Posts Tagged ‘archived post’

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 13th of November 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)   The Beatles are near-universal in their influence over the world. That’s a fact. I often wonder if, in the womb, everyone was indoctrinated with at least one or two of their beloved hits. But I can credit just one source that made me sit up and realise they are a cultural phenomenon to be cherished, admired and, dare I say, worship.  
The unmistakable 'Fab Four' (circa 1964), when 'Beatlemania' began

The unmistakable ‘Fab Four’ (circa 1964), when ‘Beatlemania’ began

  Released in 2007, Across The Universe is a musical film that effectively captures the spirit of that band of four men in 1960’s who changed the world of music forever. The plot is superbly linked with The Beatles’ back catalogue of tunes, and the psychedelic romantic drama is set in that time period, mirroring and highlighting contemporary social and political issues in a vivid and exciting style. And this story-through-song opened my eyes, ears and heart to their music more viscerally than anything else in the eighteen years preceding it.   Across The Universe - Movie Poster     Looking at it from a genre point of view, it effectively sidesteps an obstacle that many musicals run into: balancing fun with more serious, weighty issues. Some can only be upbeat and happy, or almost opera-like, full of gloominess and excessive sentimentality. I usually find that any attempts at mixing up the vibe end up feeling forced and clunky. Not so with this Julie Taymor-directed gem. The plot centres on a young Liverpudlian dock worker named Jude (surprise, surprise), who decides to illegally emigrate to the USA in search of his estranged father. Along the way, he meets up with Max, a slacker student at Princeton, and is introduced to Lucy, Max’s younger sister, and a host of other interesting characters, with nearly all of them being named after a Beatles song or song’s character. In fact, Beatles references are soaked into every fibre of the film’s fabric, and it would require multiple viewings to find and appreciate them.  
Three of the main characters - Lucy, Max and Jude

Three of the main characters – Lucy, Max and Jude

  Although I like to think of myself as having a decent knowledge of film, it’s the film’s soundtrack that I want to focus on, and how it compares to the originals. I mean, that’s the part that stood out for me for the most upon first viewing. It was an inauspicious start, I might add, there in my dorm room with two of my friends late one night in our first year of university. One even left ten minutes in, during a film I’ve now watched at least ten times! The press surrounding it all at the time labelled it as ‘a Beatles musical’, so when I found myself really enjoying the music, it got me thinking “if they’re singing Beatles’ songs, then this band must be as good as people say they are”. First impressions always count a lot, so it was difficult for me to accept John, Paul, George and Ringo’s versions as canonical, after the modern, cinematic garishness of Taymor’s. Now, after three and a half years of reflection, I think I am ready to make some reasonable opinions. What is really being compared here is not which one is better (that would be blasphemous), but more of whether the style of one version is more appropriate to the lyrics and subject matter than the other, and perhaps which one suits the film better. And there is no harm in debating that. Some songs have a backstory that is a little more interesting than most (particularly late-60’s compositions, found on disc two). Therefore, I feel that it’s only right to dedicate a little more space to their heritage than the others. Also, since it’s a review of the soundtrack, I’ll be careful not to give away too many plot points or focus too much on aspects of the film. It’s really a head-to-head comparison of the music, between the past and the present.  

The Facts

All in all, the double-disc soundtrack contains 31 complete songs. A further two brief extracts of other songs (which aren’t on the discs) are incorporated into the score, and one song is repeated; thus totalling 34 individual ‘musical cues’, in film speak. Many are sung by one or two of the main cast members, guest musicians, or an ensemble. One complete instrumental is included as well. At times, songs are interwoven, and to great effect.  

Disc one

  1. Girl
  2. Hold Me Tight
  3. All My Loving
  4. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  5. With A Little Help From My Friends
  6. It Won’t Be Long
  7. I’ve Just Seen A Face
  8. Let It Be
  9. Come Together
  10. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
  11. If I Fell
  12. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
  13. Dear Prudence
  14. Flying
  15. Blue Jay Way
 

1. Girl

Lennon’s acoustic number about a manipulating, paradoxical girl that he seems irrepressibly drawn to, serves as a perfect introduction to this love story. Shortened to just over a minute, containing only the first verse, Taymor’s version condenses the speaker’s lovesick confusion into a sweeping, ambient lament. Whilst at that length, it fits the movie perfectly, if it was drawn out to the original’s four verses, it would’ve lost a lot of steam.  
It doesn't get much bleaker than a British beach on an overcast day...

It doesn’t get much bleaker than a British beach on an overcast day…

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Overall, the original’s breezy, lush instrumentation and vocal harmonies trumps Taymor’s brief, lonely tale of woe. Cinematically, however, it would be unlikely that the original could have worked for this scene.  

2. Hold Me Tight

‘Girl’ segues into McCartney’s oft-forgotten ‘work song’ (as he’s referred to it in the past)Hold Me Tight, along with a brief snippet of ‘Helter Skelter’ before the track starts. The original, from the Beatles’ early days, was deemed acceptable album filler at the time, and carried a tired portrayal of the Fab Four’s bouncy and zesty ‘Merseyside skiffle’. However, lead actress Evan Rachel Wood absolutely nails the lead vocals on Taymor’s version, and the track gets a much-needed spit-and-polish musically. In the film (but not on the soundtrack), the song switches at times to a grungy, Cavern Club-style venue, where the lead actor Jim Sturgess sings to another minor character, showing the simple passion of young love from both genders, and two different musical styles as well. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The attention to detail and modern revamping of a sub-standard Beatles filler definitely fits the mood of this song perfectly. On the other hand, The Beatles were churning out far more successful hits than this at the time.  

3. All My Loving

One of The Beatles’ early hits, ‘All My Loving’ is masterfully included in the film’s carefree and innocent opening scenes. Both versions are much the same in arrangement; one of the rare cases, in fact. McCartney’s pop classic (which he originally envisioned as a country & western style track) has upbeat, jangly guitars and simple, yet effective lyrics referring to a relationship where the speaker is away from his love (“and I’ll send all my loving to you”). Taymor’s version differs by having a great a capella first verse and a focus on space-like keyboard effects than guitars. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The ‘puppy love’ lyrics need to be appropriately matched with a rollicking rhythm, and the original takes the cake here. Taymor’s a capella first verse was an inspired touch, and whilst the tempo picks up later in the song, it’s not enough.  

4. I Want To Hold Your Hand

The Beatles’ best-selling single gets turned into an odd, slow-moving ballad by Taymor here, and it’s probably the lone total disappointment of the entire soundtrack. A minor female character provides an aching, lustful and curious take on the song, which might sound good in theory, but the execution is very off-the-mark and out-of-place. Her voice is painful t0 listen to, and the excessive vibrato just feels forced.  
Enjoy the choreography of a dance sequence involving football players

Enjoy the choreography of a dance sequence involving football players

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: The all-conquering, catchy original has stood the test of time, continuing to influence and shape music and pop culture. The twin lead vocals, the hand claps, the rush one feels when Lennon croons “I wanna hold your haaaaaaaaaand!” – nothing can match that. The interpretation in the film wasn’t necessarily a bad idea; if the vocalist was changed and the tempo picked up a bit, it could’ve worked out a lot better.  

5. With A Little Help From My Friends

The well-loved sing-along from the Sgt Pepper’s days gets a fittingly ensemble-like treatment for the film. The scene shows a group of young lads having a big night out on the town, so the call-and-response lyrics are perfectly suited. The film also chooses to base its version on the radical, rocking Joe Cocker cover version, and once again, get it right. It’s very difficult to resist the urge to scream (not sing!) along to the final minute as if you were there with the boys, having the time of your lives.  
Party time...with a little help from your friends

Party time…with a little help from your friends

  Due to the change in arrangement, the guitar is grungier, harsher and starts and stops more often than the original’s light, bopping riff. McCartney’s bass and other backing instruments, such as a piano, organ, tambourine and cowbell are very prominent in the original’s mix, and give it a quaint, friendly feel. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: Whilst the original has a boozy swagger to it, with the speaker feeling down and out about his lover not being there (hence getting by ‘with a little help from my friends’), it just doesn’t capture the laddish brotherhood of a typical group of guys consoling and uplifting their friend. No fault on Ringo’s part in terms of lead vocals; it just needed that extra boost musically, like the previous track on Sgt Pepper’s (i.e. the title song) had.  

6. It Won’t Be Long

The opening track off With The Beatles once again has lead vocals by the alluring Evan Rachel Wood in the film. She has this silky touch to her singing that makes every track she appears in a treat for the ears, and this catchy early-Lennon/McCartney composition sounds great with a female voice. But unlike ‘Hold Me Tight’, Lennon’s timeless croon sounds impassioned, sexy and on point. Musically, Taymor retains the call-and-response ‘yeah-yeahs’ (with female backing vocals) and guitar riffs, but tones done the drum parts, which removes some of the original’s punch. But only a little. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Whilst the song is skilfully mixed into the storyline with Woods’ fresh-faced feminine perspective, the original ticked all the boxes first-time round. Twice the amount of versions here means twice the amount of fun.  

7. I’ve Just Seen A Face

This twangy, up-tempo country-and-western McCartney number gets a heavier, glossier remake, and it’s tough to choose between the versions of song of love at first sight. McCartney sounds like a smitten cowboy, positively cherubic, with splendid acoustic guitar work to accompany him. Whilst Taymor’s guitars are nice and crunchy, the vocal work from lead actor Jim Sturgess is the highlight here. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: I had to put aside my love for Sturgess’ croon to call this one. The percussion on the film version is literally just a click track, and whilst the song is appropriate for the scene, it needs that crisp foot-tapping beat that the original provides with Ringo’s brushed snare and maracas. Paul’s voice is nigh untouchable on this one, but Sturgess does a fine job trying.  

8. Let It Be

Taymor taps into the Oscar and Grammy Award-winning ballad’s spiritual undertones, and produces a soaring rendition, full of soul and emotion. Sung by two minor characters (a little boy and a church choir singer), it really tugs at the heartstrings, and marks a pivotal change in the film’s tone. One would hope that McCartney would be happy with the gospel take on his hit song; he was famously discontented with producer Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ production on the album Let It Be.   Across The Universe - Let It Be - Little Boy
The little boy and church choir singer make 'Let It Be' soar with emotion

The little boy and church choir singer make ‘Let It Be’ soar with emotion

  Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: A song such as this deserves the pomp and dramatics of a full gospel choir, paired with hushed revelations from a child’s voice (Paul found inspiration to write the song in the death of his mother, who passed away from cancer when he was only 14). And whilst the original is piano-based, with an orchestral accompaniment, he should’ve gone one step further. It would’ve helped dissolve the thin layer of pretentiousness that the song seems to have wrapped around it.  

9. Come Together

Lennon’s widely covered bluesy rocker is one of the film’s first darker, edgier moments. It gets the previously mentioned blues icon Joe Cocker on lead vocals, and his gritty rendition is slow-boiling. His voice is utterly distinctive, and deserved on such a track, but musically, the track feels limp, watery and rather undulating, lacking the punch of McCartney’s distinctive bass-line and spatterings of electric piano that made it one of the highlights of Abbey Road. An ensemble of female backing vocals can’t save it either. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: This dreary re-tread serves merely as an exposition scene in the film, introducing a new main character to the proceedings as he travels the dark streets of New York. Whilst it’s not exactly a bad cover of the song, it does next to nothing to stamp any authority on it.  

10. Why Don’t We Do It The Road?

For the first time in the film (apart from a fleeting couple of seconds after ‘Girl’s’ completion), we get to hear the raspy, feisty Dana Fuchs burst through the speakers and rattle our eardrums with vigour. Her contributions to the soundtrack are mostly on The Beatles’ heaviest, most primal outputs, and it’s a match made in heaven. McCartney’s lusty, two-line quickie gets the volume turned up really loud, and Fuchs’s female swagger just oozes out onto a propulsive rhythm, with a wailing guitar, workmanlike drums and a funky organ her raucous companions. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The recording process of ‘Why Don’t…’ parallels the urgent, capricious nature of its subject matter (McCartney found inspiration in seeing two monkeys copulating on a road in India, and later chose to quickly record the entire track alone, except for Starr on drums). And yet such a feral song comes out sounding rather tame. Piano-led, with a hushed pulse of bass underneath, Paul’s vocals take on the lion’s share of the work, quickly morphing into impassioned screams and yelps. But overall it seems skeletal when his demands feel fully fleshed. For that reason, Taymor’s version trumps his by capturing them in 1 minute, 23 seconds of carnal desire, and with the music to match.  
Young or old, anybody can do it in the road

Young or old, anybody can do it in the road

 

11. If I Fell

The film then back-tracks a little in Beatles history to 1964, and presents a song about vulnerability and hesitance to fall in love, with a mood that matches the tenderness of the lyrics. Taymor’s version is almost unrecognisable from the original, whose sugar-sweet vocal harmonies and mid-tempo grooves are some of the Beatles finest on record. In their places, Wood’s ethereal croon is placed centre-stage, in all its glory, whilst an acoustic guitar occasionally whispers the most delicate of notes in the background. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.  
If I Fell In Love With Evan Rachel Wood (And Her Voice)

If I Fell In Love With Evan Rachel Wood (And Her Voice)

  Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The full-band version that was chosen by The Beatles for A Hard Day’s Night just doesn’t seem intimate enough when compared with what could’ve been (an early demo just had John alone on acoustic guitar). When ‘If I Fell’ came out, the band had yet to explore the idea of performing any songs that didn’t require all four band members on the track. The following year, Paul’s solo masterpiece, ‘Yesterday’, debuted as part of their repertoire, and it was the first song of theirs that relied on the performance of just one band member. I think that if that mind-set was applied to earlier songs like ‘If I Fell’, it could’ve produced a more fitting version of this Lennon/McCartney classic.  

12. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Lennon’s obsessive, grinding yet enchanting tale of pure longing gets somewhat neutered for Across The Universe. But thankfully, Taymor attempts to fit as much as the original’s awkward time signatures, overdubbed guitars and massed choir effects in its shortened 3 minute 44 second edit. The result still grinds, but comes out smoother; a sort of gothic hymn. It’s an ensemble outing on this track, with male and female vocals getting their moment to bluesily belt out the simple, to-the-point lyrics, as the lumbering rhythms drag them forwards. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: This one is a particularly difficult song to cover, since the highly experimental original’s length meanders on for 7 minutes 47 seconds (upon which it abruptly ends, mid-chaos and white noise; an avant-garde decision of Lennon’s). You’ve got to admire the courage of Taymor to attempt to condense such a jarring song into a marketable Hollywood film. Her version suits the narrative (the ‘I Want You’ applying more to forced conscription by the US army in the 1960’s than desire for the love of someone else), and for that purpose, it does its job. Just don’t try to say that it matches the aching intensity of Lennon’s desire for Yoko Ono that fuelled the original.  
Yoko Ono: John's desire for her was strong on 'I Want You'

Yoko Ono: John’s desire for her was strong on ‘I Want You’

 

13. Dear Prudence

Cleverly intertwined with the storyline, this sweet, calming number from the White Album starts off well, but feels a little too murky and underdone. The ensemble’s vocal harmonies are quite soothing though; varied too, because of the female touch. The lyrical interpretation in the film version is interesting too. Lennon originally wrote this song in India about the actress Mia Farrow’s sister, who locked herself in her room, meditating near-constantly, whilst on the band’s visit to the country. In the film, a sexually-confused character forces herself to contemplate her orientation, spending the night in a locked cupboard. So the lines “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?/Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day” are given an interesting twist in that context; a masterful stroke of scriptwriting by Taymor. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: This was heading towards a tie in my mind. But then I realised how well-restrained, yet vibrant, the original’s music was. Finger style guitar underpins the song, with a bass line that doesn’t need to drone all the way throughout to be noticed. Then slowly, layer upon layer, lead guitar, piano, handclaps, even a cowbell, get introduced and the effect seems a lot more sprightly than Taymor’s, despite the song seguing into a protest rally in the film. And that’s what going to bring dear Prudence out of her hiding place: reassurance and uplifting music.  

14 & 15. Flying & Blue Jay Way

These two lesser-known ambient psychedelic pieces from Magical Mystery Tour are almost absent in the film, with only a brief few seconds of ‘Flying’ being played as a transition between scenes. To be honest, if it weren’t for the soundtrack, I wouldn’t have known that they were a part of the movie. But each gets a faithful full-length rendition, both by a space-rock band named The Secret Machines. The first is an instrumental, and interestingly one of the few Beatles songs attributed to all four members. Both versions have very trippy, swirling effects, and hints of backing vocals offering up some ‘aahs’. However, considering how old the original is, it’s amazing to hear what effects they were able to achieve back then, including some typically psychedelic tape loops. ‘Blue Jay Way’ is an eerie Harrison composition, detailing the events of a foggy night where one of his friends got lost in Los Angeles on his way to meet him at a house in Blue Jay Way. The Secret Machines imitate the original’s style near exactly, so there’s not much difference between the two. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Just stick with the originals. The Beatles compositions are slightly more distinctive and less watery, but it’s not a world of difference.    

Disc Two

  1. I Am The Walrus
  2. Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!
  3. Because
  4. Something
  5. Oh! Darling
  6. Strawberry Fields Forever
  7. Revolution
  8. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  9. Across The Universe
  10. Helter Skelter
  11. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  12. Blackbird
  13. Hey Jude
  14. Don’t Let Me Down
  15. All You Need Is Love
  16. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
 

1. I Am The Walrus

Arguably one of The Beatles’ most bizarre, surreal and talked-about songs, ‘I Am The Walrus’ is Lennon at his most sarcastic, sneering and outright silly. Musically unorthodox, confusing and complex, with a vast hodgepodge of lyrical influences, ranging from acid trips to police sirens to playground nursery rhymes to a Lewis Carroll novel (and more), it surely defies interpretation, even reinterpretation. I mean, he wrote it nauseatingly avant-garde just because he heard about a teacher trying to interpret Beatles lyrics and teach them to his students. Go figure.  
Having a laugh on set of 'I Am The Walrus' scene in the film Magical Mystery Tour

Having a laugh on set of ‘I Am The Walrus’ scene in the film Magical Mystery Tour

  The big draw card of Taymor’s version is the distinctive vocals of Bono (of U2), one of rock’s most enduring frontmen. He draws on some of his own band’s more experimental early-to-mid-90’s output to collaborate with The Secret Machines, producing a polished, catchy, dreamy psychedelic rocker, full of cavernous drums and vocals. The track is imbued with sort of shimmery quality overall, and is a rather good song in its own right, used to perfection in a visually jaw-dropping scene in the film.  
Bono, as Dr Robert, a counter-culture cult leader

Bono, as Dr Robert, a counter-culture cult leader

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: But crucially, Taymor’s version loses sight of the original’s intentions. By ironing out its quirks, it strips it of a lot of its character: the droning Mellotron, tambourine, orchestral overdubs and even the live BBC Radio feed that was somehow incorporated (granted the loony backing vocals are retained; more noticeable in the film itself). And that’s just musically. Lyrically, it was freewheeling creativity at its best, delivered by Lennon so tongue-in-cheek, that he was lucky to be able to remove it from there. Accessibility was definitely a no-no on this track, and the modern version comes out a little too clean-cut.  

2. Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!

The trend towards the avant-garde continues with another Lennon creation (although credited Lennon/McCartney, as most early-to-mid 60’s Beatles songs were). Nearly all of its lyrics were taken from an antique circus poster Lennon found in a shop in Kent, promoting a 19th century show for Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, ‘being for the benefit of Mr Kite’. The vaudevillian fairground/circus atmosphere that made the original one of the more musically interesting tracks on Sgt Pepper is faithfully retained by Taymor, who has one trick up her sleeve that steals the show: British stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard. His cameo as Mr Kite is absolutely superb, complete with an expressive and quintessentially British accent, which he uses to good effect on this spoken word cover. He ad-libs between the lines with some hilarious remarks, and has a believability about him that makes you think he really is one of those 19th century circus owners, inviting you to join him on an absurd adventure.  
Eddie Izzard's expressiveness makes his cameo one of the best in the film

Eddie Izzard’s expressiveness makes his cameo one of the best in the film

  Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The big downfall of the original is Lennon’s deadpan recitation of the lyrics. Maybe it was intentional or ironic, as he also speaks more than he sings, but overall it seems very dull. And yet, the music doesn’t feel that way, with a kaleidoscope of chopped-up tape loops of fairground organs and calliope music whizzing about, creating a very authentic experience (Lennon told producer George Martin that he wanted “to smell the sawdust on the floor”). Izzard’s theatrical and showy performance matches that mood rather seamlessly (his stand-up routines are suitably avant-garde too, from what I’ve seen, frequently switching between characters and topics on a whim).  

3. Because

After the madness of ‘Mr Kite’, the film immediately transitions into one of the calmest and most serene Beatles tracks. It was inspired by Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, featuring three-part vocal harmonies (later overdubbed three times to give the impression of a choir of nine voices), the first use of a Moog synthesiser on a rock ‘n roll song at the time, an electric harpsichord and no percussion. Once again, it is one of the many fine pieces of music found on their highly-acclaimed final album Abbey Road. The Beatles - Three-Part Harmony - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison   Both versions are spine-tinglingly good, with Taymor’s version making some tweaks that provide an interesting change in mood. Hers loses the distinctive electric harpischord, deciding to go a cappella for the first 40 seconds (a genius move on her part), with the six major characters and three minor characters delicately combining their voices with aplomb. A deep, slightly ominous-sounding orchestra then begins to drone in the far distance, whilst a gently plucked acoustic guitar provides a more tangible backing, building up to a peaceful conclusion.   Across The Universe - Because   Verdict: A tie Reason: This was just too close to call. The Beatles’ version has the famous harmonies and dreamy elements executed to perfection. But there’s something about Taymor’s version that makes it stand really close to the original as an equal. Maybe it’s the mix of male and female voices? Maybe it’s the complementary orchestral backing, a skilful tactic used so often on mid-to-late 60’s Beatles songs? Maybe it’s the slight change of mood that I’m now struggling to put into words? Maybe just because?  

4. Something

Through much of The Beatles’ career, Harrison’s compositions played third-fiddle to Lennon and McCartney’s masterpieces. He would sometimes get one or two spots on an album to showcase his work, and the most successful song-writing duo of all time treated him rather harshly and indifferently when it came to his own efforts. But that all changed with ‘Something’: a pure, straight-forward love song that, at the tail-end of their career, became one of their most highly regarded and covered. Even the great Frank Sinatra declared it “the greatest love song ever written” and performed it many times in concert. The ‘quiet’ Beatle finally received the credit he rightfully deserved.  
George finally gets his moment to shine

George finally gets his moment to shine

  Taymor doesn’t choose to redesign the wheel, and her interpretation sits as a faithful complement to the original, retaining its sincere and heartfelt strengths. Common motifs that run through many of the slower songs on the soundtrack are a cappella introductions and prudent use of percussion, and this one continues the trend. It really brings out the power of the beautiful lyrics (“Something in the way she moves/Attracts me like no other lover”) and vocals (from the male lead Sturgess, who should honestly consider singing professionally). Thankfully these stylistic choices don’t drag on for too long in this song. Another slight difference is the understated orchestral and organ backing; I think it reins in the schmaltz that wants to creep into the original. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The film version is lot more mellowed out than the original, and this breathing room allows Sturgess’ captivating vocals to shine through more clearly. On the other hand, you can really hear the emotion in Harrison’s performance of a lifetime. Both have that special something, staying true to the song’s core message, and it’s hard not to choose the version that launched more than 150 cover versions (second place after ‘Yesterday’, which has in the region of 1600 versions). The problem is that the original has too much going on, with the orchestral backing drowning out Harrison’s tender vocals.  

5. Oh! Darling

Usually when there’s an exclamation mark in a song title, you as the listener can expect some aural fireworks. And McCartney’s bluesy ‘swamp-pop’ anthem bursts with enthusiasm, drawing on a New Orleans style of R&B music known for its honky-tonk pianos, lovelorn lyrics and booming backbeats. The film uses the opportunity to showcase this emotional classic by turning it into a duet between Dana Fuchs and another male lead Martin Luther McCoy, whose appearances start to feature in the second half of the soundtrack. In the film itself, this song is extra discordant (f0r plot reasons), but the studio cut balances it out, retaining some of the distortion-heavy wailings and vocal interplay.  
Tempers flare as Fuchs and McCoy battle it out

Tempers flare as Fuchs and McCoy battle it out

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Whilst the male-female duet is a great idea, brimming with sexual energy, Taymor’s version falls rather short of the original’s high standards. McCartney delivers one of his most powerful vocal performances ever on this track, after a patient regimen of trying to record the song only once a day for a week, so as to nail the final take perfectly first-time in a session. This dedication is obvious on the final cut; his voice soars between sweet & tender and heart-pumping-out-of-its-chest desperate. Even the feisty Fuchs cannot match the intensity of his pleas (“Oh! darling, please believe me/I’ll never do you no harm”). Despite the heavier distortion on the film’s guitar, Harrison’s stabbing riffs have a little more bite to them, and overall the original is more faithful to its swampy roots.  

