Classic Albums

Classic Song Review: Move Any Mountain – The Shamen [1990, One Little Indian]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Article Series, Classic Albums, Everything, Music, Reviews | 3 Comments

Every once in awhile, some unidentifiable thing will trigger a sudden memory for me. Whether it be a smell, sound, image, or whatever, it is always completely random, and usually something from childhood. I had one such backflash late on Monday evening as I was perusing YouTube videos and was struck by the following chorus: “I can move, move, move any mountain”. It was kind of like the “burnt toast, I smell burnt toast” Canadian Heritage Minute.

A quick Google search later, and the autocomplete function reveals a whole lot of other people have been remembering this song, too. What was it, and who was it by, anyway? Besides the incredibly catchy chorus, I couldn’t remember much else.

But then I watched this video

…and it all came flooding back to me.

The song is Move Any Mountain, and the group is a techno-infused-acid-house outfit out of the Aberdeen Scotland (Groundskeeper Willie’s hotly disputed place of origin) called The Shamen that spanned throughout the 80’s and 90’s.  Josh informs me that they were one of his favorite bands from back in the day, openly admitting that he has 10+ copies of the En-Tact album (in case of natural disaster, we might presume he would strategically place these in different residences and locations).  As wonderfully cheesy as the video may be (it has it all–a twirling descent of bodies on a dated graphic, kareoke-video-like ocean footage, an appropriately poofy looking duo against scenic mountain backdrops), and as painful as the short rap run-ons might get, Move Any Mountain is still a fantastic song reminding me of the schitzophrenic ranges of highs and lows a song can take you to.

Unfortunately, one half of the creative duo met an untimely demise after heading to Tenerlife Spain to tape the video for Move Any Mountain. I believe it was the guy with the dreads, but am not really sure. They enjoyed some modest success in the U.K., and irregardless of their tragic end, have managed to record some other good tunes in their time and I really enjoyed Possible Worlds. There’s a little Primal Scream, a little bit of Soup Dragons, predating that flash in the pan rock/dance thing with EMF and Jesus Jones. There’s some guilty pleasure in enjoying this stuff I suppose, but despite what some folks may think, I am not a music snob.

Classic Song Review: These Things Happen – Action Painting! [1990, Sarah Records]

Posted on by Allison in Article Series, Classic Albums | 1 Comment

I’ve gotten a bit lazy with the full on Classic Album Reviews lately, so today I’m giving you a truncated version by doing a classic song review. I might do this with a few forgotten songs.

Action Painting! was a Sarah Records band coming out of Brighton that is apparently unworthy of even a Wikipedia page. Sarah Records is yet another anomaly demonstrating the superior tastes of the late 80’s U.K., probably best known for being the label that launched The Field Mice. I don’t think that Action Painting! ever released a full-length before disintegrating into mysterious musical spores, but These Things Happen is a residual of my mid-90’s mix tape trading days (Mark’s recent post about the evolution of sound mediums prompted me to remember what a big part of my life these once were). In 1995 and 1996 I had one of those goofy personal Geocities deals where I would talk about band I liked and shows I’d been to (a 15-year precursor to the blogs of today that I think a lot of bored kids imbibed in).

Little did I know, the thirst for taste comradery was rampant. Not just amongst dumb teenagers like myself, but amongst older people too (again, the widespread use of MP3 sharing has changed all that). People started emailing me asking to tape trade, and message boards were full of people wanting to do the same. Making a first mix tape for someone you don’t know is really just a shot in the dark, but after a few rounds, would become a refined exchange. You get a handle and feel for what someone might like, and you’re usually right. It’s a musical pen pal program, and unbeknownst to me at the time, would become have huge impact in shaping my tastes. Maybe it’s because there was more of a “here you go” pretext instead of a hard flog. Action Painting! was on one of these tapes along with bands like Sea & Cake, Orange Juice, Husker Du, Mission of Burma, Galaxie 500, Slowdive, the Go-Betweens, American Music Club, Greg Sage and the Wipers, and Half String. For the record, the guy who gave me the best series of tapes was a linguistics professor in Scotland.

