Sunday, October 23, 2005

Nine Black Alps LIVE

In one of those nice "couldn't they have announced it earlier" moments I've already seen Nine Black Alps live supporting Weezer. Which in fact turned out to be a good thing, because I certainly didn't "see" Nine Black Alps on this occasion.

But to backtrack a little, the evening started out with a cracking little meal at some Italian restaurant. The spicy prawn fritters were alright, but the duck thing was bloody gorgeous. The sweet was less so, given that it simply appeared to be a cup of coffee with a dollop of ice cream in it (no, seriously that's what it was) but in a kind of bizarre way it was good.

So after a mini pub crawl around Liverpool we finally get to the venue, the first time I've graced the halls of the Liverpool Carling Acadmey 2. First shock was the fact that NBA were scheduled to be on at 9, with a 10pm curfew! 10pm curfew on a Saturday night? WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO?

Then when actually getting into the venue, we then realised that we were not going to get a great view of the band as they performed their set. In fact, I wasn't going to get any kind of view of any of them. Well that's a slight exaggeration. I saw one of the guitarists fleetingly. To cut a long story short, I'm sure the venue is great if you turn up really early and manage to get onto the actual floor space, but if you don't you may well find yourself without a view of the musicians.

Still, at least it wasn't a teasely group, so there are worse concerts where this could have happened. As such though my atmosphere was slightly off, although as the drink kicked in I found myself enjoying the music. They threw in some new songs, or at the least songs that I hadn't heard before, and it was a polished performance, albeit one perhaps lacking the spark that really would have set the evening on fire.

Then came more comedy gold as we left the venue. I saw some rather buxom lass that had a nice...well you get the idea. Anyway, I give Gee man the nod to check out the bintage and he falls about laughing. No, she wasn't ugly or anything like that, but was actually a girl who used to work where he does who he just happened to fancy the pants off. So it's proof that occasionally Gee does have some good taste :D

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sugababes - Taller In More Ways

Well bugger me, I've fallen into the trap again. Remember "Hole In The Head", the fantastic first single from the Three? It was brilliant wasn't it? Just a pity really then that the album was the usual "three great songs and a load of dodgy filler" routine that I've come to expect from the Sugababes since they went the "manufactured pop" route (as evidenced by choosing an ex-member of Atomic Kitten as the replacement for that one who left).

So yeah, "Push The Button" is a fantastic single, indeed it's one of the best of 2005, but there really is nothing else that comes all that close to matching it. "Joy Division" (sadly not about Ian Curtis :D) and "Red Dress" come close (and will surely go down well at the Christmas disco's) and "It Ain't Easy" and "Obsession" would be decent enough as the songs on a great album that weren't quite as good as the others. Sadly they are the best of a pretty poor bunch.

I often contend that Girls Aloud don't get the huge success they deserve because they don't do enough ballads to draw the parents in. Well no worries about that on a Sugababes album. The only problem is that the ballads that they do serve up are trite, forgettable and so tailored for the commercial effect that I am left totally unmoved by any of them. The worst of the bunch must be "Ugly" (not surprisingly a virtual carbon copy of TLC's "Unpretty" due to the fact it's written by the same fella) and "2 Hearts" which ends the album on the most mawkish level possible.

This will sell by the bucketload I have no doubt, but for all the positive press that the 'Babes get (and yes they certainly can sing) the fact remains that just like every other manufcatured pop group in existance, the bottom line remains the money that can be made. This album, ahem, pushes all the right button in that respect, but you are left with the impression the 'Babes crowing moment is destined to be their greatest hits.

Icon's View - 3 out of 5.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine

The is one of the most bizarre "new" albums that I will ever review for the simple fact that I had already heard 90% of it up to a year ago. The long (six year) wait since "When The Pawn" for a follow up album was attributed to Epic not thinking that the album that Fiona Apple and her producer Jon Brion delivered was commerical enough. And to be honest, if that had been the case they might have had a point. In it's "unofficial" form, it was the kind of album that all but Fiona's most ardent fans would have been completly non-plussed by.