6. Strawberry Fields Forever

Surely the pinnacle of the Beatles’ (and specifically, John Lennon’s) creative output, this nostalgic, disillusioned, psychedelic magnum opus is packed full of juicy goodness. Arising from a time in Beatles history of heavy studio experimentation and intense personal problems for John, the song channels his self-doubt and loneliness into a complicated mix of music that is actually two versions of the same song cleverly spliced together. One was a relatively complete band take, piling on the usual instruments along with newfound ones such as a Mellotron and an Indian harp-like instrument called a svarmandal. Typically of their music of the time were also numerous backwards recordings (even Ringo playing the bongos got the treatment). The other take was a George Martin-conducted group of trumpets and cellos. And the catch? Both were in different keys and tempos, and Lennon wanted each of them on the same song. In a stroke of genius (and probably a little luck), George managed to combine the two rather smoothly (but listen carefully for the changeover around the 60 second mark; it’s an ‘a-ha!’ moment for Beatlemaniacs).  
Their producer George Martin (the unofficial 'Fifth Beatle') played a big part in making this song work

Their producer George Martin (the unofficial ‘Fifth Beatle’) played a big part in making this song work

  Like its original, Taymor’s ‘Strawberry’ is definitely one of the freshest in the film’s basket, and marries musical and thematic content very vividly, reflecting the conflicting thought patterns going on in the lyrics (the famous “no one I think is in my tree” line comes out sounding rather convincing with Sturgess’ Liverpudlian twang). The mood remains mostly melancholic and accurate music-wise to the original, but irons out the brash bumps of horns and other avant-garde missteps, particularly in the nightmarish ending. Some would say it tones down the creative quality of the music, but I think it possibly lets elements of previous, simpler takes of the song shine through (take one, in particular, had just John Lennon unaccompanied on acoustic guitar, stripped of the wondrous, yet distracting cacophony of noise in the final cut).  
Although John Lennon's memorial in Central Park, New York is named after this song, the original inspiration came from a Salvation Army children's centre in Liverpool, where he used to play as a child. The centre is closed now, but pictured here are the original gates

Although John Lennon’s memorial in Central Park, New York is named after this song, the original inspiration came from a Salvation Army children’s centre in Liverpool, where he used to play as a child. The centre is closed now, but pictured here are the original gates

  Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: Whilst the original showed the band as avant-garde creative pioneers, I somehow feel that Lennon’s true vision and meaning for the song was lost in the heady haze of experimentation and creative one-upmanship. Even he expressed dissatisfaction with the recording of the final version shortly before his murder in 1980, bitterly blaming McCartney for subconsciously ‘sabotaging’ it. Although great upheaval in one’s personal life can often create moments of brilliance in one’s work, everyone got a little carried away on this number. Taymor, therefore, presents a version just as nuanced, but in a more accessible and representative way.  

7. Revolution

During the late 60’s, the world the Beatles inhabited began to experience a social upheaval, and a peaceful yet radical counter-culture emerged amongst the youth that clashed with the increasingly warmongering powers-that-be. A spirit of revolution was rising up, and not just in the prominent USA (whose war in Vietnam was claiming thousands of young men’s lives), but across Europe too, with widespread campus protests. It came to a time when the Fab Four could not keep quiet anymore about what was going on around them. Not surprisingly, out of the four, Lennon felt most strongly about the hubbub of political picketing; or rather, he was equally unsure about what to feel, and wanted to see a reasonable way forward proposed by those that wanted to topple the system. Experiences with Transcendental Meditation had provided him with a sort of spiritual awakening, and ‘Revolution’ was one of the first overt steps he made towards becoming a political activist in the late 60’s/early 70’s.  
Some lyrics from the song found their way on a t-shirt

Some lyrics from the song found their way on a t-shirt

  There were two released versions of the song: the fast, hard rock B-side to the ‘Hey Jude’ single (titled just ‘Revolution’), and a slower, swing-like version on The White Album (titled ‘Revolution 1’). Taymor chose the former for the film, and its barking, machine-gun-like guitar riff definitely livens up the mood for revolution. The male lead Sturgess comes off rather mellow in the studio version, but his performance is more persuasive in the film, where he really acts out the song.  
A promotional clip for Revolution - a rare live performance during that time in the band's history

A promotional clip for Revolution – a rare live performance during that time in the band’s history

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: The modern cover is more a grumble than a rebel yell, and any musical revolution is only really evident in its attempt to add some extra fills in the drumbeat. Apart from that, it’s a decidedly average reproduction of a controversial and inspiring classic. The use of the song in the film must be commended though; it’s bound to raise a chuckle.  

8. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The world of guitar music gained a timeless classic when George Harrison’s tale of despondency about the state of the world appeared on the White Album. Featuring the great Eric Clapton as a guest on lead guitar, it has achieved considerable acclaim, ranking very highly on best-of lists (such as #7 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs Of All Time). Harrison’s song writing was beginning to blossom around that time, and his experiences on the band’s pilgrimage to India had profoundly impacted the ‘quiet’ Beatle’s spirituality.  
George and Eric were very close friends. So close, they both shared marriages with the same woman!

George and Eric were very close friends. So close, they both shared marriages with the same woman!

  The lyrics are ethereal and reflective, focusing on the metaphor of the speaker’s guitar sounding like it’s ‘weeping’, whilst violence and hate continue to rage on around the world it lives in. He insists that when he looks at the world, he sees “the love there that’s sleeping”, implying that if only people could awaken that love, the hate could be put to rest. That kind of mentality might come across as too idealistic, but it’s a beautifully written song nonetheless. The film’s ‘Jimi Hendrix’ archetype (played by Martin Luther McCoy) plays guitar and sings on the cover, and his performance is an impassioned one, with vocals that match the delicate and airy tones of Harrison. The track itself is another ambient adventure, evoking a similar mood to ‘Something’ from earlier in the soundtrack. Wind chimes start it off slowly, as McCoy’s voice enters the scene alone, followed by a mournful accordion. It’s slow-moving, and meanders towards its conclusion rather plainly. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: For a song featuring the word ‘guitar’ in its title and its lyrics, there’s very little time devoted to its sound in Taymor’s version. Yes, the guitar is ‘weeping’, but surely that should last longer than a brief section of limp and understated noodling? To see how it should be done, have a look at this rendition from 2002’s ‘Concert For George’ (a memorial to George Harrison on the first anniversary of his death). The surviving Beatles are all there, led by Clapton up front. And have a look to his left: that’s Dhani Harrison, George’s son, and the spitting image of his father.  

9. Across The Universe

As we begin to round the bend and into the home straight, we arrive at the film’s title track. Much like ‘Revolution’, it has been released a number of times with different versions, takes and arrangements; more so than probably any other Beatles song. Lennon described it as the best, most poetic lyrics that he ever wrote, and frustratingly, the band struggled to find a version of the song that they were truly happy with. Written as early as 1967, but only released on a full-length album on 1970’s acrimonious Let It Be, the lyrics came to Lennon after an argument he had with his ex-wife Cynthia. He kept on hearing her words repeated over and over, “flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup”, and he immediately decided to put that feeling into a song. The song was further flavoured and influenced by the Beatles’ interest in Transcendental Meditation; the link to the chorus is the Sanskrit phrase “jai guru deva om”, literally meaning “glory to the shining remover of darkness”, or figuratively “victory to God divine”. The cover Taymor creates draws on elements from most versions of the song: the Let It Be version’s choral overdubs, the Anthology 2 version’s stronger psychedelic feel of Indian sitar and tambura and Let It Be…Naked‘s stripped-down, cleaner vocals. Sturgess enunciates his words carefully, with a cinematic, unhurried feel, matching Lennon’s mood of enlightenment masterfully. However, the song begins to take on an unexpected darker tone in the final minute; in the film, this song is just before a scene of great conflict and violence. Verdict: A tie Reason: It’s difficult to choose the best version of a song that the band was evidently very indecisive about. Despite its exceptionally vivid and beautiful lyrics, the original still somehow feels unfinished and stuck in a ‘demo’ phase. Sturgess presents a great interpretation of the song, trading on the weighty lyrics, and it’d be fair to say that he neither surpasses the original nor falls far behind it.  

10. Helter Skelter

Raucous, biting, and chaotic, ‘Helter Skelter’ has been credited as one of the first heavy-metal (or ‘proto-metal’) songs, with its loud, roaring guitars, thudding backbeat and McCartney’s raw hollering (which, along with ‘Oh! Darling’, is probably the most impressive of his Beatles career). Born out of a desire to outdo The Who’s Pete Townshend (who had described their band’s latest single at the time, ‘I Can See For Miles’, as “the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song we’ve ever recorded”), Paul turned up the amps to 11 and went wild. The term ‘helter skelter’ is well-known in Great Britain as referring to the spiralling fairground ride, in which people could climb the inside the top of a wooden tower and slide down. Although McCartney was using it as a seemingly innocent metaphor (such as “when I get to the bottom, I go back to the top of the slide”), sadly the song received massive notoriety when the American psychopath Charles Manson used it as justification for the multiple brutal murders he and his ‘Family’ committed in August 1969. Claiming that ‘Helter Skelter’, along with many other tracks off the White Album, was a coded prophecy for an apocalyptic race war, he tarnished the song’s legacy with his disturbing and appalling philosophy.  
Just under a year after the release of the song, Helter Skelter's reputation was tarnished by serial killer Charles Manson and his cult 'The Family'

Just under a year after the release of the song, Helter Skelter’s reputation was tarnished by serial killer Charles Manson and his cult ‘The Family’

  But when not heard through the ears of a madman, it’s a tremendously fun song to listen to, and one where the band really let loose together in the studio, during a time when they were growing apart and beginning to work on songs alone. The recording sessions were said to be full of madness and hysterics, as evidenced on the conclusion of the song, where Ringo suddenly screams “I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!”. Dana Fuchs takes hold the reins of lead vocals on this joyride in the film, which overlaps with the previous track and, as mentioned before, gets a brief appearance in the beginning of the film. Although only a small portion of it is used, the section is enough to get your attention, as Fuch’s howls are juxtaposed with Sturgess’ quieter, steadfast mantra of “nothing’s gonna change my world”. The full-length version holds up admirably; her overall performance definitely shows Janis Joplin-like strands of sassiness.  
With serpentine golden locks and a gruff, wolf-like howl, Fuchs' performances are vigorous and animalistic

With serpentine golden locks and a gruff, wolf-like howl, Fuchs’ performances are vigorous and animalistic

  Verdict: A tie Reason: On one hand, you have the one of the most white-hot, pioneering rock ‘n roll performances on record, with a relentless panache that borders on overbearing (the song fades in and out twice before collapsing exhausted). And on the other hand, you have a slicker, modern interpretation; a steady torrent instead of a series of powerful bursts, with Fuchs in the centre, simultaneously feeding off and fuelling the storm around her. It’s the plucky young unstoppable force meeting the wise old immovable object, and what a joy is that collision to witness.  

11. Happiness Is A Warm Gun

A sultry multi-part symphony in less than three minutes, this gem from the White Album presented the increasingly fractured band as a unified front, in a song featuring frequent shifts in time signatures, tempo, as well as unorthodox lyrics and phrasing. Lennon found inspiration through a gun magazine he was shown which had the words ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ on the cover (“I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say,” he said, “A warm gun means you’ve just shot something”). He then pasted together a pastiche of song fragments from two main sources: his experiences with Apple Records’ publicist Derek Taylor and his sexual desire for Yoko Ono (the gun metaphor is clearly evident when he cries “Mother Superior, jump the gun”). Whilst the song was a challenging one to play (with a mammoth 15 hours and 95 takes devoted to it), its instrumental setup was relatively straightforward. This trend continues on Taymor’s version, where the track’s warmth increases and its complexity gets smoothed out into a languid, soulful stroll. In the film, this scene takes place in a military hospital where the blonde Joe Anderson sings along with his nurse/s, played by sexy Latina actress Salma Hayek. Although the doo-wop style “bang bang, shoot shoot” lines were probably meant in jest by Lennon, they sound quite alluring coming from a nurse providing a shell-shocked solider with his ‘fix’ of morphine.  
Happiness ain't a warm gun; it's five Salma Hayek's in nurse outfits

Happiness ain’t a warm gun; it’s five Salma Hayek’s in nurse outfits

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Whilst Taymor matched the song’s sexual (and possible drug-related) subject matter with its mood, the film’s version seems a little too lumbering and half-asleep. Lacking a strong distorted guitar is one of its main downfalls; instead it gets replaced by a quiet, deep-sounding orchestral backing, and its peaks are only towards the climax, where it finally wakes up and has some decent harmonies from the vocalists. This gun is only lukewarm at best.  

12. Blackbird

This delightful McCartney acoustic number gets a small feature in the film, with a few bars contributed by the dulcet tones of Evan Rachel Wood. Another fine choice to fit the film’s somewhat revolutionary subject matter, ‘Blackbird’ was inspired lyrically by the Civil Rights Movement in the late 60’s in the USA and melodically by a piece of music by the composer Bach, which Paul and George had learnt to play on guitar at a young age. The black ‘bird’ here refers to a black woman, ‘singing in the dead of night’, with the speaker encouraging her to ‘take these broken wings and learn to fly’; a simple and sweet metaphor that was one of McCartney more earnest ones that didn’t tend towards sappiness or superficiality.  
Paul's acoustic guitar skills were on display in 'Blackbird'

Paul’s acoustic guitar skills were on display in ‘Blackbird’

  Apart from its great lyrics, the song is known for its sleek and skilfully written guitar part, requiring good technique to play and match the three different time signatures. Taymor once again goes for a bolder arrangement, focusing heavily on a respiratory-like accordion part and a barely-there guitar backing it up. Thus, the foot-tapping tempo of the original is done away with, and the mood of a rather calm song becomes even calmer. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: One misstep I feel that the original has is the bird sounds which start around 1 minute 40 seconds in. If they were used just to close out the song, then they could’ve slotted in quite smoothly, but whilst being the sounds of an actual blackbird, they come off sounding a little too cheesy and prominent. The accordion is an inspired touch by Taymor, and its slow, droning texture adds to the sad, yet still uplifting feel of the song. Wood’s vocals again are warm, smooth and inviting; a worthy adversary to Sir Paul’s legendary pipes. The modern arrangement soars a little higher than its predecessor, but only slightly.  

