The Search for Everything. An album review.

Being a poor student I don’t often buy new CDs (how times have changed—in my previous middle class existence I would buy two albums a week). Being a guitar player I (sometimes) gravitate to guitar-oriented music. Such is the case with John Mayer’s newest album, The Search for Everything. (I’m going to refrain from commenting on Mr Mayer’s purportedly douchey private life. He’s a great guitarist and song writer and I admire him for those things, rather than his tabloid exploits.)

After a few country-tinged albums, Mayer has returned to his blues-funk roots. The twelve songs showcased here are sad and remorse-filled tales of heartbreak, love, drunkenness and loneliness (hmmmm, my four favourite things, it seems). The lyrics, like most of Mayer’s other work, reflect a deep personal melancholy that obviously strike a chord with me.

Still Feel Like Your Man is the funkiest and best cut, and had me grooving out and marvelling at Mayer’s tasty and ample riff work. Other faves included the punchy Helpless, the tasty instrumental title track, funk-filled Moving On and Getting Over and poignant piano strains of You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me.

Mayer’s singing and playing is top notch throughout, and as usual he surrounds himself with top musos to back him up, including regulars Steve Jordan on drums and Pino Palladino on bass.

I know Mayer is not the mega-selling artist he used to be, but The Search for Everything demonstrates aptly that he is still an amazing song writer and musician, who struggles with his personal demons. Just like the rest of us.

Heartily recommended.

Three Loves. A Haiku Trilogy.

Film Lover
Movie watching love
My shared escapism
Better with a friend

Tabletop Gamer
Playing RPGs
Becoming a new person
Only for a night

Guitar Player
Guitar strings strummed
Emote in rhythm and rhyme
Musicality

Adele – 25. Sing ‘em loud! A Review.

I’m a big fan of Adele. She has an amazing range to her voice and the tone has an earthy, time worn quality to it. She also revels in songs about lost love, which, being the sad sack that I am, I’m particularly fond of. So if you’re not a fan, you may as well click away now, as this will not be an unbiased review. Just saying.

I guess almost everyone in the world has 21, Adele’s sophomore album that blew minds with its dark and swaggering vocals and 60’s aesthetic. 25 is the follow up (all of her album titles reflect her age when the album was produced – I guess she’s not going to change that in a hurry). As usual, she has surrounded herself with great musicians and co-writes all of the songs. Adele has a capacity to take a fairly simple song and turn it into an emotive tale of longing and pathos that manages to take hold of your brain and not let go.

There are 11 songs on the album, all soaring ballads and torch songs. Hello is the big hit that everybody has probably heard way too many times by now. Send My Love, Water Under The Bridge and River Lea get a bit funky. I Miss You and Sweetest Devotion are boldly percussive. Melancholic piano strains fire up When We Were Young, Remedy, Love In The Dark and All I Ask, and the sensitive acoustic filigree of Million Years Ago is hauntingly sweet. This album never really steers a foot wrong.

Let me be clear: this is not an adventurous experiment that takes Adele out of her comfort zone. Adele has a formula that works and fans love it. We’ll be singing out loud accompanying these songs until the next album rolls around.

Muse. A poem.

Fingers dance
Rhythm and rhyme
Enticed from wood
And strings of steel
Peerless sensuality
Entranced, sublime
The muse alive in me



Music is my true love. And it loves me back, assuredly.

Chris. A poem.

He shined
On every stage
A voice that made you
Take notice
A guitar
Burning and churning
Changing lives
Through music

But inside
Thoughts and pain
Burning and churning
Shadows and rain
Low
Black hole sun
Dragging down
Crushing him

Who could see
What would come
To be
To take a life
So unexpectedly
Into the superunknown
Exit stage left
Now rest

House Sitter – epilogue

My friends got back from the cruise, unfortunately two of the five were sick for most of it (doh!).

Following are a couple of things I learnt while housesitting in the center of town:

  • I love living in the center of town (everything is sooooooo convenient)
  • I don’t cook when I’m living in the center of town (restaurants are sooooooo convenient)
  • Dogs are very therapeutic (dogs give unconditional love. Why can’t humans be like that?)
  • I love walking the dog for miles and miles and miles and… (l lost a bit of fat and put on a bit of muscle – all balanced out weight-wise as muscle is heavier than fat. And I don’t have much fat anyway, so I’m trimmer now :p )
  • I’m very productive when I’m on my own (ten songs completed in eight days – yeah!)
  • The counter to that is I get depressed more (story of my life…)
  • You never do everything you wanted to do (CBD shopping? Nix. Meet women? Nada. Party on the town? Hah!)