Of course the official story now is that Fiona herslef was less than happy with the "original" record and wanted to re-record it, but Epic, having spent in the region of $800,000 on the record, were reluctant to give the green light to more expenditure. But the leaking of the music proved that there was an audience for the album and 50 Cent producer Mike Elizondo climbed on board to help finish the project.

The album was probably never going to live up to the hype that a six year abscence whirled up, but Extraordinary Machine very nearly pulls it off. The first thing that is immediatley noticeable is that there have indeed been many aesthetic changes to the version previously heard, and for the most part these are welcome. Gone are the cluttered arrangements of Brion (which at times seemed willfully designed to alienate listeners) but this is still hardly a commercial pop album.

This is very much a "break-up" album (as are all of Fiona's efforts really) but the sense of strong defiance that permiated When The Pawn is still very much evident. "Get Him Back" is a wry look at the aftermath of a break-up and has the pulsating piano one would expect. "Better Version Of Me" is another such track and is one of the definate highlights of the collection. But really there isn't a duff track on the whole album.

It never quite reaches the heights of "When The Pawn" and, to be honest, isn't quite the leap in a different direction that the protracted release of the album lead to suggest. You aren't going to mistake this for anyone else, it's a Fiona Apple record all the way through. Still, she's yet to make one that's anything less than excellent, and this wonderful album keeps that record going. Let's just hope it's not another six years for the follow up to this!

Icon's View - 4 1/2 out of 5.

KT Tunstall LIVE

So for an unprecidented fourth time in one year it was time to see the Tunstall live again. Of course it should also have been the time to see Ed Harcourt live, but we managed to only get there in time to see the end of his set. Don't know what his music was like but that bird he had playing the violin seemed like proper teasely.

Still it was a good kebab (with that bloody lovely girl having her Naan bread and Chips :) ) and it was nice to briefly meet a few fellow Tunstallation Nation members in the Kro Bar. Which was a nice little bar to drink in as well.

I should point out right now that whatever I say in the next few paragraphs, I enjoyed this concert immensely. BUT, and didn't you know there was a "but" coming the whole thing seemed a little superfluous. It was essentially the same show I'd already seen twice in May although there was a new track, Drity Water, performed. This was a decent enough song, but didn't really grab me by the balls and make me love it.

Suddenly I See and Black Horse were excellent, although it seemed like many in the audience had only come along on the strength of the singles, although thankfully there seemed to be an abscence of the usual knob-jockeys in our vicinity.

Heal Over was at least better than it was in May, and Through The Dark was a nice touch. The problem for me was that apart from the odd "extended" version of a song this was a show I felt like I'd seen before. Now I know that makes me seem hypocritical after banging on about hating the "Sweet Dream" version of Heal Over, but there comes a point when overkill is reached. Once her new album comes out and she tours that then I have no doubt I'll be there, but if she does another tour before releasing any new material, I think I'll be giving that one a miss.

Oh and on a final point, kudos goes to Xavi for being the designated driver :D

Sunday, October 16, 2005

NME Rock 'N' Roll Riot Tour LIVE

First things first. We didn't make it in time to see the Cribs. We simply couldn't be bothered queueing up and so we went for a swift pint, which turned into two. Still it was worth it for the Elisha Cuthbert-esque barmaid :D.

Well where do we start with Maximo Park....? I've heard great things about them and they certainly have had some good reviews. But to be honest, I thought they were pretty poor on the night. All their songs sounded very similar, and as I didn't like the first one they did it just got worse from thereon in. They were quite entertaining I suppose, but perhaps I'm getting old, but I just don't get the point of them.