13. Hey Jude

Think of the ultimate song to cheer someone up with, and you should look no further than ‘Hey Jude’ – the McCartney sing-along ballad that has become synonymous with The Beatles’ image and plucky optimism. Originally written by him to cheer up Lennon’s young son Julian during his parent’s divorce, this piano-based anthem became, at the time, the longest single ever to top the British charts (at a boundary-pushing 7 minutes and 11 sec0nds) and remained at number 1 on the American charts for an incredible 9 weeks. The cheerful lyrics are really front-and-centre on this one, and are complemented superbly by the lead piano part and the slow-building band performance. The appearance of a full orchestra for a four minute-long coda livens up proceedings, and soon arrives the iconic “na na na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey Jude” refrain – one that cements its standing in popular music. The universal quality of its lyrics make it easy to replace the name ‘Jude’ with a person in your own life, such as in the opening lines “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad/Take a sad song and make it better/Remember to let her into your heart/Then you can start to make it better”. Even McCartney toyed with the name during the writing process, switching from “Jules” (short for Julian) to something that rolled more smoothly off the tongue.  
Follow this flow diagram if you forget the lyrics!

Follow this flow diagram if you forget the lyrics!

  Taymor bears the weight of expectation quite admirably for a song with a status such as this, and does the inevitable ‘trimming of the fat’ (as she did with ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’). Things start off slower, climax quicker and strangely, one feels that nothing was ever left out. In the film, supporting characters are used to great effect, creating the sing-along and adding some extra…ahem… percussion to the mix! As with the original, it’s a typically bright moment and an emotional high in the narrative. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: It would be very easy in this case to say that Taymor’s version compresses what was great about the original into a shorter length, as has been seen on other songs in this soundtrack. But the original, despite its length, keeps its upbeat smile shining all the way through to completion, and that’s how it managed to be picked up and played as a single, as well as achieve the success it has achieved. Lennon summed up the group’s confidence in the song: when being told by producer George Martin that they can’t make a single that long because disc jockeys wouldn’t play it, he retorted, “They will if it’s us”.  

14. Don’t Let Me Down

One of The Beatle’s most underrated songs, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is a personal favourite of mine. A product of the tumultuous Let It Be sessions, it bears much similarity in tone to Lennon’s ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, showcasing his vulnerability and desperation for Yoko Ono’s affections. Sadly, it was left off that doomed album, relegated to being a B-side to the hit ‘Get Back’. It’s a song filled with anguish, yet it has a warm, soothing feel to it. Lennon’s vocals are strong and when paired with simple soul-baring lyrics such as “I’m in love for the first time/Don’t you know it’s going to last/It’s a love that lasts forever/It’s a love that had no past”, you get a honest and convincing look into the mind of a man well-known for his cockiness and confident persona. The rest of the band pulls together during a difficult time in their history to also give a powerful performance. Billy Preston, collaborating with the band on electric piano, adds to the bluesy aura and Ringo’s drumming stands out on the choruses, his loud cymbal crashes being in sync with each word.  
Don't Let Me Down was on the setlist of the band's final live performance on the 30th of January 1969, which was infamously held on the rooftop of Abbey Road Studios

Don’t Let Me Down was on the setlist of the band’s final live performance on the 30th of January 1969, which was infamously held on the rooftop of Abbey Road Studios

  Taymor has another moment of vocalist match-making genius, pairing up Dana Fuchs and Martin Luther McCoy to trade lines off each other, and this time it stands very close to the original in quality. Albeit a bit less ragged and bluesy, it provides an interesting twist on the lyrical content: having two lovers sing the words to each other, and not just one-way. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Although Fuch and McCoy’s vocals are some of their most impassioned on the soundtrack, the song itself lacks the punch of original. This is mainly due to the lack of the aforementioned cymbal crashes, and Lennon’s little adlibs midway through, which make his anxious confessions seem raw and off-the-cuff. The electric piano/organ part is much more prominent in Taymor’s version though, which is a rather neat touch.  

15. All You Need Is Love

If ‘Hey Jude’ was an anthem about optimism, then ‘All You Need Is Love’ espoused something even simpler: love. It is the song that is invariably used to sum up the band’s core message, and it comes as no surprise considering its composition. In 1967, The Beatles were asked to participate in the world’s first televised satellite link-up. It was called Our World, and it was to be broadcast live between 25 countries worldwide. The BBC naturally chose them to be the musical flag bearers for Great Britain, and their performance would be seen by a potential audience of 400 million people! The song was very much John’s, but received the song writing credit Lennon/McCartney, as the latter contributed a few minor ideas and adlibs. The band began recording the song the week prior to the broadcast, laying down backing tracks and other complex overdubs so that the only live features on the performance would be the vocals, bass, guitar solo, drums and orchestra.  
For the historic world's first televised satellite link-up, The Beatles chose to perform 'All You Need Is Love', a song written specifically for the occasion

For the historic world’s first televised satellite link-up, The Beatles chose to perform ‘All You Need Is Love’, a song written specifically for the occasion

  It was a nerve-wracking, history-making occasion, but everyone present took it in their stride, as famous friends of the band (who were seated in the studio at their feet) joined in for the rousing call-and-response finale. Lennon’s lyrics aimed for universal musings, with statements such as “There’s nothing you can do that you can’t be done/Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung” and “There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known” being paired with the straightforward chorus giving the way forward: “All you need is love/Love is all you need”. For a song bursting with whimsy and idealism, Taymor’s version begins on an incredibly solemn and ambient note, with Sturgess alone for a weighty 1-and-a-half minutes as he steadily emotes through the first verse and chorus. Backing vocals ghost their way into the second verse, as the song picks up the original arrangement from the second chorus till the simpler ending, removing the brash orchestral blasts and studio tomfoolery. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Unlike with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, the garish, the fun and the bizarre can and should be embraced on an anthem like this. Whilst the former channelled Lennon’s demons, this psalm of peace draws on love divine, and the communal, relaxed setting of its recording matches its subject matter perfectly. Taymor aimed for theatricality with this version (I mean, it is for a soundtrack), and produces an awe-inspiring result, but perhaps by trying so hard to be meaningful and serious, she lost sight of a key aspect of love: fun.  

16. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

The credits begin to roll, and one of the band’s most misunderstood songs closes off the soundtrack. This lavish psychedelic daydream sat snugly in Sgt Peppers surreal cocoon, featuring multiple key changes and increasingly complicated underlying arrangement, similar to the album’s other fairground-like song ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!’. Although the allusions to the drug LSD are seemingly evident, Lennon constantly stated that the main source of inspiration came from a drawing his four-year-old son Julian had drawn of his school friend Lucy. The ‘strange-looking woman flying around’ in the picture was said to be ‘Lucy…in the sky with diamonds’.  

Lucy Vodden (pictured at age 43), the inspiration behind the painting John's young son did at playschool, which in turn influenced John to write the famous song

Although it is quite faded, Julian Lennon's mother Cynthia has kept the original painting

Although it is quite faded, Julian Lennon’s mother Cynthia has kept the original painting

  With that idea in mind, Lennon began writing the dream-like song, drawing on further inspiration from the Lewis Carroll book ‘Alice In Wonderland’, and its bizarre imagery. Opening lines “Picture yourself in a boat on a river/With tangerine trees and marmalade skies” lure the listener in with odd visions of unreality, before ‘a girl with kaleidoscope eyes’ is spotted, and the simple euphoric chorus kicks in, echoing the song’s title. It’s a song that managed to straddle the line between experimentation and accessibility rather carefully, and not surprisingly was one of the quickest songs to be recorded on the famed Pepper sessions. The original is known for its drone-like, undulating verses, thanks to the Indian instrument known as a tambura, and an organ part. This is where Bono and The Edge (both from the band U2) really capture and update the sound of this song on the film version. A barely perceptible orchestra arrangement carries Bono’s signature vocals (very clear in the mix, and slightly less ethereal than Lennon’s) towards the catchy chorus, which flows better than the original but lacks McCartney’s passionate vocal harmonies. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Bono definitely has the voice to carry most Beatles songs, but him and The Edge’s reworking of a song heavily reliant on atmosphere seems to drift rather monotonously and does little to brand itself. It is still a modern, great cover, but is stripped of any noticeable innovations.    

And in the end…

The final score (for those keeping count) is:
  • Originals: 19
  • Covers: 9
  • Ties: 3
In this case, whilst the originals will trump the covers more often than not, some of the cover versions do show enough nuances and new ideas that the originals might’ve lacked. I suppose hindsight is 20/20, and 40-odd years of getting to know them surely will provide some interesting interpretations. It’s still a fine soundtrack nonetheless, with nary a weak song in its catalogue of covers. When watching Across The Universe, one can feel like one is watching an extended music video, since there is an incredible amount of it crammed into its runtime. And for the more jaded of our population, it can be a bit overwhelming to see characters breaking out into song in nearly every scene. But for people that either enjoy The Beatles’ music, a good musical, or like a bit of fun in their film-viewing experiences, then Across The Universe is most definitely a trip worth taking. It’s an adventure; a journey involving love, mystery, humour, conflict, and bizarre things to be seen and heard. It is a film that effectively distils The Beatles’ spirit, and faithfully represents the themes and messages of their music. I hope that my review has opened your eyes and ears to both the film, and the music that inspired it, in the same way that the film did to me. Let’s keep The Beatles’ spirit of love alive. That is all we need.   The Beatles - The End - Lyrics And Photo

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 27th of June 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes. About three weeks of field research were put into this article, which has the scope to be expanded upon, particularly with regard to reviewing internet radio stations/sites)

 

Every now and then, you as a music-listener get adventurous, and want to find something new to listen to. Not necessarily something that was just released yesterday, or is the most popular thing right now. Something new to your ears. In my mind, the process one goes through to find a new tune closely resembles the dating world, where us humans pursue nearly every means available us to find our next fling, stable relationship, or even lifelong lover. It’s often a daunting journey, riddled with missed chances, lucky breaks, bizarre introductions and moments from where you can pinpoint that your life was changed forever.

 

 

You Complete Me (Puzzle Piece)

 

 

Dating, no matter how confident you are, always has an inherent risk attached to it. Such is the chaos and unpredictable nature of people. For example, you might only find out halfway through your first date with someone that they have a creepy fetish that doesn’t set well with you, or completely offend you with their style of humour. But with the right techniques and approach, there are ways of you reducing that risk, so that hopefully, you will achieve what you set out to get.

 

“So let me tell you about the one with the…”

 

Just like with people, I don’t know all the dating secrets. One can never guarantee that you can find the ‘perfect catch’, or something even nearly as good. Musical tastes are mostly subjective; liking one band doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll fancy another similar one. The crux of recommendations is really to have a general idea of what you like already, and together with that knowledge, what you intend on looking for (sometimes not even the latter, as you’ll see with certain music suggestion sites). So if, dear reader, you feel the need to breed (in a musical sense), then take heed of some of my tried and tested advice:

 

1. Know thyself

Okay, this might sound a little too obvious: take stock of what’s on your iPod, in your CD collection, on your hard drive, etc. Honestly, some people just add and add and add, building up clutter which never gets listened to, especially in an age where digital music is near-total in its influence, as well as its apparent ease of acquisition. Look at your Play Counts (if applicable) or manually keep track of what you listen to the most; always a good indicator of preferences. If you own, or even just listen to music enough, you should have a basic idea already. Foo Fighters fanatic, a Justin ‘Belieber’, Jay-Z worshipper, Bon Jovi groupie; whatever your tastes, surely you listen to some artist enough to say “Yeah, I kinda like this guy”? Good. That’s a start.

 

Come to think of it, that would make a ridiculous collaboration...

Come to think of it, that would make a ridiculous collaboration…

 

2. Time and effort

Put aside some time and get ready to put effort and research into finding what you want. Although most people have very busy schedules and can’t afford to waste time looking for music, the more work you put in, the more likely it is that you’ll find something you instantly fall in love with. Nothing beats the feeling of discovering a band after much spade work, and finding that they suit your tastes exactly. Really, it should come as no surprise to you then.

 

3. Knowledge is power

Wade your way into the shallow end of the dating pool by finding out more about whatever artists you like already. Doing so firstly makes you a better fan. You begin to understand the faces behind the music, as well as their intentions for making it the way they did. Secondly, many Wikipedia articles, album reviews and news reports, etc, tend to mention similar artists when speaking of a particular artist: “a Beatle-esque chord progression”, “an early Led Zeppelin swagger”, “introspective lyrics reminiscent of 2Pac’s Me Against The World era”. The list goes on and on. After reading enough about your favourite artists, you’ll soon start to see patterns emerge, and they’ll be difficult to ignore! Comparisons like these are used to help describe a sound that the reader might not have heard yet (especially if say, a new album by the artist has just been released), so reviewers and journalists will try to patch together a sound scape in the reader’s head of existing material; simple and effective. Just like with dating people, you cannot expect the perfect man/woman to fall into your lap if you sit at home doing nothing about it. Proactivity is the key! Personally, this method works really well for me. For example: whilst doing research for my Foo Fighters review in April, I kept on hearing about this Scottish band called Biffy Clyro. And since these mentions weren’t a once-off thing, I decided to give them a try, and download their two most recent albums. And what do you know…I was blown away by them, and instantly knew they were the exact match for my tastes. So, those reviewers were right: Foo Fighters’ ‘Rope’ does seem to “tap-dance in stoppy-starty guitar weirdly reminiscent of ‘Infinity Land’-era Biffy Clyro

 

And now, thanks to their music, I occasionally sing in a hideous attempt at a Scottish accent.

