Twilight of the Innocents: 10 Years Later


Today marks ten years since the release of Ash’s fifth studio record, Twilight of the Innocents. An album that signified the band’s return to being a three-peice –– touting a new, matured sound –– as well as their final contracted release with Infectious Records. It also stood a full decade after their widely-acclaimed debut, 1977.

I’ve always held a strangely specific – ‘product of my time’ – nostalgia for this record. One wrapped up in mid-noughties social media, message boards and the start of secondary education. I was 12 years old in 2007. And it’s taken me a considerable amount of time to view this record objectively. But given this anniversary of sorts: it seems all together appropriate to indulgence in precisely that nostalgia; to reflect on the time that has passed and how this album holds up today.


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For the sake of context, Ash were my favourite band as a pre-teen. Although my first concert was the [once-entertaining] Kaiser Chiefs in 2006, it was upon hearing Meltdown –– an extension of the excellent Republic Commando Xbox game –– that offered an entry-point to Ash. Their mix of pop-rock hooks and searing guitar riffs was inexplicably brilliant to where I was in my life. In fact, it was precisely this sound that inspired me to pick up a guitar. Following my first festival, Glastonbury 2007, I concluded that I wanted to learn the instrument: if not entirely to be Tim Wheeler.

This eventually lead to Twilight of the Innocents being the first Ash record I bought upon release. I scraped together my pocket money to buy the Deluxe CD in July 2007 from my local HMV. I recall constantly watching the music video to ‘You Can’t Have It All’ on my 1st Generation iPod video in anticipation. I even joined the Ash message board soon after. Hell, I literately made friends as a result of this.

The point being: I invariably associate this record with that summer. Of starting secondary school, of starting to find new music, friends and fancying girls way out of my league. Of trying to learn Wheeler riffs on a broken Squire Strat and so forth. I was also entirely aware that I was the wrong generation to be an Ash fan. But I see it –– more so now –– as a credit to their longevity that a relatively late release can be so tied to one’s adolescence and growing up. In many ways, this was ‘my 1977‘, albeit a decade too late.


 


Listening back, Twilight of the Innocents feels something of an undersold release. It shifts away from the bombastic, ‘American’ sounding Meltdown (2004) –– with the song-writing adopting a moodier, more introspective tone. It also seems far removed from the chart-topping hits of Free All Angels (2001). But the attention is garnered at the time, at least in my opinion, overlooked its subtlety. No doubt it sat rather awkwardly against the likes of The Fratellis, Arctic Monkeys and the new-wave indie at the time. Its production – which admittedly hasn’t aged as well as Meltdown – is more post-punk, ambient and orchestral. But the writing is incredibly consistent. In fact, I’d argue that Twilight of the Innocents contains some of the most ambitious arrangements the band have ever released. The string sections in ‘Polaris’ and title track; the sweeping floor-toms of ‘Shattered Glass’; the middle-8 in ‘Blacklisted’. It feels like a band surprisingly energised on their fifth release.

Indeed, the whole album maintains a melancholic yet melodic feel that really locks together. It’s full of the hooks Ash are famous for, but with a matured, almost ‘cinematic’ quality to its arrangements. The guitar playing, especially, is worthy of note. ‘Shattered Glass’, ‘Ritual’ and ‘Princess Six’ contain some of Wheeler’s most tasteful solos. All mixed with a rich, spacial quality. Equally, the rhythm section is impeccably tight. Rick McMurray’s drum fills are huge: with a variety and complexity that really adds depth to each track. There also seems to be an abundance of newfound creativity: with even its b-sides (specifically ‘Saskia’ and ‘Seventh Circle’) ranking amongst my favourite Ash tracks ever.


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If anything, Twilight of the Innocents represents the band a decade on from 1977; still wanting to grow and move forward. I’ve always admired this quality to the group, even if the radio stations and record label had little time for it. But I guess this is equally where the album falls short. For every magnificent guitar solo or moving B-side, there’s no Burn Baby Burn or immedate hits. Twilight of the Innocents is not career defining like 1977 or Free All Angels, nor does it reach out to anyone new, either. But rather, it offers something a snapshot of a band in transit: doing things on their terms and on their own back.

Of course, the likes of ‘You Can’t Have It All’ and ‘I Started A Fire’ are perfectly accessible pop-rock songs –– songs I wish received better attention at the time. But it’s through the deeper cuts where the record shines brightest. Tracks that certainly wouldn’t have made great singles nor topped the charts. Songs like ‘Shattered Glass’ and the title song are especially ambitious productions –– almost ‘prog-pop’ –– that have in many ways stood the test of time as fan favourites. Even if they come from a band, or indeed an album, that can be easily dismissed as well past its sell-by-date.

