lunes, 29 de agosto de 2016

Prefab Sprout


One of the most beloved British pop bands of the '80s and '90s, Prefab Sprout have had a minimum of chart success in the United States, where they're all but unknown outside of their devoted cult following, but singer/songwriter Paddy McAloon is regularly hailed as one of the great songwriters of his era. Critics regularly compare McAloon favorably to Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, and even Cole Porter, but the self-effacing and publicity-shy performer modestly prefers to let his increasingly rare albums speak for themselves. 

Prefab Sprout were formed in Newcastle, England, in 1977 by McAloon (who sings and plays guitar and piano) and his bass-playing younger brother, Martin. In the group's early days, McAloon spun several fanciful tales about the origin of their odd name (one favorite was that the young McAloon had misheard the line "hotter than a pepper sprout" in Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood's "Jackson"), but the prosaic truth is that an adolescent McAloon had devised the meaningless name in homage to the longwinded and equally silly band names of his late-'60s/early-'70s youth. With an early fan, Wendy Smith, drafted into the lineup to sing helium-register backing vocals, the trio released its first single, "Lions in My Own Garden (Exit Someone)," on its own Candle label in July 1982. Written for a girlfriend who had left Newcastle to study in Limoges, France (check the acronym of the title), the song was exceedingly clever but obviously heartfelt. The single's warm reception, including many plays on John Peel's radio show, led to the Sprout's signing to CBS subsidiary Kitchenware Records, which reissued the single in April 1983. Another single, "The Devil Has All the Best Tunes," followed later that year. 


Prefab Sprout's first album, 'Swoon', was released in March 1984. Containing neither of the first two singles (but leading off with the delightful "Don't Sing," their third), 'Swoon' is in retrospect a surprisingly brittle record, full of difficult songs that take unexpected left turns and have all but impenetrable lyrics. That said, there are more ideas per bar in 'Swoon' than in any chart record released in 1984, and the songs' charms reveal themselves after a few listens. Shortly after 'Swoon''s release, drummer Neil Conti joined the group, and in a rather brilliant move, Thomas Dolby was tapped to produce the second Prefab Sprout album, 1985's 'Steve McQueen' (retitled 'Two Wheels Good' in the U.S. due to litigation from the late actor's estate). Dolby smoothes out the kinks a bit, and his keyboards help enrich the album's sound; it also helps that the songs are much better, lyrically opaque but not impenetrable and melodically satisfying. Prefab Sprout returned to the studio without Dolby in the summer of 1985 and quickly recorded an album's worth of material that was initially meant to be released in a limited edition as a tour souvenir. However, several months after 'Steve McQueen' was released, its song "When Love Breaks Down" (which had been released as a single four different times in the U.K. without chart success) finally became a hit, and CBS feared a new album would hurt its predecessor's sales, so the project was shelved. 

The "proper" follow-up to 'Steve McQueen' was 1988's 'From Langley Park to Memphis'. Although it was their biggest hit, thanks to the massive U.K. chart success of "The King of Rock and Roll" (about a one-hit wonder stuck performing his silly novelty song on the nostalgia circuit forever; ironically, it was Prefab Sprout's sole U.K. Top Ten hit and remains their best-known song) and the U.S. college radio success of the genial Bruce Springsteen parody "Cars and Girls," many Prefab Sprout fans consider this the group's weakest album due to the too-slick production and a few subpar tunes. Following that chart action, CBS dusted off the shelved acoustic project from 1985 and released it (in the U.K. only) under the title 'Protest Songs' in June 1989. Issued in 1990, 'Jordan: The Comeback', which McAloon describes as a concept album about Jesse James and Elvis Presley, was released to enormous critical acclaim in late 1990, but unfortunately, its ornate, lush production and suite-like structure doomed it to commercial failure in the U.S., though it was another big hit in the U.K. A fine but unimaginative best-of, 'A Life of Surprises', met similar respective fates in the summer of 1992. 