And now, thanks to their music, I occasionally sing in a hideous attempt at a Scottish accent.

 

Music of today, more often than not, bears some similarity to music of yesterday. Artists wear their influences on their sleeves, and whilst they still continue to progress and innovate the art form, their mentors will always shine through them in some way. Going back to the roots of what inspired your favourite band to produce their magnum opus is generally the next step you’d take if you’re serious about exploring new music. But it’s not always a successful venture; sometimes the reason you enjoy an artist is because they’re an amalgamation of various influences, not just a specific one, whose back catalogue might bore you or be too old-fashioned. But it’s worth a try, since the world has a nice collective half-century or so of popular music sitting there, waiting to be experienced. If you’re into classical music, you’d probably want to go back further, but then again, that genre is timeless.

 

4. Your friends are my friends

Look to your friends and find out what they like. Just like meeting that blonde hottie through your friend Dave, introductions to new and exciting artists from people you know (and hopefully, trust) eliminate the effort you have to make searching for the perfect tune. Usually you are friends with people whom you share similar interests with, so take advantage of that closeness and find out what hidden talents they’ve discovered. For example: I should really follow my advice, since my housemate from last year shared very similar tastes in music to me (plus, he was an expert on guitar). Towards the end of the year, he discovered and fell in love with this indie rock band named The National. He played one or two songs of theirs to me when we were relaxing with our other housemates one night. Since I really just wasn’t in the mood for that kind of music, I sort of brushed aside his impassioned recommendation. Fast forward to April this year, and I eventually decided to take him up on his offer. And one album in, I was entranced by the singer’s smoky, baritone vocals, obscure & gloomy lyrics and the band’s beautiful, subdued, yet lush melodies. Ross, I’m really sorry for not listening to you back then…

 

We can get Matt Berninger to write an epic ballad about our suburban tale of indifference.

We can get Matt Berninger to write an epic ballad about our suburban tale of indifference.

 

5. Digital solutions

Finally, there’s the online dating option; one which I believe has some fun, interesting, unpredictable, yet mostly disappointing results. Over the past few weeks, I’ve attempted to have a look at as many websites as possible offering ‘music suggestion services’. With such a vast scope, I could’ve very easily devoted a post with a length comparable to a Doctorate thesis reviewing each one intently and professionally. But my ambivalent attitude to their success rate (if you want to quantify it like that) means that I’ll give you a rundown on the ones that stood out for me. The main reason I feel so cynical about this option was that as a non-American citizen (i.e. a sizeable portion of this world), I am denied access to what sounds like the most perfect and exhilarating service in the world of music: Pandora Radio. Internet radio stations are a dime a dozen, and are probably the most popular websites devoted to finding new music, not necessarily just listening to it (as radio’s traditional role has been). Basically, they allow you to pick a station from a range of genres, or other variables of your liking. By listening to a station matching your current interests, these websites hope that you’ll enjoy anything new on there. Pandora takes that one giant step, if not leap, further.

 

What do we find inside Pandora's Box?

What do we find inside Pandora’s Box?

 

Pandora is a custodian of the Music Genome Project, a musical analysis and research initiative that was formed to fundamentally capture exactly what traits makes songs unique, or similar. It uses almost 400 musical attributes, which, when combined in larger groups, amass about 2000 focus traits. If this sounds oddly scientific, it is. The founders based their idea on the study of genetics, and have statistically deconstructed music down to exceptionally precise terms such as: gender of lead vocalist, rhythm syncopation, level of distortion on electric guitar, key tonality, and many more than the average person has the ability to name. Organise these altogether with complex mathematical algorithms, and you…wow, the jealousy is flooding my veins as I type this…get a service which eventually is guaranteed to pinpoint exactly what you like and might like, in ways that you probably would never have thought possible. It’s actually scary to think what potential there is if one took advantage of such a mindbogglingly brilliant service. To sum it up: if I had unrestricted, full access to Pandora, this post would be the shortest I’ve ever written, or ever write. Only one line: “Sign up at www.pandora.com. You will experience heaven on earth”. So after briefly meeting the girl or boy of your dreams, then finding out that you can never be with them, what does one do? Settle for less…

 

5.1. Radio lovin’

If internet radio sounds like your kind of thing, then the following are pretty decent. Last.fm focuses more on social networking and using the service as your primary medium of listening, which I found a bit frustrating, with me being an iPod slave. Despite its popularity, my earnest attempts to actually find new material with it were hopelessly convoluted. It wanted me to ‘scrobble’ my iTunes library to get an idea of what I listen to already (good start), but then very little became of that endeavour on the website itself, where it showed my (incomplete) listening history, but mainly for the purpose of others finding it, since the recommendations it gave were rather weak and short-reaching (it only gave recommendations of artists I had actually listened to already, according to my Play Counts. Go figure). iLike was much the same, focusing heavily on getting other users to ‘like’ what you like, but this time you have to input your favourite artists. Too much effort, not enough reward; especially for something which is meant to streamline the process!

 

Emphasis on the 'social' part

Emphasis on the ‘social’ part

 

Jango sets a good standard, and one can easily ignore the social networking part and get down to the nitty-gritty of finding new music. You can fine-tune the variety of artists and songs, and its interface is kept simple; all it asks you to do is input just one artist, and it will base your personalised station around that. With a rating system and music video section too, Jango is uncluttered with very little frills, and is worth having a look at it. If Jango’s interface was simple, Musicovery‘s is even more so. Its innovative design focus on moods, rather than artists, allowing one to find a station based on what type of mood they want to the music to convey. A graph, with ‘Energetic’ and ‘Calm’ on the y-axis, and ‘Dark’ and ‘Positive’ on the x-axis is your tool, and can be tweaked chronologically and by genre. A ‘dance’ radio option also sorts music by tempo and by, what it seems to be, whether you can dance to it. Stereomood goes one further, and specifies oddly specific moods and activities that might apply to you as a listener, such as ‘just woke up’, ‘good karma’, ‘dinner with friends’ and ‘spring cleaning’. Mood radio might find just the song for you right now, and if used smartly, many times more when you’re feeling a little different. It’s like meeting an arty and intellectual cutie in a coffee shop, then later meeting a bold and passionate Casanova in a bar. Different moods, different situations, different desires…

 

Some of the moods that Stereomood offers

Some of the moods that Stereomood offers

 

5.2. In blogs we trust

Just as one would trust a friend’s opinion (see point number 4), opinions and recommendations from blog-writers are a marriage of authentic journalism and newsy chats. Their personal nature can make one feel like the writer is speaking directly to him/her (oh, the irony…), and their recommendations can come across as friendly advice. But since there are so many out there on the web, where just about anyone can start one up, it can be really difficult to find the good ones, or ones that appeal to you. Aggregators like The Hype Machine and Elbows trawl through the proverbial ‘blogosphere’ to track trends and find the most talked-about artists and songs. The Hype Machine focuses on providing MP3 links, so that one can hear what’s on their Latest or Popular charts and read about it too. This way, both the music and the blog are discovered, so that future plays of the former and visits to the latter will hopefully occur. As such, blogs that post actual MP3’s seem to be the focus, and are more likely to get recognition. Elbows handles the music industry as a whole, and aggregates articles, videos and anything else one might find interesting that’s currently being discussed. Both sites provide one with easy access to discovering good music and thought-provoking discussion of it.

 

5.3. Indie Cred

Discovering artists before they hit the big time is becoming easier and easier nowadays. Whilst attending small, cramped gigs in seedy bars and buying limited first pressings of garage recordings aren’t activities that are going to completely die out, the quest to find independent artists involves much less on-the-ground activity than in the past. Artists can post their work on music-sharing websites, upload performances to Youtube and create a buzz amongst their fans, who in turn can share their indie favourites with just a click of a button. thesixtyone is one of those websites that strives for that indie aesthetic. Named after Highway 61 in the USA, a place rooted in music tradition and history (à la Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and the King himself, Elvis Presley), independent artists can post their music in a homely forum where substance is valued highly, and talent can hopefully be discovered by the right people. Or just you, as an inquisitive soul, seeking a refreshing burst of creativity from people that have yet to secure a massive record deal, churning out hit after hit.

 

A typical quirky backdrop to a song on thesixtyone

A typical quirky backdrop to a song on thesixtyone

 

As such, the site is a lucky packet of pleasures, modelling itself on the internet radio format, but with high resolution photographs forming the backdrop of each song, and quirky quips from and about the artists artfully integrated into the interface. It’s an intimate, enriching and engaging experience, and you can feel good about the fact that you are giving exposure to someone who needs it more than your big rockstars and popstars.

 

5.4. A map to/of your heart

Lastly, there are the ‘map’-designed websites, which are fun for exploring the relationships between artists and genres. Personally, I found these to be the most useful and successful, because of the visual aspect. Seeing the links with your own eyes is incredibly effective, and it’s no wonder teachers at schools and universities recommend mind-mapping to their students; the human mind responds to the ‘spider webs’ well. Just like a little stalking session of someone’s Profile Picture album on Facebook upon meeting them, you get a clearer idea of how the music is related.

 

Map Of Your Heart - knowing2wonder.blogspot.com

 

TuneGlue is a straight-forward, nifty mapping tool that creates webs of similar artists based on one input by you in the search bar. From there, you can branch out of the original six suggestions it gives, looking at artist bios, discographies and even links to the official websites. The key here is its simplicity. In my own experience, I discovered Klaxons after inputting my favourite band Bloc Party, and found their indie-rave-punk chaos close enough to be associated with my beloved Bloc.

 

So what's next? Kasabian?

So what’s next? Kasabian?

 

Music-Map (and its sister website Gnoosic) continue with the trend of simplistic interfaces (see where I’m going here?), and are akin to gentle nods in the right direction of true love. The former takes on the form of an orbiting galaxy of stars, placing the artists you choose in the middle of the cosmos, as more similar artists orbit it in a closer trajectory, and less similar artists spiral around the periphery. The latter is also developed by the same person, and requests that you enter three of your favourite artists into the search bar, upon where it will give an automated recommendation. Don’t like it, or don’t know it? Rank the suggestion, and it will adapt for the next five or so suggestions. No profile, no sign-up, just a ‘Like’/’Don’t like’/’Don’t Know’. Personally, I put in Bloc Party, The Strokes and Kings Of Leon, and the first suggestion, Interpol, completely suited my tastes and made me wonder how I had never heard of them up until now. And since they’ve been around since 2002, it’s nearly a decade I’ve wasted without their dark, angular riffs buzzing through my ears…

 

Summary

Finding love, both physically and musically, can be a nerve-wracking experience. I still get that pang of worry as I load an album of an artist I don’t know onto my iPod. But that fear of something new gets washed away when I feel a bond between the music and myself that was probably always there, but I never knew of it. Like a conversation between long-lost friends that gets picked up after many years. Like a reflex reaction between the ears and pleasure centres of the mind. You want to experience that feeling more and more. But you can’t expect to blindly stumble upon it every day and be successful. Falling in love may sound romantic, but I’d rather dive into it, thanks.

 

Love Music - danjlovesthe90s.wordpress.com

 

 

Links to recommended websites:

 

(On a side note: I made a chance discovery of The Music Map: The Landscape Of Music project whilst researching for this post. It’s a site I highly recommend anyone to have a look at, regardless of what you’re searching for. A certain computer programmer, Dr. Yifan Hu, develops algorithms and software for mapping the relationships between anything on the internet, and his music map is thorough, well-researched and fascinatingly useful. Treat it like a browsing session on Google Maps, except it’s not countries and cities you’re hovering over; it’s genres and artists.)

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 22nd of March 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes. In hindsight, this article in particular could do with a significant update, perhaps a ‘Part Two’, in the near future)

 

One aspect of music that I have a particular affinity for is acoustic covers of well-known songs, or by artists that I like. The idea of reinterpreting a piece of music and stripping it down to its core emotions gets me excited. The search to find these gems also makes it all the more worthwhile, as many of these performances are rather rare and difficult to find.

Due to the incredibly high-quality of technology used in music production today, it’s become easy to lose a sense of how good an artist is at performing live, which I’ve always considered a worthy barometer of talent measurement. Studio trickery and layered and/or Auto-tuned vocals can sometimes mask the real truth of an artist’s ability.

This is not to say that technology is bad and has no place in the music industry, because it definitely does have a place. Musical and technological innovations have gone hand-in-hand right from the start. Artists such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix eagerly and meticulously redefined what an artist could do in a studio, and embraced the many changes the recording industry was going through in the 1960’s (definitely enough for a whole other article!), and made music all the more creative and electrifying (excuse the pun) for the following decades. By the 1980’s, it was standard practice to play around with synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, etc, to add to your final mix.