On reflection, I now see this debacle as something inherently positive. It’s precisely in it’s reluctance to buck the trend –– to avoid the 3-and-a-half-minute pop tunes – that make Twilight of the Innocents such an interesting album. It’s at its best when most ambitious; as a band breathing freer, taking greater risks and perhaps not scoring every goal. But it is a record that serves a purpose –– one that exists well beyond my nostalgia for 2007 –– and deserves greater attention as a result.



Above else, I have a lot of love for Twilight of the Innocents. It’s the more misunderstood member of the Ash discography. It might not be the trendiest or most critically acclaimed release from the band –– and it’s not even my favourite record of theirs –– but it’s an album that preluded the A-Z Series, arguably their most ambitious era, and gave the band space to recalibrate. It also had a profound effect on my relationship with music, of which I will always struggle to separate from the album at hand. But for all its riffs, hooks and orchestral moments –– and even the sugarier tunes like ‘Shadows’ –– it’s a  record that enchants in a very peculiar way. An album that, despite being a later release from a seasoned artist, means the world to someone born in 1995. And for that I’m eternally grateful.

Oh, and if you’re reading lads: I’d kill for an anniversary tour.


 

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John Carpenter at London Troxy [1st November]: Live Review


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John Carpenter is my favourite director. His diverse, charming and down-right bizarre pictures captivated me from an early age. They directly shaped my appreciation for cinema and despite my efforts to avoid fetishising individual film-makers: he is one of few auteurs who resonates with me so consistently. From sci-fi masterpiece The Thing (1982) to more abstract political commentary They Live (1988); his depth and character has had a long term affect on both myself and the movie industry.

No doubt, a large proponent of this comes from his soundtracks. His analogue synth-lines define his punk — somewhat authoritarian — approach to film-making. The opening score to Escape From New York (1981) sets a palpable tone that only Carpenter could craft. His Halloween theme is frequently cited alongside Bernard Herrmann’s Physco; cementing his work amongst the musical greats. More recently, his Lost Themes — two full-length instrumental records released in 2015 and 2016 — have pushed his musical credentials further. These ‘picture-less soundtracks’, co-written with his son and god-son, saw his distinctive style blossom to great avail.

The prospect of seeing John Carpenter live, therefore, is something inherently close to my heart. But following the success of his instrumental records — and undeniable cult status — Carpenter formed a touring band and took his scores on the road. For the first time ever. I was fortunate enough to catch the final UK date at London’s Troxy, the follow-up to his sold out ‘Release the Bats’ Halloween show, the night before.



What made ‘Release the Bats’ so extraordinary is that Carpenter could have merely played his scores to satisfy the fans. Offering the bare minimum here would have been suffice given the circumstances. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing him in the flesh immediately justified the entry price. But he actually offered something greater. A carefully curated retrospective of his career, which demonstrated real foresight and attention to detail.

In short, the live band burned through a number of Carpenter’s memorable tracks, with extracts from Lost Themes thrown in the midst. Sequences from each film were projected behind him — with a genuine understanding of their content. Footage was carefully spliced to match the respective tempo and duration of each song. Whole two hour pictures were condensed and summarised into their finer moments. From Lo Pan’s henchmen in Big Trouble In Little China (1986) to Christine’s headlights (1983)  — it worked exceedingly well. The production designer, who one presumes to be Shaun Kendrick, can only be praised for this. It made the whole event more intuitive and the lighting only served to compliment this. The live theatrics offered the same: albeit the smoke-laden stage for The Fog (1980) or the band’s sunglasses during They Live. Carpenter’s comments about ‘ghost stories’ and ‘driving home safely’ also brought a heartiness to it all. It was a genuine celebration of his career and artistry. Even despite its relative  swiftness — roughly a 75 minute set — it still felt extensive and well orchestrated.