Many thought Prefab Sprout disbanded at that point, and indeed, Conti did leave the band at some point in the '90s. However, McAloon had written (and in some cases, recorded) several albums' worth of material during the first half of the decade, abandoning them all before finally releasing the crystalline 'Andromeda Heights' in 1997. The album wasn't even released in the U.S., but it was another deserved U.K. hit. An album of subtle beauty, 'Andromeda Heights' shows how far McAloon had come as a songwriter and singer since 'Swoon'. 

A much-improved two-disc anthology, 'The 38 Carat Collection', was released by CBS in 1999 as the group was leaving the label. (Unexpectedly, the group's U.S. label, Epic, belatedly reissued this set as 'The Collection' in early 2001.) Smith left the group during this period, after the birth of her first child. Prefab Sprout, by this point consisting solely of the McAloon brothers, signed to EMI in late 2000 and delivered their Western-themed concept album, 'The Gunman and Other Stories', in early 2001. Unfortunately, the album's release was delayed several months when Paddy McAloon was diagnosed with a medical disorder rendering him partially blind. After an eight-year layoff, McAloon returned to recording as Prefab Sprout and released the self-produced, performed, and recorded 'Let's Change the World with Music'. This set's songs and concept date to 1992 and were originally to be recorded as the follow-up album to 'Jordan: The Comeback'; for various reasons, those sessions never happened. It was initially issued by Ministry of Sound and later in the year licensed by Sony/BMG in the U.K. In 2010, the independent Tompkins Square imprint issued the album in the United States. Both the album 'Crimson/Red' and its lead single, "The Best Jewel Thief in the World," landed on the Icebreaker label in 2013. [SOURCE: ALLMUSIC

domingo, 28 de agosto de 2016

Modern English


The summery hooks and warm lyrics of Modern English's biggest hit, "I Melt with You," gave listeners the impression that the band was an upbeat pop act in the early '80s. "I Melt with You" was actually an anomaly in Modern English's early discography. Formed in Colchester, England, in 1979, Modern English was originally a punk group called The Lepers. Featuring Robbie Grey (vocals, guitar), Gary McDowell (guitar), and Richard Brown (drums), The Lepers mainly performed at parties. After Mick Conroy (bass) and Stephen Walker (keyboards) joined the band, they changed their name to Modern English and were signed to 4AD Records. Inspired by the stylish gloom of Bauhaus and Joy Division, Modern English released the singles "Swans on Glass" and "Gathering Dust" before recording their 1981 debut LP 'Mesh & Lace'. Boiling with raw anger, dissonant rhythms, and weird noises, 'Mesh & Lace' confused some U.K. critics while mesmerizing others. A year later, the group streamlined their sound, dropping much of 'Mesh & Lace''s gothic experimentation on 'After the Snow'. "I Melt with You" was included on the "Valley Girl" soundtrack, and its video became an MTV staple. Although "I Melt with You" didn't reach the Top 40 charts in America, 'After the Snow' sold more than 500,000 copies. However, the band's next album, 1984's 'Ricochet Days', was a flop. 

Pressured by their U.S. label Sire Records to release another hit and exhausted from touring, Modern English began falling apart; Walker and Brown were fired from the group. Grey continued recording with different Modern English lineups releasing the albums 'Pillow Lips' in 1990 and 'Everything Is Mad' in 1996. Also in the early '90s, "I Melt with You" was played in a successful Burger King ad. In 2010, Modern English returned with the full-length studio effort 'Soundtrack' featuring production from 'After the Snow' producer Hugh Jones. [SOURCE: ALLMUSIC

viernes, 26 de agosto de 2016

The KLF


More than any pop band in history, The KLF ripped off the music industry for a bucketful of loot and got away with it -as illustrated in their own guidebook to creating number one singles, "The Manual". Bill Drummond and Jimi Cauty applied the tactics of punk shock-terrorism to late-'80s acid house and became one of Britain's best-selling artists (recording also as The JAMS and The Timelords) just before their retirement in 1992. The duo then deleted their entire back catalog -a potential loss in the millions of pounds- and declared they wouldn't release another record until peace was declared throughout the world. 

