Pink Floyd - The Final Cut [1983]

Pink Floyd’s Final Cut was released at a time when no-one really knew what was happening with the band. We were still riding the wave from The Wall and stuck in the lingering rip current of Wish You Were, the meanderings of Animals, and the magic from Dark Side Of The Moon. We where euphoric, but members of the band were barely speaking to each other.

That whole fascination with The Wall here was a little weird. Everyone was going “We don’t need no thought control”, but not many listeners seemed to become noticeably more socially aware. Kind-of like a pocket revolution, if you will. It’s small, and no-one will ever see it.

But it was four years since Pink Floyd’s last album and records had to be made. Roger Waters was the only one with ideas. David Gilmour had lost interest and wasn’t writing, Nick Mason had become more involved in creating sound-effects than drumming, and Rick Wright had had enough, upped and left – thus leaving Pink Floyd as a somewhat troubled trio.

The problem was that Waters’ ideas where still mostly leftovers from The Wall. His preoccupation with World War 2-related hardships, the death of his father in that war, and the effect it had on him since childhood, had been made clear to the point of almost being exhaustive. Because it was such a personal issue, the effect would have been lost on a follow-up – especially to one of the most popular and controversial albums ever to have been made up to that point.

Then, out of the blue, the last person on earth you’d expect to be of any use stepped up and saved the day.

Margaret Thatcher started a war!

The political situation in England with a draconian Thatcher at the helm, and her sending the troops half-way around the world in order to regain control over the tiny Falklands Islands from Argentina in 1982 in particular, provided sufficient irritation and impetus for Roger Waters to re-write most of the songs he had offered for the follow-up to The Wall. Because no one was talking, Waters had been writing songs without any involvement from the other members of the group, so didn’t have to be cautious or compromise. David Gilmour could focus on what he did best – playing guitar. Nick Mason’s preoccupation with sound effects and new technology would come into excellent effect in providing an extending soundscape for the songs. Sadly, the absence of Rick Wright would allow for open, more spacious music.

Somehow, all that was wrong with the band at that point would contribute to a refreshing creative shift. One that would effect a(nother) partial re-invention of the band – both musically and as newly-relevant social commentators – acutely aware of what was happening on England’s political landscape. Pink Floyd could now provide fresh commentary on current issues instead of still dragging WW2 around with them.

What we really ended up with was Roger Waters featuring an array of brilliant session musicians, and two other guys from Pink Floyd. From a Pink Floyd point of view this was ridiculous, but looking at it objectively, this was not such a bad thing.

One Of A Few’ by Pink Floyd [The Final Cut]:

The Final Cut is an album of superbly crafted stories and brilliant musicianship. The lyrics are perfectly supported by the music and an almost tangible soundscape that flows through the whole album – linking the songs as a continuing story.

In dealing with contemporary issues in such a fresh way, Waters’ masterful story-telling and vulnerable, slightly awkward vocals remind me a bit of Syd Barrett’s stories, though very different in subject matter. The Final Cut would be the last Pink Floyd album to feature Roger Waters, making the link back to Barrett quite interesting. A full circle, almost…

You should probably listen to this album again.

Not Now John’ by Pink Floyd [The Final Cut]:

When Tigers Broke Free’ by Pink Floyd [as used in the film The Wall]:

The initial exclusion of ‘When Tigers Broke Free’ from The Final Cut had seemed strange to me, and I always felt that something was missing. The 2004 CD re-issue of the album eventually included this song as an integrated part of the track-listing. It had only been available as a single and in the film The Wall in 1982, as a re-issued promotional CD single in 1990, and in a slightly different mix on the Echoes collection from 1991 before. Eventually, after 20 years, The Final Cut was completed.

“…would Maggie be pleased?”

Pink Floyd - The Final Cut [1983]
Margaret Thatcher

(Images used for illustrative purposes and without express permission. If you’d like to object to their use, or give me permission for their use - please let me know.)

Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes [1994]

Since Ozzy left, Black Sabbath has undergone so many personnel and stylistic re-alignments that much of the music produced since has only caught me on the rebound.