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The quality of the performance also deserves some attention. Carpenter fronted the group with unquestionable aura — yet with dad-dancing that reflected his light-hearted humility. Cody Carpenter played keys; complimenting his father’s playing and providing a tremendously wide spectrum of sound. This was abetted by two guitars, bass and a full drum-kit, too. Despite Carpenter’s penchant for electronic music, his live show translate an authentic, traditional rock feel. Lead Guitarist Daniel Davies — son of Kinks’ guitarist Dave Davies — was the undeniable highlight here. His sheer precision and tonality left me a little lost for words. As a disclaimer, I am very rarely impressed by live mixes — but Davies genuinely conjured some of the greatest guitar tones I’ve heard in a live environment. And I’ve been lusting for a Gibson ES-335 and a Vox AC30HW ever since. To their credit, the whole group sounded incredibly tight and rehearsed. The mix was rich and tout whilst boasting all the nuance that Carpenter’s compositions are famous for. The Troxy accommodated the sound perfectly, with great acoustics and visibility throughout. And its various posters added an extra touch.

Above else, ‘Release The Bats’ was an experience in every sense of the word. John Carpenter is one of few artists I offer a ‘blank cheque’ should they consider touring the UK. But the set-list was glorious and satisfying. To witness such an event — with fantastic sound, musicianship and visual accompaniment to boot — made it entirely worthwhile. There’s an idiom somewhere about not meeting your heroes. But Carpenter and his band delivered on everything and more. And I only hope that they continue to tour again.


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Victory at Sea: Festival Review 


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This August Bank Holiday I attended Victorious Festival in Southsea, Portsmouth. Boasting a heavyweight line-up at a remarkably modest price; I enjoyed a belated birthday weekend of Britpop and beer. But I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Despite a variety of festivals under my belt — from the juggernauts of Glastonbury and Reading to much smaller, cheaper affairs — this was my first year at the seaside. And with a number of my favourite artists on the bill, coupled with the promise of a shower and a clean bed every night, I entered with an open mind.

What I found was rather exciting. Victorious offers something of a mediation. A sweet-spot between the larger festivals that I’ve become increasingly jaded with something far more accessible — if not inherently more enjoyable. Big names, a cheap ticket and an interesting site to boot? It seems almost too good to be true.


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Band of Skulls – By Default (Album Review)

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Southampton-trio Band of Skulls remain almost permanently on the cusp of success. Widely established amongst certain circles; yet under-appreciated and overlooked all the same. Their latest offering — and fourth full-length effort — seeks to rectify this. By Default hopes to cement the band as heavyweights by championing their most accessible songwriting to date. It sees their textbook formula of bombastic, arena-worthy percussion with Loveless-inspired riffs move into something much groovier: a darker, disco-inspired realm. At best, it prides their most confident, contagious material yet. But at worse, it represents a band still torn between moving forward and cherishing the past. A fitting predicament, perhaps, for a band flirting on the outskirts of recognition.

Opening with the throbbing ‘Black Magic’, By Default reminds us precisely why Band of Skulls have quietly crept up the ranks. A tout rhythm section with a dazzling hook: it makes for a ferocious opener. It’s not far removed from lead single ‘Killer’, which echoes the recognisable blend of grunge guitar and pop melodies that have come to define the band. These tracks feel more of a hangover from 2014’s Himalayan than anything particular fresh, but such songs feel welcome; a return to proverbial ‘form’ rather than ‘playing it safe’.

Nevertheless, By Default shines when it affords to take risks. Where it applies new groovier elements to that traditional ‘Skulls’ format. The disco-infused ‘So Good’ and ‘Bodies’ are clear highlights and offer a more seductive, percussive quality. This becomes all the more finessed with ‘This Is My Fix’, which sees such groove breath as the lead guitar favours intricacy over its typical (yet wonderful) abrasiveness. This all amalgamates rather tastefully in ‘Embers’, which may may well be the perfect distillation of old and new.

By Default’s unavoidable shortcoming, however, is the extent these songs fit together. Skulls have produced an eclectic collection of songs that are far from thematically linked. One half wants to smash up a room whilst the other wants to make sweet love to everything inside of it. Its mix of angst and groove lends itself to a compelling listen and arguably shapes their core sound — but it sometimes comes across a little overcooked. The continuity (or lack thereof) is more pertinent in its second-half; where it seems torn between embracing this new sound.  So much so, that ‘Little Momma’ feels like a nod to their rawer debut record; breaking the continuity of an album taking shape and momentum.

Above else, By Default is rather a collection of great songs than a concept or well crafted record. A collection, all the same, that represents some of their finest, most daring material to date. Whilst I wanted it to be the record that bolstered Band of Skulls into the the giants they deserve to be, it lacks the focus a they still desperately require. But as a concoction of their darker, sexier sensibilities — with the bite one comes to expect — when it shines, it does so blindingly. And I can’t wait to see where it takes them next.

