Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (SideOneDummy Records)

Last year was an incredible one for New Jersey punks Gaslight Anthem. The small town boys made good with their blend of feel good nostalgia for the America of yesterday appealed to a great many, coinciding perfectly with a critical reappraisal of the work of Bruce Springsteen, their biggest influence. 

The two met and performed together on each other songs at the Glastonbury Festival, London Calling, and other UK shows. Those shows felt heavy with symbolism, the perfect passing of the baton from a passed generation to a new one. The question is, what have they done with the standard that they are now bearing?

Well, not a great deal, if listening to this album is anything to go by. The dual influences of Springsteen and the Clash cast a long shadow over this album, as they did over ‘The 59 Sound’. That record was full of vintage Americana, old Lincolns, sailor tattoos, and old fashioned radio sets. It was also a record from a humble, blue collar perspective, that yearned for lost youth and innocence, and ‘American Slang’ offers a continuation of these elements.

Right throughout, nostalgia abounds, as on second track, ‘Stay Lucky’, Brian Fallon recalls how “everyone used to call you lucky when you were young”, but now, aged 25, “mother never told me there’d be days like these”. Note the past tense, which continues almost all the way through. On ‘The Boxer’, another mid-tempo number, the singer offers the darker side of memories, remembering how a boy once endured the regular beatings of his father, a former professional pugilist. “They say it never leaves you” is clearly loaded with double meaning, demonstrating the singer’s capacity for writing thoughtful lyrics. 

Whereas on ‘The 59 Sound’, all this nostalgia and harking back to the past was refreshing, here, it’s so ubiquitous, it becomes banal, and repetitive. Even the lead singer seems to be sick of his own shtick, where on ‘Old Haunts’ towards the end of the record, he sings “so don’t sing me songs about the good times / those days are gone and you should just let ‘em go”. 

Overall, it’s a record that rarely leaves mid-tempo. From the opening track that shares the title of the album, it’s clear that this is a more considered Gaslight, the musical parts are more distinct, better played and better mixed with more of sense of dynamics between the instruments. The guitars don’t clash and merge into a muddy mess, for example. There are stabs at newer sounds, with the Clash-like ska of ‘The Queen of Chelsea’, and the ‘Diamond Church Street Choir’ recalling The Boss’s funkier moments.

Sadly, these newer elements aren’t enough to salvage American Slang from being a distinctly average, rock record. It’s solid and decent, but nothing more. There aren’t enough strong songs on it, and not enough bravery to try new, bold ideas and sounds. It all amounts to a less successful version of ‘The 59 Sound’, and leaves you feeling the band’s chief songwriter has spent more than enough time looking at the past, and needs to start living in the present.

Mancunian Rating: 3/5

Manchester : So much To Answer For

hi Everyone. It's been a while. I have elsewhere, in the past few months, had an incredibly busy time as a journalist, interviewing Mystery Jets, The Drums, The Gaslight Anthem, Mr Scruff, and various others, as well as doing various news, reviews and stuff over at God Is In The TV.

This after several years out of the game - I last properly wrote (well, edited)  professionally on a regular basis in the days when City Life was an actual regular magazine, 5 years ago, and, so it's been a while. It's really more like 10 years since I was doing this much writing, back when I was interviewing the likes of Doves, Campag Velocet (anyone remember them?), I Am Kloot, and other indie reprobates for Flux Magazine and City Life, as well as other internet startups which duly disappeared in the web 1.0 crash around 2000/2001.

So, strange coming back to it, feels like I've gone round in a big circle. This week has been hectic, calling Alex Levine of Gaslight Anthem in New Jersey, and Damien O'Neill of The Undertones in London for various features, before throwing myself into 4 days of gigs, with the Hungry Pigeon Festival, and Dot To Dot Festival on Monday, for Clash Magazine. I also got word that I should be attending Latitude festival, and Reading this year for a website (which shall remain nameless until it's totally 100% confirmed).