We all know that Black Sabbath is Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill… and then Ronnie, and Vinnie, then Ian, then Glenn, Dave, Eric and Tony. Then Cozy and so on. However, Tony Iommi has been the only constant member of the group. In a way we should be grateful for Iommi’s willingness (and ability) to keep the Black Sabbath brand going, and through that – for some reason – we don’t readily remember all the versions of the band. It’s usually just the war between Ozzy and Ronnie.

Both Born Again from 1983 and Seventh Star from 1986 were almost released under Iommi’s own name, but – probably fortunately – it was decided that releasing them as Black Sabbath albums was better for business. By the time Seventh Star was released – Tony Iommi was the only original Black Sabbath member left in the band, so its release as a Black Sabbath album is even more significant in terms of ‘keeping the name alive’. In fact – it was released as ‘Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi’. It’s a little absurd, really, but anyway…

In 1994, Black Sabbath was a powerful melodic rock band. And a good one at that. Cross Purposes is one of those albums that may have eluded Black Sabbath fans and other rockers due to all the band’s re-alignments. You need to be able to look at much of the post-’83 Black Sabbath from a non-Black Sabbath viewpoint. There’s no Ozzy, and only a little Geezer, Bill and Ronnie. And no Ian. For Cross Purposes, we almost have a collective. And that’s alright. Remember – we’re not thinking Black Sabbath; we’re thinking a group of rock dudes with Tony Iommi on guitar. That’s pretty cool.

The album takes no time to get the tone set. ‘I Witness’ rocks pretty hard from the word go. With a solid beat, fluid rhythm, powerful soaring vocals and blistering guitar antics. Iommi’s playing is menacing. ‘Cross of Thorns’ and ‘Virtual Death’ remind us a bit of Ronnie with its medium tempo plod with wailing vocals. ‘Psychophobia’ could have come from the Born Again era. The vocals on ‘Evil Eye’ get a little bluesy – but the slamming plod and creeping bass-work keep it tidy. Geezer Butler had made it back to the line-up at this point, and if you have any idea – you’ll know how Geezer can fill a space.

Co-producer Leif Mases’ previous engineering credits list an interesting array of artists including Ian Gillan, Jeff Beck, some random glam rockers, a Swedish artists with a complicated name, and Frida (from ABBA)! Don’t laugh! That’s not important right now. What is important is that he was also involved in engineering Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door and Coda. Yeah! Actually the other stuff is important because it should give you an idea of the thoroughness of his work, and in turn, this production. The sound is full, well constructed and nicely detailed. So Leif was a good choice.

As a handful of bands did in the Nineties – there’s the seemingly obligatory nod to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ that appears as a little part of the body of ‘Cardinal Sin’, but all is good. No funny business like with Kingdom Come…

There are no apparent weak points here. This is a solid heavy rocking album, but it is quite understandable if you missed it. I did. If you know Eternal Idol, or are coincidentally lucky enough to be familiar with Jake E. Lee’s band Badlands’ first album – this fits more or less into the same bracket.

Worth three packets of cigarettes and a reasonable bottle of vodka. Lekker.

Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes [1994]
Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes [1994]

Black Sabbath in 1994
Black Sabbath in 1994

(Images used for illustrative purposes and without express permission. If you’d like to object to their use, or give permission for their use - please let me know.)

Thin Lizzy – Thunder And Lightning [1983]

It was early in the Eighties, and Thin Lizzy had edged slightly beyond the dark-ish romanticism which characterised much of Phil Lynott’s lyrics. They’d opted for a harder sound – veering decisively toward Heavy Metal. It would have been interesting to see how this would have unfolded, but due to the various outside interests of various band members, Thin Lizzy was falling apart and finally dissolved by the end of 1983. As a significant creative force in the band, Lynott’s unfortunate death in January 1986 properly laid that option to rest.

The Thunder and Lightning album contains some really excellent songs. Unfortunately not much attention seems to have been paid to the running order of the tracks, so the album lacks cohesiveness and direction. I’ve tried to improve this a little, but it wasn’t as successful as my rearranging of the running order of Metallica’s Black Album. Fortunately, once the music starts, it knocks you right to the back of the room – giving you sufficient space to deal with this oversight. Just be sure to turn up the volume – and hold on!