Key Tracks: Embers, So Good, Bodies

2000 Trees Festival 2015 (Review)


Written for The Boar’s website: theboar.org/2015/08/03/festival-review-2000-trees-9th-11th-july/

All photos are my intellectual property. Please ask permission before using.


The self-proclaimed home of ‘New & Underground Bands’ is something of a rare card in the UK festival scene. Situated amidst the Gloucestershire countryside, 2000 Trees boasts a handful of live acts over three days — all for around ninety quid a ticket. Given this price tag and its modest five-thousand head capacity; Trees offers a viable alternative to the ‘mainstream’ festival experience. But whatever it lacks for in size and prestige, it makes up for in atmosphere and organisation. 2000 Trees does something different — offering an intimate weekend when festivals only seem to be expanding — but it does so remarkably well.

  Of course, articulating the magic of a music festival is much like reviewing a holiday: there are simply too many variables affecting ones experience. Admittedly, everyone will have had a different time and music, by its very nature, is divisive. To criticise a set because of an unappealing artist would be poor journalistic form. Likewise, capturing the spontaneity of the festival — such as its bizarre fancy dress contest (with a theme of ‘literal interpretations of band names’) — is almost impossible to put into words. But there are a number of things that are unanimously brilliant about 2000 Trees. Largely, it forgoes many of the pitfalls that bigger festivals suffer from. Smaller stages means closer camp-sites, less walking and generally a more relaxed weekend. Travelling between bands takes an average of five minutes — a far-cry from Glastonbury’s colossal arena — and I myself pitched mere seconds from a stage. (The Cave). There is also no arena system, which means you can drink your own booze, and the patronising airport-grade security of larger festivals is thankfully abandoned. I won’t pretend that the toilets were ideal, but there is a lot going for this smaller set-up. Its Big Lebowski themed bar is relatively cheap: offering a wealth of locally sourced beers alongside the Dude’s favourite beverage,The White Russian. And its clientele is equally as refreshing, with everyone from the UKHC scene to small families considered welcome. It is, by and large, the friendliest festival crowd I have ever experienced. Where strangers merge campsites and sing together. Where the GCSE-celebrates urinating on your tent are replaced by punk enthusiasts debating the greatest Ruben LP. Everyone is seemingly bound by a mutual love for music, but without the rowdiness that plagues so many other festivals.

The line-up is also fairly unique. Headlined by pop-rockers Deaf Havana and Alkaline Trio; 2000 Trees prides itself on a range of punk, hardcore and fan-favourites. Each year it asks festival goers who they would like to see play and they endeavour to satisfy that demand. It would be short-sighted to say there is something for everyone — this is not a typical pop festival — but it knows its demographic well. Contrarily, it simultaneously manages to appeal to those who dislike festivals — the queuing, the bad food and the nasty festival clichés are nowhere to be seen. But the heart of Trees is found away from the main stages; in the accidental discoveries, the new bands and the Tree-clad stage known as the Forest Sessions. It’s also the secret gigs and the the camp site bandstands that set Trees apart from the rest. With that said, personal highlights included Thursday-night headliners, The Subways, celebrating the 10th anniversary of their seminal Young For Eternity. If one should begin how intending to go on on — then their set certainly set the benchmark. Post-rockers Arcane Roots and And So I Watch You From Afar also blew the proverbial roof off their respective stages, showcasing Trees’ diversity towards the heavier side of things. Scottish anthemic rock was also well received, with The Xcerts and Idlewild providing the perfect beer-clutching soundtrack for a main stage crowd.IMG_4109

On reflection, 2000 Trees attains a wonderful blend of music and people. The silent-disco(s) that follow the headline acts encapsulates this and is something of a microcosm of the festival itself. There are various channels, from indie sing-alongs to hardcore breakdowns. It knows its audience and, much like the approach to the main line-up, it satisfies the demand it creates. It doesn’t take itself too seriously either — something that is evident across the whole site during the weekend. It’s pure, undulated fun. Which is immeasurably contagious.

