Album reviews: Tom Waits – Real Gone Remastered, Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno – Finding Shore, and more

Also Mike Love – Unleash The Love, Serpent Power – Electric Looneyland, and Chris Thile – Thanks For Listening

Andy Gill
Wednesday 13 December 2017 17:52
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Tom Waits, Real Gone: Remixed/Remastered

★★★★★

Download: Hoist That Rag; Sins Of My Father; Don’t Go Into That Barn; Trampled Rose; How’s It Gonna End; The Day After Tomorrow

In a world where everything from Sgt Pepper to What’s Going On? is considered fair game for remix “upgrading”, it’s only slightly surprising – given his nose is generally sniffing the future rather than the past – to find Tom Waits offering this revised version of his rasping, clanky collection of “cubist funk” Real Gone, which was already pretty perfect to begin with.

Still, at least he’s taken the trouble to do the overhaul himself, in alliance with his partner and co-writer Kathleen Brennan; and between them they’ve managed to render more clearly some of the album’s less obvious themes and aspects, previously partly concealed behind the pock-marked, percussion-speckled surface activity – not the least being Waits’s own beatboxing, which is dialled down here. On the opening “Top Of The Hill”, for instance, Waits’s vocal and Marc Ribot’s spiky guitar are both much clearer, the song’s grim imprecations offering an ironic comment of sorts on the remix exercise: “If I had to do it over again/I’d try and rise above the laws of man.”

The overall result is that raw nerves are more painfully exposed: stumbling across an arid plain of desolate banjo, “How’s It Gonna End” comes across like a mordant equivalent of Cohen’s “Who By Fire”; while the sinister background drone added to “Don’t Go Into That Barn” lends a deeper undertone of menace beneath the hysteria. It’s an album full of troubled ghosts and rustic superstitions, Waits painting a series of grim backwoods tableaux that expose the rotten underbelly of the American pioneer mythos.

The centrepiece is the 10-minute opus “Sins Of My Father”, suffocating in ancestral guilt and retribution, but there’s room elsewhere for heartbreaking melancholy in the haunting “Trampled Rose”, while atavistic dance urges are indulged in the “Metropolitan Glide”.

But the balance between abrasion and tenderness that characterises Real Gone is perhaps best conveyed in the two military songs at opposite ends of the album. Spiky guitar, bathetic trombone and Waits’s most scorched, rasping vocal evoke the brutalised terror of marines hitting a shore in “Hoist That Rag”. Later on, the flag of victory presumably hoist at considerable human cost, a weary combatant anticipating his return home “The Day After Tomorrow” wonders sadly, “How does God choose/Whose prayers he does refuse?”.

Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno, Finding Shore

★★★☆☆

Download: Marsh Chorus; The Gabbard; On-ness; Eastern Stack

His background in jazz, contemporary classical and avant-rock serves Three Trapped Tigers’ Tom Rogerson well on what is effectively a solo piano album subjected to Eno’s subtle treatments (some triggered by Rogerson’s fingers breaking infrared beams as they traverse the keyboard). Inspired by a shared affinity for the Suffolk landscape, these are mostly small, pastoral ambient pieces which drift, as the title suggests, over the shifting coastal flatlands: “Idea Of Order At Kyson Point” opens the album with deliquescent droplets of high synth tones gradually surmounted by rippling piano, while in “Marsh Chorus” the glistening piano and wispy threads of synth are joined by chirping birds.

The floating, improvised manner is corralled occasionally by a gently juddering electronic pulse or brief minimalist motif, but the mood overall is pleasingly free of volition: even the more rhythmical elements, like the clunky, softly marimba-like chords of “The Gabbard” or the prepared-piano puttering furtively in “March Away”, are sufficiently wreathed in reverb to dampen any unduly high spirits.

Mike Love, Unleash The Love

★☆☆☆☆

Download: Getcha Back

Mike Love does not, it’s safe to say, command quite the fond regard visited upon his cousin Brian Wilson. It’s a matter of contrasting attitudes: where Wilson’s obvious fragility only makes his musical accomplishments all the more endearing, Love has never quite managed to dispel the lingering impression of ruthlessness lurking beneath the professions of spirituality. That’s what makes him, on a cloying fantasy of oneness like “Only One Earth”, the least persuasive of pop evangelists: if we’re all one, you know exactly which one will be the one.