The title track leaves no doubt regarding the direction the band was heading. Musically powerful and heavy everything, with a storyline in the same streetwise ilk as ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ from 1975’s Jailbreak album. Saturday nights, fighting and really just being tough testosterone-ridden dudes. Nothing too poetic. A musically simpler attack follows with ‘This Is The One’ - a brilliant relentless clockwork grind that sadly has to end. Keyboardist Darren Wharton, who had featured on the two preceding albums, co-wrote ‘The Sun Goes Down’ which slows the pace down considerably, but without slowing down the intent. I remember this song getting some airplay around the time of the album’s release.

Thin Lizzy’s characteristic romantic story-telling undercurrent remains present, and although a shift had started with ‘Angel of Death’ and ‘Hollywood (Down on Your Luck)’ from 1981’s Renegade, the overriding heavy tone of this album had only been as in-your-face on occasion in previous studio albums – most noticeably with the title track of Bad Reputation from 1977, ‘Chinatown’ from 1980 - and on the live album Live And Dangerous from 1978. The drumming of Brian Downey features more prominently in all these recordings. On this album Downey also co-wrote the title track and ‘Some Day She’s Going To Hit Back’. The heaviness may have been an attempt to both deal with the then-fading Punk scene with whom the band’s rebellious nature had found some favour, and to stay current in a growing pool of rising Heavy Metal artists, some of whom would have been influenced by Thin Lizzy’s tough, streetwise vibe.

‘The Holy War’ has some commentary on religion. It starts off with a slappy bass line that could misguide you into thinking we’ve entered the Funk Age. Lynott’s ominous vocal and those lead-guitar breaks from new guitarist John Sykes will soon make it clear that we haven’t. It remains hard to place this in a box, especially because this album is already a partial re-invention of Thin Lizzy’s unconventional hard rock style. Sykes also co-wrote ‘Cold Sweat’ - a menacing Motörhead-like rocker.

If you’re more familiar with songs like ‘Still in Love With You’ [Nightlife 1974] or even their version of ‘Whisky In The Jar’, this heavy onslaught may seem out of character, but it actually suits Thin Lizzy well. Considering ‘Out in the Fields’ - a song recorded two years later by Lynott and previously intermittent Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore, and the single’s B-Side ‘Military Man’, it is a credible progression for the band. Again, I wonder how things would have been if Lynott hadn’t died…

The rest of the album continues in a more typical Thin Lizzy mode which, in comparison to the heavier stuff, almost seems whimsical. This is still Thin Lizzy, though, and the songs are great. For some reason, it always makes me want to listen to their 1971 self-titled debut album, which, almost absurdly, I haven’t managed to get into my collection. Yet….

Musha ring dumma do dumma da.

Thin Lizzy - Thunder And Lightning [1983]
Thin Lizzy - Thunder And Lightning [1983]

Thin Lizzy
Thin Lizzy

(Images used for illustrative purposes and without express permission. If you’d like to object to their use, or give permission for their use - please let me know.)

End Of The Year List 2012

This is the time of the year when all the Best of..[insert year here] lists go out.

Seeing that I’ve been slightly ‘out of the loop’ and without a viable income since February, I thought I’d give you a list of 10 Noteworthy Albums Recently Added To My Collection. It delves back into acquisitions from 2011 [and some from 2012], and releases from way back.

Here goes:

1. Robert Plant – Shaken ‘n’ Stirred.

This is an often forgotten album from 1985. Like most artist, Plant was in his Electro Eighties phase. Despite this, the album contains some of my favourite solo-Robert Plant songs:

Recommended Songs: ‘Sixes and Sevens’, ‘Little By Little’, ‘Too Loud’

2. Sevara Nazarkhan – Tortadur

Sevara’s third semi-mainstream release from 2011 is simply a mind-pacifyingly beautiful work. Stripped down to her earthy vocals and sparse instrumentation, she succeeded in avoiding the seduction of Buddha-Bar-ism.

Recommended Songs: All (And if you haven’t yet – also get Yol Bolsin from 2003, and Sen from 2007.)

3. The Dresden Dolls – Yes, Virginia!

The Dresden Dolls are a Piano, Vocals and Percussion duo. This album is from 2006. Topics revolve mostly around sex and some form of debauchery. Amanda Palmer on vocals and piano and Brian Viglione on percussion. Lene Lovich would be proud.