Above all else, it is the spirit at 2000 Trees that makes it so appealing. When a power-cut hit Alkaline Trio’s [rain-soaked] headline set, there was not anger directed at the band or organisers. If anything, there was genuine sympathy. A general sentiment of ‘Oh, I hope this doesn’t give Trees bad press!’, was reiterated around me. Bassist Dan Andriano attempted to serenade the front row with an acoustic guitar: clearly grateful for their patience. There is a real sense of solidarity between the artist and the audience and less of the us/them dichotomy that larger, staler, festivals seem to inspire. Bands can be found at the bar and watching other artists. They seem to enjoy the festival as much as the audience, taking photos with fans and often staying for the majority of weekend. There is something wonderfully endearing about a frontman telling the crowd that he has blown off work to play the festival. [Tellison, Friday Afternoon]. Frankly, 2000 Trees isn’t about the paycheque or the BBC coverage… because there isn’t any. It’s about something that existed before festivals became the musical equivalent of a Ibiza holiday and an excuse to plug your latest record. It’s something more organic, more meaningful. It’s live music in its purest form.

At a time when festivals become increasingly more commercial, expensive and less about the music — 2000 Trees brings everything back into perspective. Good people and great artists is all you really need. Of course, you’re not going to see Arctic Monkeys or Muse, but for the money you get something far more memorable. A site small enough to walk between acts. A crowd friendly enough to bond strangers. A festival that is so well organised that the stage times are staggered to minimise clashes. 2000 Trees encapsulates everything I love about live music. It even revitalises my faith in people. It’s a music festival… in the most platonic sense of the term. A celebration of music — and those who love music. And it’s quite easily the best weekend of the year.

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Ollie Ship [@OllieShip]

Muse – Drones (Album Review)


Read the published article for The Boar here: http://theboar.org/2015/06/05/album-review-muse-drones/#.VXG6f6SCOnN, or continue below for the full, un-edited write up.


It was only a matter of time before the Devon stadium-rock trio released a concept album. Inspired by the rise of military technology and ‘remote killings’: Drones bolsters Muse, proudly, into more contentious territory. 

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Preluded by a handful of singles [‘Psycho’, ‘Dead Inside’, ‘Mercy’] and a number of festival appearances — it’s safe to say Muse are confident about their latest offering. So much so that frontman Matt Bellamy proclaims it to be their greatest album yet. But Drones is a strangely problematic record. Sonically, it is exciting. It sees a return to the heavy guitar prowess that feels long overdue from the band. Yet it is also lacks direction. It follows the unfocused trajectory of their ‘Queen-meets-Skrillex’ haphazard The Second Law [2012]. Likewise, its attempts to tackle politics — which tends to make or break bands of this size — feels superficial, and undermines any positive attributes of the record.

Nevertheless, upon first listen, Drones appears promising. ‘Psycho’ blasts a furious lead hook — [which, curiously, is a jam the band have trialled-and-tested on stage for a number of years] — the musicianship is impeccable. ‘The Handler’ evokes a similar guitar centricity that satisfies an overdue void in Muse records; building to a finale that is not far removed from their seminal LP Absolution [2003]. With dark riffs and snarling bass, it’s certainly one of the strongest moments of the record. ‘Reapers’, similarly, features familiar undertones: finger-tapped guitar solos a la ‘New Born’ but with a more refined production. This blend of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ is comforting. It is how one expects Muse to sound in 2015. 

However, looking past the immediate ‘rock’ aesthetic lies a harsh reality. Given that Muse are still [*arguably*] one of the best live acts on the planet  — churning out this sort of instrumental clamour is relatively easy for them. Furthermore, it is clear that ‘sort of sounding like your old stuff’ is not valid praise for your latest release. Drones, as a record in its own right, is badly structured and heavy-handed in its attempts to create meaning.  Nostalgia nor prestige should excuse that.

In fact, the vast majority of Drones is let down by either poor vocals or sloppy lyricism. The single ‘Dead Inside’, a radio-friendly attempt at a Depeche Mode Bond-song, features crass Kraftwerkian vocal effects. It does not add anything to the song and taints the overall listening experience. ‘Defector’, which for the most part is a great guitar piece, sees similar sci-fi ambiance overshadow its redeeming factors. Whilst I gather the theme of technology is prominent throughout this album — I can’t help but feel that robotic vocal effects are a little too obvious in trying to reinforce the message.

