Cult Classics Album Breakdown 17

John Parish & Polly Jean Harvey – Dance Hall at Louse Point (1996)

This is a record so thrillingly sinister it leaves Paranormal Activity firmly in the shade. It was copied for me by my mate Andy, who has a cunning ability to grip me with weird and wonderful new music. Not only do the guitars seep under your flesh, but PJ Harvey’s split personality exercise in trying voices on like hats prove totally compelling. I went out and bought the record immediately afterwards. And, I also have to say, that album cover is stunning. Organic, mysterious, gripping.

On the very first listen I was a little unsure about Dance Hall At Louse Point, simply because it was so left-field. It was a bit of a shock to the audio senses, to be honest. However, once I’d realised the importance of immersing myself in this deep, jet-black, eerie, rather hectic record, it all made sense. PJ Harvey is just about the most unique British songwriter there is. John Parish, on this occasion, forms the perfect Yin to her Yang. As an album it was panned by multiple major magazines – Rolling Stone being one – but we’ve all got a right to our opinions, right?

Now, I can’t butter this up – Dance Hall At Louse Point is extremely challenging musically as well as intellectually. Parish is a genius at writing demanding and inventive music, and PJ Harvey’s lyrical contribution stands up to meet it head on, baring her insides and whispering at shadows. I can only liken each song to two trains heading for one another on a beautiful smoky sunset. It’s not for everyone. It was certainly for me.

I was lucky enough to witness a very rare gig by John Parish and PJ Harvey in Birmingham Town Hall early in 2009, in which their second collaboration album, A Woman A Man Walked By, was the focus of their attention. However, they also revisited songs from Dance Hall At Louse Point with style – a magical night of cult entertainment, complete with shrill screams and flashing lights and art-rock wannabes everywhere and gothic imagery and moments of outstanding, frustrating, mesmerising, enigmatic weirdness. I seem to recall a stunning live version of the shimmering opening track to this album, Girl, in which you could have heard a pin drop.

PJ Harvey is somewhat of an enigma; a musical recluse and cult star, she has quantum-stepped in and out of the shadows during a stunning near twenty year career that started in 1992 with her debut record Dry. Her achievements since have been on her terms, which is why she is quite rightly one of the most respected female artists around today. Dance Hall At Louse Point is a major achievement in my eyes – a dazzling record that explores the unlocked rooms in music that most artists dare not dream of entering. Rope Bridge Crossing – a curious, confessional wronged-love song – takes the album closer to the cliff edge. That is a songwriting trait in which Harvey has become exceedingly proficient. 

City Of No Sun is a frenetic and intimidating thrasher with idyllic, serene moments, slicing into the charming, acoustic That Was My Veil – one of the album highlights. Urn With Dead Flowers In A Drained Pool is a mixed tempo, experimental collage with lots of Gothic imagery – Nick Cave clearly rubbed off on Polly Jean. Civil War Correspondent shows Parish’s extraordinary ability to tinker with sound to paint unusual and percussive soundscapes for Harvey to work with. Her vocals are, essentially, the key strength of the record, but could not assume their power without this highly cerebral music accompanying. 

Don’t let anyone tell you a record is too weird to listen to. That’s my motto these days.

Taut is an alarmingly intense, and in parts terrifying track of the likes I’ve never heard before. In fact, I’ve heard this particular tune described as ‘complete madness’ in one review. It’s rather difficult to disagree, though there’s a very fine line between madness and genius. It’s a somewhat industrial and confrontational. Overall a totally unique, if not bemusing piece of art school noise. You might describe it as fucking about, if you were more cynical.

Un Cercle Autour Du Soleil (Circle Around The Sun) is a sombre ballad, and Heela reminiscent of something off Jeff Buckley’s Grace, or at worst something by Floyd, and is interjected by a delightful passage of vocals by John Parish layering Harvey’s pleasurable drone. In fact, Parish’s voice makes you want to punch him and salute him in equal measure – and there it is, the penny has dropped. This is an album that gets on your tits so much it’s simply brilliant. Either that, or my trained ear is so untrained it’s untrue.