 

Jimi Hendrix was notoriously picky in the studio, meticulously crafting his sound, which often left studio staff exasperated.

Jimi Hendrix was notoriously picky in the studio, meticulously crafting his sound, which often left studio staff exasperated.

 

But if you take a performer out of the comfort of his/her studio, or take away all the wonderful gadgets that make them listenable, will the magic still be there? Depending on what type of music they create (some, for example, make acoustic-based music anyway), this could be a colossal failure or a beautiful spectacle; an unmasking of the true artist within. If someone is worth his/her salt musically, they should be able to convey to you what they’re feeling inside in the simplest or grandest terms.

I saw an extreme example of this recently, when I watched a guitar documentary where Jack White (of The White Stripes) built a ‘guitar’ out of a block of wood, a glass bottle, some nails, wire, and a connecting system of some sort to electrify this poor-man’s attempt at an instrument. He then tried it out for a while, as it emitted a howling surge of noise, and afterwards, turned to the camera and said with a shrug, ‘Who said you even need to buy a guitar?’

 

 

Amateurs also have discovered the importance of the acoustic cover in contemporary music, not just the professional artists. If you search ‘acoustic cover’ on Youtube, you’re guaranteed to find a plethora of people, usually with just a guitar or piano, playing their own ‘unplugged’ versions of popular songs, whether they’re pop, rock, R&B or even hip-hop. It almost seems to be a rite of passage to be able know the chords to some teen pop-idol’s latest hit, and then to give your interpretation of it on the Internet. And you know what? I’m all for it.

Whether a musician is performing an acoustic cover of his own song, or of another’s, a little morsel of his soul gets put into the meal. And when a professional artist does so, there is an even greater chance of that performance turning into an aural banquet for the listener. Oftentimes the mood of the song is completely different from its original: a change from brash and outrageous to perhaps delicate and sensitive, yet still using the same words and chords. So, in addition to showcasing the artist’s actual vocal and/or instrumental skills, their flair for songwriting and arranging can also be given a chance to shine.

Here are some amateur and professional examples of acoustic covers that really sum up the ideals I’ve found in this sphere of music. In some cases, the line between amateur and professional is a little blurred, because some of these people have really good production values and obvious talent that needs to be discovered by a record label or rich investor! Some are studio recordings, but still acoustic versions, which must count for something. This is by no means a complete list of what’s worth checking it out; It’s just what I’ve been exposed to, or have the download links to show you. I’m sure every artist out there has had to do an acoustic recording at some point. What these type of recordings lack in complexity, they more than make up for in passion and emotion.

 

Amateurs:

 

1. Tyler Ward

This guy has built up quite a collection of covers, and guests to perform with him. I was introduced to his work by his cover of Lady Gaga’s latest hit ‘Born This Way’, which he performs with a girl named Alex G. Try out this one out for size:

 

2. Obadiah Parker’s cover of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’

This folk/pop group catapulted away from obscurity when in 2007, they released an acoustic cover of the hip hop smash hit by Outkast, ‘Hey Ya’. A tender, relaxed take on a very upbeat and funky song:

 

 

3. Boyce Avenue

Like Tyler Ward, this band have become Youtube sensations, with many of their videos having over a million views each. Specialising in acoustic covers, and now writing some of their own material in a similar style, they are an excellent example of how to use modern communication tools like the Internet to get your name out there.

Their most-viewed track, Linkin Park’s ‘Shadow Of The Day’, rightfully deserves that honour:

 

 

Professionals

 

1. MTV Unplugged Series

This MTV concert series began in the early 90’s and had some amazing acts of the day perform ‘unplugged’. Some memorable moments to check out include:

Eric Clapton in 1992, whose set was released as an album, selling over 10 million copies and earning him SIX Grammy Awards! Hectic stuff…

Bryan Adams’s 1997 set, of which that version of ‘Heaven’ will probably end up being my wedding song…

Nirvana’s legendary performance in 1993. Recorded only five months before Kurt Cobain’s death, the grunge trend-setters completely flipped their music on its head, showcasing a more sensitive side of Kurt’s vocals and guitar-playing.

Oasis’s infamous 1996 performance, at the height of their fame. Moments before going on stage, lead singer Liam Gallagher pulled out of the show, citing a sore throat. The band continued to perform despite this, with his brother, songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher, handling all the vocals, which earned him much critical praise. Liam watched the performance and heckled the group from a balcony. Some absolute classics here, such as ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’.

 

The Unplugged series slowed down its recording schedule in the 2000’s, but lately, present-day artists such as Phoenix, Katy Perry, Adam Lambert, Vampire Weekend and Paramore have been contributing some lively performances.

 

 

2. An assortment of others that I have on my iPod

Due to the elusive nature of these performances, it’s quite difficult to have a nice catalogue of them on CD’s or on an iPod. Many artists choose to randomly play a hit of theirs acoustically at one of their countless concerts, or record a version on an obscure EP; therefore it’s easy to miss out, even if you’re a fan! So here’s a list of some interesting ones I have collected over the years:

 

  • Aerosmith – ‘Crazy’ (Piano Acoustic)
  • Fokofpolisiekar – ‘Hemel Op Die Platteland’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Foo Fighters – ‘Times Like These’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Incubus – ‘Stellar’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’ (Originally by Nine Inch Nails – one of the best covers ever, off an album of covers he did before he died in 2003)
  • Linkin Park – Pushing Me Away (Live Acoustic – from Underground V6.0)
  • Relient K’s ‘Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been’ and ‘Which To Bury: Us Or The Hatchet’ (Unplugged Versions off various EP’s)
  • Rihanna – Umbrella (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Tupac Shakur – Changes (Guitar Acoustic – rare version)

 

Whew, that’s enough for now! Now it’s your turn to go out there and search for these acoustic nuggets of treasure. Hopefully you’ll find that the magic is still there once the Auto-tune is turned off and the guitars are unplugged…

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 18th of May 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

I recently decided to update all my Michael Jackson albums. I had nearly all of them from 1978’s Off The Wall onwards, but most were of a sub-standard quality; an excuse I gave for not taking the time to listen to his lesser-known works. This update awoke the feelings I had when he passed away, and helped me revisit them.

 

All Hail The King Of Pop

All Hail The King Of Pop

 

I remember the 25th of June 2009 so clearly, and the mish-mash of emotions I felt. I remember staying at my family home during my university’s winter vacation. I remember emerging from my bedroom, bleary-eyed, around 8:30 in the morning, to make some breakfast; just like any other day before it. And I remember my mother coming up to me and saying something like ‘Michael Jackson died last night of a heart attack’. I remember the cocktail of sadness, grief and loss I suddenly felt, made worse by the fact that in the preceding months, faced with the prospect of losing the fleeting yet special childhood memories I had of him, I had just started to truly get into his music. It wasn’t the kind of sadness you’d feel if a close family member or friend died. That’s a more tangible sadness, where there’ll be a hugely personal rift in your day-to-day life from then onwards. It was a collective sadness, a communal sadness that you know millions of other people were feeling, and it multiplied within us all. Our brightest star had burnt out. But mixed with that, I had an oddly intense joy. I opened up my laptop and immediately started playing his hits, loudly and proudly, revelling in the fact that, although he was gone, his beautiful and inspiring music was not. And since he put his entire heart and soul into his music, there he shall remain. His body, a well-known ‘monstrosity’, ceased to be alive, but his music: always alive, as sure as the sun rises in the morning. I cried, a soothing salve for my sadness, but the moment soon produced tears of triumph. Our domestic servant Princess was working that day, and was quite baffled and concerned about what was going on. My mother explained the situation, saying who had died. When she said that, I remember thinking , “Not the Michael Jackson I’m thinking of”. Fast forward to this past Tuesday, as I’m walking on my way to work on a misty May morning, earphones in, listening to The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’. Through the tiny speakers, 10-year-old Michael’s voice rang out with a style and force unbecoming of his tender years.

 

Michael Jackson as a child - The Jackson Five

 

Then it hit me: Michael Jackson was humanity’s sacrifice to music. How many other young child stars like him continued to produce music right through their lifetime, and reach the level he did, musically and culturally? I can barely think of any off the top of my head, perhaps only the genius of Stevie Wonder. In return for the hyperbolic fame and fortune, he was robbed of a normal childhood, which in later life, brought about horrific emotional problems for him that few of us could ever imagine. The intense media scrutiny around every aspect of his being drove this sensitive and childlike man to breaking point. And coupled with this was the diagnosis of the skin disease Vitiligo: the cause of his ever-whitening skin, and for someone who was constantly in the public eye, an everyday nightmare. It was a truly unique set of circumstances for a truly unique, trail-blazing individual. To moonwalk his way to the title ‘King of Pop’, he gave his life, his whole life, from just the age of 5. Humanity offered up a vessel, filled to the brim with an amount of musical talent unheard of in a human being. Music accepted the offer, and the rest……is history. I don’t think there could’ve been any other way about it.

 

Michael, I hope that in death, you may rest the peace you were always searching for.

Michael, I hope that in death, you may rest the peace you were always searching for.

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 3rd of May 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

My view on hip hop/rap changed completely after I heard Immortal Technique for the first time. Before that fateful evening, my interests in the genre were not fervent or far-reaching. I liked a couple of songs and only a few artists appealed to me as a teenage white male. It was but a passing acquaintance. Then, one night in my first year of university, I was hanging out in my next-door neighbour Josh’s dorm room. He was an avid hip hop fan, and whilst I was there, decided to play this song called ‘Dance With The Devil’. All he said was “just listen to this, dude”. No introduction… 6 minutes, 50 seconds later, and both of us just sat there, staring at the walls in dead silence. The song had consumed all of my emotions, and I couldn’t speak. Very rarely have I ever experienced that sense of shock after hearing a song, before or since that moment. Immortal Technique captivated me, and I needed to hear more.

 

Immortal Technique doing what he does best: spit fire on the mic

Immortal Technique doing what he does best: spit fire on the mic

 

Immortal Technique (one person, real name Felipe Coronel) is a rapper with substance. Too often nowadays, over-saturated commercial radio dumbs down genres of music so that they’re suitable to be spoonfed to the masses. Sadly, hip hop suffers greatly from this problem, and many potential fans, especially white people (in my opinion), are put off by what is in the popular consciousness. I continue to feel that way too, but after my exposure to artists like I-T, I’ve learnt to dig deeper and find what alternative, often underground, hip hop has to offer. Since he remains underground (i.e. not signed to any major record label), Immortal Technique is free to spout forth whatever he feels like saying, with intense passion and fervor, and some subject matter that most mainstream artists wouldn’t dare touch. Being of Afro-Peruvian heritage, having been born in a military hospital in Peru’s capital Lima, he feels a close bond with the Central and South American nations, as well as the Latino community at large. He grew up in Harlem, New York and saw much of the street life that is mentioned in most hip hop songs. However, the dangerous life he lived in his teenage years caught up with him, and he spent a year in jail for multiple assault-related offenses after his short time at university. His time in incarceration was when he started to write down his thoughts, hone his songwriting skills, and begin to research Latin American history. Once out of jail, he pursued hip hop, and soon his reputation become one of a ‘battle MC’ – one who is known for his skills in defeating others in freestyle rap battles. He has taken much of this ferocious style of rapping, and channelled it into three studio albums (Revolutionary,Vol. 1 & 2, and The 3rd World, all released between 2001 and 2008), as well as many mixtapes, which have captured live freestyles and song fragments in stream-of-consciousness form.

 

Covers of all three Immortal Technique studio albums

Covers of all three Immortal Technique studio albums

 

On the surface, Immortal Technique comes off as a rabid pit bull, barking out caustic verses, that at a superficial level, could come across as just for shock value. But very soon, one realises that his rhymes are extremely intelligent, well-written and diverse. His songs touch on a range of topics, such as politics & the government, crime, free speech, love, socio-economics, empowerment of the powerless, world history, poverty, the music industry and propaganda. Others just showcase his ridiculously good skills on the mic, as he battle-raps a generic foe, schooling the fool with hilarious, ballsy and brutal rhymes. When such potent lyrics are delivered with a rugged flow like his, each track is like a slap in the face, urging you to wake up and take a look at the world around you.

 

Although well-known as a 'battle rapper', Immortal Technique's revolutionary spirit is evident in his politically-focused songs.

Although well-known as a ‘battle rapper’, Immortal Technique’s revolutionary spirit is evident in his politically-focused songs.

 

The proof is in the pudding, and I-T delivers it in lethal amounts. I’ve cherry-picked some of his best:

 

On ‘The 4th Branch’, he hypothesizes that the media is the fourth branch of the government (after the executive, legislative and judicial ones), and controls how we as the population think:

“It’s like MK-ULTRA, controlling your brain

Suggestive thinking, causing your perspective to change

They wanna rearrange the whole point of view of the ghetto

The fourth branch of the government, want us to settle

A bandana full of glittering generality

Fighting for freedom and fighting terror, but what’s reality?