Indeed, for a self-proclaimed ‘concept’ record: Drones is remarkably misguided. It tackles provocative themes in a typical Muse style [elaborate composition and production, lengthy guitar solos etc] but with the literary clumsiness of a sixth-former reading George Orwell. It is as if Matt Bellamy framed an entire album around a five-kill-streak reward. Drones, and the detachment in killing from above, is really the extent of his grand ‘concept’. It feels immensely stretched out for a full record. Frequent lyrics about ‘control’ and ‘oppression’ become almost laughable and it becomes entirely cringeworthy hearing, nine songs into the record, lines such as:

‘They’ll take away our homes

They’re just machines and drones’

‘Our freedom’s just a loan

Run by machines and drones’

  ‘Revolt’

Military Drones may well be, as Bellamy considers them, ‘a modern metaphor for what it is to lose empathy’ — but the record is not even close to capturing that sentiment. It’s not entirely smart, it’s not entirely thought provoking. It’s flagrant pseudo-intellectualism at best. 

With that said, ‘The Globalist’ is a welcomed surge of optimism towards the end of the record. Ten minutes of progressive guitars and keys hark back to the epic ‘Citizen Erased’ of Origin of Symmetry [2001]. It is, by and large, the most ambitious song Muse have released in years. But it also reinforces my criticisms. Drones’ strengths lie in its musicianship —  its crushing drums and intricate guitar leads. Not its lyricism or belligerent attempts to force-feed a ‘concept’. Fittingly, this moment of strength is a track which leans more towards instrumental composition and where Bellamy, for the most part, keeps his mouth shut.


On balance, what makes Drones most painful is that is flirts with being something brilliant. Sonically it is hard to fault. The notions we associate with a ‘classic’ Muse record are largely there. The heavy-riffs, falsetto melodies and prog-rock time signatures are all present. It all makes an exciting departure from 2012’s [frankly abysmal] The Second Law. But such promises of a ‘return to form’ and a ‘guitar album’ seem redundant when the album lacks depth. The lyricism is inexcusably poor, the vocal production is crass and it all becomes something of a parody of their former selves. It may well be on the cusp of something interesting — but it serves to expose a band who have lost their way.  It is, above all else, style over substance — yet it stubbornly proclaims that such ‘substance’ is the greatest thing the band have ever produced.

Perhaps the most poetic referent in Drones is accidental. I can’t think a more apt metaphor for Muse’s career than a Drone missile falling from the sky — and crashing, explosively, to the ground.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

☆☆☆

Listen to the ‘The Globalist’, ‘The Handler’ and ‘Reaper’ [Live]. 

[n.b ‘Revolt’ is, quite honestly, the worst song Muse have ever recorded. Worth a listen in a strange/somewhat disturbing way.]

Manic Street Preachers – Futurology Review


Edited article for The Boar available:  Manics Scan

http://theboar.org/2014/11/03/futurology/

Also published in print 27/09/2014. [See embedded scan].


Ten months since the acoustic introversion of Rewind the Film, the Manics return with an entirely different force. In what Nicky Wire dubs Post-punk disco rock; Futurology marks the band’s most ambitious record in two decades.

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Live Review: Nine Inch Nails – Birmingham LG Arena (18/5/2014)


Edited article for The Boar available here:

http://theboar.org/2014/09/14/live-review-nine-inch-nails/

 All photos are my intellectual property. Please ask permission before use.


It’s been 5 years since Trent Reznor and co conquered a British arena; and they unsurprisingly stretched Birmingham LG’s 16,000 people capacity. Fans new and old gathered from as early as 5pm; dressed in the colourful attire you’d expect from an industrial-metal show. (or rather, the lack of…) But the range of washed out tour shirts proved an overwhelming point – Trent Reznor has been playing this game for over 25 years now.  


Nine Inch Nails are perhaps most famous for their work in the 1990s; with The Downward Spiral  (1994) regularly cited as one of the most influential records of the decade. However, for an act that could easily fill arenas by playing ‘the classics’, Trent Reznor advocates a real dedication towards reinventing his live act. Albeit through recruiting new members or investing in stage production, Nails’ have earned a reputation for innovating their stage show. In fact, just last summer the band lashed out at Reading and Leeds Festival for refusing their elaborate lighting rig. It seems that the UK would have to wait another year before giving Nails’ a platform that could truly accommodate them.

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The show itself opened with a spotlight on Reznor, in a minimalist rendition ofMe I’m Not’. The other band members progressively joined him, in a pattern that was allegedly inspired by The Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense tour. However, having just toured America as an eight-piece, it was somewhat disconcerting to count just three people join him on stage. 

