Monday, April 16, 2012


1. Procession; 2. Father to Son; 3. White Queen (As It Began); 4. Some Day One Day; 5. The Loser In the End; 6. Ogre Battle; 7. The Fairy Teller's Master Stroke; 8. Nevermore; 9. March of the Black Queen; 10. Funny How Love Is; 11. Seven Seas of Rhye
Best song: OGRE BATTLE

Every band has that album that, although it's one of the least known by the general public, is revered by a segment of fans, usually due to a combination of a small difference from a band's established sound (while still unmistakably them) and lack of radio hits. Just to throw out some random examples, for Pink Floyd, it's Animals, for Dire Straits it's Love Over Gold, for Genesis it could be basically any album from their first decade. For Queen, a group where every album from their third on has contributed a number of radio standards that have infiltrated the public conscious, that album is Queen II, and, true to form for such albums, it's one of their best. Like the debut, it's unmistakably Queen, but it's darker, heavier, and proggier than the Queen many are used to. Hell, this stuff could be considered prog metal, if such a term had existed in 1974. In fact, Queen were actually pioneers of that particular genre weird as that might sound, but consider the fact that Dream Theater has covered some of their early songs and it doesn't sound all that different. If only they'd covered "Bicycle Race" or something, now THAT would've been amusing. But I digress.

Anyway, this album is some short of concept album, what with Side 1 being the "White Side" (bluegrass) and Side 2 being the "Black Side" (hip-hop). Seriously, though, the only real concept seems to be that May's songs are all on the White Side, with Taylor's thrown in at the end, and Mercury gets the suite of sorts that makes up the Black Side. And I guess it all takes place in Rhye, and it's a battle of good and evil or something, it really doesn't matter. Queen lyrics as a whole don't really matter that much, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

After the minute-long "Procession," the album gets going with "Father to Son," a multi-parted monster from May with some great Freddie singing and some monstrous heavy riffing by  Brian in the middle section, the song doesn't get boring at all despite lasting over six minutes. "White Queen (As It Began)" mellows things out a little with Freddie showing off his more tender side (he can pretty much sing anything, but thank God he never tried to rap), with more great guitar work (including some harder lines in the middle), and Brian gets his first lead vocal on "Some Day One Day." He's obviously no Freddie, but he has a good voice that provides a nice change of pace. He actually sounds closer to Freddie than Paul Rodgers, if you'll indulge me in beating that dead horse again. And at the end, there's actually three different guitar solos dubbed over each other! How cool is that? The White Side ends with Taylor's much-maligned "The Loser In the End," but I must admit that I absolutely love it. That echoey drum part at the beginning is worth the price of admission by itself, and the song, while admittedly somewhat derivative, does have a strong melody. It's actually one of the more single-ready songs on the album, if Roger hadn't sung it I'm sure it would've been released as one.

As great as the White Side is, though, Freddie's Black Side is where the real meat of this album is. The highlight is the opening "Ogre Battle," with an almost thrash riff and some more great singing. So what if it's about a goddamn ogre battle, which could theoretically sound fruity as hell, this song rocks like a motherfucker. And Freddie composed it on acoustic guitar? My mind is blown every time I read that. "The Fairy-Teller's Master Stroke" allows Mr. Mercury to indulge in some of his more...fey tendencies, and "Nevermore" is absolutely heartbreakingly sung even if, again, the lyrics don't fully make sense, but these two songs are basically the warm-up for "March of the Black Queen." I guess Freddie realized early in the writing period that he had about 12 different song ideas that weren't going anywhere, so he just kinda smashed them all together into six and a half minutes. This song had too many overdubs to play fully live (the uptempo section about 4 minutes in was part of a medley), but it's definitely the proto-"Bohemian Rhapsody" and is just as amazing as that implies.  Freddie uses about six different voices, and the instrumentalists all do a great job switching between the sections. This includes Freddie, who's actually a damn good pianist--he wouldn't be a household name or anything, but he could've found work as a keyboard player. "Funny How Love Is" features more cool vocal overdubs, and then we finally get to the "hit" of the album (it was a bit of a flop, but it has since become beloved), "Seven Seas of Rhye" which I guess sums up everything that's happened on the side. The way the songs all run together gives the side a real sense of cohesiveness, even though in reality I suspect that they have fuckall to do with each other. Either way, it's a pretty amazing bit of music.