Now: uni assignment due this Friday. Time to get my arse into gear.

Have a great day 🙂

House Sitter #8 – productive week

I’m house sitting for one more day, recording songs I’ve written over the last year.

Wow! It’s been a great run. I’ve finished recording nine of my songs, and I’ll work on another this afternoon. 

Addendum: Finished ten songs! Woo hoo! 🙂

My friends return from their cruise tomorrow. The house is in good order, the dog has been walked excessively (hope this hasn’t raised her expectations lol), and I’m feeling pretty positive (when I’m not dwelling on crap).

I’ve got some uni assignments due over the next few weeks, but once they’re done I’m going to mix and master these babies and get the album published (I’ll post about it as it happens).

Productive week!

Have a great day 🙂

House Sitter #7 – clock’s ticking

I’m house sitting for the next two days, recording songs I’ve written over the last year.

Finished the very funky ‘Home’ this morning, just re-doing vocals and backing vocals for ‘Believe’. 

Time’s running out, and I have this week’s uni work to look at.

No long walks today (sorry, doggie).

Have a great day 🙂

House Sitter #6 – arranging awesomeness

I’m house sitting for the next three days, recording songs I’ve written over the last year.

Worked on ‘Light the Way’ last night and this morning (walked the dog, rang Mum and wished her a happy Mother’s Day – hey, I already got her a card and present). The song has turned out great. I added some distorted guitar and layered vocals to the chorus and it now kicks ass. 

Next, a stripped back folky acoustic number called ‘Believe’. I haven’t played this one much. I think I’ll add some piano and maybe orchestrate some strings for it. 

I often change the arrangement for a song when I record. I’m happy to say that most of the time the song ends up the better for it.

Have a great day 🙂

House Sitter #5 – walking daze

I’m house sitting for the next four days, recording songs I’ve written over the last year.

Lots of dog walking today. As well as food shopping, clothes washing, dish washing (too many washings!). Clocked up over 10kms of walking (not washing).

After dinner I’ll work on a new song called ‘Light the Way’. I’ve decided to take what was a straightforward acoustic pop song and make it more upbeat and funky. 

We’ll see how it turns out.

Have a great night 🙂

House Sitter #4 – out of the dumps

I’m house sitting for the next five days, recording songs I’ve written over the last year.



Right. No depression today, I’ve got things to do.

I revisited the songs I screwed up yesterday, saving one from evisceration. I rebuilt it with the motto “less is more”. Also finished the vocals on another track I started a few days back (‘FHL’).

Recorded and completed a new folky acoustic number in 3/4 time I’ve called ‘Sempiternal’. Four tracks (back to basics!) of acoustic guitar and vocals. It’s come up very nicely.

Now, off to get a haircut, visit my parents and see what my son is up to.

Have a great day 🙂

House Sitter #3 – dark dregs

I’m house sitting for the next six days, and recording some songs I’ve written over the past year.

Aghhh! Woke up this morning terribly depressed (as I sometimes do) and demotivated (Why? When you suffer from depression it just happens). I couldn’t get out of bed until just before lunch.

To top it off I revisited some unfinished songs, got to the point where I was going to scrap one altogether and started a new one that I’m really not happy with. I’ll delete those dregs as soon as I can get motivated enough to.

So, a wasted day. Still not feeling much better. May go back to bed. Can’t – have a Wing Chun Kung Fu lesson tonight. Hopefully that’ll cheer me up…

Doh! 😦

House Sitter #2 – the 2nd song. Sort of…

I’m looking after a friend’s house in the city for the next seven days, and I’ve decided to record a number of songs I’ve written during the past year.

After walking the dog this morning, my laptop (the one I use for recording which runs a normally very stable version of Windows XP) decided to have a hissy. So much for recording this morning. Had to download new audio codecs and install them to fix the problem. Then did some reading and had lunch. Oh, the motivation!

Luckily the friend who was supposed to be looking after the dog turned up, but doggie is still with me during the day. No worries, I like her company (the dog, that is).