As for the Kaiser Cheifs. Well its quite simple really. They have three quite good songs (Everyday I Love You Less And Less, I Predict A Riot and Oh My God) and this fools you into thinking they are better than they actually are. Well folks, it's all hype. Were they terrible? No. But they are hardly the best band ever to have written an album ever or anything like that.

So all in all, I was pretty underwhelmed by both the acts I saw. There isn't really much more I can add to that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Laura Veirs LIVE

Oh it's always fun to go to a new venue, and on this particular occasion it was the Life Cafe in Manchester. Finding it was no problem, but parking anywhere nearby certainly was! After about half an hour of driving around we finally hit upon a place which didn't seem to far away. And it wasn't too far away although it was a rather eerie walk from the car park to the venue, and certainly one I wouldn't want to try if I was on my own.

Anyways, a nice burger and chips was procured at Squares (very tasty) and then we headed on down into the Life Cafe "Late Room." And what a nice little venue it was. There was the initial fear that we woudn't be able to see the stage once the people at the front deciced to stand up but in a nice little schiznit, they stayed sat down throughout, enabling us a very good view indeed.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the support act. His name was Karl something, and all I will say is that the Bjorn Borg look-a-like gave Mummy & Daddy and The Kills a run for their money in the "most bizarre support act ever" listings. Still, he was certainly memorable.

Imagine our horror then when the support act turned out to be one of Laura Veirs' band. But he kept himself to himself thankfully and the fun could begin. This was quite simply an excellent performance. Most of the show was based around the recent Year Of Meteors album, and as that is a bloody cracker, so was the show.

Highlights were stunning versions of "Galaxies", "Cool Water" and "Spelunking" (which as it is about Caving saw Laura and her band sporting headlamps whilst the lights were turned down completey.

I should also mention the magical "galaxy dust" that Laura passed around and told us to spread on our faces. Yes, I am a muppet so I did as she requested. Still it was funny.

All in all this was a wonderful concert. Laura may be a little too much "out there" to ever gain the recognition and success she deserves, but on nights like this that really doesn't matter.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Missy Higgins - The Sound Of White

People I "know" in this vast inter-web world wide landscape have been waxing lyrical about young Missy for absolutely ages now. So finally I decide to properly check her out.

First impressions would appear to be favourable. She's a woman. She plays the piano. So what's not to like huh? And initially on putting the album on there is a sense that we are on to a bona fide winner here.

Opening track "All For Believing" sends shivers down the spine; this is followed by "Ten Days" which is another winner although sadly it has to be said that already her Australian accent is wearing thin. Now that may seem like a triffling and somewhat baffling reason to put her down, but whilst I certainly don't mind a bit of an accent, at times Missy almost sounds as if she is a non-Australian taking the mick.

Which is a bit of shame really. Current single "Scar" is a decent enough tune, although it does seem over-produced. Missy is at her best on the sparser tracks such as "Nightminds" and "Any Day Now" which really allow her talent to shine through. The problem for me is that it all gets a bit pedestrian at times with a few too many songs all seemingly merging into one. It's only towards the end of the album, with the jazzy "This Is How It Goes" that the tempo picks up, although this is merely a prelude to more miserablism.

It sounds from the above like I hate this record, and I really don't. But whilst Missy certainly has talent, it doesn't shine through often enough on this promising but ultimately disappointing album. Still, it should ensure enough success for her to get a second stab at making the album she is clearly capable of making.

Icon's view - 2 out of 5

Supergrass LIVE

Well there were no hospitalisation incidents leading up to this one, so I FINALLY got to see Supergrass Live in Concert.

But the story starts a little bit earlier than that. Being that it was a Sunday, me and the Gee man decided to have a spot of jackbit prior to the gig and decided to go to Mosa Mosa Chinese restaurant. We're there, tucking into the starters when a few fellas with security laminates around their necks walk in. A bit weird to be sure but we thought no more of it...until five minutes later the one and only James Blunt walked in! Of course at first I'd only noticed the rather attractive teasely who was accompanying him :D

Still the salient points of this are that a) he's a bit of a short arse and b) he likes Chicken (he had it for starter AND main course).