Even more than the debut, this shows off a side of Queen that radio listeners might not be familiar with, but is all the more worth checking out for it. There's not a single song that even approaches weak, and although it's hard to realize just how groundbreaking some of this must have sounded in 1974. One more thing--since I couldn't find anywhere else to mention him, props to John Deacon for his work on this album, contributing some great bass runs and also providing much of the acoustic guitar lines. He'll start writing next album, but for now, he's serving his purpose well. Proof that just because a band isn't technically a "democracy" that all the members can't have a large impact. Anyway, this is probably my second favorite Queen album, and it's nice for my music snobbery to realize that even though I'm listening to Queen, I'm still listening to songs none of my friends have ever heard.


1. One of These Days; 2. A Pillow of Winds; 3. Fearless; 4. San Tropez; 5. Seamus; 6. Echoes
Best song: ECHOES

NOW we're talking! Second time's the charm for the prog inclination of Pink Floyd--taking the lessons learned from making Atom Heart Mother, the group reconvened and created their first post-Syd masterpiece. Notably, for now the group was done splitting off and doing solo songs--only San Tropez is credited solely to one band member here. The group has also hardened up their sound somewhat, as "One of These Days" and parts of "Echoes" are among the most rocking tracks in the group's history. Finally, they keep the weird experiments to a minimum, only "Seamus," starring a singing dog named Seamus, is one final throwback to the bizarre shit on their last few albums. It's pretty dumb, but it's over in a scant 2:16 and then the album moves onto "Echoes." Plus, if nothing else, a reworked version of the song created a pretty cool visual in the Live at Pompeii film, so there's that at least.

Obviously, the album is best known for its opening and closing tracks, but this is understandable as they take up almost a half hour and are absolute classics, but the other three non-"Seamus" tracks on Side 1 are pretty great, too. "A Pillow of Winds" is, shockingly, a beautiful acoustic love song with some pleasant Gilmour vocals. Even better is the fan favorite "Fearless"--good God what a riff on that song! Some of Roger's best lyrics excellently sung by Dave, and one of Floyd's few experiments with conventional song structure is a real winner. It's an absolute travesty that this song isn't clogging up the airwaves along with Floyd's better known hits. Maybe the football (the gay kind) chanting at the end could've been shortened a little bit, but I don't care. Finally, Roger's utterly bizarre "San Tropez" sounds like Jimmy Buffett (although I don't think he was a thing yet in '71) and features him sounding happy, something that will become more and more rare, but this song is proof that he didn't just pop out of the womb wanting to slit his wrists. Love Rick's brief piano solo, too.

Great as these songs are, though, they're not the main attraction. What everyone's here for is "One of These Days" and "Echoes." The songs are really the beginning of the classic "Pink Floyd sound," and I'd say that they perfected them on later albums, but there really isn't a hell of a lot that needs to be perfected. "One of These Days" starts out with an amazing bass groove (played by both Roger and Dave) that lasts for over three minutes but never gets boring, and then Nick Mason justifies not being replaced with a computer by...saying his most important vocal line as if he were a computer. Nah, I kid, his "One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces!" line is genuinely threatening (it scared the hell out of my mom the first time I played this song for her), and then Dave diddles around on his guitar for awhile, and then the song's over. I'm surprised it isn't used in more movie soundtracks when something ominous is supposed to be happening, especially under its Japanese title--"Blow Wind! Call Forth Storm!" No, I don't have a clue as to why, it just is.

And if you thought THAT was amazing, just flip over to side 2, or wait for your iPod to go to the next song, and be prepared for 23 and a half minutes of aural delight. Wheras "Atom Heart Mother" had good ideas but was overlong, I would not lose ONE SECOND of "Echoes." That's right, I'm fine with the whale song/torture section being as long as it is, and that's the only part that ANYONE should have any misgivings about (I'll accept that it could be shortened by 2 minutes, after that, you're wrong and fuck you).  That opening "ping" is an absolutely iconic moment, of course, and Dave and Rick finally get around to showing what a powerful vocal force they can be when they harmonize together, delivering maritime-themed lyrics that fit the tone of the song perfectly. Dave takes multiple great solos, there's an awesome "funk" section (it's not really funky at all, but this is Pink fucking Floyd we're talking about), the triumphant buildup out of the "depths" of the noise section into the final verse, and finally the fantastic coda. I could go on, but you really need to hear this song for yourself. A highlight of the band's amazing career.