Recommended Songs: ‘Sex Changes’, ‘My Alcoholic Friends’

4. David Kramer – Bakgat!

Most of these songs where performed in my parents’ lounge one evening some time before this album was released in 1980. This album makes David of the true masters of South African Folk music.

Recommended Songs: ‘Is Jy Bang?’, ‘Tjoepstil’

5. Tumi And The Volume – Pick A Dream

Tumi is another great storyteller / commentator. His poetry has balls and if you can’t hear it, you can still dig the beats. This album is from 2010.

Recommended Songs: ‘La Tête Savante’, ‘Number Three’, ‘Moving Picture Frames’, ‘Through My Sunroof’

6. Flevans – Unfabulous

The opening track on this 2007 album should have you sold. An as solid and funky beat as you’ll ever get.

Recommended Song: ‘The Greeting Song’

7. Flevans – 27 Devils

While you’re at it, this album from 2009 is a bit more balanced and has slightly more depth than Unfabulous. It’s not that it is all that much better - it’s just slightly different.

Recommended Songs: ‘Hold On’, ‘Pretty From A Distance’, ‘Flicker’

8. The Clash – London Calling

Don’t laugh. It took me long enough to get this 1979 album. I’m sure you heard enough about it by now.

Recommended Songs: ‘London Calling’, ‘Rudie Can’t Wait’, ‘Spanish Bombs’, ‘The Guns Of Brixton’

9. Pat Travers – Black Pearl

Going all the way back to 1982, this album is slightly out of place for the usually Bluesy Pat Travers. If you like your Rock straight up and solid, you should hunt this one down.

Recommended Songs: ‘Rather See You Dead’, ‘Who’ll Take The Fall’, ‘Misty Morning’, ‘Rockin’

10. David Bowie – Scary Monsters…and Super Creeps

I owned this 1980 release on CD a long time ago and I have had the vinyl for many years, but I had to replace the CD after it got stolen a couple of years ago. This is my favourite David Bowie album.

Recommended Songs: ‘Up The Hill Backwards’, ‘Scary Monsters…And Super Creeps’, ‘Ashes To Ashes’, ‘Fashion’

As I always say, when the music is good, it’s always good.


Valiant Swart - Kopskoot [1997]

I sometimes wonder about how well Valiant Swart could be received in a non-Afrikaans speaking, and more specifically – a non-South African environment. On an intellectual front, I think he is too often misinterpreted or lost between the likes of Koos Kombuis and Ralph Rabie [Johannes Kerkorrel], both who have achieved somewhat iconic status as musical / poetic masters. I think that it is quite tragic that he hasn’t got quite the same status – but it’s probably a blessing in disguise. Although he has gained huge popularity, Valiant has managed to keep his feet on the ground and has continued to write songs that are real. Not confused poetry or polished whateverisms. Thankfully, his skills have remained where it mattered.

Valiant had been hard at work for many years by 1997. Performing at probably every opportunity given – and taken. Two albums where released during that year. Together they covered much of what the Valiant Swart Band had entrenched as performance repertoire by this time. The second album is ‘Kopskoot’. It covers what was at that time his more recent work.

Some of the songs are a little scrappy. But that’s only compared to his own work. Valiant and producer Jurgen Von Wechmar at Sunset Recording Studios continued to work together through the years and eventually got it just right.

Valiant remains unique by being ordinary and unpretentious. His ability to make spoken language flow and sparkle is magical. Although he writes (and therefore sings) in both Afrikaans and English – his language is distinctly South African. The lyrical intricacies, however, make Valiant Swart’s work a little hard to write about. A listening session would be more appropriate, but I will to do a little run-through nevertheless.

The album kicks off with a reckless and simple ‘Syber Sakkie’. It has a careless edge that always made the band a pleasure to watch live. Guitarist Anton L’Amour is frenetic. ‘Tjank Stations’ has a similar style, but is marginally more sophisticated.

Almal Maak Haar Mal’ is a wonderful biographical description and touches on the frustrations of real-time Stellenbosch student-life issues.