The only cover version on the album – a haunting and despairing Is That All There Is – kind of shakes the innocence out of the Hollywood Blockbuster. Nobody but Harvey could deliver this with such morbid sincerity. Title track Dance Hall At Louse Point is a cheeky and brazen instrumental, whilst the final track Lost Fun Zone is an uncharacteristic boogie infused by Harvey’s instruction: “Take me one more time.” I’m not sure where she wants me to take her, and to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to go. I find myself so exhausted at the end of this record that I’m ready to watch Mr Tumble with some Ben & Jerry’s.

This is by no means an easy record to get into. In similar fashion to Dr John’s Gris Gris, it is challenging from the first note until the sound of that final click. Even PJ Harvey’s own record label condemned the album as “commercial suicide.” However, I am a massive fan – it does something to me that is very difficult to explain. It’s a middle finger to the industry, its ballsy, it’s unhinged, it’s bizarre.

Dance Hall At Louse Point demonstrates artistic bravery, originality, and conviction, and I applaud PJ Harvey and John Parish for making such organic music.

I’d applaud you more if you had the balls to give it a chance.

★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© 2018 Condé Nast

Top track trio:

Girl

Rope Bridge Crossing

Heela


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 16

The Doors (1967)

For somebody with a Jim Morrison tattoo, it took me a surprisingly long time to get The Doors. But boy, when I got them, I really got them. They literally ended up under my skin.

The Doors, released in January 1967, was the debut album by the now-legendary American psychedelic-rock band, led by the zaney Lizard King and moonlight vocalist, Jim Morrison. Recorded in 1966 at Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, California, it was produced by Paul A. Rothchild, and has not only ended up in the Grammy Hall Of Fame, but also included in the National Recording Registry by the Library Of Congress based on its cultural, artistic and historical significance.

So, yes, it’s a big deal.

In fact, this is one of the great albums of the 1960’s. Although it was primarily only a hit in America, it is now a globally recognised classic. Jim Morrison has become a cult legend since his death in Paris in 1971, immortalising the music of The Doors further – particularly heavyweights off this album, such as the doom-laden The End, which seemed to foreshadow his untimely demise. Complete with Oedipal speaking section from a deranged sounding Morrison, and built upon a hypnotic guitar riff, it is both bewitching and disturbing. Of course, throw a bit of death and martyrdom into the mix and music often becomes sacred. Maybe that’s because we know, as fans, that the chapter is forever closed? Or maybe it’s because martyrdom is duly justified? It’s contentious, but it doesn’t alter the facts. The Doors, despite its success and wide-reaching appeal, is a cult masterpiece.

This magical debut record is special for many reasons. None more so, of course, than the spiralling fable that is Light My Fire. The extraordinary performance by Ray Manzarek on the Vox organ is the feature of this pioneering, somewhat unhinged temptation…I mean, you wouldn’t want your little sister sneaking off to light Morrison’s fire, would you? It swirls and leaps like a blue flame through a vortex of psychedelic sounds for over seven minutes.

Break On Through (To The Other Side) – the album’s thumping opening track – was the first single release by The Doors, and became one of their staple songs. It was controversial because of its drug references (“She gets high!“), but demonstrated Morrison’s instinctive ability to devise poetic lyrics. After all, Jim Morrison was a poet, and true rock’n’roll isn’t complete without that dangerous edge.

Back Door Man, a stomping cover of Willie Dixon’s original, is delivered with all the sexual deviancy and angst that Morrison can muster. He delivers these tracks like sermons from the shadows, face in the dark, crotch in the spotlight. Soul Kitchen – my personal favourite on the album – is a surging, kaleidoscopic anthem that carries the fire from Break On Through. There’s something about going “Stumblin’ in the neon groves” that fills the mind with possibilities. John Densmore, the hippy on the drums, keeps a spectacularly metronomic beat.