So now the band is truly getting somewhere, and is easily recognizable as the band that will shoot to international stardom in two short years. If you like Dark Side and haven't heard this, rectify that mistake immediately, and you'll be so thankful, you'll want to send me large amounts of money. I guarantee it so much that if you don't, I'll send YOU money.*

*Guarantee will not be honored.


No rating (compilation)
1. Arnold Layne; 2. Interstellar Overdrive; 3. See Emily Play; 4. Remember a Day; 5. Paintbox; 6. Julia Dream; 7. Careful With That Axe, Eugene; 8. Cirrus Minor; 9. The Nile Song; 10. Biding My Time; 11. Bike

Compilation thrown together during the Meddle sessions which for years was the easiest place to get some of the early singles that never made it onto an album, an entertaining throwback to the pre-Internet years when hearing "See Emily Play" was actually a sort of accomplishment Floyd fans worked towards (I presume, I wasn't alive back then). Now that the Internet exists there's no good reason for anybody not to have any of these songs, but this is as good a place as any to talk about the non-album stuff. I'm also gonna be discussing the other early singles that never made an album (thankfully, since the band didn't actually release UK singles after "Point Me At the Sky" flopped, they cut this shit out).

The main attractions here are, of course, "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play," the songs that briefly made Syd-era Floyd a pop sensation despite the former being banned by the Beeb for being about a transvestite. What is it with the Beeb and wanting to ban everything in the least bit controversial? For that matter, what the hell's the British obsession with transvestites? Great song, though, and "Emily" is even better. My favorite moment is that strange five-second harpsichord(?) break after the first verse, but the feedback guitar solo is pretty cool, too. Rick's "Paintbox" (the b-side to the third single, "Apples and Oranges") is pretty great, as well, especially those cool drum fills. One of my favorite Rick songs, and one that deserves more recognition. Particularly notable are the antisocial lyrics already popping up in Rick's writing (pun not intended). Unfortunately, Roger's "Julia Dream" is uneventful if pleasant, and the studio version of "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," despite being shorter than the Ummagumma version by a good 3 minutes, isn't a tenth as interesting. The buildup seems rushed, the scream is mediocre, and the middle section isn't as intense. Bleh. Luckily, though, there's the otherwise unavailable "Biding My Time" a lounge music(!) piece written and sung by Roger (!!) featuring Rick playing trombone and Dave throwing down some blistering leads. Originally from their onstage Man and the Journey suite (which mainly consisted of re-titlings of old songs thrown into some vague concept), it sounds nothing like Pink Floyd as anyone knows them but is a hoot in spite of, or perhaps because of that.

I might as well point out the other songs from this era here, too--the most essential is "Arnold Layne" b-side "Candy and a Currant Bun." Originally this was titled "Let's Roll Another One," the powers that be had them edit the song to eliminate  the drug references (why coke-addled record execs are so against drug references is beyond me), but Syd slipped in the line "please just fuck with me" into the first chorus. You have to listen for it (he really says "falk," if we're being technical), but once you hear it once you can't un-hear it. Was this the first use of "fuck" on an officially released single? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Also, Roger busts out his scream for the first time here. Syd's final single for the group, "Apples and Oranges" is well-written but overproduced to hell, that midsection with all the high-pitched voices DEFINITELY didn't need to be there. Also notable is the awful promo video, shot after Dave had joined the band, where Roger does an awful job lip-synching (in his defense, it might just seem so terrible because I know it's not him actually singing). Rick's "It Would Be So Nice," the a-side to "Julia Dream," is also overproduced all to hell, but at least this time it was an act of self-sabotage, supposedly after the song was recorded Rick locked himself in the studio and overdubbed his vocals and keys into absolute oblivion where the song just becomes a mess, even though the song itself is fairly decent, if still one of Rick's lesser efforts ("Paintbox" should've been an a-side!) Finally, the Waters/Gilmour effort "Point Me At The Sky" flopped so badly that the band didn't release a British single for 11 years, but it's a good song, despite yet more shitty production on the outro, this time trying to make a rather straightforward guitar solo sound psychedelic. Also of note are two unreleased by highly available Syd songs, "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man." The former has a surprisingly decent vocal turn from Nick Mason and some crazy guitar solos, while the latter sounds almost punkish and features some almost uncomfortably self-aware lyrics. The only reason I can think of that they never bothered to officially release these is that anyone who would want them already has the fucking things.