Managed to lay down all the guitar tracks for my song ‘FHL’ this afternoon. Tonight is D&D night (or, alternatively, nerd heaven), so that’s all for today. I’ll finish the track tomorrow.

Hope your day was great!

Cheers! 🙂

House Sitter #1.5 – 1st track awesomely completed, thank you

I’m looking after a friend’s house in the city for the next eight days, and I’ve decided to record a number of songs I’ve written during the past year.

I love inner city loving! I’ve walked 10 kms today (I’m a fan of walking, especially trails and paths I haven’t walked before. Bit like life, really…). Now I’m about to have a pan-fried atlantic salmon at a local restaurant.

Another friend was supposed to be looking after the dog but she hasn’t turned up, so one impromptu trip to the supermarket later and the dog is happily fed. 

So I finished off the song I started today (scratch vocals at the mo, I think I’ll redo them tonight). 

What was an upbeat folky acoustic number has been transformed in the chorus into a funky hip hop tune. Sounds awesome, if I do say so myself(!).

I’m going to do some uni work later and then finish off the vocals on that track. Then some reading and I’ll call it a night. 

Hope your day was good, too.

Cheers! 🙂

House Sitter #1 – recording is a dog’s life

I’m looking after a friend’s house in the city for the next eight days, and I’ve decided to record a number of songs I’ve written during the last year.

After dropping my mate off at the train station, getting confused by his reverse stick shift (crazy foreign cars!), setting up my gear, playing with the dog (she was sad and needed cheering up), working out where stuff was located and making a list of required groceries, I was finally ready to do some recording (Phew!).

I decided to record one of the simpler acoustic songs to start. It’s called ‘My God’, and was well received when I played it live a few months ago.

After tuning and warming up (this house is so cold!), I knocked out a few tracks, doubling the acoustic guitar rhythm track. All good? Nope. It sounded a bit too regimented (recording to a click track can do that, sometimes). So I decided to record the tracks again without a click.

But first, a 2km walk, lunch and grocery shopping. I never said this post would be interesting…

Mine. A poem.

Each chord falls into place
Unruly magic flying forth
In the act of creation and composition
Notes and rhythms coaxed
From lucid fingers like pixie dust
Sound and motion realised from imagination
Lyrics profound or immaterial
Whatever I choose to make them
Power to please or to confound
This is my music:
I play it proud, I play it loud

House Sitting and the Musical Muse

Next week I’ll be looking after my friends’ house as they go on an overseas cruise. They live in the centre of town near the beach (tough break, huh?). I was planning to use the time to read, blog, do uni assignments and play Xbox, but then I had a great idea. I have a heap of songs I’ve written over the past twelve months, and while I’m housesitting I’ll have the perfect opportunity to record them.

If you have been following long, you’ll know I’ve managed to record one song in the past year, because I’m living out of storage cartons and minimal floor space, so it’s hard to set all the gear up and then pack it away again afterwards (read about that right here). I will have eight days to record—minus the time to set up and strip down, so say seven and a half, less time to do other stuff like go out to dinner, take in the town, work out, go to the beach, etc.—hmmm…maybe I won’t get anything recorded after all…

No, damn it! I’m going to persevere. Even if I only get one track recorded it will be an achievement (a disappointing achievement, but an achievement, nonetheless). I’ll be there from Tuesday next week, so I’ll post about my progress daily (yes, more boring recording blogs. I guess I’ll slot some poems in around them, just to keep the site interesting).

Ahhh…quiet, inner city living, access to restaurants, beach and shops. As a broke mature-age student, it probably isn’t as wonderful as it sounds, but I have some money squirrelled away that I can drag out. Not much, but enough to enjoy a restaurant meal (or two). This will be my working holiday. Take that, cruise ship!

Integrity Blues: Jimmy Eat World (album review)

Album: Integrity Blues
Band:  Jimmy Eat World
Label: RCA records (Sony)
Length: 11 songs, 47 minutes
Summary: Deep and thoughtful, dark-edged alt-rock from the fan favourites

Jimmy Eat World is an American alt-rock band hailing from Arizona. Darlings of the alt-rock and indie scene, they are have previously released eight studio albums. Their newest release, Integrity Blues, is a continuation of their polished and radio-ready, alt-rock/pop sound. The album manages to re-capture the feel of previous releases, whilst delivering material with a darker edge.