The son of a Scottish preacher, Bill Drummond (b. April 29, 1953; South Africa) ran away from home to become a fisherman before enrolling in a Liverpool art school in the late '70s. He became involved in Liverpool's punk scene, and in 1977 formed the short-lived punk band Big in Japan with Holly Johnson (later of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) and Ian Broudie (The Lightning Seeds). A year later, Drummond co-founded the Zoo label (with Dave Balfe), serving as manager and producer for The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & the Bunnymen through the early '80s. After both bands left Zoo for the majors, Drummond followed by joining WEA as an A&R man; there, he signed Strawberry Switchblade, Zodiac Mindwarp, The Proclaimers, and Brilliant. He quit the business in 1986, though, and released the solo album 'The Man' one year later for Creation Records. The album was a satiric goodbye to music, voicing Drummond's hope that he would never be involved in the industry again. 


With his retirement only six months old, Drummond decided to make a hip-hop record. He called an old friend, Brilliant's Jimi Cauty (b. 1954), to help with production and technology. A week later, the duo -christened The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, or The JAMS for short- recorded the sample-heavy pastiche "All You Need Is Love." The single, released that May, was followed a month later by The JAMS' debut album '1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?)', which continued the sonic piracy with long passages lifted from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and ABBA. As a matter of course, ABBA objected to the sampling, and in September the Copyright Protection Society demanded that all copies be recalled and destroyed. Instead, Drummond and Cauty traveled to Sweden, hoping that a personal meeting with ABBA would resolve the situation. Locked out of the group's Stockholm studio, the pair decided to return to England, stopping only to burn 500 copies of 1987 in a Swedish field. (The incident was photographed and serves as the cover for the best-of album 'History of the JAMS'.) Cauty and Drummond kept the album in the spotlight though, by advertising in The Face magazine five remaining copies for sale at the price of £1000 each. They eventually sold three, gave one away, and kept the last. In October 1987, The JAMS released an edited version of the album called '1987 (The JAMS 45 Edits)', with specific instructions on how to recreate the original '1987' at home. 

A second album, 'Who Killed the JAMS?', appeared early in 1988, but it was superseded by the May release of "Doctorin' the Tardis" (recorded as The Timelords). Incorporating samples from Gary Glitter, Sweet, and the theme to "Dr. Who", the single hit number one in the British charts and eventually became one of the most popular sports anthems of all time. Within six months, "Doctorin' the Tardis" was collected on two JAMS compilations, the 'American History of the JAMS a.k.a. The Timelords', and the British double-LP 'Circa 1987: Shag Times'. Six months later, Cauty and Drummond compiled their knowledge of popular success and the music industry, publishing "The Manual" with a statement of purpose included in the subtitle: "How to have a number one the easy way -The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu reveal their zenarchistic method used in making the unthinkable happen." 


Cauty and Drummond's second novelty single, "Kylie Said to Jason" (credited to The KLF, or Kopyright Liberation Front), proved a flop in July 1989, so the pair changed directions later that year. Jettisoning the beats of their previous work but retaining the samples and effects, the duo played a major part in the development of the '90s boom in ambient music. Cauty and Drummond recorded the classic 'Chill Out' album in late 1989, mixing source material from two DAT machines onto a cassette recorder during a live session. Concurrent to the 'Chill Out' project, Cauty had actually formed another ambient house forerunner, The Orb, with Dr. Alex Paterson. The duo recorded "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld" in addition to material for an album, but split early in 1990 -with Paterson taking the name for his future recordings. Cauty then deleted Paterson's contributions, re-recorded large portions, and released the results credited only as Space.