Twentieth Century Fox is a stoner’s ode to a gorgeous girl, Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) the other riveting cover (interestingly enough co-written by Bertold Brecht) – yet another song loaded with danger and controversy, and End Of The Night a dreamy, hazy interlude. There’s a no-bullshit philosophy that permeates this record, and Morrison seems to thrive on revolt, disorder, chaos, and stirring his band into a sanitarium worthy frenzy. Had Manzarek not looked so much like a school teacher, and Kreiger a smacked-up high-school drop out, The Doors might have looked really menacing.

The Crystal Ship is a fantastic, progressive ballad with one of Morrison’s finest lyrics – so mature for a man so young. I Looked At You is a nihilistic boogie, and Take It As It Comes a decadent, mysterious but melodious belter – as intoxicating as anything Hendrix had to offer with the savageness and threat of Iggy Pop thrown in. Does that sound intriguing enough?

The Doors is an almost faultless collection of tunes. I became so heavily consumed by them in my late teens that I bought all their albums in short succession, and even made several homages to Jim Morrison’s grave site in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Their influence on my life has been phenomenal; Jim Morrison’s lyrics and posthumous collections of poetry have been huge inspirations for my own writing, and the amazing music created by Ray Manzarek, Robby Kreiger and John Densmore a soundtrack to my younger years.

If there’s one word I could use to sum this album up, it would be this: revolution.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

Top track trio:

Soul Kitchen

Light My Fire

The End


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 14

Gomez – Bring It On (1998)

I was visiting a mate who I was playing in a band with at the time, and he lived right by a huge Tesco store that had very recently become Southport’s first 24-hour supermarket. I was sixteen years old, and my musical interest was sparked. We decided to walk down there late one night and check out the records – it was only a short wander through a few back lanes and alleys, through a derelict carpark and then into the lights. Those were the days when supermarkets were like record shops – and I had this strange compulsion to buy this unusual looking album on the shelf. Something about the artwork seemed to swallow me whole. I just knew, somehow, from the artwork, that I would like the music. Gut instinct is a curious thing, isn’t it?

The album was Bring It On by Gomez, and I had no idea at the time how odd this compulsion would turn out to be. Buying it purely on instinct, I had no idea that I was paying for a record from a band hailing from my own home town, Southport, and I had no idea that the guys in Gomez had attended the same college where I was studying at the time. I had even less idea that this would become one of my favourite records ever. Sometimes you’ve just got to trust those instinctive feelings and ride with them.

The strength of this brilliant debut can be measured by the fact that it won the 1998 Mercury Music Prize for Album Of The Year, beating off contenders such as Urban Hymns by The Verve and Mezzanine by Massive Attack. I mean, it beat Urban Hymns. Holy shit! That’s massive.

Spin Magazine called Bring It On it “a damn beautiful album,” and it went Platinum in the U.K almost immediately. It was a time where indie bands had crept from the shadows of the stage into the full glare of the spotlight. Britpop had raged, and a new musical assault was forming. It was beyond indie – a fusion of vintage with futuristic. Gomez were in the right place, at the right time, with the right record.

Gomez combine a very clever, steaming cauldron of American Blues, Jazz, Grass-Roots, R&B and warm, harmonious melodies on Bring It On. It’s endlessly inventive, with its paeans to local weed dealers, trippy marshmellow-stepping horns, rollocking studenty drinking ballads and accidental jams-turned epiphanies. I saw the boys back in 1999 at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre, where, funnily enough, Gomez were supported by a little known band called Coldplay. It was a great gig that demonstrated the depth of this unique line-up of musicians – and it only cost a tenner! Just imagine…

Bring It On begins with the russet tones of Get Miles, a captivating progression through colourful Americana tones. Whippin’ Piccadilly is a jaunty and truly British tune, which, whilst appealing to a slightly more commercial faction, also shows the songwriting diversity within the group. Make No Sound is folksy and brilliantly minimalist, 78 Stone Wobble a febrile two-step with a killer hook, and Tijuana Lady, the immense album highlight, a shambling, psychy epic. That’s a song with an afterlife, that one.