What makes These Things Happen a classic song? It has a bright shininess that never seems to fade, and is in that category of songs that I can listen to around 20 consecutive times on repeat and still never ever tire of. There is a crystal clear simplicity I hear in the music that has nothing to do with the lyrics (which could lump it into that category of apology love songs)…it’s an uncomplicated little composition with some sweet acoustic guitar strumming, but is elegant just the same.

Have to listen here.

Classic Album Review: Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout [1985, Kitchenware]

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With Prefab Sprout‘s Steve McQueen, we have another stellar example of how sophisticated the 80’s U.K. charts really were (as mentioned a couple of reviews ago, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ Rattlesnakes is another modest chart success anomaly). Most North Americans would probably think Prefab Sprout is the latest frozen vegetable medley from Arctic Gardens and that Paddy McAloon is an Irish beer.

One of the reasons I’m so motivated to keep this article series going is because I can finally share the rationale behind why something is great. It’s partly a self-revelatory exercise; partly flogging who I perceive to be the under appreciated; partly indulgent nostalgia; partly an opportunity to sit down and listen to something in-depth from start to finish. As I have previously mentioned, so much of the beauty behind older albums has more to do with my amazement at the pulse of popular music, sans internet, particularly in the U.K.. Pop music has changed a lot since then, and so has the path to fame and recognition. Not saying this is good or bad (who among us can argue against the internet’s role in properly exposing great talent), it’s just very very different. More flashes in the pan (which I think is a positive thing for artistic freedom’s sake), more saturation, but I feel too, less emotional intensity. Maybe the word I’m looking for here is soul.

A shorter journey has a lot of implications.

I’m not going to get derailed by the “paying your dues” argument, anyway. What I will say is that Steve McQueen packs more emotional punch in two songs than most albums are remotely capable of, easily containing the most beautiful love songs ever recorded in the history of modern music. How to describe the specific style they pack that punch is a far greater challenge. Let me just start off by saying Prefab Sprout is definitely not for everyone. Nothing good ever is, and originality / genre crossing only detracts from the ratio of folks that I think will like them versus those who will not maybe vaguely reminiscent to the same way people might feel about the Housemartins. If forced, I’d say PS is sophisticated adult contemporary with flashes of western, lounge, and most importantly, show tunes. Lyrically, they’re just weird. Example from Movin’ the River: “But I’m turkey hungry. I’m chicken free! And I can’t break dance on your knee!” Vocally, they’re impassioned and beautiful.

The best showcase of the album’s soulfulness stems from the two love songs I was talking about earlier. The first is Bonny, a poetic lament about losing someone. The lament part is double-underlined here, and one of the most poignant feelings that I think McAloon best communicates is the fact that he feels losing someone cost him something. I sometimes feel like no one wants to admit that we sometimes give up what we want, but we all do. Everything about this song goes down like a sophisticated drink–probably a sidecar. From its memorable muted lead-in to the cascading chorus, Bonny always brings me to my knees.

When Love Breaks Down is the second. It’s a lot more delicate than Bonny, but even more powerful due to its derivation from Paddy’s own life. Everything about it is supposed to scream melodramatic, “The lies we tell / They only serve to fool ourselves / When love breaks down / The things you do / To stop the truth from hurtin’ you” but the sincerity saves it from deteriorating into dripiness.

“It is a very personal song. It’s not that far removed from personal experience. I’ve worked so hard, it’s been to the detriment of other things. Relationships have suffered, I don’t mind saying that. But I know if I don’t work hard I won’t get that golden moment. I know I can go even further but to do that I have to narrow down my interests.” – Paddy McAloon, Melody Maker, June 1, 1985

There are a host of other surprises that make Steve McQueen a timeless album. Toe-tappin’ soul in Goodbye Lucille #1, the bizarre show tuney Movin’ the River (above all, this is just a damn fine vocal showcase), the country and westernish Faron Young (ANTIQUES!), the mambo (yes, MAMBO) in Horsin’ Around, seamlessly transitioning to more bitter heartbreak and kiss off in Desire As. It is all topped off with When the Angels, another one reminiscent of an 80’s musical score.

Oddly enough though, Steve McQueen doesn’t really feel like an “80’s” album at all. Maybe because it falls under such a wide swash of pop, or maybe because it’s just a damn fine album.

