Friday, 19 May 2017

Euphoria Mourning: Chris Cornell R.I.P.


This one has hit hard. Chris Cornell's music has meant so much to me over the years.


 
 
An old girlfriend introduced me to Soundgarden at a time when big-hair and pink guitars held sway.  They were a reminder that I'd first been drawn to rock by its dark intensity. Crue and Ratt began to look lightweight and disposable in comparison. Nirvana had nothing to do with it: they were just another miserable Indie band; all cardigans and NME hype.

Later, I had Chris Cornell's Euphoria Mourning (or 'Morning' as it was back then) on Minidisc and would hit the park, suitably mood-enhanced, headphones on, sun on my face, and marvel at the beauty of the man's music. Over and over again. Elliott Smith's Either/Or was the only other disc that got a look in.

Euphoria Morning and the Audioslave debut soundtracked the start of my relationship with Mrs Shelf-Stacker. We were never going to agree on Iron Maiden, but Chris Cornell's voice was something else entirely.

Chris Cornell (1964 - 2017)


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Record Stores: OCD or OMG?

I'm deeply suspicious of any place selling used vinyl that might be mistaken for an operating theatre. Pristine and organised is for record collections, not for the places where you acquire those records. What are the chances of stumbling upon an overlooked vinyl gem in a place where the proprietor has fastidiously cross-referenced every record with Discogs, graded it under halogen light and priced it 30% above market value to help pay for the solid oak parquet floor, custom-built racking, Farrow & Ball paint job and customer cappuccino machine? Shopping in one of these emporia is the record collecting equivalent of buying pre-grated cheese from the supermarket: lazy, expensive and unfulfilling. If cheese means so little to you, stick to Spotify. Passion doesn't come vacuum-wrapped.

At the other extreme are the record shops run by hoarders. The places where mummified vermin, pressed flat between stacks of vinyl, act as dividers to organise the stock. The places where the owners swear they know where everything is, but, thank God, they don't. The places where you need a hard hat. A Davy lamp. A tetanus shot. A free day. Places like Archive Records in Addlestone.


Archive Records in Addlestone

The crates of easy listening dross in front of the shop, all of their sleeves sapped of colour by years of exposure to drizzle and sunlight, seem designed to deter, rather than encourage trade. When I first visited, the owner was out front, setting out his customer deterrents. He explained his carefully constructed filing system, at length, before he would let me into the shop. It was very important that I put all items back exactly where I had found them. Exactly where I had found them. Always do, but erm, okay. Record shop owners are a quirky bunch, best just to nod in all the right places and get digging.

A casual observer might think Archive Records' filing system needs fine-tuning.

The Blues and R'n'B section


A rare glimpse of floor

Vinyl canyon

If you're prepared to risk triggering an avalanche, there are some great records to be discovered here. As it turns out, the owner is friendly, saner than his filing system might suggest, and the vinyl prices are fair. Next time though, I'm taking a forklift truck.

Some haul highlights

Monday, 24 April 2017

You Ain't Coming Home With Me! (Part 2)


I guess, if this 1987 LP by the Barron Knights is anything to go by, the Brexit vote wasn't such a shock after all.

It includes the classic ode to Anglo-French relations, Stick To Selling Onions (The Chunnel Song). Stitch me up nurse, my sides are splitting.
 



Monday, 6 March 2017

You Ain't Coming Home With Me! (Part 1)


James Galway, Perry Como, Mrs Mills, Mantovani, Klaus Wunderlich - all the usual, mundane constituents of a dead man's record collection. If a charity shop dig yields no treasure, then I want to see trash that's really, REALLY bad! It needs to make me smile, snort, cringe, squirm, double-take. Anything, but yawn! This one made my nut sack pucker. And not in a good way...


Monday, 13 February 2017

Shelf-Stacker Gets Mathematical

All things considered I'm very happy with the current Mrs Shelf-Stacker. She looks good, understands that U2 and The Smiths are shit, tolerates my profound fecklessness and, because we're a similar age, shares many of the same cultural references. However, it occured to me recently that there would have been one distinct advantage in having hooked up with a considerably younger model. Namely that, when the moment came for her parents to take stock, downsize, and pass their record collection in my direction, it wouldn't consist solely of light classical fluff and what I believe is referred to as French Chanson. I've worked out a mathematical formula to illustrate this:

Shelf-Stacker + (current wife minus 15 years) = in-laws with Beatles / Hendrix / Stones LPs instead of the kind of crap I've just been lumbered with.

Still, I got a laugh out of this man fingering a pussy... 

 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Black Sabbath - The End



Master of reality-TV, Ozzy Osbourne, and his Sabbath compadres are calling time on touring. Their show at the London O2 Arena on 29th January played out before a crowd intent on rubbernecking the death throes of a lumbering behemoth rather than celebrating its odds-defying longevity. Despite the polite audience reaction, Sabbath turned in a blinding performance. Ozzy's caged animal pacing was noticeable by its absence - perhaps the rigours of touring have finally caught up with him - but his vocals were a revelation, a huge improvement on Sabbath's previous tour. Geezer's playing, as always, was beyond reproach. One day he'll be recognised as being as fundamental to Black Sabbath's sound as riff factory, Tony Iommi. I've always thought that Dirty Women is unfit to breathe the same air as the rest of the band's material, but on this occasion Tony Iommi's beautiful extended guitar solo completely justified its inclusion. Tommy Clufetos' passable impersonation of Bill Ward - visually at least - didn't prevent him from turning in a turgid, toilet-break drum solo. Harsh perhaps, but for me, Bill Ward's playing is integral to the band's sonic DNA. Still, Clufetos is a marked improvement on Vinnie Appice.