Other highlights on a warm and somewhat fuzzy record include the fascinating Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone, the clumsy but endearing Bubble Gum Years, and the groovy, driving Rock-release of Get Myself Arrested. Here Comes The Breeze is a kind of back-country sonic Blues that provides a perfect platform for Ben Ottewell’s rusty, prematurely smoked vocal, Free To Run a Country soaked ramble, and Rie’s Wagon something straight off an indie-bleached, mysterious Spaghetti Western.

Gomez are a cult band. They’ve never attacked the charts or become famed personalities. In fact, they could all walk down the street unnoticed, which is remarkable when considering their achievements. Their legacy is in their sound; a whimsical, often strange, a little gauche but always compelling melting pot of beguiling influences.

You don’t win The Mercury Music Award without something special going down. Michael Kiwanuka won it in 2020, and if you follow my blog you’ll already know what I think of him. You don’t make a record like Bring It On without being inspired.

Check it out.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

Top track trio:

Get Miles

Tijuana Lady

Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 13

The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

Lou Reed has never quite settled well with me. I’ve got to be blatantly honest. When he was alive I just didn’t get him. Yes, ok, Walk On The Wild Side is a great track, as is Perfect Day. I was certainly roused by Coney Island Baby. However, I found the man incredibly pretentious and unnecessarily volatile. At times it was like he was out to rile his own fans, even. His gross unpredictability during his life, in my eyes, was all too often mistaken as interesting.

I mean, I guess I’m just going the long way round – the guy was a bit of a twat.

The one record, however, that Lou Reed was instrumental on that really gripped me was The Velvet Underground & Nico. It was the first record Reed was involved making, along with John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker, and Nico. And it has become a staple cult classic album – especially since this art-house, experimental trip through drug abuse, prostitution, sadomasochism and sexual deviancy was so heavily associated with artist, Andy Warhol. Hence the album cover.

It’s very strange, of course, how the music industry pulls its punches. It’s not strange that the major critics are usually failed musicians themselves. Upon release, this album was a flop. A commercial and financial failure that was largely ignored. Controversies surrounding the thematic content of the record led to the record being banned from record stores and radio airplay alike. But there’s no such publicity like bad publicity, is there?

Over forty years later The Velvet Underground & Nico is one of the most revered and critically acclaimed records on the planet, reaching #13 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’. It was also added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2006 to commemorate its cultural impact. In other words, the fortune of this unique masterpiece turned on its head tenfold. In fact, it’s considered so profoundly influential that, without it, Punk Rock, Glam Rock, and Kraut Rock may never have happened.

The Velvet’s blurring of Pop music sensibilities with avant-garde, edgy, often disturbing subject matter and eerie instrumentation inspired the likes of David Bowie, Roxy Music, Nirvana, REM and The Stooges, to name but a few. Would there have been Ziggy without the Velvets, for example? Bowie would have been a brave man.

Heroin, one of the most remarkably manic cuts of avant-garde experimental bluster you’re ever likely to hear, is a definite highlight on an unpredictable record. The 60’s inspired There She Goes steals from Dylan’s jagged sincerity, but also nods to the classic R&B sound of The Yardbirds and The Troggs. I’ll Be Your Mirror, sang by the strikingly idiosyncratic Nico, echoes something distinctly Mama’s and Papa’s – just a little darker. The Black Angel’s Death Song is a rather deranged, frenetic experiment akin to something on Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and European Son a funky groove that takes the album spiralling off somewhere else entirely. There’s just enough maudlin, just enough experiment in equal measure.