So, yeah, this compilation itself is a little unnecessary, but you do need most of these songs. I recommend finding them in whatever way you can (my legal team would like me to note here that I do not endorse illegal downloading in any shape or form, if that shape or form involves me getting in trouble. Which it won't, so go nuts).


1. introduction; 2. The Contenders; 3. Strangers; 4. Denmark Street; 5. Get Back In Line; 6. Lola; 7. Top of the Pops; 8. The Moneygoround; 9. This Time Tomorrow; 10. A Long Way From Home; 11. Rats; 12. Apeman; 13. Powerman; 14. Got To Be Free
Best song: LOLA (duh)

After the complete triumph that was Arthur, it's obvious that there was going to be a little bit of a comedown. Don't get me wrong, Lola is still a very good album, it's just not as amazing as what came before it, and the genericism I first hinted at in my Arthur review has began to set in a little. The American touring ban had been lifted, and, although this might be pure speculation on my part, it seems as if Ray was willing to give up a bit of the band's distinctive Britishness to try to make inroads across the pond. Again, this largely works, and I give the album a freaking 12, just saying not to make the mistake I did and consider this the most important Kinks album to get because it's the one with "Lola" on it.

Now, of course, going after the radio did pay some dividends with the absolutely magnificent "Lola." It's the one Kinks song that everyone knows (even "You Really Got Me" might be better known in the Van Halen version), and man does it deserve it. It's not my absolute favorite song by the band, of course, but it's rare enough that a band's biggest, most well-known song even makes my top 5. This is one of those songs that I'd heard since I was like five years old, and I still remember the shock when I realized exactly what it was about! Even beyond the risqué (for 1970, at least) subject matter, who can deny the opening chords Ray plays on his National Steel guitar (to make many more appearances)? The album's other hit single, "Apeman," is basically "Lola" with island rhythms, but it's still pretty great. Ray's island accent is pretty terrible (and since when did Jamaica have apes anyway? That's always bugged the hell out of me), but it has another set of great lyrics. I especially love how, for the single version, he had to  re-record "the air pollution is a-foggin' up my eyes" because foggin' sounded too much like "fuckin'". To tell you the truth, I'm not convinced he isn't saying "fucking." Crafty bastard. Of course, "Lola" had to be re-recorded because it referenced fucking Coca-Cola (changed to cherry cola), so God knows what the BBC was thinking (then again, they were so busy objecting to the "advertising" they missed the whole transvestite thing, so I guess that's in the band's favor).

Now, outside of the singles, the rest of the album is a rather loose concept album about how the record companies suck the soul out of their artists and turn them into automated machines. Of course, in 2012 writing about this topic is about as original as making jokes about record company execs snorting a lot of cocaine, and only a complete fucking hack would actually try to mine material out of that well, but in 1970 there was still a lot of uncharted ground to cover. Now, the actual song "Lola" has fuckall to do with the actual plot as far as I can tell--Cap'n Marvel hypothesized that it was actually the fictional band's big hit song, which makes the most sense to me, or maybe being in the music biz just gets you access to lots of trannies. And coke. Other than that, the plot plays out pretty much how you'd expect--guys leaves home, bums around London for awhile, gets a big hit, discovers the execs don't actually care about him as an artist and are all coke-snorting pieces of shit, plans to break free and finally does. Ray and Dave, who returns from songwriting exile with "Strangers" and "Rats," really more or less make it work though.

"Introduction" and "The Contenders" are more scene-setters than anything, but Dave's haggard "Strangers" is a real highlight. Lines like "If I live too long I'm afraid I'll die" aren't quite as profound as he probably intended, but his worn vocals really make the song. Dave's other contribution, the proto-punk "Rats," has one of the band's greatest riffs and another great melody. Among Ray's other highlights, "The Moneygoround" is a fun little music-hall jaunt about how everybody's cashing in on the group's success, and the closing "Got To Be Free" makes for a nice triumphant end. The real highlight, though, is "Powerman" which marries a set of great riffs to an awesome chorus melody. I especially like the Dave-sung bridge section. Finally, "Get Back In Line" is too slow and draggy for me to want to listen to it often, but it does have excellent lyrics.