Obviously, The KLF's ambient recordings weren't going to top the charts, so later in 1990 Cauty and Drummond moved back to acid house and earned the greatest success of their career. The single "What Time Is Love?" -the first volume in what became known as "The Stadium House Trilogy"- hit number five on the U.K. singles charts in August 1990. "3 A.M. Eternal" took over the number one spot in January 1991, and 'The White Room' LP topped the album charts upon its release in March. The final single in the trilogy, "Last Train to Trancentral," also made Top Ten. The KLF's success carried into Europe during 1991, and even the Americans caught on by September, pushing "3 A.M. Eternal" to number five and 'The White Room' into the Top 40 album charts. The U.S.-only "America: What Time Is Love?" reached number 57 in November 1991, and early in 1992 "Justified and Ancient" -the surprising pairing of The KLF with country queen Tammy Wynette- almost reached the American Top Ten. Cauty and Drummond, the best-selling singles act in the world during 1991, were on the verge of becoming superstars. 


The duo had other plans in mind, though. Voted Best British Group by BPI and the Brit Awards, The KLF were scheduled to perform at a London awards ceremony on February 13, 1992. Cauty and Drummond did show up, but horrified the formal audience with a hardcore thrash version of "3 A.M. Eternal" (performed with the justifiably named Extreme Noise Terror) that also included Drummond spraying the crowd with blanks from an automatic rifle and the post-performance announcement, "The KLF have left the music industry." Topping their already extreme actions, Cauty and Drummond delivered the carcass of a dead sheep -plus eight gallons of blood- to the lobby of the hotel after-party. The industry and press reaction was overwhelmingly negative, but Cauty and Drummond had already made their mint. Promising that no more releases were forthcoming until peace reigned around the world, they officially retired from music on May 5, 1992 -the date commemorated the 15th anniversary of Drummond's emergence in the music industry, with Big in Japan. To convince the public that it wasn't simply a scam to sell more records, Drummond and Cauty deleted the entire back catalog of KLF Communications. 

Though The KLF did return one year later, it was not to release music but to provide a commentary on the art world. First, a series of newspaper adverts commanded the world to "Abandon All Art Now." Cauty and Drummond -thinly veiled as The K Foundation- then announced that they would be awarding a prize of £40,000 to the worst work of art that year. Winner Rachel Whiteread (who had also won England's Turner Prize) refused the award, prompting a ceremony in which the K Foundation vowed to burn the prize money. Whiteread accepted the award just seconds before the bills were torched, and donated the money to charity. 

In August 1994, the artists formerly known as KLF managed to outdo themselves yet again. After physically nailing £1,000,000 to a board -an act which necessitated the largest cash withdrawal in U.K. history- Cauty and Drummond showed the money around England as a work of art entitled "Nailed to the Wall." Then, on the island of Jura, in the presence of one journalist and one cameraman, they burned the entire sum as yet another bizarre commentary on the art world. 

Cauty and Drummond's first recording in almost three years appeared later that year. Though peace didn't rule the world in late 1994, the K Foundation honored the historic peace accord between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat by releasing -only in Israel- an ultra-limited-edition single, a novelty cover song entitled "K Sera Sera," recorded with The Red Army Choir. Drummond and Cauty also recorded a track as the One World Orchestra for the "HELP" charity album in 1995. In late 1997, The KLF finally re-emerged (as 2K) and released the single '***k the Millennium' on Mute. [SOURCE: ALLMUSIC

jueves, 25 de agosto de 2016

Joy Division


Formed in the wake of the punk explosion in England, Joy Division became the first band in the post-punk movement by later emphasizing not anger and energy but mood and expression, pointing ahead to the rise of melancholy alternative music in the '80s. Though the group's raw initial sides fit the bill for any punk band, Joy Division later incorporated synthesizers (taboo in the low-tech world of '70s punk) and more haunting melodies, emphasized by the isolated, tortured lyrics of its lead vocalist, Ian Curtis. While the British punk movement shocked the world during the late '70s, Joy Division's quiet storm of musical restraint and emotive power proved to be just as important to independent music in the 1980s. 