Read about the history of the place that we live in

And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children”

 

Over a delicate guitar-driven arrangement, he speaks of moving on from past mistakes in ‘Leaving The Past’ (a good song of his to start with):

“You swallow propaganda like a birth control pill

Sellin’ your soul to the eye on the back of the dollar bill

But that will never be me, ‘cos I am leavin’ the past

Like an abused wife with the kids, leavin’ your ass

Like a drug addict clean and sober, leavin’ the stash

Unbreakable, Technique leavin’ the plane crash

I’m out with the black box and I refuse to return

I spit reality, instead of what you usually learn

And I refuse to be concerned with condescending advice

‘Cos I am the only motherf***er that could change my life

 

Tech assumes the role of a hip hop martyr in the riveting ‘Internally Bleeding’, with some powerful, poignant, disturbing yet profound messages. Once again, I’ll let his lyrics do the talking:

“My mother told me that placing my faith in God was the answer

But then I hated God, ‘cos he gave my mother cancer

Killing us slow like the Feds did to the Blank Panthers

The genesis of genocide is like a Pagan religion

Carefully hidden, woven into the holidays of a Christian

I had a vision of nuclear holocaust on top of me

And this is prophecy, the words that I speak from my lungs

The severed head of John the Baptist speaking in tongues

Like Che Guevara, my soliloquies speak to a gun

Paint in slow motion, like trees that reach for the sun”

 

In addition to philosophical rants like the above two, he weaves together intricate narratives on a few of what I think are his standout tracks. ‘Peruvian Cocaine’ is a grandiose, character-driven portrait of how cocaine travels from South to North America. Each verse features a different character, as well as rapper (all together seven), in the story, right from the lowly worker in the fields, and through the path of drug dealers, border officials and undercover cops. It’s on-par with Eminem in terms of story-telling ability, and delivers a thought-provoking message too.

 

Then there are the double-header jaw-droppers: ‘You Never Know’ and the afore-mentioned ‘Dance With The Devil’. Both tug at the heartstrings; the former gently and tearfully as I-T bares his soul for a bit and falls in love (“the type of Latina I’d sit and contemplate marriage with), and the latter metaphorically wrenching those strings like a rock ‘n roll guitarist. Which brings me back to the beginning of this recommendation/discussion: THAT song. I’d hate to ruin the surprise of the ending, but it follows the story of a young man’s descent into the darkness of gangster life. The beat is as cold as the character William’s heart, complete with a haunting piano loop that sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. Tech delivers each line with an urgent precision, and hopefully by the end of it, you as the listener have learnt as much from it as the rapper himself has. This is his magnum opus.

 

Unwrapping his music is like peeling apart an onion; a very large and layered one. I hope that by peeling away the first few layers, you have been enticed into going deeper into the music of one hip hop’s true revolutionaries. He maintains the spirit that much of early hip hop was founded on: story-telling, social awareness and an emphasis on wordplay and performance.

 

Immortal Technique: an MC and poet that I believe can be spoken of in the same hushed tones as the likes of Biggie, Tupac and Eminem…

 

Viva La Revolución!

 

Recommended listening (in this order, too, if you think that you might be inclined to get scared away!):

  • ‘Caught In A Hustle’ (from Black Cargo Mixtape)
  • ‘Leaving The Past’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘The 4th Branch’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘Peruvian Cocaine’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘The Prophecy’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 1)
  • ‘Internally Bleeding’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘Industrial Revolution’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘The 3rd World’ (from The 3rd World)
  • ‘You Never Know’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘Dance With The Devil (from Revolutionary, Vol. 1)

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 26th of May 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

It can be very difficult to see and appreciate Lady Gaga’s incredible musical talent beneath her many layers of eccentricity. A ‘fame-hooker’ in the truest sense of the term, she constantly strives to make these outrageous and extravagant fashion statements that polarize people’s opinions of her near-completely. This kind of behaviour usually leads the dismissive and uninterested types to just ignore her in perpetuity. What a shame, because when all the showboating is stripped away, it’s plain to see that Lady Gaga really knows her way around a tune. Learning piano from the age of 4, and years of experience from performing at cabaret clubs can do that to you.

 

Added bonus: she can play them whilst they're on fire

Added bonus: she can play them whilst they’re on fire

 

It’s just that Lady Gaga to chooses to meld avant-garde performance art with her music; which for some, can be an off-putting and kitsch sideshow. With the creative Gaga juggernaut (officially known as the Haus Of Gaga) comprising of not just music, but clothing, props, stage sets, and makeup too, she is presenting a complete, saturated image to the public. With this in mind, I’ll try to focus on the musical aspects of her latest work, Born This Way, and dissect one of the most hotly-anticipated releases of the year. Since the album’s title was revealed in September last year (as she accepted the Video of the Year at 2010 MTV Video Music Awards in that meat dress), the hype for Born This Way has been relentless. The title track’s lyrics alone (“I’m beautiful in my way/’Cause God makes no mistakes/I’m on the right track, baby/I was born this way”) were enough to garner widespread enthusiasm and praise for their positive, self-empowering attitude; the actual song only was released in February 2011, breaking sales and download records with ease.

 

She sang the lyrics to 'Born This Way' whilst accepting this award

She sang the lyrics to ‘Born This Way’ whilst accepting this award

 

Gaga had lofty thematic ambitions for this album, after exploring the effects of fame in her debut (The Fame), and fears in its subsequent EP (The Fame Monster). And while the song ‘Born This Way’ sums up the self-empowerment/finding one’s identity themes quite succinctly (although not subtly), the thread continues through much of the rest of the album. There’s also a restless sense of adventure that hearkens back to 70’s and 80’s American pop music, which borders on what modern ears would call cheesy. Think Bruce Springsteen, Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, and her idol she’s most compared to, Madonna. Musically, the album draws heavily from that synthesized era, and adds to it a 90’s sort-of equivalent in sleazy Eurodance/techno club bangers (the slow-burning bass-heavy kind). It’s a beautiful mess, yet still impeccably layered, fine-tuned and executed with an undeniable passion.

 

Born This Way's ridiculous album cover of a hybrid Gaga/motor bike. Not my favourite.

Born This Way’s ridiculous album cover of a hybrid Gaga/motor bike. Not my favourite.

 

This potent cocktail of relentless heavy metal-pop-disco-rave-rock pillages its way through your ears, like a roaring muscle car or motor bike (and with that metaphor in mind, the hideous album cover now makes a bit of sense). The journey begins with ‘Marry The Night’, a song where her intentions are open, honest but vulnerable – a side of Gaga not usually seen so easily. Simple, relatable lyrics of seizing the day (or rather, the night) are paired with a smooth, driving club-beat. It’s a solid start, but it’s likely to be forgotten amongst the hubbub of the rest. The smash-hit single title track arrives next with gusto. Enough has been said of this unashamedly upbeat anthem of self-empowerment, whose sledgehammer beats drive home the best message she’s put out in her career: “Whether life’s disabilities/Left you outcast, bullied, or teased/Rejoice and love yourself today/Because baby, you were born this way”. I cannot stress the importance of those words enough, and how much they’ll mean to her fans, and to anyone else needing to hear something positive and uplifting like that in their lives. Who cares about the accusations of her ripping off Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’? The incredible social impact of a piece of music like this from an artist of her standing (10 million followers on Twitter and the most searched-for person in the world, according to Google) should be the focus. Things take a turn for the slightly weird in ‘Government Hooker’, a thumping, dark and sexy call-and-response critique on metaphorical ‘prostitution’ in both government and the music industry. After an extended opera-style intro, the sleaze oozes out of every pore of the song, with a Dutch-accented man calling out instructions to her, and her repeated responses of “as long as I’m your hooker”. The line “Put your hands on me, John. F. Kennedy” is particularly biting, and draws allusions to Marilyn Monroe’s supposed affair with JFK. Religion peers its head for the first time on the album in the mistakenly-controversial second single ‘Judas’. It stomps a lot harder than most tracks on Born This Way, and follows a lyrical path tread before in ‘LoveGame‘ and ‘Bad Romance‘ of being attracted to someone that is not good for her. It partly borrows the biblical metaphor of Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus Christ, and uses it as an analogy of betrayal and forgiveness, and how one should confront the darker problems in one’s life. Understandably, religious circles are up in arms about the use of the imagery, but Gaga has defended her decision, as well as her Christian beliefs, and this bold artistic statement, in my opinion, pays off pretty well. While not as good as the previous two mentioned, it’s still very catchy (in a love it-or-hate it sense) and brings forth some heated and varied discussions about its lyrical content.

 

Scenes from the ‘Judas’ music video

Scenes from the ‘Judas’ music video

 

‘Americano’ sees her tapping into some Latino influences on this mariachi-techno-house track, where she sings about half of it in Spanish (on this album, she sings in French, German and Italian as well; an amazing feat for an English-speaking performer, let alone a popstar). It’s a bizarre, feisty and smartly-written attack on both immigration and gay marriage laws, but in terms of accessibility, it seems like a poorer version of The Fame Monster‘s ‘Alejandro‘. Like the title track, ‘Hair’ bursts with pride and positivity, using the metaphor of one’s hair as a symbol of freedom. On an interesting side-note: it’s the first of two appearances by the original saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band (the other is album-closer ‘The Edge Of Glory’), and his input gives the already-zesty, singing-into-your-hairbrush sing-along a jazzy overdose. ‘Scheiße‘, on a different tone, is an industrial-tinged experiment in the German language (the title is the German word for ‘shit’) and alludes to feminism and strong females. The second half of the album is my favourite. ‘Bloody Mary’ recalls the religious imagery in a more subdued and slinky style, this time using Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most celebrated disciples (who was also a former prostitute), as the focus. The musical arrangement is fitting of such a topic, with chanting choirs, a loping beat and a sharp string section. And she achieves something she very rarely achieves: being sexy and alluring, with a dose of subtlety. ‘Bad Kids‘ amps up the fun with a slick, sunny and infinitely-danceable melody that channels Cyndi Lauper and spits out a sarcastic, sassy ode to juvenile delinquency and parental guilt. ‘Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)’ rides out the cheerful mood with a surreal, heart-on-her-sleeve, techno-infused Bruce Springsteen tribute, involving unicorns, which somehow pays off with its earnestness. Gaga settles into a smooth trance-influenced mood for the next two tracks: one (‘Heavy Metal Lover’) seems to nod off to sleep lyrically, as tired and uninspired fetish-themed cliches are thrown about, whilst the the other (‘Electric Chapel’) brings in an awesome guitar riff (with a solo that perhaps raises her rock credibility a few notches), clearer use of religious imagery and the persistent ominous gong of a churchbell in the distance. And then the curveball country-rock-‘n-roll epic ballad, ‘Yoü And I’ (stylised with the umlaut because the ex-boyfriend mentioned in the song had one over the U in his name). Sampling Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ and featuring none other than Queen’s legendary guitarist Brian May as well, it’s a soulful, heartfelt love song tinged with the warmth of Midwest USA, where she sings “something about my cool Nebraska guy”. Add to it the funky backing vocals and piano, and like her other deliberately rock-inspired masterpiece ‘Speechless’, she strikes a chord that will hopefully resonate deep in the older, rock ‘n roll community.

 

Sporting a more toned-down look and white wardrobe whilst performing 'Yoü And I' live on the Today Show

Sporting a more toned-down look and white wardrobe whilst performing ‘Yoü And I’ live on the Today Show

 

The journey of Born This Way finally ends on ‘The Edge Of Glory’, the third single released thus far. Concluding the album on a similar upbeat outlook to the one of the opener, this euphoric electro-pop-opera end to this perfect pop pastiche should leave one in awe (or at least, in respect) of Lady Gaga’s massive song-crafting talent. Drawing in a wider range of influences than before and confidently welding them together with an ambitious and committed attitude, she has the ability and the support to go anywhere from here musically and succeed. So might I suggest a retro-rock revolution, drawing on her professed influences of Queen (whose song ‘Radio Ga-Ga’ gave her her stage name), AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Guns ‘n Roses and Black Sabbath? Perhaps an acoustic album too, showcasing her talent on piano and giving us stripped-down interpretations of her hits? That’s how she’ll really take over music, commercially and critically. At the moment, it seems everything Gaga touches turns to gold.

 

Tracklisting:

  1. Marry The Night
  2. Born This Way
  3. Government Hooker
  4. Judas
  5. Americano
  6. Hair
  7. Scheiße
  8. Bloody Mary
  9. Bad Kids
  10. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
  11. Heavy Metal Lover
  12. Electric Chapel
  13. Yoü And I
  14. The Edge Of Glory

 

Release date: 23 May 2011

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 17th of April 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

After fifteen years together, the Foo Fighters have not lost any of their intensity or ability to write hit songs. On the contrary, they have upped the ante, and their seventh album Wasting Light explodes out of your speakers like a bomb just got dropped about five metres away from you. It’s always hard to follow up on a huge success, especially when that success (2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience And Grace) earned you multiple Grammy nominations and awards, including wins for Best Rock Album and Best Hard Rock Performance for the smash-hit-single ‘The Pretender’. That album was incredibly balanced and slightly experimental (by Foo Fighters’ standards), placing them at the peak of their powers. What happens afterwards?