Anyways, this was a new venue for a concert and I have to say that the Manchester Ritz is quite a nice little venue. The support act was on when we walked in. All I can say is that I am glad we didn't catch all of his act. He was called "Son Of Dave" and he used to be in the Crash Test Dummies. Don't bother remembering his name though, as I hardly think he'll be troubling anyone with any musical taste.

Supergrass were pretty cool though. Love the hat as well Gaz. Anyways, they rattled through most of their latest (somewhat underrated) album Road To Rouen and put in most of their biggest hits inbetween. Particular favourites were Richard III (their greatest ever song in my humble opinion), Moving and Late In The Day. They didn't however do Alright. Which is a bit like Robbie Williams not doing Angels or something. But still, although it would have been a welcome addition to the set list, its absence wasn't critical. A good effort from the boys, apart from that utterly pointless Gaz solo half way through. I could have done without that.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better

It doesn't seem all that long since I first discovered the delights of the Ferdinand, which is probably due to the fact that it isn't all that long since their debut album was released and thrilled so many people.

The good news for the record company accountants is that Franz have stuck to that old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." From the minute you first put this cd into your player (or download it onto your MP3 Player if you're being all technological about it) you know exactly what it is. Which is no bad thing if you ask me, when 'what it is' is so good.

Lead single "Do You Want To" is little more than an updated "Take Me Out" but that doesn't change the fact that it is bloody fantastic. And there are many more delights to enjoy on the collection. "The Fallen" is a wonderful opener (who indeed gives a damn about the profits of Tesco?) and "Evil And A Heathen" would already fit nicely on to a "Best of Franz" compilation.

But it is tracks such as "Walk Away" and "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" that really strike out, being as those are the "least-Franz" compositions on the album and bode very well for a successful and rewarding future listening experience with the band. Although even these songs retain their Franz-charm (Walk Away references Hitler and Mao-Tse Tung) and overall there can be no doubt. Their debut album wasn't a fluke, and on this showing the best could even yet be to come!

Icon's view 4 1/2 out of 5.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Kanye West - Late Registration

As a rule, I don't particularily like rap. But every so often an absolute CHOON hits the airwaves that not even I can ignore. 2005 sees Kanye West's Gold Digger fill that spot very nicely indeed. It is without doubt one of the classic singles of the year, but it also sets an impossibly high standard for the album.

First single Diamonds From Sierra Leone was disappointing (although kudos for the Shirley Bassey sample) but Gold Digger was SO good, that I just had to check out the whole album. The immediate problem that springs to mind is the sheer amount of guest vocalists on display (heaven help us if Kanye ever teams up with Gwen Stefani for a collabortation album) with the feeling at times that Kanye is struggling to make himself heard above the crowd.

And this leads to another problem...Kanye just isn't that good at rapping. Tracks such as Touch The Sky, Drive Slow and Hey Mama are good tracks, but they would be great tracks with a better rapper.

This is a good album., but can be frustrating at times. If you're a fan of the genre then it's a must...if it's not usually your cup of tea, tread carefully and you could be rewarded.

Icon's view - 3 out of 5.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Shout Out Louds - Howl Howl Gaff Gaff

The Sweedes certainly can proffer up some hot bands these days, and the Shout Out Louds certainly have the tunes and style to follow the worldwide success of bands such as the Hives and the Cardigans.

This is the kind of album that will immediately make you think of one hundred and one other bands. The Strokes, The Wannadies, the Kings Of Leon, the afforementioned Sweedes...all will spring to mind over this perfectly formed collection of pop-rock tunes.

Pick of the pack are "100°" and "A Track And A Train" both of which would, with any justice in the music world, be massive world-wide hits. They can't quite keep up to this level throughout the whole album, but that is a small complaint. Get it now, before they become massive.