You with Me kicks off the album with sparse acoustic guitars and ethereal harmonies, before bursting into a poignant tale of failing love that bounces around like the catchy pop tune it is.

Sure and Certain, It Matters and You are Free are radio friendly pop hits in the making, but lyrically delve deeper than traditional boy-loves-girl pop ditties, covering aging, one-sided love, and freedom of choice.

The minimalist Pass the Baby is perhaps the boldest and darkest song Jimmy Eat World have ever attempted, with its commentary on the state of the music industry and social media-driven pop stars. It breaks into a super heavy, almost prog rock, odd time outro, that shows the boys are more than capable musicians. Perhaps they’re demonstrating to up and coming YouTubers what it’s really all about.

Get Right is an ode to the short attention span. It’s heavier than the other tracks, with throbbing bass and guitars, pulsing along to a Zeppelin-style groove.

The End is Beautiful waltzes in ¾ time to the beat of a graceful break up. Through rocks on through a less than graceful break up. The title track is a sparsely orchestrated tale of empty longing. Pol Roger closes the album with a ballad about touring in England and the incumbent loneliness of the road.

The current line up of Jimmy Eat World includes Jim Adkins on lead vocals and guitar, Zach Lind on drums, guitarist/vocalist Tom Linton, and Rick Burch on Bass. The band co-produced the album with Justin Meldal-Johnsen, best known for his work with Beck and Nine Inch Nails.  Jimmy Eat World have always been known for their deep and engaging lyrics, pop sensibility and tight harmonies, and Integrity Blues continues the trend. The band is in top form, both musically and lyrically, and shows no sign of becoming jaded or wearing out its welcome.

This is an album that starts out well and improves with consecutive listens. It’s an album for fans, both old and new.

 

This is an album review I did for a uni assignment. The album has been out about a year now.

The Player. A short tale.

Steve picked up his guitar. It was an old acoustic: earthy, time worn and weather beaten, with thick gauge strings slightly out of tune. He plucked the neck harmonics and adjusted the tuning heads, listening intently as each tone wavered and steadied. When he finished, he strummed an open G chord, and, satisfied with his efforts, commenced  playing a song he had written long ago.

As usual it was a tale of woe and forgotten love. Blues, but not quite blues; some jazzy sevenths and ringing open strings brought a gentle dissonance to the melody.  Lyrics breathily whispered to the night.

Steve drifted lazily back to bars long since closed and audiences long since forgotten –  he could almost smell the drifting smoke in the room. Gently rocking, his left foot tapped out a rhythmic beat in time to his strumming.

Then it was over, as if it had never been.

 

This is a uni piece I wrote many months ago. Everyone had to write an introduction for themselves. The final assignment has been marked, so I can post it now.

Broke a nail…um, I mean, a string

DOH!

As soon as I heard the familiar schwing sound and the song I was playing sounded off, I knew I had a bit of a problem.

I hate changing guitar strings. It’s not that hard – buy some new strings, use a string winder to take off the old strings, replace with new strings (or if you’re really lazy, just replace the one you broke), tune up strings, stretch and break in new strings so that they don’t go out of tune each time you play. Okay, not hard, just time consuming.

I don’t change my strings very often, in fact the last time I did I’d had the same ones on my acoustic for about four years (I used a thinner plectrum then, and wasn’t as aggressive a player. I guess my ex-wife must have sucked the life out of me). A lot of gunk can build up on them in that time, let me tell you. They also tend to sound a bit flat and lifeless (a bit like me in the morning), as continued use and bending flattens out the bottom part of the string where it rubs against the fret.

So, instead of going to the music shop and buying new strings, I decided to pack my acoustic away and get out my Fender Telecaster. Playing an electric guitar without amplification is fine, but it certainly doesn’t have the same sound or feel as an acoustic – for one it’s much easier to play, as the string height on the neck is considerably lower – and the only volume produced is from the strings themselves, as the electric is solid bodied, thus very soft and tinny.

Electric guitars have coils that amplify the sound of the strings and, to a lesser degree, the wooden body of the guitar. Acoustic guitars generate their volume via strings and their hollow body, projecting that sound via the sound hole on the front, so the type of wood the guitar is made of becomes more important.