The other songs aren't bad, it just seems like Ray was more interested in setting up his little plot than he was in making interesting stand-alone songs. "Denmark Street" exists solely for this purpose, but at least it's short, which "Top of the Pops" defiantly isn't--the middle riffing section (which was apparently "borrowed", though I've never heard where it came from) drags on for way too long, and overall, you know exactly where he's going with this long before he finally gets to the point in the last verse. The goofy voice he uses for the exec kind of makes up for it though. "This Time Tomorrow" is a song that I feel should be a highlight, but has just never clicked fully for me for some reason, and "A Long Way From Home" is basically just Ray's vocals and a lot of atmosphere. Luckily both are good, but this is a harbinger of the artistic missteps Ray would make in the mid-70s.

I don't want it to seem like I dislike this album, I very much enjoy it. It's just that it has some problems that the albums that preceded it didn't really have, and is the germination of some of the band's worse later-career tendencies. On the other hand, this is the one with "Lola" on it, which alone makes it worthwhile, and there's some other prime Kinks material here. Don't make it your first purchase, but don't avoid it either. 

Oh, and if you were wondering, there never was a Part 2, so don't worry about trying to find it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


1. Keep Yourself Alive; 2. Doing All Right; 3. Great King Rat; 4. My Fairy King; 5. Liar; 6. The Night Comes Down; 7. Modern Times Rock and Roll; 8. Son and Daughter; 9. Jesus; 10. Seven Seas of Rhye… [bonus track]: 11. Mad the Swine
Best song: LIAR

I've always been kind of suspicious of people who don't like Queen. I mean, yeah, I'm sure there are plenty of legitimate reasons to hate the band, and I'd be happy for somebody to tell me how much of an idiot I am, but I dunno--a person's opinions on Queen just kind of sum up which side of the music snob line they are for me--can they still mix it with the plebes on occasion, or are they already off in the gilded castle? Have some fun every once in awhile, people! Not that I really care one way or the other, this just seemed like as good a way to introduce the band as any, and warning those looking for some good old-fashioned Queen bashing to turn back now (or sit back and wait for the Hot Space review, whichever is more convenient).

Now, for the vast majority of people who know Queen through classic rock radio and one of the approximately 7,238 compilations available for purchase at your local Wal-Mart (mine was Greatest Hits I and II packaged together), the vast majority of these songs are going to look rather unfamiliar to you, and you're in for a hell of a time once you actually push play! Now, most of the Queen trademarks are already here--Freddie Mercury already sounds like a physical God, Brian May already figured out how to overdub himself  20 times so he can simulate an entire orchestra, John Deacon was already spending most of the time kind of hanging out in the background before occasionally doing something mindblowing, and Roger Taylor's ability to sing and drum simultaneously better than just about anyone is already making me probably overrate his abilities at both. What you may not know, however, is that those bursts of hard rock that Queen occasionally showed on their later mega-hits? Yeah, they started out sounding that way pretty much all the time. Even more interesting to me as that they were also somewhat of a prog-influenced band--quite a few of these songs have like three million different sections for Freddie to show off his vocals and Brian to show off his effects pedals, and the other two to show they can keep up. Like I said, it's still easily recognizable as Queen (unless your Queen experience started with The Game), but it's just a different side of the band than what many are used to. And it's bloody great!

The album's "hit" (it flopped, but later became a fan favorite) is the May-penned opener "Keep Yourself Alive," and right away the Queen mission statement is out in full force--anthemic chorus, inspiring hooks, big guitars. That opening echo-section is just fantastic, and Taylor throws in a cool groovy drum solo around the two-minute mark, and that bridge where Taylor and May both toss out a line is pretty neat. Even better, though, is the album's centerpiece, the six-and-a-half minute "Liar," an absolute monster of a song that has more great melodies and guitar lines that you can shake a stick at. One of the things the band did really well from the get-go was realizing when they had a good idea, but not one that could sustain a whole song, and finding some way to combine a bunch of short ideas into a great song. Mr. John Deacon also makes himself known with a nifty little bass solo, the vocal harmonies are all over the freaking place, and Freddie is Freddie. The guy was simply one of, if not the, greatest frontmen ever, and the mere presence of his vocals can elevate even the very worst Queen songs to somewhat tolerability (OK, maybe not "Body Language"). That's not a swipe at Brian and Roger, by the way, unless we're talking about Queen+Paul Rodgers (or whatever asshole they're doing it with now...Adam Fucking Lambert??? Somebody kill me), in which it's a swipe with extreme prejudice. For now, though, I tend to enjoy their vocal turns just fine, like Taylor's "Modern Times Rock and Roll" here on this album. Sure it's only a buck fifty, and isn't terribly original (that's just one of Roger's shortcomings as a songwriter that you have to either accept or not, I'm personally mostly fine with it), but it's got a good melody. The heaviest number of the album is the magnificent "Son and Daughter." Freddie sounds downright pissed off on this one, spitting out bile-infused lines like "The world expects a man, to buckle down and shovel shit" with aplomb, and of course there's that immortal " be woman!" chorus. Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot call yourselves Queen fans and not hear this album.