Icon's View - 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sheryl Crow - Wildflower

Truth be told, the prospect of a new Sheryl Crow album in 2005 does not fill me with the same kind of anticipation that I would have had back in 2000. The Live at Central Park CD was a bit rubbish, her greatest hits was something and nothing (good, but hardly something that was needed) and her date at the MEN last year was a bit underwhelming. Then of course we come to C'mon C'mon, which was in my opinion a pretty poor album and not one that I have listened to in all honesty since about the first four weeks that I had it.

The good news is that Wildflower is not as bad as some reviews would lead you to believe. It's still not a patch on her first three albums, but it kicks the proverbials out of C'mon C'mon. Its definately a mellower affair than anything we've collectively seen from Ms Crow before, and, to almost paraphase the lead single, when it's good its good.

The problem is that once you've heard one track, you've pretty much heard them all. Which doesn't make it neccessairily a bad album, but makes it one that doesn't bear up to too much repeat listening. Fans will probably find enough to entertain themselves, but there will always be the feeling that her best work maybe behind her.

Icon's View - 2 out of 5.

Nerina Pallot - LIVE

Ok, so much like Paddy Casey earlier in the year, I didn't stay around for the "headlining" act Arthur Joseph (or is it Joseph Arthur?) but really what would have been the point. There is NO way that anything he did could have come remotely close to what preceeded him.

Despite my paranoia that the doors didn't open until nearly 8 o'clock, (coupled with the big queue for Nine Black Alps in Acadmey 2), we were in there in plenty of time. The rather rude "who should mind where they're going" woman did her best to sully my mood (I tell you, that's the last time I attempt to be chivalrous to a Mancunian lady) but another pint, and the prospect of Nerina warmed me up.

Quite simply, she was fantastic. She only did six songs, but they were all top notch crew and she's just a very funny woman too. And I mean funny as in hilarious, not weird. In amongst the songs were tales of pyjamas with red spacemen on, the invention of a new word "Chavesty" and the confession that "All Good People" was from the Shania Twain-esqe part of her musican cannon. She also forgot half a verse of Geek Love, which was quite funny, although the uninitiated wouldn't have noticed as she didn't miss a beat.

But as FANTASTIC as all that was, the best was yet to come . After a short wait (in which a woman thought we were queing for the gents bog's, which gave way to a discussion about how Gee and Me could be living pieces of performance art outside a hospital) we toddled over to meet Nerina. There was some boring git from a radio station who seemed intent on wooing Nerina but anyway, I bought another copy of Nerina's excellent album Fires and as it was passed to her for signing, she looked up and my new favourite conversation ever kicked in. A brief synopsis is included below;

Nerina - Have we met before?
Me - Yes, we have.
Nerina - So you're a dedicated fan.
Me - I sure am.
Nerina - Is it Stephen?
Me - Hmm, no.
Nerina - John?
Me - No.
Nerina - Bugger.
Me - It's ok, I've got all night.
Nerina - Erm..
Me - It's Matthew.
Nerina - Yeah. That's right. Where was it...
Me - Well...
Nerina - Let me think.
Me - Ok
Nerina - Wait, was it at the Paddy Casey gig in Liverpool.
Me - Bloody hell. Yeah. And also at Warwick.
Nerina - Oh yes, I remember...Have you come far tonight?
Me - Only from Wigan.
Nerina - Oh not far then.
Me - Only about seven hours drive or so...

And then I went off. Although I went back as Gee needed his CD signing (the stingy bastard FINALLY getting around to buying his own copy) and then there were pictures to be taken, with the hilarity of me thinking Gee didn't know how to use my camera and thus moving as the first picture was being taken.

But anway, all that remains to be said is that the concert was bloody fantastic, Nerina is bloody lovely and, brilliantly, I was recognised by a celebrity. I was recognised by a celebrity. And a bloody fit one at that. So Gee man, you can take your Liz McPram Face picture and shove it :D