The good thing about electric guitars is you can plug in an amp, add effects, and suddenly you’re a rock god (no offense to the big guy upstairs). This can:

  1. Upset the neighbours
  2. Distract you from your uni work that you have fallen behind on
  3. Delay you changing the broken string on the acoustic

But man, it feels great! That string can wait for a few more days…

If you don’t like hearing about my guitar playing blues (see what I did there?), you may prefer to read some of my poetry, here.    

A Tsunami of Taking Back Sunday Goodness – ‘Tidal Wave’ album review

American alt-rock band Taking Back Sunday have an alt-rock sound verging on punk. They’ve released their seventh studio album, titled Tidal Wave, in Australia a few months ago. As usual I’m catching up.

Death Wolf opens the album, an up tempo rocker that surges ahead at breakneck speed. The title track is straight-ahead rock and roll that wouldn’t be out of place on a Ramones album. You Can’t Look Back, I Felt It Too and I’ll Find a Way To Make It What You Want showcases lead singer Lazzara’s slightly off-key vocals. Fences is a standout, with the driving Police-style sparseness of its verse. All Excess is a pumping rock anthem. The driving Call Come Running is perhaps the most commercial sounding track on the album, but still manages to rise above the mundane with its catchy hook and lyrics. We Don’t Go There is a heavy, percussion-filled ode to dishonesty.

The band has lost none of its youthful energy. Every song on this album pops with a vibrancy that is not present in slicker, alt-rock releases. There’s an honesty at work here, in the lyrics and the music, and it’s a fine thing. The musicianship is excellent – Eddie Reyes and John Nolan do the honours on guitars, with Shaun Cooper on bass. Drummer Mark O’Connell is in fine form. Adam Lazzara hits new highs on lead vocals.

Tidal Wave is raw and energetic rock. There are twelve songs, with a thirteenth ‘outtakes’ track, clocking in at around 55 minutes or so, so you won’t feel short changed.

Taking Back Sunday may not have varied their style too much over the years, but they are still producing top quality music that deserves a listen.

You can find out more about Taking Back Sunday at their website: http://www.takingbacksunday.com/

 

Rock Cliché in Spades (“Night People” album review)

You Me At Six are an English alt-rock band with four successful albums under their belt. They’ve recently released a new album, Night People.

Night People is short and to the point, clocking in at just over 35 minutes for 10 songs. It has a polished and commercial sound, leaning heavily on 70’s and 80’s hard rock influences.

The title track swaggers to a stadium-ready We Will Rock You-vibe, but where Queen’s understated classic truly rocks, Night People seems tired. Plus One is straight ahead up tempo rock mired in clichéd chord progressions. Take On The World is a ballad with an arena-made “audience participation” coda. Make Your Move starts with a semi-funk intro riff and subdued percussion, but grabs an over-used four chord progression for the chorus, undoing all the good work. Spell It Out is a dark and minimalist tune concluding with a Led Zeppelin Kashmir-style chorus.

Each song, both musically and lyrically, is lazy and mired in rock cliché. This may not be a bad thing for their existing fans, but it seems You Me At Six is playing it safe, and as a result Night People will be relegated to history’s CD bargain bin.

If this review seemed hard, please realise I am a big fan of this band. Their previous albums have been great, just not this one. To find out more about You Me at Six, check out their website at http://www.youmeatsix.co.uk/

A Song a Day…

Today was Australia Day. And despite the inclement weather, most people were out celebrating (or protesting) and having fun (or protesting). I, however, stayed home and recorded music (which is my way of having fun).

I haven’t been able to record any music on account of my recording gear being stowed in several boxes (stored under numerous other boxes). Today I decided to drag my piecemeal studio out and set it up, so I could record a song and then put it all away.

Yes, it would be nice to leave my gear set up, however I have a tiny room and no spare space. Think of a broom closet, then halve it, and that’s my room. A bit like Harry Potter under the stairs, but without the stairs, and smaller.

It took me about two hours to unpack and set up (cables, cords and more cables). Once I had everything ready to go, I plugged in my guitar and noodled for an hour or so (as you do). Then it was time for lunch. I didn’t get anything started until well after 1:00pm.

I chose a song I wrote for church, that I’ve played to the congregation a few times recently. Why? I don’t know, it just took my fancy. I have about a hundred other tunes I could record, but I’ve decided I’m going to record Christian music for the next few months, until I have an album’s worth. Maybe I’ll release it.