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Likewise, he seems utterly unaware that his account, in “Pisces Brothers”, of the trip with The Beatles to meet the Maharishi gains little from his assertion that they weren’t doing it for careerist motives because they were all financially secure anyway. Unleash The Love is steeped in this kind of smugness, aptly embodied in the rolled-up-jacket-sleeves ersatz Eighties funk-pop of tracks such as “I Don’t Wanna Know”. The “bonus” album of reheated Beach Boys hits, meanwhile, simply stains one’s precious memories.

Serpent Power, Electric Looneyland

★★★☆☆

Download: Golden Dawn; The Colour Out Of Space; Gates Of Heaven; Ancient Aviator

From deep in the acid hinterland of Liverpool, something wicked this way comes. Electric Looneyland is the second album from Serpent Power, the band formed by The Zutons’ Paul Molloy and The Coral’s Ian Skelly, presumably in homage to the legendary San Francisco group of the same name. It’s a wild, euphoric dose of unfettered psychedelia, full of lyrical and instrumental colour, hurtling pell-mell through “the cosmic maze ... across the black abyss”, as proclaimed in the hazy psychedelic tango “The Colour Out Of Space”.

There are plenty of recognisable period touchstones audible here – the fuzz-guitar riff and high-register vocals of “Golden Dawn” recall Cream; the guitar, piano and tambourine swagger-stomp of “Howling” is pure Hapshash & The Coloured Coat; while the reedy organ of “Jekyll & Hyde” brings to mind any number of Farfisa-driven garage-punk psychedelicists. But when Serpent Power hit their stride, as with the full-on psych-rock swirl of “Gates Of Heaven” and piercing acid-rock waltz “Ancient Aviator”, they’re every bit the equal of their forebears.

Chris Thile, Thanks For Listening

★★★☆☆

Download: I Made This For You; Feedback Loop; Elephant In The Room; Thank You New York

Mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile may be the most protean musician working today, with a CV ranging from Bach to bluegrass, and collaborators including Yo Yo Ma and Brad Mehldau. He also took over from Garrison Keillor as host of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion, contributing a new, usually topical, song each week, 10 of which are compiled on Thanks For Listening.

The subjects range from Christmas and Thanksgiving – familial duties mercifully lubricated by alcohol (“thank God for fermentation”) – to the perpetually needy, perpetually outraged world of social media in “Feedback Loop”, where woody flute and Thile’s trilling mandolin attempt to calm a bubbling cauldron of “closed eyes, closed minds, open wounds, open hate”. Against its narrow-minded brutishness, he celebrates a liberal culture of generosity (“I Made This For You”) and cultural diversity (“Thank You New York”), exemplified by a musical inclusiveness and sophisticated lyricism which, though occasionally a touch too serpentine and verbose, at its best brings to mind Sufjan Stevens.

Various Artists, Listen People: The Graham Gouldman Songbook

★★★☆☆

Download: Bus Stop; For Your Love; Behind The Door; No Milk Today

Before merging his talents into 10cc, Graham Gouldman spent the Sixties crafting elegant pop material for the likes of Herman’s Hermits, The Hollies and most notably The Yardbirds. Sadly, his two biggest Yardbirds hits are included here in covers by R&B duo Larry Williams and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, whose creditable “For Your Love” retains the infectious harpsichord part, and epic pomp-metallists Rush, whose “Heart Full Of Soul” has no such saving grace.

Harnessing snapshot images of everyday working-class life to indelible melodies, hits such as “Bus Stop”, “Tallyman” and “No Milk Today” suggest Gouldman was a Northern Ray Davies; certainly, he was less reliable outside his native milieu, as witness “Have You Ever Been To Georgia”, a song so bereft of specific charm it could apply to any of 51 states. American treatment of his material was comparably hit and miss: Cher’s “Behind The Door” is lovely, but the biggest mistake of this compilation is squandering the subtle charms of “I’m Not In Love” on Dee Dee Sharp’s overblown Philly Soul treatment.

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