Despite the crowd, despite Bill's absence, it was a memorable send-off. Long live Black Sabbath!



Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Random Record Review: Golden Avatar - A Change Of Heart (1976)





The chances are that a charity shop near you has a copy of this album. It'll be lurking somewhere amongst the James Last and Bert Kaempfert LPs. But does it really deserve to be relegated to the same vinyl limbo as some dead guy's record collection? How many times has your eye been caught by the attractive artwork and the medieval-style font before a little voice inside your head has warned you off? Years ago I owned this LP. I have no recollection of ever playing it, nor of any strong feelings about it one way or the other, yet I offloaded it in a vinyl clearout without so much as a backwards glance. The only reason I have a copy now is because a friend performed his own vinyl cull when he moved back to Wales. He went from a shoebox-sized static caravan in a Waltham Abbey trailer park to an airy detached house, but still he couldn't find any room in his life for Golden Avatar. What has this album done to provoke such callous indifference? Is it really that bad?

First, some back-story: Golden Avatar's main man was a New Hampshire-born Hare Krishna devotee, Michael Cassidy, who wanted to use his music to 'promote the values and concepts of Krishna consciousness'. He recorded his album at Golden Avatar studios in Los Angeles, but because his temple owned the studio, the project ended up being hijacked and released under the Golden Avatar name. Despite selling enough copies to go Gold in Canada, as well as shifting a sizeable number of units in the UK, Cassidy failed to make any money. Still, the LP's ubiquity would suggest that he at least succeeded in raising the profile of the Krishna movement. Apparently, during the 1970s, no walk down London's Oxford Street was complete until you'd been accosted by a shaven-headed, saffron robed Krishna disciple offering A Change Of Heart in exchange for a donation. By the time I was an Oxford Street regular in the 80s, vinyl had given way to vegetarian cook books. I'm not sure how history has judged them.




The LP's front cover, illustrated in a style reminiscent of a Victorian children's book (think Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies), is alluring, but not as alluring as the roll-call of instruments detailed on the rear. I'm a sucker for sleeve notes that tease me with vibes, harp and flutes in addition to the usual guitar, bass and drums. Add in a special thanks to, amongst others, Richie Havens, Stevie Wonder and George Harrison, and you have my attention - what a shame then to discover that their contribution is one of inspiration rather than perspiration: you won't hear any of them on the LP. But this aside, does the music contained on the album live up to the promise? Well, yes and no.




World Beyond The Sky begins the album in unremarkable fashion, bringing to mind Year Of The Cat-era Al Stewart. Decent musicianship can't disguise the soft rock blandness of it all. A driving bass motif is the undoubted musical highlight.

A conga and cowbell intro kicks off Questions Questions which soon establishes a mystical Latin ambience. Vibes, strings and brass create a sense of grandeur, whilst another sinewy bass line worms itself into your brain. Tasty soprano saxophone spirals over staccato piano. And phased acoustic guitar escalates the dreamlike quality of a well-constructed track. Definitely up there with the best the album has to offer. But still nothing to warrant the Prog Rock label occasionally applied to the album.

Bhagavad-Gita has its feet in two mutually incompatible camps, failing to convince as either epic Ben-Hur-alike soundtrack (as promised by the massed horns and kettle drum flourishes of the intro), or as acoustic singer-songwriter whimsy. To add to the cut-and-shut feel of the track, the guitar solo, when it appears, sounds bolted on, out of place and too flashy for what little semblance of mood has already been established. Confused, outstays its welcome, and not even an interesting bass line to redeem it.

Seers Of The Truth makes up for the previous track's crimes. Cocktail lounge piano gives way to a hypnotic and meandering conga and bass guitar rhythm. Michael Cassidy's tasteful lead vocal finds itself elevated to another level by male and female backing singers, and an ethereal synthesizer line, muted trumpet, and harp create a chilled, heavenly atmosphere comparable to a vegan Planet Caravan.

You're Not That Body features a nice descending bass riff, a superb trumpet solo, tabla, and massed harmony vocals. Imagine a late 60s West Coast sunshine pop act falling into an unforced funk-lite groove.

The flip-side begins with the title track which, to my ears, is the turd in this particular LP's hot tub. A twee, cheesy nursery rhyme with lyrics about a transforming butterfly. It stoops to the level of musical theatre at one point: all ensemble choruses, harp and saccharine strings. Naff!

After an initial helping of non-descript, pedestrian singer-songwriter fayre, Swetadwip is saved by Crosby Stills and Nash-alike vocal harmonies, some adept guitar, and an almost proggy ambition in its 8 minutes and 15 seconds. It too skirts the edges of musical theatre, but somehow gets away with it. An interesting track.

Oh Govinda is all piano, flutes and syrupy strings in a dull ode to the Hindu deity. The gods deserve better than this.

How often do we hear top-loaded albums that fizzle out after the first three or four tracks? Not the case here, as Golden Avatar keeps the best for last. Time For Going Home is not only the best track within the context of the LP, but deserves wider recognition for the scope of its ambition and its mesmerising groove. Sounds from nature, a simple hypnotic acoustic guitar riff, a shadowing copycat bass line and droning hurdy gurdy set us up for a real head-nodder of a track. Cassidy turns in the album's strongest vocal, imbuing his performance with a trance-like, languid spirituality. Masterfully orchestrated horns create a filmic sense of drama before a killer Moog solo transports us to joyous chants of Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Rama accompanied by finger bells and some urgent funky drumming. After six and a half minutes, I'm so elated that I want to shave my head and wear a sheet, but I guess that's the general idea. This track is the reason why I'll always hang onto this LP, and the reason why you should rescue it from charity shop ignominy.