But there was nothing underwhelming about this show. After a strobe-drivenCopy of A’ and an exuberant remark about not playing another ‘fucking festival’;  it was clear that this was a refined and polished live act. In turn, with a flurry of exotic lights during ‘March Of The Pigs’, Trent Reznor’s secret weapon was now in full swing. A mechanical screen covered the stage and sat behind, or in front of those performing. Images accompanied the music and masked those on stage; becoming one of the most immersive live act I’ve ever witnessed. The dynamics this presented were unparalleled. Screens of white noise and distortion obscured the band during breakdowns, only to be pulled back like a futuristic theatrical curtain.

This was most notable during the performance of ‘Eraser’. Uncomfortable images of insects covered the screen during its slow introduction, but were dispersed as the drum kicked in and Ilan Rubin was revealed from behind the metal sheet. This promoted the rest of the band to join in, and the crowd were engaged both visually and sonically. Frankly, these kind of theatrics are what are inspiring about live music on this scale. Trent has taken the essence of his music and projected in a way that exceeds what the audience expectant, when in all honestly, he doesn’t have to play anything more than the music.

IMG_4772In fact, for a band that is comprised of only one official member, there was a remarkable lack of ego displayed too. Whilst invariably, Trent Reznor is the crowd focal point, his band were impressively tight and professional. Ilan Rubin effortless glided between drums and synths, and occasionally picked up the bass and electric guitar. Robin Finck and Alessandro Cortini also swapped instruments; each facing a synth whilst guitars hung from their necks. It seems Trent has hired four likeminded musicians to cary his live act with him. There was no showboating or excessive guitar soloing, nor any of the usual rock star bullshit of bands (and stages) this size. Nine Inch Nails were an act, a collective unit, and above else; an experience.

Likewise, the setlist was equally as choreographed. Songs like Sanctified from 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine book-ended with tracks form 2013’s Hesitation Marks; covering as much as their catalogue as possible. (This certainly didn’t feel like a ‘plug the new album tour’ – *ahem* – Smashing Pumpkins at Wembley last year) Fans also received over-looked album tracks such as ‘The Great Destroyer’ and ‘Piggy’; something that is often missed in larger arena shows. Nevertheless, there was a distinctive scarcity of 1999’s The Fragile. Whilst this is likely the most divisive record within the Nine Inch Nails catalogue, the ripping guitars of ‘The Day The World Went Away’ proved that Trent Reznor’s darkest moments were undoubtedly, his best. Their finale was, unsurprisingly, the closest thing to a ‘greatest hits’ for Nails’. A back to back performance of ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Head Like A Hole’ ignited the crowd for one last time.  The band then returned for gut-wrenching performance of ‘Hurt’ in the encore; which sparked the cliche cigarette lighter waving that only certain songs provoke.

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Whilst I ultimately find it difficult reviewing something as subjective as live music; and no doubt I would’ve be satisfied with just hearing the songs, the experience that Trent Reznor and co have conjured is truly awe-inspiring. It is refreshing, immersive and it pushes the limit in what live acts should be doing in light of their ever inflated ticket prices. Nine Inch Nails set the benchmark incredibly high for live shows, and you’ll be hard pressed to see Reznor fading away any time soon.

★★★★★

Why Definitely Maybe Matters

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1994 produced two of my favourite albums: Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral and Manic Street Preachers’ Holy Bible. These dark, introverted records remain cornerstones in what I consider one of the best decades of music. However, there’s one record from 1994 that is receiving much attention lately,  Oasis’ seminal-debut, Definitely Maybe.

Now I’ll admit – I’ve never been an Oasis fan. My allegiance has always been with Blur and I’ve always viewed the Gallagher Brothers with an ounce of contempt. I think they’re egotists – who spurt out more nonsensical guff that the average politician. That said, I can’t deny they wrote some good songs. Really good songs. And whilst I’ve been looking back at their discography; it’s difficult not to rate their first two records as highlights of the era.

Of course, Oasis followed a pretty chaotic trajectory. Many would agree that the band burned out after What’s The Story Morning Glory? – with Be Here Now often cited as one of the biggest disappointments of the 1990’s. In fact, that bloated and indulgent record is exactly why I’ve disliked the band in the past. A concoction of drugs, noise and the NME giving it a proverbial hand job under the table. But cynicism aside; Definitely Maybe was, and still is, an important record. It was the dawn of Britpop, New Labour, a new era – all in the run up to the millennium. Its impact was unprecedented – and its songs were even greater. This year marks it 20th anniversary (and bizarrely, 50 years since the British Invasion) so I’ve decided to revisit it anew to breakdown exactly why Definitely Maybe matters.