The band was founded in early 1977, soon after The Sex Pistols had made their first appearance in Manchester. Guitarist Bernard Albrecht (b. Bernard Dicken, January 4, 1956) and bassist Peter Hook (b. February 13, 1956) had met while at the show and later formed a band called the Stiff Kittens; after placing an ad through a Manchester record store, they added vocalist Ian Curtis (b. July 15, 1956) and drummer Steve Brotherdale. Renamed Warsaw (from David Bowie's "Warszawa"), the band made its live debut the following May, supporting The Buzzcocks and Penetration at Manchester's Electric Circus. After the recording of several demos, Brotherdale quit the group in August 1977, prompting the hire of Stephen Morris (b. October 28, 1957). A name change to Joy Division in late 1977 -necessitated by the punk band Warsaw Pakt- was inspired by Karol Cetinsky's World War II novel "The House of Dolls". (In the book, the term "joy division" was used as slang for concentration camp units wherein female inmates were forced to prostitute themselves for the enjoyment of Nazi soldiers.) 


Playing frequently in the north country during early 1978, the quartet gained the respect of several influential figures: Rob Gretton, a Manchester club DJ who became the group's manager; Tony Wilson, a TV/print journalist and owner of the Factory Records label; and Derek Branwood, a record executive with RCA Northwest, who recorded sessions in May 1978, for what was planned to be Joy Division's self-titled debut LP. Though several songs bounded with punk energy, the rest of the album showed at an early age the band's later trademarks: Curtis' themes of post-industrial restlessness and emotional despair, Hook's droning bass lines, and the jagged guitar riffs of Albrecht. 

The album should have been hailed as a punk classic, but when a studio engineer added synthesizers to several tracks -believing that the punk movement had to move on and embrace new sounds- Joy Division scrapped the entire LP. (Titled 'Warsaw' for a 1982 bootleg, the album was finally given wide issue ten years later.) The first actual Joy Division release came in June 1978, when the initial mid-1977 demos were released as the EP 'An Ideal for Living', on the band's own Enigma label. Early in 1979, the buzz surrounding Joy Division increased with a session recorded for John Peel's BBC radio show. 


The group began recording with producer Martin Hannett and released 'Unknown Pleasures' on old friend Tony Wilson's Factory label in July 1979. The album enjoyed immense critical acclaim and a long stay on the U.K.'s independent charts. Encouraged by the punk buzz, the American Warner Bros. label offered a large distribution contract that fall. The band ignored it but did record another radio session for John Peel on November 26th. (Both sessions were later collected on the Peel Sessions album.) 

During late 1979, Joy Division's manic live show gained many converts, partly due to rumors of Curtis' ill health. An epilepsy sufferer, he was prone to breakdowns and seizures while on stage -it soon grew difficult to distinguish the fits from his usual on-stage jerkiness and manic behavior. As the live dates continued and the new decade approached, Curtis grew weaker and more prone to seizures. After a short rest over the Christmas holiday, Joy Division embarked on a European tour during January, though several dates were cancelled because of Curtis. The group began recording its second LP after the tour ended (again with Hannett), and released "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in April. The single was again praised but failed to move beyond the independent charts. After one gig in early May, the members of Joy Division were given two weeks of rest before beginning the group's first U.S. tour. Two days before the scheduled flight, however, Curtis was found dead in his home, the victim of a self-inflicted hanging. 


Before Curtis' death, the band had agreed that Joy Division would cease to exist if any member left, for any reason. Ironically though, the summer of 1980 proved to be the blooming of the band's commercial status, when a re-release of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" rose to number 13 on the British singles chart. In August, the release of 'Closer' finally united critics' positivity with glowing sales, as the album peaked at number six. Before the end of the summer, 'Unknown Pleasures' was charting as well. 