Recording is a lot of work. Aside from the manual labouring to set up, there’s also the recording and multi-tracking of parts. I use a program called Samplitude that I’ve used for years. It’s not the latest thing, but it supports 24-bit digital recording. I also use a Yamaha USB Audio Interface to carry instrument signals to my laptop. I use Tannoy 60 watt nearfield monitors for mixing and mastering. Guitars and bass run through a Pod Line XT foot pedal unit I’ve had for years. For microphones, I use trusty Shure SM58s (I have a proper condenser mic but no space to set it up).

So, I smashed out a song called “Pray” and layed down some vocals. It sounds pretty good. I do tend to be a bit lazy with my recordings – it it’s okay, it’s good enough. Makes my tracks sound alternative, not so polished.

By 9:00pm I’m finished packing everything away again (why do they never fit in the boxes when you try to put them back? Grrrr…). I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to record again; lots of commitments with study, reading, assignments and the like.

But it’s nice to know that I can. Even if it takes forever to get set up.

It’s been a long road back. But it’s a start.

The Music of Hope

(“Will you stop that racket,” cries Alpha Girl.

“Nah, turn it up, bro,” says Beta Max. He is quickly silenced by a sharp look from Alpha Girl.

I kick the door to my room shut and keep playing my Telecaster. The distorted notes flicker, whine, twist and turn, each fingering and bend, precise and emotion-filled. I am in heaven.)

 

I love my music.

I’ve been playing guitar for around 25 years, and not long ago I gave my original old Aria acoustic to a friend and updated to a Takemine. It sounds wonderful and I’ve written about twenty songs on it since I got it.

I play guitar every day. Most of the time I just noodle (jam with myself on chords and scales), but often that noodling will develop into a full-fledged song, so nothing goes to waste.

I originally had eight guitars, but after my breakup I got rid of everything bar an acoustic, my Fender Telecaster and a Jackson Bass. I figure, you only keep what you need; excess for the point of excess is wasteful. I also got rid of two guitar amps and kept one, my 100 watt Peavey Transtube twin-cone.

Sometimes I wonder why I used to hang on to all the gear I did. I guess I was a bit of a hoarder.

I did the same with my CD collection. I had around 2000 CDs. When I moved out I got rid of most of them (I had them on iTunes, anyway) and only kept the ones I felt I would listen to regularly in future – I kept less than a hundred. I also went through and deleted a fair few albums from my iTunes to free up hard drive space.

You may have guessed by now that I really love my music. I’ve been a muso for so long I don’t think I really thought of myself as anything else, even when my full time day job overtook the music side of things. Now I have time on my hands, and the music is at the forefront again. My recording gear and electronic drum kit are still in packing boxes, but eventually they will come out again, when I find my own place. Maybe sooner. I cut the recording gear back considerably when I moved out, as well.

 

(“Did you say you’re moving out?” says Alpha Girl, her grin as wide as can be.

“Nope,” I reply. She returns to grumpsville.)

 

There is a change in the air. I’ve been working my way through an emotionally draining season of ups and downs, highs and lows. But I think things are getting better. God gives me hope.

And hope, along with my music and my writing, is what keeps me going from day to day.

The Muso Who Said: No More! Or was it no, more…

(Alpha Girl walks into my bedroom, screams and says “What are you doing?!”

I immediately freeze mid-action. She wrinkles her face up like crumpled newspaper. “Were you…dancing?” she says.

“Um…no,” I say. “I was just…head banging…to…” Awkward silence. “Metallica’s new album on my iPod. They’ve done this dance/funk/metal crossover-type thing. Yeah, it’s all the rage.”

Alpha Girl, always the suspicious one, tilts her head to one side, eyes me intently and scans the room for incriminating evidence. “Metallica, eh?” she muses.

“Yeah…they’ve gotten really experimental, lately”, I lie.

Alpha Girl walks over, yanks the earbuds from my ears and places one near her own. She immediately guffaws. “I can’t believe you’re listening to Taylor Swift!”)

 

I have been a serious musician for about 25 years or so. I play guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and sing. I write my own music and have made seven albums. (And, yes, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to my music – so, sue me.) I have very broad musical tastes; I like metal, punk, jazz, pop, funk, rap, classical, and opera, to name a few styles. But in all my time as a serious muso, I have never, ever admitted to liking the music of Taylor Swift.

So what’s so bad about Taylor Swift, you say?

