album has a generous dose of cheeky, Kinks/Pythonesque humor, but most of the acts of the day were practicing a much darker and substantive form of psychedelia. Had this album been released even a year or 18 months earlier, it might have had a chance. But compared against Pink Floyd, the Doors, and even the post-Sgt. Pepper‘s Beatles, GG&F seem rather lightweight. It’s not quite progressive enough to be prog rock, and probably a little too jokey for its own good.

The songs on side one (for those who remember vinyl records) are tied together thematically by a narrative called “The Saga of Rodney Toady,” a series of between-song vignettes about a fat kid with no friends and dim prospects for a future love life. Trust me, it’s funnier than it sounds, although the joke wears thin on repeated listens. The opening track, “North Meadow,” is one of the strongest on the album and features some nifty fretwork from Fripp, restrained but tasty drumming and some beautiful vocal harmonies. Other than “Call Tomorrow,” the rest of the first half is rather light, airy, and yes, cheerful.

The rest of the songs on the first half of the album are pleasant, but not necessarily remarkable. Still, there’s an undeniable charm to them and they managed to grow on me. A foreshadowing of King Crimson can be heard on “The Crukster,” a brief but dark interlude.

Side two is held together by the narrative concept “Just George,” which is basically a gag where one sentence is repeated in between songs, with the words rearranged each time. The cheeky nature of the album gives way for the final two songs, “Suite No. 1” and “Erudite Eyes.” The former of the two is an engaging instrumental piece featuring some superb guitar work from Fripp.

Unless you actually get a vinyl copy of Cheerful Insanity, you’ll also find six bonus tracks. Four of them are simply stereo or mono single versions of previous album tracks, with two originals. The first of these two, “She Is Loaded,” is easily the better. It probably most closely resembles Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd with even more odd lyrics. The opening vocal harmony is pretty stunning to boot.

If this doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation, it’s only because it’s hard for an amateur like me to convey what it is exactly I like about The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp. I didn’t really know what to make of it the first few times I heard it, but there was a period of a few weeks where I listened to little else. This album probably won’t make any Desert Island Disc lists, but maybe a Jersey Shore mix?

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