Busy, busy busy. It's a good feeling getting back on the horse after all these years. In 2000, I was working for Tony Wilson and going out to loads of gigs, the big events at Castlefield, Glastonbury and other shenigans. Wilson was a man who truly inspired me. He would come in from presenting the Granada news every day to the In The City / Factory offices, and tell us stories about Joy Division, The Buzzcocks, The Mondays, Sex Pistols, and all sorts. He would occasionally roll up a joint and smoke it with us, and we would celebrate sales victories by ordering in rounds of drinks to the office, from Atlas bar over the road. A rock n roll office, my first proper job, and probably the best I ever had, besides City Life. Fresh out of uni, I was inspired by his passion for music and journalism, and he filled me with the confidence that I should be a writer in the fly by night creative industries.

That summer, I fell in love with someone (who shall remain nameless), but though she liked me, it turned out she fell in love with the lead singer of a very successful indie band (which shall remain nameless). There was something about that summer, it was perfect. There was something in the air, I had my life ahead of me and I was full of hope.

By the end of the year, in my rush to become a success, and my frustration at how things were going personally, I went off to London to work for Carlton, and it was never the same again, if I'm honest. I was never the same again. I lost my way, both professionally and personally. I was never really that happy for most of the time after that barring the occasional moments or brief periods.

But today, at the Hungry Pigeon festival, in Manchester's Picadilly Gardens, I felt that feeling again. I guess it was partly sparked by being in Factory251, the old Paradise Factory, last night. There's a feeling of renewal in me, a feeling of hope. After a terrible time scraping a living in call centres, and surviving the evil cut and thrust of bitching and gossip that makes those places hell on earth, I feel like I can "be myself" again, by doing what I love doing. I loved hanging round bars and watching bands, talking about books and TV shows, surrounded by scruffy, arty people, but I always felt ashamed of that, as if it wasn't a "proper" thing to do for a living.

When I was a kid, Tony Wilson gave me that permission I needed to do that, when I was young. He went to Cambridge (though once he told me he came close to going to Manchester, like myself), wore a suit, and gave a respectability to a love of rock n roll culture, debauchery and fun that made it seem ok to build a life around. Somewhere, I started to feel I *should* be doing certain things, and I think I quite badly lost sight of who I was. Hell, I even went to Law school, this from someone who agrees with John Lydon's quote, "Rules? Rules are for fools!"

Anyway, right now I have to scrape together a few hundred words on Sheffields' Slow Club, who are now my find of the year after their gig on Friday. They were like The White Stripes without Jack White's angry machismo, which makes it hard to like them sometimes. Thoroughly likeable, defiantly youthful, idealistic with beautiful souls. And they were really funny. I hope they never get old.

Other than that, I have to scrape together a piece on The Undertones, whom it was fascinating to talk to this week. That's all on top of preparing to interview Mystery Jets again on Monday, for Clash, along with possibly Lissie, as well as review the various bands on, and tweet (and twat) about it.


While I remember. Just got back from the Hungry Pigeon. Caught George Borowski, and The Jesse Road Trip. Borowski is, for those who don't know the fella "guitar George" mentioned by Mark Knopfler in the Dire Straits song Sultans Of Swing. A Mancunian folk hero. He was a bit annoying when he spoke, basically telling people off for having a bit of swagger, drinking too much cos there were kids there, etc. The music was amazing though,  a mix of tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and other classic American rock, but with storytelling  about everyday Mancunian stories, referencing Stockport station, and Openshaw. Great stuff, but it was so bloody cold I got indoors after 20 minutes, cos I may be from this city, and sometimes I love it, but I fucking hate the weather.

Jesse Road Trip, well she look hot in hot pants. They were good, but nothing special, a 4 piece band with a great female singer/guitarist (with incredibly guitar skills), outside the standard Mancunian bloke rock mould, thankfully, but perhaps missing that X factor or ingredient to make them stand out. Anyway, I'm signing off to get writing. See Ya!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Futureheads - The Chaos (Nul Records)

“5-4-3-2-1 Lets’ Go!” And so begins the fourth album by Sunderland’s not-so-new wave punksters, The Futureheads. They first came to emerged 6 years ago with their self-titled debut, but it was probably 2005 when they really grabbed people’s attention with their cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’, named Best Single of the year, by the NME. Their songs quirky sense of fun, and its’ weirdness captured the band. It opened doors for them, winning them support slots for major bands like The Foo Fighters, and TV appearances.

