Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert
1966 WAS pop music's annus mirabilis: Revolver, Pet Sounds, Freak Out! and Blonde On Blonde were all released then, and Bob Dylan spent much of the year promoting the latter on a world tour, backed by his new band, The Hawks.
Within a few years, this particular concert had become the most celebrated of bootleg recordings. The sound was loud and uncompromising, and the usual response from Dylan's army of die-hard folk fans was angry bewilderment, captured here in the constant fusillade of boos, catcalls and slow handclaps.
Things are all right for the opening solo acoustic set: Dylan breezes through "Mr Tambourine Man" and "Desolation Row". But when he returns with The Hawks in tow, all hell breaks loose, each song greeted by noisy dissent. Things reach a head, ironically, after Dylan's scathing put- down of incomprehension, "Ballad Of A Thin Man", when some aggrieved old folkie shouts out "Judas!", to general audience acclaim. "I don't believe you!" spits back Dylan, before instructing the band, "Play fucking loud!", as they power into the climactic "Like a Rolling Stone". Faced with the combined volume and anger of the song - one of rock's most impassioned, triumphant performances - the audience is finally cowed. But too late: Bob and his band have gone, and the ensuing murmur as the crowd departs seems sheepish and embarrassed, particularly when it's shattered by the tinny recording of the national anthem which suddenly blares out across the hall. It's presumably included here as Dylan's tart commentary on insular British attitudes. Listen, he's saying, this is what these people are stuck with - what a pitiful bunch! He was right, too.
Without You I'm Nothing
SPARE A thought for the unfortunate recipients of Brian Molko's amorous attentions, dragged through the gutter here on songs such as "Brick Shithouse" and "Burger Queen". It's not unusual for songwriters to mine their own history for material, but rarely has it been done with such apparent lack of consideration for others. Molko still relies exclusively on the tease value of his ambivalent sexuality - nothing wrong with that, and nothing new about it, either - but the whiny, narcissistic theatricality of his voice is rarely tempered here with the suggestion that he might spare a thought about someone else.
This lends a somewhat sinister edge to songs of sexual infatuation like "Ask For Answers" and the title-track: he's either trawling for new victims, or exacting revenge on those who've spurned him, in the mistaken belief that his fanciful self-image ("I'm unclean, a libertine") excuses his behaviour. He's equally ruthless in the way he plays to sulky audience sensibilities on "You Don't Care About Us", a Manics-lite anthem of teen angst on which he claims "It's your age/It's my rage". He flatters himself.
Step Inside This House
LYLE LOVETT'S latest album takes its title from Guy Clark's classic song about the personal treasures (mementoes, photos, etc.) which define our histories - the bric-a-brac which, though worthless, has an intrinsic value beyond calculation. Thus are the 21 songs collected on these two discs, written by cult Texas icons such as Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Willis Alan Ramsey and Steve Fromholz, meant to represent Lovett's personal heirlooms of Texan identity, the treasures which determined his musical identity.
As such, there's a remarkable homogeneity of themes and approaches, with lots of songs about wanderlust, lost love, endless highways, dying towns, and getting out before things get you down - nowhere better expressed than in Walter Hyatt's "Babes in the Woods", a valedictory salutation to "those still on the road/and those on the road back". It's all impeccably performed, and undeniably moving at times, but it does beg an obvious question: if Texas is such an all-fired, wonderful place, how come they all dream of leaving so much?
The Perfect Kellulight
THE EXTRAORDINARY cover photo of Missouri quartet Flick's debut album refers back to the group's origins, when Oran and Trevor Thornton's older brother and musical mentor, Bradley, was killed in a car crash (though not the one in the photo). Spurred to commemorate him, they've come up with a more than usually interesting variation on the standard Smashing Pumpkins post-grunge style.
The basic sound of The Perfect Kellulight relies heavily on the ubiquitous fuzz- guitar riffs and sullen ennui of most American indie rock, but there's an imaginative approach to the details which give the music its particular character - the subdued speeding-engine noises on "The End", the gamelan tinkle that introduces "Electric Pear", and the sliding-plectrum noise in "Drag". Their appeal lies partly in their diffident ambition: apart from the single, "Freezer Burnt", which features Oran's curious falsetto, Trevor Thornton's intimate, understated vocals lend a strangely secretive atmosphere which sets them apart from most of their contemporaries. One to watch.
THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH
MORE OF the same from The Beautiful South, with the usual easy-listening music disguising uneasy sentiments. The dominant musical colour this time round is provided by noodling electric piano, which lends a subdued Seventies jazz-funk feel to several songs, minus most of the funk. Against this complacent-sounding backdrop, Paul Heaton and Dave Rotheray have inscribed their usual litanies of pessimism - the first couple of songs here find them claiming "flowers smell the sweeter the closer you are to the grave" and "suicide's just the anarchist that kicks down modesty", whatever that means.
They have two basic modes: sympathetic evocations of life's losers, such as "Window Shopping For Blinds" and Heaton's cri du coeur "I May Be Ugly"; and blunt bouts of sexual politics such as "Your Father and I" and "Perfect 10", the latter a risque love song on the theme of measurement. But though they take brave liberties with scansion, narrative and attitude, their courage ultimately fails them on the music, which seeks no more discerning an audience than Radio 2's.