 

Dave Grohl at the V Festival, England in 2007

Dave Grohl at the V Festival, England in 2007

 

For Wasting Light, guitarist and lead singer Dave Grohl wanted to go back to basics. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s real after you’ve gained the ability to sell out stadiums on a fairly regular basis. He has become what most people would agree to be ‘the nicest guy in rock ‘n roll’ – melding a playful, joky persona off-stage, with a rabid, earnest and powerful one on-stage. The same could be said of his band, and the style they embody: post-grunge rock mixed with pop melodies, delivered with a tireless precision. But he felt that they needed to revisit their roots, to tap into their harder, grungier influences and just rock out, old-school style. So, he converted his own garage at his house in Virginia into a studio and the band recorded the entire album using traditional analogue equipment (with only minor post-production done digitally). Former guitarist Pat Smear also re-entered the picture permanently, and they roped in former Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic for one track, and Nirvana’s producer Butch Vig to guide the process; and thus allowed for the closest thing to a Nirvana reunion since Kurt Cobain’s tragic death in 1994.

 

'Wasting Light' is a back-to-basics album for the band. 'Back-to-basics', though, in their terms.

‘Wasting Light’ is a back-to-basics album for the band. ‘Back-to-basics’, though, in their terms.

 

Grohl’s legacy has always been wearily-linked with Nirvana’s, and on ‘I Should’ve Known’, he pens the album’s closest attempt at a ballad, which seems to be a lament for a friend that’s killed himself. Although it doesn’t mention Kurt’s name, it may as well, with lyrics such as “I should have known that it would end this way/I should have known there was no other way/Didn’t hear your warning/Damn my heart gone deaf”. The other surviving bandmate Krist plays bass and accordion on this one, and it’s a somber, heartfelt respite from the brutal, free-wheeling chaos of the other tracks. Every song on Wasting Light is like being caught in a cross-fire of 3 ferocious guitars (with Smear back in the mix), grinding bass, vicious drumming from the ever-entertaining Taylor Hawkins, and Grohl’s distinctive growls, wails and screams. The fact that they can capture this lightning-in-a-bottle and make it accessible to mainstream fans, as well as metalheads, just boggles my mind. Album-opener ‘Bridge Burning’ makes its intentions known right off the bat: as each guitar enters the fold one-by-one, Grohl declares with gusto “These are my famous last words!”, and the ride begins with a vengeance. Cue fist-pumping and head-banging… Amidst the reverbs and distortion is a distinct sense of melody, and first single ‘Rope’ is a fine example of this element: the guitars are more chimy, the rhythm is more staccato-like, and it ends with a swirling climax that leaves you gasping for air only two tracks in. Hard luck, friend, the Foo’s are only just getting started with their aural assault on your ears. ‘Dear Rosemary’ continues in a similar vein, albeit with some brash pop harmonies and an almost cha-cha-like rock rhythm. Grohl gets the backing of Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould in the vocals department as well, and his gravelly voice is a great influence. The album’s most surprising moment for me was the arrival of ‘White Limo’. They have sometimes considered dabbling with the idea of turning the volume dial up to 11, and going all-out heavy metal (Grohl has his own heavy metal side-project Probot, and has been in Queens Of Stone Age, known for their darker, metal tendencies), but never like this. This song delivers aggression and swagger in equal amounts, with thrashing riffs and Grohl literally snarling the vocals out, making it very difficult to pick out any of the lyrics in the cacophonic haze. It’s enough to leave you trembling afterwards in the foetal position.

 

A scene from the ridiculously-funny amateur music video of White Limo

A scene from the ridiculously-funny amateur music video of White Limo

 

‘Arlandria’ settles back into a more loud-soft dynamic, channelling a children’s nursery rhyme in some of the verses (believe it!), but still retaining that hardened edge to it. ‘These Days’ and ‘Back & Forth’ evoke the spirit of their magnificent early albums The Colour And The Shape and There’s Nothing Left To Lose: the former going for the gentle, yet booming, simplicity of ‘Learn To Fly’, whilst the latter settles in the catchy groove of something like ‘Monkey Wrench’ or ‘Breakout’, where fun and a sexy chorus are favoured over deep emotions. Both shine brightly here. ‘A Matter Of Time‘ bops along with a familiar crisp style that we’ve come to expect from the band, and this middle-of-the-road number slots neatly into the tail-end of the album. ‘Miss The Misery’ explictly goes for a chugging, mid-pace, stadium-sized roar, and sounds as if it was actually recorded on a gigantic stage in front of 80000 people. Next is the already-mentioned ‘I Should Have Known’, slowing things down further whilst cranking up the emotion. The curtain call finale ‘Walk’ ends matters on an undoubted high: a slow-building triumph, as Grohl begins crooning but soon screaming out the impassioned bridge as the tension builds up to a jaunty end. Wasting Light is one hell of a ride, and definitely the Foo Fighters’ strongest album in terms of execution since 1997’s The Colour And The Shape. Like a tireless puppy wanting to play ball with you, they continue to produce workmanlike rock records, eager to impress as if each were their first. There are no real drawbacks to this album, once you’ve viewed it in the context of why it was made: they deliberately set out as a band to rock as hard as they could, and should get 10/10 just for that. Next album, we can talk about subtlely and experimentation. For now, embrace the unrelenting power of Wasting Light.

 

Tracklisting:

  1. Bridge Burning
  2. Rope
  3. Dear Rosemary
  4. White Limo
  5. Arlandria
  6. These Days
  7. Back & Forth
  8. A Matter Of Time
  9. Miss The Misery
  10. I Should Have Known
  11. Walk

 

Release date: 12 April 2011

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 4th of April 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

Three albums in, and aKING have undoubtably risen to the status of princes of South Africa’s rock royalty. Balancing critical and commercial success, the boys from Bellville have toured relentlessly since their 2008 debut Dutch Courage, crafted their sound from album-to-album, and now The Red-Blooded Years is a mature and confident claim to the throne.

 

'The Red-Blooded Years' is the band's third, more adventurous album

‘The Red-Blooded Years’ is the band’s third, more adventurous album

 

Combining their well-known catchy rock ‘n roll/country rock style with some sonic experimentations, such as the use of keyboards and synthesizers, the new album has an amalgamation of sounds and influences, whilst still retaining that undeniable aKING vibe. This is mostly due to the unique, brooding, gritty baritoned voice of lead singer Laudo Liebenberg, who once again infuses each track with rousing bravado, passion, sincerity and even tenderness. The band also has a line-up change in the departure of rhythm guitarist Hunter Kennedy (due to his hectic work schedule being in Die Heuwels Fantasties as well). His replacement is Andrew Davenport, whose arrival must’ve prompted the band to reassess their sound, as well as the 3-month rush it took to record 2009’s Against All Odds.

 

aKING - SA rock royalty. New member Andrew Davenport is on the far right

aKING – SA rock royalty. New member Andrew Davenport is on the far right

 

 In certain songs, bassist Hennie Van Halen also contributes to keyboards, and this change is immediately evident on the lengthy synth-heavy intro of album opener ‘Catch Alight’, first single ‘The Runaround’, power ballad ‘Holding On’ and soothing charmer ‘All In The Wind’. These new additions sound rather natural for the band, and they meld with their image quite smoothly. Both Andrew and Hennie contribute immensely to the backing vocals, which gives each track an added boost in the crowd-pleasing stakes. This was particularly evident in their live show I had the good fortune of seeing at Kirstenbosch this past Sunday (3 April 2011). The band enthusiastically get into the swing of things vocally, and in my opinion, its effect is the markings of a band hitting their stride musically. Drummer Jaco ‘Snakehead’ Venter is one of the most exciting drummers to watch live, and could make a funeral dirge look like a Broadway musical the way he smashes those drums. His eager playing style makes for some seriously contagious beats emanating from behind the kit.

 

Rocking out at Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts (3 April 2011)

Rocking out at Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts (3 April 2011)

 

Despite the mostly upbeat demeanour in their music, aKING has always had an intriguingly dark, oftentimes sexual side to them and their lyrics. ‘Cut-Throat Tongue’ is this album’s most obvious example of that side (“Lift that cursed skirt, vicious young jackal/My confidence is coming”), but everywhere else there’s smatterings of songwriter Laudo’s angst-filled, ambigious confessions and musings. They’re the kind of lyrics that might pass over you first time round, but will soon start to resonate with you after a couple of listens. My personal favourite lines are from ‘All In The Wind’: “I don’t drink too much, just enough/To sink my teeth into the evening/And grind through the days”. 

The Red-Blooded Years is a thrill-ride from start to finish; something that you can come to expect from this band, whose dynamic is getting stronger and stronger with each release, adding to a bubbling melting-pot of ideas and talent. The only possible negative I can think of is the instrumental ‘The Sleeping Sound’, which finds itself tagged on as the last track. It rocks out really well, however, and closes the album in a similar ambient style to the one that ‘Catch Alight’ opens it with – a beautiful symmetry perhaps? This is their coming of age. Long live aKING.

 

Tracklisting:

  1. Catch Alight
  2. The Runaround
  3. Cut-Throat Tongue And Razor
  4. Kick Me
  5. So Close
  6. Holding On
  7. All In The Wind
  8. Weak Man’s World
  9. Any Other Way
  10. First Brush
  11. Red Blooded Years
  12. The Sleeping Sound

 

Release date: 1 March 2011

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 29th of March 2011 as part of a short review segment. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

Panic! At The Disco – Vices And Virtues

 

Take what happened to Oasis (albeit with considerably less physical brawling), subtract another band member from that equation, and place said equation right after the band’s second album, which was drastically different in tone in style to its first. Most bands in that situation, even after the sudden success that Panic! At The Disco (now with exclamation point back in its rightful place) achieved, would either add new members or disband completely. P!ATD chose neither, and now drummer Spencer Smith and singer (as well as newly-multi-instrumentalist) Brendon Urie form a duo that boldly carries on the band’s confused and fragile legacy in the face of adversity. What that legacy is is difficult to put your finger on. Their debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was a double-platinum slice of alternative-pop-rock awesomeness with an obscure, dark Vaudevillian twist. Then Pretty. Odd. came around, morphing their sound into something light-hearted, musically-complex and interesting, drawing inspiration from the baroque pop of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Many of their earlier fans left in droves, appalled at the fact that a band could mature so drastically. But for all the maturity gained from their misunderstood second album, it didn’t help establish a sure identity.

 

 

P!ATD emerge as a duo on their third album

P!ATD emerge as a duo on their third album

 

My hopes were not too high for Vices And Virtues, especially after I heard that the band became a duo. But they do not disappoint, and succeed in what they set out to achieve: to take the angst and mainstream production of their debut and meld it with the ambition, whimsy and experimentation of their sophomore record. The formula works really well, especially when you hear how damn catchy some of these tracks are. It really helps that lead singer Brendon has a captivating voice, that at first was derided for its supposed similarities to Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump’s. Many of the songs are carried by his croon, and no more so than on ‘Always’, an acoustic ballad that provides a brief respite from the high-spirited energy of first single ‘The Ballad Of Mona Lisa’ or ‘Memories’. There’s an undeniable sweetness in the sound of his voice juxtaposed with the forlorn attitude of the lyrics in ‘Sarah Smiles’: another pop delight. Pianos twinkle, strings & synths rise and fall dramatically, and marimbas, xylophones, accordion and even a children’s choir all add to the swing of the show. These arrangements make the ‘pop’ in ‘pop-rock’ cool again, and Vices & Virtues your latest guilty pleasure. Enjoy in many servings.

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 29th of March 2011 as part of a short review segment. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding

 

Recognise the name? I didn’t at first. In 2009, after years of infighting between rock ‘n roll’s notorious ‘Cain and Abel’ (Noel and Liam Gallagher…respectively, perhaps?), Oasis split up. Or to put it correctly, the principal song-writer and guitarist, Noel, could not take any more fighting with his brother and quit the band. Thank goodness it was after they performed at MyCokeFest in South Africa in April of that year: one of the best concerts I’ve ever had the fortune of attending…

 

Beady Eye is Oasis, minus 1 x Gallagher brother

Beady Eye is Oasis, minus 1 x Gallagher brother

 

Beady Eye is the result of the same band, with minor line-up changes, continuing in a new direction. As with The Strokes’ Angles, I’m sure you could deduce something of that when looking at the title of the album (the little-girl-riding-an-alligator cover is quite surreal). And wait till you get to the music… At first listen, Beady Eye shares much the same characteristics of its predecessor: obsession with 60’s rock, especially The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (which co-incidentally the thinly-veiled ‘Beatles And Stones’ is about) and a stadium-sized frenzy of guitars and ‘lads on a night on the town’ attitude. But surprisingly, Liam Gallagher can pen songs and not just sing them with his Lennon-esque swagger. The album delights with the rollicking album-opener ‘Four Letter Word’, charming ‘The Roller’ & ‘For Anyone’, slide-guitar-infused ‘Millionaire’ and its highlight ‘Bring The Light’ – all 3 minutes 39 seconds of its 50’s style rock ‘n roll piano, a la Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard. Liam’s vocals haven’t sounded this great in years, and he shows a great range in his highly-recognizable voice. The album has a few overblown missteps, like the meandering ‘Wigwam’, but is a solid and undeniably passionate record of something new from something old…or new; it depends on how you look at it. Cast a beady eye over this one if you can.