It’s fair to say the record also became something of an albatross for the band, misrepresenting them as a commercial entity alongside more obvious indie brethren like the Fratellis and the Pigeon Detectives, when the Futureheads are probably a more serious, earnest enterprise.

Unsurprisingly dropped by their label 679 Recordings in 2006, after becoming disillusioned with the mainstream, their interview on our very own pages reads this moment as one of liberation. Personally, I loved the record that followed, This Is Not The World, it’s lead single ‘Beginning Of The Twist’ delivering an urgency, and singular power pop kick, while the record as a whole explored their quirkier side.

For me, The Chaos continues this trend. While ‘Heartbeat Song’ offers a clear nod to commercial success with its’ simple pop love song formula, the record as a whole is a driving, urgent piece, full of allusions to being disaffected with the society and politics of Britain 2010.

Whether it’s the title track, and opener, ‘The Chaos’, where Barry Hyde despairs, “We’ve been told a lie, but you still toe the line,” or ‘Sun Goes Down’ where daytime workers go out at night to escape their soul-destroying drudgery, as “the double life begins”. While there’s definitely anger on The Chaos, The Futureheads still do fun, too, with songs like The Connector, a silly, Queen-influenced piece.

Overall, The Chaos sees the Futureheads find their place in music, following a groove set by the previous record, TINTW. It’s a place that’s unlikely to win them large numbers of new fans - it’s clear the band have eschewed a place alongside watered-down A-List Tesco-chasing bands like Snow Patrol. We live in musical era when, for example, The Courteeners’ Liam Fray recently shared his ambition to be as big as U2, while the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Plan B have made a pop records to please their bank managers. The concept of size and profile seems to be more important than quality, staying true to ones’ roots and authenticity. For that reason, The Chaos should be applauded, as a refreshingly humble labour of love.

Abbas Ali

Gogol Bordello, Mariachi El Bronx Manchester Academy 1, 08th May 2010

Like result of an test tube experiment to combine the seed of Joe Strummer and Shane MacGowan, Ukrainian ex-pat Eugene Hutz is onstage, messianic, fuelled by the booze, and the centre of a huge party.

The guitar-wielding singer is the consummate performer, and he and his fellow musicians certainly know how to put on a show. Having come to this venue for over 15 years, I’ve never seen the crowds as loud or as raucous as they are for Gogol Bordello, a rag-tag band of gypsies who first got together 10 years ago in New York to play a cosmopolitan blend of their own traditional gypsy music, mixed with ska, rap, punk, and rock music. In recent years, the band recent decamped to Brazil, adding the Latin sounds of that continent to their influences.

When they first emerged, there was nothing like them, but in the decade since, the internationalism of music has reached new heights, with the likes of Foals and Vampire Weekend reaching out to embrace African music, while Damon Albarn writes Chinese monkey operas.

Things have changed for Gogol Bordello too. ‘Trans-Continental Hustle’ their new album is also their major label debut, and sees legendary label man / studio geek Rick Rubin on production duties, as the band move in a more commercial direction with the aim of reaching out to fans.
On tonight’s display, there is no faulting the band’s live credentials. The 8 piece band move about the stage frantically, changing gears at just the right time between tempos.

Songs like Wonderlust King and Ultimate provide high octane, pogoing thrills for those at the front, while ‘When Universes Collide’ and ‘Sun Is On My Side’ with its’ Latino blues, provide balladry and soothing acoustic sounds for those at the back. Meanwhile, ‘My Companjera’ is a love song almost sounds like what ABBA would do if they were a gypsy folk outfit.

Not just music for the heart, it’s angry, intelligent and political music too, railing against the injustices of the system, and the mistreatment and hatred of immigrants as the hard-rocking riffing of Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher) demonstrates. Hutz wears his immigrant roots on his sleeve.

Indeed, it’s no surprise that the band will be supporting Rage Against The Machine at their X-Factor payback gig in London next month, and were partly discovered by the agit-rockers in the beginning. Gogol Bordello are the natural successors to their angry, unifying music, and the logicial conclusion of their genre-bending – RATM were devastating and unique when they emerged for their convergence of rock and rap, but their heirs take things further and add many more kinds of music to the melting pot. If he was around, Joe Strummer would be proud.

Abbas Ali