Stylistically, ‘Oorlede Lettie’ is an early take on a Country / Elvis Presley theme that would reoccur in later work. On this album, parts of the vocal delivery on ‘Anyway, Alex Jay’ show more of Swart’s love for Elvis. This song is a simple anecdote based on a plane trip with Alex Jay – at that point a hugely popular radio personality - as a co-passenger.

(You Can’t) Fax Me Your Love’ has always been crowd favourite. The dilemmas of loveless technology – at that point still a fax machine.

Jacaranda’ is a reference to Pretoria, and offers more lyrical magic. I recently read somewhere that there are plans to rid Pretoria of its Jacaranda trees. How tragic.

Slawereen’ is one of those tracks that bring out the melancholic side of Swart. It’s pensive and African. Swart’s guitar playing is often reminiscent of Mark Knopfler. Just with a little more earth.

Mama Blues’ takes a trip to a land of slow and careful blues.

Hi-Fi Op Stand By’ is about how easily some lekker music can change any gathering into a party. Student life’s greatest moments. The solos are sublime.

Some of the word-play in songs like ‘Wanda’ would be almost impossible to translate effectively (to any language). The interplay between words and meanings are just too precise in Afrikaans.

Soos ‘N Vis’ is pure poetry. One should be reminded that the power of the musical contribution wonderfully disguises that poetry, keeps it balanced and increases its longevity. Wow. You should really have a listen [again].

Onna Cheeck’ is a wonderful excursion into reggae with a solid bass-line delivered by Casper Malherbe.

Lyrically, ‘Droomrivier’ is one of Valiant’s most enticing pieces. Set against a solid, driving, pounding beat that leaves you rather dazed when it’s over. I usually wish it would just go on forever.

Kake Van Die Leeu’ was also a huge crowd-participation moment at gigs. Clever lyrics and a thumping back-beat.

International Maria’ has long been one of my favourite songs. It soars and soars with an endless flow of [often almost bitter] memories of another truly South African dilemma: the effects of the fear of a dark and scary Africa. Many white folks had left the country. Some didn’t. There are no specific references to politics and no agendas. The references are to real life issues that can only be properly understood if you know enough about the time-frame during which the songs where written. At live performances, this song usually closed off proceedings in total musical mayhem and anarchy. It was beautiful.

Yes, and I almost apologise – it sounds a bit like an ingredients list. In a way I suppose it is.
Have you ever eaten the raw ingredients of your favourite [non-raw] dish and thought: “Oh, Yum…”?

In short: Slightly scrappy but fun album underlined by brain-tingling lyrical magic. And if you don’t ‘get’ South African – it’s still great rock and roll.

Good for parties. And poets. And perfectly pot-roasted potatoes.

Worth all your memories of Stellenbosch in the early Nineties.

Valiant Swart - Kopskoot [1997]
Valiant Swart - Kopskoot [1997]
Valiant Swart
Valiant Swart

(I’d like to get permission from the photographer to use this photograph, so please get in touch if you can help.)

Mike Oldfield - Five Miles Out [1982]

So where did I dig this out…?

I understand the fascination with Tubular Bells. Everything about it. The one-man band. The intricacies of the production. The first release on Richard Branson’s Virgin Records label…

I don’t own Tubular Bells.

In 1982 Mike Oldfield released an album called Five Miles Out. If you where an absolute fan of Tubular Bells [six albums and nine years earlier] or his work up until this point, you may not have appreciated his venture into the easy listening Pop market. Oldfield’s work had mostly involved intellectual [and largely instrumental] ‘Progressive’ musical forays. However, delving into more conventional songwriting [and finding a good balance between the two] was probably a significant contribution to Oldfield’s longevity. Can you sing along to any of the tracks from Hergest Ridge? Do you remember the album? It only has two tracks.

Balancing extreme musical experimentation with well crafted radio friendly songs is not something many recording artists can do successfully. Right now I can’t think of any besides Mike Oldfield… He does it well.

Five Miles Out starts off with a distinctively Mike Oldfield ‘Taurus II’. A layered dance through a variety of finely timed tempo changes. It’s almost like a prelude, with snippets of a variety of musical themes – perfectly assembled. These kinds of tempo- and theme changes are only listenable if they are well constructed – like they are here. There is a Celtic theme that runs through this piece and is echoed in other parts of the album that conjures up notions of celebration, drama, solace, romance… ‘Taurus II’ is the concise guide to musical Celticism. It’s fantastic, and with all its twenty four minutes length already makes the album worth it. To followers, the use of the theme of ‘Taurus I’ from Oldfield’s 1980 album QE2 makes a notable appearance.