We so-called serious musos have an unwritten rule. We are not allowed to like rich, attractive, mainstream musicians (especially when they are squillionaires at some ridiculously young age). It’s just not the done thing. The reason for this is because most serious musicians tend to be poor, unattractive, alternative and poverty-stricken.

It’s called tall poppy syndrome, and we’ve all been guilty of it at some point or other. Musos are the worst. If we feel they didn’t do the hard yards like we did, they can’t possibly make good music.

But a few months back I actually got my hands on a copy of Taylor Swift’s album 1989. And because I’m an eclectic music listener, and tell anybody who will listen that I can find the good in almost any song (I can’t help it, I’m fair), I decided to give it a spin.

And I have to admit, I was pretty impressed.

Swift puts a lot of herself into her songs. (And yes, I know most of them were collaborative efforts, but that’s okay.) She sings self-deprecatingly about how she can’t keep a boyfriend, that people put her down for being who she is (Shake It Off), and that she’s a little left of centre field (Blank Space). She sings deeply and emotionally about relationship breakdown (Clean). And she writes some of the catchiest tunes you’ve ever heard (listen to Style and Bad Blood, if you don’t believe me). She presents as incredibly vulnerable and intimidating at the same time (must be her height and all that money). Swift is also a damn fine singer.

I love musicians who write personal and semi-autobiographical material. I’m guilty of it myself. It’s why I love John Lennon, Ed Sheeran, Birdy, Eminem, Jewel, John Mayer, Kate Miller-Heidke, Missy Higgins, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Regina Spector, Adele, Death Cab for Cutie, George Michael, to name a few.

I also love musos who tell stories in their songs, like Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Prince, Foo Fighters, U2, Duran Duran, Queen, Alice in Chains, Biffy Clyro, Dream Theater, Fall Out Boy, Hard-Fi, Harry Connick Jr, Jimmy Eat World, k.d. lang, Linkin Park, Rise Against. Like I said, I have broad musical tastes.

And I’m not afraid to admit I like Taylor Swift.

Great album, Ms Swift. You have yet another fan and more cash to add to your squillions. And from what I understand, you’re also really nice to your fans, so I can’t even criticise you about that. DOH!

 

(“You like Taylor Swift, Mr oh-so-serious punk metal muso,” teases Alpha Girl. “Where’s your street cred, now?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say.)

Sting’s “57th & 9th” – a review through the eyes of a jaded muso

I picked up the latest Sting album, 57th & 9th, the other week. I play it when I work out, so I’ve had the opportunity to listen to it a number of times. I’ve deliberately not read or listened to any reviews so I could provide a balanced viewpoint in my own. It should be noted I’ve been a Sting fan all my life, so please bear that in mind as you read this.

The first thing that struck me when comparing 57th & 9th with Sting’s previous material is how stripped back it is. His recent reunion tour with The Police has been an obvious influence. I saw Sting playing live on TV the other night and he had a three-piece backing band supporting him as he played bass, rather than the large ensembles he usually tours with. The material on 57th & 9th has a leaner production and drier mix than previously (tighter, less involved arrangements and less reverb, for those not in the know).

The first time I heard this album I was in two minds. Part of me wanted to love it, and part of me felt it was a little…dull. Sting’s previous compositions tended to be slow and methodical, with sprinklings of odd time signatures and well crafted, intellectual and literary lyrics. That remains the case on 57th & 9th. There is an underlying poignancy to this album, the passage and inevitability of time a common theme in many of the songs.

The more upbeat material, I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, musing about old age and the search for love, and Petrol Head, with its speed-driven biblical allusions, break up the plodding feeling this album can have. In 50,000 Sting responds to the loss of Bowie while pointedly reflecting on his own fading star. One Fine Day is a catchy environmental song, where Pretty Young Thing is a period piece love story. One of the more potent songs on the album, Inshallah, tells about the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing from conflict, through the eyes of a father. If You Can’t Leave Me is a dark tale of possession, insecurity and self-doubt told in 7/8 time. The album is capped with The Empty Chair, an affecting tale of a prisoner separated from his family.

This time around Sting has written much of the material with co-writers from his backing band, and there’s a familiarity and leanness that is reflected in the songs. Perhaps age has mellowed him, making him a little less of a control freak than his various biographies would imply.

I liked this album. It’s mature, thoughtful, song writing that deeply resonates with me. If you give 57th & 9th a try I think it may with you, too.

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