The rest of the album isn't as heavy as those, but it still has it's moments. "Great King Rat" is almost as multi-sectioned as "Liar" and almost as good, and probably has May's best solo on the album. The lyrics are over-the-top, yeah, but this is frigging Queen we're talking about, what do you expect? Apparently, Freddie had created a fantasy land he called Rhye, and most of the songs he wrote from the first few albums take place there. Whatever, nobody listens to Queen for the fucking lyrics, so who cares? Now, the verses to "My Fairy King" are like the gayest thing I've ever heard in my life, but I really enjoy song. Freddie grabbed his surname from the line "Mother Mercury calls to me," which is pretty cool. The ballad-like "Doing All Right" has another infectious melody, and inexplicably starts to rock out halfway through (the transitions could be smoother, but I like both sections), and apparently earned co-writer Tim Staffel (who was bassist/vocalist with Brian and Roger in pre-Queen band Smile) a decent royalty check. Songwriting's where the money's at, folks.

The rest of the album isn't quite as great. "The Night Comes Down" is another decent ballad, but isn't that interesting, and "Jesus," while I can't really pinpoint what's wrong with it, is pretty much the weakest song on here. And no, I have nothing against religious songs, so that's not the problem. I must say, though, that the unfinished instrumental snippet of "Seven Seas of Rhye" was a rather dumb way to end the album, but most CD reissues rectify this by adding the fantastic b-side "Mad the Swine." Maybe this is why I don't particularly care for "Jesus," because this song does the religious thing so much better. I am completely flummoxed as to why this song got the axe--great bassline under the acoustic verses.

So, maybe it's not what everyone expects from Queen, but that means that even haters should give it a try to see where the band came from. No, it doesn't have all of the radio favorites that later albums would have, but it is a solid hard rock album, and hey, it's nice to hear a different side of a favorite band sometimes, isn't it?


(clockwise from left: Taylor, May, Deacon, Mercury)
Freddie Mercury--Lead vocals, keyboards, occasional guitar
Brian May--Lead guitar, vocals, keyboards, occasional bass
Roger Taylor--drums, vocals, keyboards, occasional guitar and bass
John Deacon--bass, keyboards, guitars, live backing vocals
Well, that was easy for once! Note that I do not have the 2011 reissues with the "bonus EPs," but those are mostly alternate/live takes. Any actual songs I've probably scavenged out for myself, so I'll still be covering them, but they will not figure into the album score.

Friday, April 13, 2012


1. Atom Heart Mother; 2. If; 3. Summer 68; 4. Fat Old Sun; 5. Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast
Best song: SUMMER 68

First of all, this album has like the most awesome album cover in the history of mankind. Is there anything more awesome than Lulubelle the cow? The story goes that Roger, wanting to change the band's image, told album artist Storm Thorgerson to go out and photograph the least trippy thing he could find, and Storm happened upon Lulubelle. Supposedly the record company execs pitched a hissy fit, asking him if he was trying to destroy this record company, but that just shows more proof that all record company execs are fucking morons and should cede their jobs to web reviewers. Or they could just send me like, half their salary and I'll quit bitching. I mean, sure, I can understand why they need that cocaine sculpture of themselves, but their entire family? Selfish pricks.