Sunday Morning is an airy, spacious pop ballad, yet still with those semi-sinister undertones that epitomise the record. I’m Waiting For The Man, a garage-rock satire on prostitution, is delivered with typical (somewhat tuneless) Lou Reed detachment. And yet, it works! I try hard not to like him, but on this record it’s just impossible.

Femme Fatale is a sparse opiate; a recording depicting a tragic story. Nico’s mysterious accent underpins the song with subtle power, before the seriously hot-blooded Venus In Furs scuffles through its mournful, lachrymose lament. Run Run Run is bluesy – a nod to The Doors in their Roadhouse-era glory, and All Tomorrow’s Parties a feverish rumbling anchored by a repetitive piano hook. A very unique listening experience.

It’s all rather bewitching to say the least, and evidence that these guys either had fabulous imaginations or a penchant for severe over-indulgence. Either way, it’s a highly original album. Producer and musician extraordinaire, Brian Eno, famously said that despite very few people buying The Velvet Underground & Nico upon its release in 1967, those that did went on to form famous bands of their own. It really was that influential.

Andy Warhol, who was credited with producing the album, and paid for the studio time to record the album, was clearly influential. That whole ‘Factory’ scene, and Warhols futuristic approach to life and art, permeated The Velvet Underground & Nico. It was a scene so unique – so one-off – that this fascinating musical project will be forever shrouded in mystique and legend. 

The Velvet Underground & Nico is a piece of art in itself, not just a record. A remarkable, revolutionary piece of work.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Cornell University – Division of Rare Manuscript Collections

Top track trio:

I’m Waiting For The Man

Heroin

The Black Angel’s Death Song


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 10

Cooza – Our Day (2020)

Isn’t it fascinating how alternative genres of music emerge from standard genres we already know?

Cooza is a masked alt-folk musician from the west side of Liverpool’s River mersey who describes his music as freak folk. Freak folk. I love it, and I totally get it. It shouldn’t fit in. It shouldn’t really appeal, because ‘freak’ lives on the outside, right? The extremities? The borderlands of acceptability and beyond? Yes and no. I mean, who knows anymore? I feel that freak is chic in the roaring 2020’s. And Our Day is definitely chic.

In a world where artists are up against it if they want to make a living from the music industry, more and more independent projects are emerging. You see, when you write, record, master and self-produce your own music, you don’t have to deal with record executives, the unfortunate business of record labels, rip-off merchants and con-artists. You don’t have to have your image crafted to what they prefer. You don’t have to guide your art towards sales and the grip of the commercial jaw. You can do whatever you want, however you want, and use the multiple platforms afforded us in the technological age to reach an audience.

Now, I’m a record man. I like to buy a vinyl or CD copy. Cooza’s Our Day is currently still only available on streaming platforms, but I’m working on it. I’d love nothing more than this album on my vinyl shelf tucked neatly between Joni Mitchell and The Beatles. Hint Hint.

Cooza’s contemporary tones draw inspiration from the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Adrianne Lenker, Bon Iver, Big Thief, Ben Howard and Flatsound, and his poetic lyricism derives from an attraction and preoccupation with the natural world. Other slightly more melancholy soaked themes explore the complexities of love, and the struggle to comprehend post-millenial relations. It’s no coincidence that this talented young songwriter is a Joni Mitchell and later-career Kate Bush fan. The aching and mystery is all there.

The highlights include hypnotic single Wooden Frame, in which the combination of guitar loops and delicately layered vocals bleed beautifully all over the audio waves. You Look Good In It could have been written by David Crosby in 1969 – an absolutely sublime, gentle anaesthetic. I adore the background noises, and the vocals that sound like they’re coming from another room. It’s as indie as it gets.

The fascinating Love Love (Interlude) has Dr John’s Gris Gris stamped all over it, Be My Man a spacious, ethereal lament, and Gentle Into The Good Night (Interlude) such a brain-worm mind-fuck that it could rest perfectly adeptly in a Boris Karloff film.