The second track [or the first track on side two if you are able to reference historical formats] is significant in that it is Mike Oldfield’s first true venture into recording Pop songs. If you’re a more casual fan, ‘Family Man’ will be recognizable due to it often appearing of collections and compilations. You may also remember that it became a big hit for Hall & Oats back in the Eighties.

Orabidoo’ picks up parts of the main up-tempo theme of ‘Taurus II’, but is mostly a much more subdued and meditative piece.

The familiar and slightly ominous title track ‘Five Miles out’ closes off the album.

With only five tracks and being just under fifty minutes in length – you’ll be left feeling a little like you want some more. Not because it was short or you feel cheated, but because when the music stops, it has taken you on such a ride that whatever else is going on around you will seem totally unfamiliar. The good thing is – if you own this album – you can take the ride anytime you want.

Surely worth the petrol money for a day trip around the Cape Peninsula - including a hearty lunch along the way.

Mike Oldfield - Five Miles Out [1982]
Mike Oldfield - Five Miles Out [1982]
Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield

U2 - All That You Can’t Leave Behind [2000]

By the year 2000, it seemed that U2 had already done everything they could have. They had managed to bridge the gap (or cross the line…) between being innovative and successful numerous times, and each time you’d think that they just couldn’t really do it again. Every time they released an album they would surprise us with the unexpected. After a 24 year existence and the release of nine albums during this time, it would not be surprising if there was just nothing left for the band to offer.

This possibility was almost true. On the surface U2’s 2000 release All That You Can’t Leave Behind doesn’t really break much new ground and there seems to be no real innovation.

But there is something going on here. For the first time the band revisit their roots. The raw rock and roll energy of early albums like Boy comes to mind. Fortunately it’s no re-hash. The triumphant ‘Beautiful Day’ is a perfect opening track and comfortably reintroduces us to U2’s straight forward rock and roll origins. ‘Evaluation’ is another pumped up celebration and displays the post-modern fusion of the resurgence of the old-school rock and roll sound with all the hi-tech stuff that has been learned in the interim.

There is also a more personal angle on subject matter [‘When I Look At The World’, ‘Peace On Earth’, ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ and ‘New York’]. Songs have more to do with matters and less with issues. Although U2 have always dealt with issues that were close to them, there was always a universal, and often a non-personal approach. One with which there was always a bit of distance between the speaker and the issue. Face it – if you wanted to save the world on a personal and intimate level, you would not get very far. I suspect you’d realize that your own life was so insignificant that you’d probably give all your cool stuff away and go and live in a cave. What use would you be to the world-saving community then? Huh?

There’s a subtle cynicism in some of the lyrics [‘Peace On Earth’]. It’s a kind of realization that despite all the good intentions and all the hard work done (particularly by Bono) to deal effectively with real humanitarian issues – there is often much more involved to political decision-making than purported good will and perceived integrity. With All That You Can’t Leave Behind you feel that the fight is not over, but let’s just stay at home for a couple of days…

To add to the new immediacy, Bono’s voice has become slightly raspy. At first it feels a little awkward, but once you’re over it - it adds a new sense of vulnerability that is quite welcome. Especially after being almost untouchably clean for almost 20 years.

Despite not being my all-time favourite U2 album, it is still a good album and contains some of my favourite U2 songs.

It’s worth a fully packed picnic basket and a day spent in Tokai Forest.

U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind [2000]
U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind [2000]

Ungdomskulen - Cry Baby [2007]

Norway has produced some fine things over the years. Things like snow. And Vikings. Musically speaking, the ECM label introduced us to some Norwegian jazz musicians: Jan Garbarek. Terje Rypdal. Misfortune introduced us to some people who were probably blinded by the snow; and therefore thought they were Vikings. These people formed groups and also made music. Borknager, Enslaved, Dimmu Borgir. In fact – much of the better known Black- and Death Metal bands are from Norway. Much of it purports to be evil and Satanic. The use of cheesy keyboards is prevalent. I know for a fact that most is it is rubbish.