Anyway, the boys still really didn't have a clue what they were doing, but you can't deny their ambition. Pink Floyd goes prog on this one, and they didn't waste time diving in headfirst into their new style, even though they realized they didn't fully have the chops or the songwriting acumen for it yet. This being 1970, they were right in the middle of that brief window where it was not only acceptable, but perfectly encouraged to cart in a symphony orchestra to help you realize your artistic vision, so the Floyd rented an orchestra and a conductor/co-composor (Ron Geesin) and set to work composing the 23-minute title track. Now, it's far from brilliant and is obscenely overlong--they could have cut it down to at least 15 without losing anything substantial--but it's certainly a noble effort. First, props should be given to Waters and Mason, not exactly the most lauded players in the world, for doing the entire rhythm section in one take--apparently, orchestras, composers, cow photos, and the execs' crippling cocaine habits ate up the entire budget so they couldn't afford to overdub it. Now, it's not like the rhythm section does anything spectacular, but they don't get in the way, either, and you try to play drums for (a significant portion of ) 23 minutes straight without fucking up. Anyway, the main orchestral themes are good (I especially like the "Father's Shout" portion), and Gilmour gets in several great solos, but the noise section is rather stupid and the whole thing just runs out of gas long before it actually ends. Now, kudos to the band for even managing to make this rather radical style shift work for as long as they do--something like this couldn't have been easy, and they get full props for even being willing to try this. Personally, I feel that at some point they should've at least tried to incorporate an actual "song" into the piece, just to see if it worked, but this is fine for a first shot. And it paves the way for what would happen on the next album…

Side 2 is also a bit of a mixed bag. We return to the "Ummagumma" studio idea of everyone writing their own songs ("Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" was largely Nick's idea, and he recorded the actual sound effects), but it works much better this time around. For one, everyone decided to write actual songs. Roger's "If" is the most notable appearance of the depressed Roger we'd all come to know and love in a few years, and it shows a lyrical maturity far past anything else he had written so far. He also gives a beautifully restrained, effective vocal performance, and the guitar breaks are wonderful. Even better, though, is Rick's "Summer 68." At first it seemed rather clumsy to me because he didn't even bother making the lyrics rhyme until the penultimate couplet, but eventually I realized I didn't give a fuck, the song is that good. Honestly, now I think it's better that he didn't try to shoehorn in some crappy rhymes and stuck to his honest feelings about how impersonal groupie sex is. Yes, I realize that sounds completely ridiculous on paper, but listen to the song, it's great. I also dig the return of the horns playing one of the themes from the title track. Too bad Rick would soon quit contributing his own songs (I may be forgetting something, but I believe this is his final lyric credit with the band), because this is truly fantastic.

Too bad the rest of the side doesn't quite hold up. Gilmour's "Fat Old Sun" is quite pleasant, and is certainly his best vocal effort so far (especially in the "sing to me" section), and although the song would become a live favorite I just never really feel the urge to listen to this version. Maybe because live version have more to offer in the way of guitar heroics and I feel inevitably disappointed by this version? Dave plays the bass and drums on this song, for those who care about useless Floyd trivia (so, me and about six other people, all of whom probably already know). Finally, the album closes with the ridiculous "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast." Like the title track, this one in no way deserves to last for all of its running time, and the gimmick of roadie Alan Stiles talking about eating his breakfast gets less and less funny each time you hear it (and it wasn't exactly a gutbuster the first time), but I genuinely like most of the instrumental themes the band comes up with. I rarely want to actually hear it, but it's not a bad way to end the album all in all.

So, this is a transitional effort, and not everything works, but it paves the way for what would come later. It's not an album I want to hear very often outside of "If" and "Summer 68," but I also believe that without Atom Heart Mother there would be no Dark Side of the Moon, and for that, I give it a 10.

Oh! This album also reached #1 in the UK, something neither Dark Side nor The Wall managed to do! Floyd were still an unknown cult band in the US, but they were big enough in their homeland now that somewhere, a record company exec managed to get a solid coke sculpture of his favorite puppy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


1. Victoria; 2. Yes Sir, No Sir; 3. Some Mother's Son; 4. Drivin'; 5. Brainwashed; 6. Australia; 7. Shangri-La; 8. Mr. Churchill Says; 9. She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina; 10. Young and Innocent Days; 11. Nothing to Say; 12. Arthur

No less than The Kinks' (and Ray Davies') complete masterpiece. This is an absolutely amazing album, Ray's first (and best) attempt at a rock opera, and intended for a movie that, unfortunately, was never made. It's the saga of the life of an average British person, and damn is it fucking amazing, if incredibly depressing. Arthur is born in the Victorian era, goes to war, comes back, starts a family, his kids move to Australia, and he dies alone, ostensibly rich but actually quite poor in his "Shangri-La." But hey, he was right all along, don'cha know it?