Henrio, a Spanish master of melody and fellow Liverpool based musician, joins Cooza for Hores De Capvespre in what becomes a lyrically intense, roomy declaration, and quite frankly, I could lie back in a field, eyes closed, and listen to Cut My Hair for just about forever. The album concludes with I Can See New Zealand From Here – not just a concept that raises a smile, but a simply gorgeous, scattered refrain.

When asked about the concept behind Our Day, Cooza had this to say:

“…the whole album is a series of snapshots from a relationship told through the narrative timeframe of a day- starting with waking from a dream full of questions, and ending on going to sleep and falling into a new dream that promises more freedom. ‘Our Day’ is about how you can claim a whole day as your own, forgetting the world exists when you’re with someone you love. It’s about trying to keep the feelings of love from that day alive for however long…” (courtesy of: http://www.gigsoupmusic.com)

And so here is a melting pot of extensive and diverse influences – Cooza is clearly a muso who listens with more than just two ears. The melodies that he crafts are an intriguing mix of melancholy & sunrise & soothing & aching & longing & surprise & grief & hope & green meadows & lemon trees & soul. His voice is unique, and his guitar playing so sparse that it makes the spaces in between do all the work. It’s brilliant.

I love nothing more than to discover a local artist whose music touches me. And it’s no wonder this record has already amassed more than 200,000 Spotify streams.

Listen to the album here: https://open.spotify.com/album/5EpS9xRiHoo93AsV1Y6ShI

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

© Joel Saunders

Top track trio:

You Look Good In It

Wooden Frame

I Can See New Zealand From Here


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 8

Tim Buckley – Greetings From L.A (1972)

Tim Buckley was a quiet but compelling force in music.

If spawning the great Jeff Buckley wasn’t proof enough, Tim left nine stimulating studio albums to document his tragically short career. He died at the age of just 28 from a lethal drink and drugs cocktail following the completion of a tour. Yet another immense talent gone painfully young. Of course his equally talented and estranged son, Jeff, would be dead at 30. A Buckley curse….but, boy, did they both leave us with epic music.

I find Tim Buckley’s music fascinating. He explored so many genres and avenues throughout his brief career – enough to have satisfied a man three times his age. Experimentation with Folk, Jazz, Psychedelia, Soul and avant-garde Rock permeate his music, but it was his ‘Sex-Funk’ period, post 1972 – including this fantastic album Greetings From L.A – that has captured my imagination most. This is an album for the ages, that’s for sure, and Buckley is a voice like no other. Unique belongs in the dictionary next to him.

Greetings From L.A begins with the groovy boogie Move With Me, in which an atmospheric mixture of slick backing vocals, funky guitar, driving piano, and Tim’s own commanding vocal phrasing creates a thumping introduction to this, his seventh studio album in just six years. Get On Top is a sexual Soul-Funk serenade demonstrating Buckley’s extraordinary intone capabilities, soaring into glorious falsetto with ease. It certainly shows why Jeff ended up with similar superhuman octave capabilities.

Sweet Surrender is a steaming psychedelic ballad with a fantastic, original arrangement by producer Jerry Goldstein. It once again showcases Buckley’s unbelievable ability to blast-off vocally. Night Hawkin’ is an exercise in stylish guitar playing from Lee Underwood, and once again a compelling production from Goldstein. That’s a real feature of this record – the production is just ace.

Devil Eyes is a bluesy shuffle driven by Kevin Kelly’s Winwood-esque organ, leading into the sexy and mysterious Hong Kong Bar. The record closes with Make It Right, a brilliant Mediterranean-soaked brain-feed with yet another extraterrestrial vocal. Tim Buckley did things with his voice that others wouldn’t think of if they lived a thousand years. Jeff did it too, later in contemporary music history. Two peas in an estranged pod.