By January of the following year, Hook, Morris, and Albrecht (now Bernard Sumner) had formed New Order, with Sumner taking over vocal duties. Also in 1981, the posthumous release of 'Still' -including two sides of rare tracks and two of live songs- rose to number five on the British charts. As New Order's star began to shine during the '80s, the group had trouble escaping the long shadow of Curtis and Joy Division. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" charted for the third time in 1983, and 1988 also proved a big year for the defunct band: the reissued single "Atmosphere" hit number 34 and a double-album compilation entitled 'Substance' reached number seven in the album charts. Seven years later, the 15th anniversary of Curtis' death was memorialized with a new JD compilation ('Permanent: Joy Division 1995'), a tribute album ("A Means to an End"), and a biography of his life ("Touching From a Distance") written by his widow, Deborah Curtis. In 1999, the Factory label began a program of concert-performance reissues -all overseen by the remainder of the original lineup- with 'Preston Warehouse 28 February 1980'. [SOURCE: ALLMUSIC

miércoles, 24 de agosto de 2016

Godflesh


If Black Sabbath were reborn as an industrial rock band, they'd probably sound an awful lot like Godflesh. Therefore, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Godflesh hail from the same hometown as Sabbath, the tough steel-welding town of Birmingham, England. Although a few other members passed through the Godflesh ranks over the years, the band's undisputed leader was guitarist/singer Justin Broadrick, who was present since the group's inception. Broadrick was influenced early on by heavy metal, as well as such experimental groups as Can (and Lou Reed's 1975 noisefest, "Metal Machine Music"). As a result, Broadrick helped form grindcore pioneers Napalm Death at the age of 15. But after the release of their landmark 1987 debut recording, "Scum", Broadrick quickly grew bored with the group's one-dimensional direction, and exited. 

Broadrick's next project, Head of David, still followed in the same harsh grindcore path as his previous band, although he exchanged his guitar for a set of drums. But like Napalm Death, Broadrick quickly grew tired of Head of David; a telltale sign that his days were numbered with the group appeared when his bandmates supposedly took a liking to Whitesnake (!). After a pair of releases (1986's 'LP' and 1988's 'Dustbowl'), he departed Head of David, and sought to form a new group that would be even more musically extreme and experimental. That group would be Godflesh


Teamed up with bassist Ben Green and an Alesis-16 drum machine (which was eventually replaced several years later by an actual human, Ted Parsons), Godflesh unleashed a pair of releases that sounded unlike anything at the time: the 1988 EP 'Godflesh' and 1990's full-length 'Streetcleaner'. These releases may not sound as extreme nowadays, but Godflesh were one of the first bands to merge metal with industrial, helping to pave the way for countless copycat acts. A healthy buzz began to build around the band, especially in the music press, as many thought Godflesh would become the next big thing. More accessible industrial metal bands beat them to the punch, however (Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, etc.), as Godflesh never broke out of "cult" status, despite issuing further EPs and full-lengths (1992's 'Pure', 1994's 'Selfless', 1996's 'Songs of Love and Hate', and 1999's 'Us and Them') throughout the '90s. 

Godflesh's first best-of compilation, 'In All Languages', was issued in 2001, yet the early 21st century saw Godflesh enter a tumultuous period, when Green exited the group shortly after the release of a new studio album, 'Hymns', that same year. Although a replacement bassist was announced (former Killing Joke/Prong member Paul Raven), Broadrick announced Godflesh's dissolution during the spring of 2002. As a final thank-you to longtime fans, Broadrick decided to re-release an expanded edition of Godflesh's ultra-rare 1994 EP, 'Messiah', in 2003. In addition to his work with Godflesh, Broadrick headed two now-defunct record labels (Head Dirt and Lo Fibre); produced other artists; and also found time for a few side projects, such as Final, Techno Animal, and Jesu

In 2009, Broadrick announced that Godflesh would be reuniting to play the 2010 Hellfest in Clisson, France. While details about other shows remained sparse, the band began to appear at other festivals around Europe, appearing at Roadburn in Holland and the Supersonic Festival in England. Rumblings of a new album began to emerge, and in 2013 the band released its first new material in 12 years, a cover of Slaughter's "F.O.D." The following year, Godflesh returned with two releases, an EP, 'Decline & Fall', as well as the band's seventh full-length album, 'A World Lit Only by Fire'. [SOURCE: ALLMUSIC