1. It was cool.

tumblr_mw41ieKabd1t16vyso1_1280There’s something wonderfully punk about Definitely Maybe. Not only in its guitars and aesthetic – but in the way it didn’t give a shit about the existing norms. Similar to how the Sex Pistols countered the indulgence of prog-rock; there’s nothing pretentious about Definitely Maybe. (That’s more than can be said about the Gallagher Brothers, though)

Consider how Noel talks about Supersonic:

‘I went in the back and wrote ‘Supersonic’ in about a half hour, recorded it the rest of the night. And that’s the rough mix, and
it was never remixed, either. A magical night, brilliant.’

It took half an hour to crack out one of the most iconic songs of the 1990s. Sure, the lyrics are meaningless and Gin and Tonic/Supersonic is hardly the most poetic rhyming couplet. But Definitely Maybe matters because it wasn’t caught up in the bullshit of trying to be cool, and that’s exactly why it remains so endearing.


2. It was counter-culture.

Nnoel-gallagher-20060301-112086oel Gallagher claims he wrote Live Forever whilst working on a building site, in what he considered a response to U.S Grunge.

‘Seems to me that here was a guy who had everything, and was miserable about it,” said Noel. “And we had fuck-all, and I still thought that getting up in the morning was the greatest fuckin’ thing ever.’

Live Forever may be a slightly crass title to challenge Nirvana’s I Hate Myself and I Want To Die – but it represents an important counterculture against U.S music. Noel’s lyrics were unmistakably British, and inspired an identity that was so absent in 1990’s music from across the pond.

Take Digsty’s Diner for example:

‘If you could come to mine for tea // I’ll give you strawberries and cream’

Woefully simple – but impeccably English. These lyrics encouraged a new sense British cultural identity – that coincided with the Cool Britannia and New Labour movements.

l2eg2v2j.c4zLikewise, the records’ stylistic elements harked back to a ‘golden era’ of Britain. Guitars, bass and drums – it’s unsurprising critics drew links to 60’s bands like The Who and The Kinks. Given that the late 1980s was ripe with electronic music (house, techno etc) – Definitely Maybe was a refreshing sound, regardless of how dated its style really was.

The record’s producer Owen Morris even considered it an attack on that 80’s music.

“I wanted to make the sound as heavy as possible, as I was frustrated with machines and dance music and wanted loud guitars, and luckily enough so did they”

Of course, John Squire and Ian Brown’s work half a decade before laid the foundation for this movement; but a war on ‘machines’ is exactly what Britpop embodied sonically. Ensuring that Rock and Roll would never die.


3. It meant a lot… to a lot of people.

Definitely Maybe matters because it connected with so many Brits. Those who were alienated by American rock and monotonous electronica wanted to hear music that resonated with them. Suddenly, the influx of ‘British lyrics’ about Manchurian life and daily observations was compelling.  Definitely Maybe propelled the Britpop machine into affluence and in doing so revitalised British cultural identity.

Likewise, the records’ critical reception was unanimously positive. But an album can be much more than just a few good songs – and some of the best didn’t please the critics. Granted – my understanding of how Definitely Maybe affected people is somewhat dubious, as the record itself is before my time. Nevertheless, you only need to look at the comments NME’s ‘Albums that changed your life’ to gauge its impact:

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‘This album was a game changer!’ – and it bloody well was.


4. It had some fantastic tunes

There’s no denying that Definitely Maybe has some tunes. Hell – the whole record could’ve been released as singles. If I were to compile a greatest hits of Oasis – no doubt most of the songs would come from their first two efforts.

Supersonic? Rock N Roll Star? Slide Away? Columbia?

Ultimately, Definitely Maybe is an important part of British Music History. Whilst I hate the romanticism that Oasis were consistently good (the denial that their whole career really bottles down to only two records) – there’s no avoiding the impact Definitely Maybe had to British culture. It paved the way for a musical movement and embodies a wonderful sense of national identify. Nevertheless, amidst the celebration of its anniversary, and its subsequent reissue – there are the inevitable talks of a reunion. Whether of not we’ll see remains to be seen. However, Definitely Maybe can stand on its own. I’m not an Oasis fan, and not particularly fussed about seeing them live.  But I love this album, and so do a lot of people. Records are like great novels that stand the test of time, and can outshine any wrongdoing of their author. And for that reason – I’m willing to turn a blind eye to Be Here Now and Heathen Chemistry. Definitely Maybe has aged gracefully… and I can’t wait to see how she looks in another 20 years.


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