Ironically enough, Greetings From L.A was one of a trio of albums (including Sefronia and Look At The Fool) that flopped commercially. Buckley’s venture into the rather edgy, tawdry Sex-Funk genre was said to have alienated his largely hippy audience because it was deemed as ‘selling out’. Its sexual lyrical content prevented the material from getting on the radio, and it has been said since the musician’s death that he himself disliked the album, and that it was released mainly for financial needs.

I guess this is the beauty of music; almost fifty years after the initial release of Greetings From L.A, I cannot get it off my stereo. Different people realise different qualities in all art forms, and whether it is true that Tim Buckley himself didn’t rate this album or not, it communicates with me, and many others, deeply.

Greetings From L.A is my favourite Tim Buckley record, and one that stands as a testament to this terrific artist’s willingness to go where others wouldn’t dare.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Henry Diltz

Top track trio:

Move With Me

Get On Top

Sweet Surrender


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 7

David Crosby – Here If You Listen (2018)

As brutal as this opening statement may seem, David Crosby shouldn’t even be alive, let alone making records.

The man has peaked on the hedonistic charts, done jail time for drug offences, driven himself to the edge of death and sanity as a bad junkie….all whilst watching his contemporaries drop all around him for nigh-on 60 years. At just six months from the unlikeliest of 80th birthdays, Crosby has serious cardiac issues, diabetes, has battled Hepatitis C, and is also the recipient of a liver transplant. He is literally a walking miracle.

Wow, heavy.

And yet, in the face of extreme (and often self-inflicted) adversity, the man has made four of the finest records of his career, deep into his seventies. At the age of 73 the resurgence began with 2014’s Croz, closely followed by Lighthouse in 2016 and Sky Trails in 2017. At the grand old rock’n’roll age of 77, in a continuing flourish of creativity, Here If You Listen arrived in 2018 – three in three, so to speak – a feat rarely accomplished these days unless you are Van Morrison or Neil Young (without quality control). And David Crosby’s output has been staggeringly good. Remarkable really.

I’m always fascinated by the old guard and what they have left in the tank. By what they have left to say. Crosby’s voice is still strong, his guitar playing still sophisticated, and his extraterrestrial ear for a weird melody still very much alive. He’s an intriguing artist, to say the least. He never takes a song where it really aught to go, which is the key ingredient that preserves his powers on Here If You Listen. And it’s very much a collaborative record. Seven of the eleven tracks on the record were written by the ‘Lighthouse Band’ – producer Michael League, along with Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, and of course, Croz. Woodstock is a phenomenal cover of the Joni Mitchell classic, Your Own Ride was written by the four plus Snarky Puppy keys player, Bill Laurance, and I Am No Artist is a Jane Tyson Clement & Becca Stevens composition.

The harmonies on this record are lush, the arrangements shimmering, and the lyrics worthy of Crosby’s CSN work. It’s also interesting that Crosby takes side steps on lead vocals too; he’s not renowned for his modesty, but he clearly values these young musicians that have helped breathe new life into his career.

1974 has clearly been revived from Crosby’s early solo career meddling. In fact, it wouldn’t have been out of place on his seminal 1971 solo debut album, If Only I Could Remember My Name. Complete departure is provided by Janet – a song that could easily be found on an Alicia Keys record, and Buddha On A Hill is just sublime. Up there as one of the best records Crosby has been involved in for years.

There’s little else more satisfying than one of the old guard popping up with a classic late career album. Bowie did it before he departed, so did Leonard Cohen (on several occasions), Macca has recently released the brilliant McCartney III aged 78, and Dylan surprised us all with his rousing Rough & Rowdy Ways earlier this year, into his own 79th year. Crosby isn’t just a part of this late-career stampede. The sheer surge in which his recording career has revived would suggest he’s leading it.

Here If You Listen is certainly a profound statement. We listened David. Boy, did we listen. And we still know you’re here.