So, yeah, this is a pretty damn bleak picture of British life! But, that only serves to make the album even better. Pete Quaife is gone for good on the bass, and gone with him is any sense of the Kinks being an actual band, other than a vehicle for Ray Davies' ego (with some occasional temperance from his brother). Yeah, Ray and Mick Avory remained friends, and Ray and Dave continued to despise each other, but the Kinks as an actual band unit went bye-bye with Pete. While this would lead to some fucking retarded decisions eventually, for now things are peachy! Now, some fans bemoan this album as it veers away from some of the Britpop styles of the past three albums and towards more of a proto-arena rock sound that would eventually awash the band in (very good, professional) genericism, but obviously this sound was a fuck of a lot fresher in 1969, and I'm not gonna lie, I kinda detest the term "arena rock" just used as a negative (which I'll probably bitch about more in my Sleepwalker review). The good news is, that, even though he doesn't write or sing anything for the first time, Dave's guitar is MUCH more active than it has been on the last few albums, and the album actually ROCKS for most of the time, instead of sporadically. Take the opener, "Victoria." Holy FUCK is that an amazing opener!!! Great riff, great lyrics, great hook, great solo, great screams by Dave over the last verse! Great goddamn song! They don't make 'em like that anymore. Yeah, I know some people dislike the "dopey" vocal performance that Ray uses throughout the album, most notably on "Victoria' and "Mr. Churchill Says" (I guess it's supposed to symbolize a government official or some other douche in power), but I think they're quite an effective device for Ray to get across that he's not voicing his own opinions in these segments. So "Victoria" sets our scene of a young man born in the uptight Victorian era--and then he grows up and goes off to war. So "Yes Sir No Sir" describes a soldier's point of view of being told what to do by his commanding officer, and it's effective. Not as effective as the following "Some Mother's Son," though--a harrowing portrait of the fact that every  soldier killed in battle, regardless of their allegiance, is in fact some mother's son. Sure, it's easy to dehumanize the enemy and make them bastards hellbent on destroying freedom, but that's some 18-year-old kid who just got shot! Some mother's son lies in a grave! Depressing.

Back in England, things get a little better for Arthur, as he goes "Driving" with his new girlfriend, and may I say that this song has a cool guitar solo? Cuz it does. Then we move onto "Brainwashed," and there ain't a whole lot I can say about "Brainwashed," cause it's pretty much the perfect punk song written years before punk was invented. Okay, the horn section isn't too punk rock, but that riff Dave (or Ray, who gives a fuck?) throws down halfway through the song might be the single greatest guitar moment in the whole Kinks catalog. The song has a great lyric too--Arthur thinks he's all hot shit, but the government's just making him think that so they can continue to put him down. Governments are bastards, but I guess we need 'em. But this ain't a political blog, so I'll move onto the somewhat reviled "Australia." The main song part is mainly liked, as it's basically a travelogue for Arthur's kids moving off to Australia, where opportunities are available for all walks of life, but most people hate the four-minute psychedelic guitar-led jam (which sounds WAY more drug-influenced than 99% of the Kinks' catalog). Fuck 'em, this section is fantastic, I never get bored listening to it. AWESOME Dave soloing in this section. Oh, and the "bubble" noise is used in "Postcard" by The Who in the part about Australia. How fucking cool is that? Seriously, listen to the jam again, sure, the Kinks aren't suited to do this all the time, but once in a career it's worth doing! Learn to love it.

So flipping the vinyl over, as we would have had to do back in the old days, we get to "Shangri-La," which is probably the best description of the life of a guy like Arthur that there is. Yeah, his life may kinda suck, but he's got his Shangri-La! Except said shangri- la is really a prison, which is really depressing but also true. From that we move onto "Mr. Churchill Says"--more great Dave soloing, and "She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina," which has some of the best lyrics on the album and the finest moments in Mick Avory's career. Simply stellar. For the next two songs, the album dips from orgasmically fantastic to just really fucking good, but although the nostalgia "Young and Innocent Days" is a bit of a bore, and even though "Nothing To Say" is a bit overlong despite the good lyrics about Arthur's kids not having time for him anymore, they serve their purpose quite well. What goes far beyond serving its purpose is the closing title track. I honestly think the closing repetition manages to out-"Hey Jude" "Hey Jude," and the song just has an awesome riff, melody, and chorus. Arthur may not have lived the perfect life, and the life for the average British person may be depressing, but they pull through, don't'cha know it?

So that's your perfect Kinks album! Even though Ray would fly off the handle with concept albums in later years, this is nothing short of brilliant, and everybody needs to listen to it! Long live the Kinks, long live Arthur, long live Arthur. Amazing album that everybody needs to hear.