Classic Album Review: Prince – 1999 [1982, Warner Bros.]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music | 2 Comments

If you were to ask me who I thought was the most talented songwriter in the world, you might think I’d be hard pressed to come up with a definitive answer.

You’d be wrong.

In the hybrid category of overall singer / composer / musician of 26-odd instruments, there can only be one winner. Prince Rogers Nelson takes this title without any hesitation on my part, and despite his going off the eccentric Jehovah’s Witness deep-end well over a decade ago, I still think he is the most talented musical icon of all time. He trumps Madonna in chart-accessible rebirth. He kicks the Beatles’ catalog. He oozes pop from his every orifice. He is the most overtly sexual songwriter of all time. And more so than anyone else I can name, Prince has consistently proved that he is an endless factory of eclecticism, genuine sexuality, and ass-shakingness, which brings us to 1999.

1999 arguably takes the cake in terms of best party album of all time. Everything on this damn thing makes you want to either scream-sing at the top of your lungs or embrace the loose morality of getting “down” with your bad self (Dance Music Sex Romance). This album embodies the most positive and life-affirming heathen ethics. There are some gems on here that never fully hit the public’s radar with the full breadth I would’ve expected it to, and it’s puzzling to me why some of them weren’t chart toppers while others were.

Out of all of the albums I’m reviewing for this series, I would have to say that this is the most primal and lighthearted, least cerebral, and surprisingly, least emotional. All 1999 incites in me is a desire to get out like a dancing, singing fool (and I emphasize the fool part).

The album’s title track was something I couldn’t listen to throughout the 00’s, abandoning it due to Y2K overplay. It feels kind of like fictional farce 11 years later, but the nail-biting in 1999 was real. My computer science professor had managed to convince us all that the bulk of the world was running on COBOL, which was incapable of handling the rollover to 2000. Everything will revert back to 1900!, he said, and we either apathetically or stupidly semi-believed him (what can I say, he was dumb, and we were dumber). Listening to 1999 again, I think it’s a shame that it carried the taint of Y2K mania. It’s still an ultimate party song with all of the trimmings.

Let’s go through the rest:

Little Red Corvette – Prince seems to have a shitload of songs that play as explicit sexual innuendo. He is one of the few people who is able to balance “suggestive” with “crude”, while still staying under the radar of pop culture. It’s hard to believe that LRC is still Prince’s biggest hit to date, but then I used to listen to it like the dickens, not really picking up on anything it really meant (essentially sleeping with a slut). The drum beat is still ultra tight.

Delirious – Much of this feels borrowed from “Horny Toad”, but no matter. Another example of sex flying below the censors. Probably the weakest track off the album–weird to think this charted.

Let’s Pretend We’re Married – Another favorite that didn’t receive as much attention…I always notice this as a conspicuous oversight in all “best of” Prince collections, and I’m not sure why it never captured public imagination as much as some others.  “If you’re free for the next couple of hours / If you’re free for the next seven years!”

D.M.S.R. – May very well be my favorite track off the entire album. Over 8 minutes of ass shaking, love making, I guess this is the whole theme of the entire album. We’re all going to hell, but we might as well enjoy a lot of sex in the meantime, irregardless. I just felt like using the word “irregardless” there.

Automatic – Another gem. More than anyone else, Prince has a way with keyboards, and the head boppingness makes you completely forget about the completely inane lyrics.

Something in the Water (does not compute) and Free were kind of write-offs, with Free being the sort of life after death ballad that athiests ignore. Looking at the album’s two main themes, every song either revolves around sex, love or fear of God.

Lady Cab Driver – Sure, the sounds oddly like Irresistible Bitch, but if anyone were to ask me what good, accessible funk music was, I’d point them to Lady Cab Driver. It’s easy to see why Prince was such a ladies man in spite of the fact that he essentially looked like a short, wizened monkey in high heels.

All the Critics Love U in New York – Kind of an eerie number, but catchy nonetheless.

International Lover – Totally reminiscent of a jazzier Nothing Compares 2 U.

Although so many of these songs remind me of so many others in Prince’s catalog, I have to say that no one recycles like this man (and anyone who writes over 15,000 songs can be excused for some creative borrowing from himself). He has the ability to make new out of something familiar; to make something filthy sound innocuous; and to make a 9 minute musical tirade feel palatable.