If it’s his last, it’s a fine way to wrap things up. If it’s not, then it’s a surefire way of saying I ain’t done yet.

© Anna Webber

Top track trio:

1974

Buddha On A Hill

Woodstock


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 6

Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)

Disraeli Gears reads like a Cream Greatest Hits – except it’s better!

Eric Clapton has been involved in some amazing projects over the last fifty plus years, but this one (bar maybe his solo Unplugged album) is the defining moment of his career. It charted Cream’s super powers; their progression into a psychedelic avenue of swirling, kaleidoscopic rock music in a burgeoning scene that boasted the likes of Hendrix, Sgt Pepper era Beatles, Steppenwolf, The Doors, Iron Butterfly and Spirit.

Disraeli Gears spawned two all-time classic rock singles – Strange Brew and Sunshine Of Your Love – both Clapton masterpieces that have never faded in terms of popularity and influence. Strange Brew, the album’s opening track, is a radical groove built upon Jack Bruce’s pioneering frontline bass. Clapton’s guitar work is, quite simply, very special. Dreamy, ambiguous lyrics are the norm on this record – and it’s not rocket science working out why. Clapton, whose drug problems nearly killed him, was literally traversing other dimensions. Ginger Baker probably lived fifty years longer than expected. Jack Bruce’s struggles were well documented.

Sunshine Of Your Love is the soundtrack to a jilted generation. A genius riff ably supported by stunning drum sequences from Ginger Baker, and mesmerising duel vocals by Bruce and Clapton. World Of Pain is psychedelia personified; a stoned reflection of one’s view from a window: “Outside my window is a tree / They’re only forming / And it stands in the grey of the city / No time for pity for the tree or me.” Clapton’s Beach Boys wah wobble lifts the song sky high. It’s an album that makes you wonder about the capabilities of the imagination.

Dance The Night Away boasts a fantastic vocal from Jack Bruce – testament to his great talent as a co-frontman. Tales Of Brave Ulysses is an surging, ethereal number featuring a mesmeric spoken vocal from Bruce, whereas Blue Condition is a total change in direction; Ginger Baker singing in his monotone Cockney drawl to a light hearted melody, echoing the Small Faces Ogden’s Nutgone Flake era. For a man who came across as warm as an iceberg in everyday life, Baker’s voice is rather endearing.

Swlabr features more stunning guitar playing from Clapton, whose natural ability to follow the song with just enough of everything and never too much of anything, has remained nothing short of genius. We’re Going Wrong is a powerful ballad in which Baker takes flight with his fearless drumming, and Outside Woman Blues, one of Clapton’s finest and most underrated arrangements. It’s a thumping, infectious fast-Blues with a profound ability to draw you towards the repeat button.

The album takes another diversion with Take It Back – a rolling and tumbling, harmonica driven number with a melody reminiscent of late Beatles material. The album’s closing track, Mother’s Lament, is another comic-cockney ditty led by Baker – an odd ending to a storming Rock record, but charming all the same.

Cream reformed in 2005 to play five sell-out nights at The Royal Albert Hall, London, for one last time. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce did not look like well men. Clapton, rather ironically considering his terrible vices in the 60’s and 70’s, looked in great health. Bruce and Baker are now gone – Bruce in 2014 of liver disease, and Baker in 2019 having reached the milestone of 80. It’s Clapton’s turn to look frail now, though at 75 he’s still on the live scene, albeit much less frequently. He’s the last man standing from this pioneering power-trio.

Cream as a cohesive unit were absolutely untouchable – and the reunion of 2005 a marvellous event which will live long in the memory. Much of Disraeli Gears was returned to during this farewell residency, and why not. It’s a seminal album from a unique and trailblazing period in music history.

Music like this should never fade into obscurity – and believe me, it wont.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Top track trio:

Strange Brew

Sunshine Of Your Love

Outside Woman Blues