So when you think of Norway and music – usually you’d think of Jazz and sometimes of Death Metal, but when you hear of a band called Ungdomskulen who play neither of the above-mentioned forms of music – you know you’ve probably come across something quite different. So wot’s…uh the deal?

In 2007, the Norwegian band Ungdomskulen released an album called Cry-Baby. I don’t think I’ve ever heard music that is this difficult to describe. It is not Jazz. And it certainly is not Death- or Black Metal. The encyclopedias call it Progressive. They usually say that when they don’t know how to classify music. Picture (maybe) Pixies – the band – playing versions of Tool songs while trying to sound the Springbok Nude Girls. Backwards. With ear-pugs. In a daisy field. After listening to Frank Zappa’s Playground Psychotics non-stop for five days.

Yes. It has many angles. Unfortunately the initial impression – that you’d get if you hear it coming from behind a bedroom door while washing (someone else’s) dirty dishes in the kitchen – is a messy noise. If you’re paying attention – to the point that you’ve forgotten about your dirty dishes in the kitchen – you’ll pick up that the music is precise, accurate and purposeful. Sometimes [‘Feels Like Home’, ‘My Beautiful Blue Eyes’] it’s almost happy. Like Hippies, but ones that have direction and are schooled in their instruments and general musicianship. But Ungdomskulen’s music refuses to be characterized by any conventional method. As soon as you think you’ve found something to latch on to – the music will give you something else. Possibly something like… um, Viking Snow… Just different. (And not the tires.)

You may (at first) be put off by the noisy element of Cry-Baby, but give it the attention needed and it is definitely worth a bottle of Vodka and a big packet of slap chips.

Ungdomskulen - Cry Baby [2007]
Ungdomskulen - Cry Baby [2007]

Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]

You may think this is a strange place to start my album based reviews, but all things considered – what did you expect?!

Sandra Bernard was once notoriously well known for being a hot lesbian who had a thing with Madonna. Right? Actually, she’s a stand-up comedienne who has been active since the late Seventies; has appeared in a Martin Scorsese film [The King Of Comedy]; featured on Roseanne for six years; been in Playboy magazine and has released a string of albums – two of which are music – the rest comedic. She was most successful during the Nineties. She’s still pretty active, but the list would be long, so look it up yourself.

‘Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1’ is Ms Bernhard’s first release that concentrates on music and – for the most part – is a bit random and awkward. However, there are a couple of tracks which are quite plausible and can easily get lost in the mix. Here – if you’re not a pre-determined fan – you clearly have to be selective to get to the better stuff.

Production by Mitch Kaplan and Derrick Smith and Ted Jensen’s mastering skills have made the album really cohesive, which – maybe strangely – makes it easier for the good stuff to get lost.

The first track that really catches your attention – ‘Manic Superstar’ – is a mash-up of sorts of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Manic Depression’ and ‘Everything’s All Right’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. This is a pretty clever mix and believably pulled off.

A couple of cool lounge-y / disco-y tracks [‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’, ‘Who Knew’ and ‘Prophecies’] are good for background music while having cocktails on the balcony and might lead to a little unconscious foot-tapping, but when Sandra tries to get all serious [‘Innocence’, ‘The Letter’] – you’re either going to get teary eyed, or you’ll take the CD out of the player and burn it. Some of her references – to herself and the ‘lesbian community’ – are mildly entertaining, though.

Sandra’s ability to sing should not be questioned. Just her ability to find an audience within a music loving community. She just hops around between commitments too much to maintain musically cohesive integrity.

Sandra’s interpretation of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ is almost beautiful. It’s lounge-y, clear and sincere. That might sound odd. Too bad. It’s one of my favourite Rolling Stones songs, and I’m not often impressed by cover versions.

’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ is another cover, and also one of the better executed tracks on the album. Sandra is good at performing other people’s songs. Her selections here are suited to her and she does them with a sense of confidence that is not present in the own songs.

Unless you’re a huge fan of Sandra Bernhard – don’t pay more than the price of a packet of cigarettes for this album (if you can find it…).

Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]
Sandra Bernhard - Excuses for Bad Behavior Part 1 [1994]
Sandra Bernhard
Sandra Bernhard