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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Paul McCartney: Red Rose Speedway


1) Big Barn Bed; 2) My Love; 3) Get On The Right Thing; 4) One More Kiss; 5) Little Lamb Dragonfly; 6) Single Pigeon; 7) When The Night; 8) Loup (1st Indian On The Moon); 9) Hold Me Tight / Lazy Dynamite / Hands Of Love / Power Cut; 10*) C Moon; 11*) Hi Hi Hi; 12*) The Mess; 13*) I Lie Around.

General verdict: A cool collection of endearing pop songs whose cumulative effect just happens to be less than the sum of their individual parts, if that makes any sense.

I am not sure what can be said in general about Red Rose Speedway, the first Wings album released with a full band lineup and intended to mark Paul's return to the public sphere as a newly reborn, self-confident bandleader. Probably the only thing on which everybody agrees is that the album cover is godawful — if it was Linda's idea to make Paul look like he's bound, gagged (by the proverbial red rose) and staring at you as if you were Buffalo Bill or something, it ranks second only to Yoko Ono's initiative to betray the size of John Lennon's manhood to all of his past, present, and future female admirers. Throw in the earliest whiff of the silly mullet that Paul sported throughout the Seventies, and we are definitely not off to a good start.

Unlike Ram, this musical asylum for ʽMy Loveʼ has not managed so far to win back all the love it deserved, and I think I can understand why. On Ram, Paul's personal charm was put up front: with relatively sparse arrangements, vocals brought all the way up in the mix, a sense of quirky humor, and plenty of stylistic diversity it was pretty easy to disregard the «slightness» of the songs — they were only slight because the entire album was an exercise in child-like fantasy. With Red Rose Speedway, this was no longer «Paul & Linda McCartney»: Paul clearly had the goal of getting together a real band that would, if not surpass the Beatles, at least win renown as one of the most significant acts for the Seventies. All the way up to 1976, «Wings» were really presented as a partnership, in which McCartney was but one of the elements — a fake, hypocri­tical construction that did not work because it could not work, but one upon which he stubbornly insisted, even if pretty much every year he had to watch it crumble into dust, only to be picked up and reassembled and re-demolished again.

Much of the session time for Red Rose Speedway was spent jamming in the studio — pretty boring and tedious, according to the opinion of Glyn Johns, who was hired to engineer the album but quit midway through (and this guy certainly knew a thing or two about great jamming). In between the jams, Paul still wrote enough songs to fill a double album, but when it came to finalizing the product, he cut out most of the rocking ones and included most of the soft ones — perhaps he, too, realized in the final run that the current lineup of Wings was far from perfect when it came to rock'n'roll crunch. The softness of the record, however, was far from the main problem with it. The main problem was rather perceived as a total lack of purpose. If the first albums at least had this «domestic», «homely» vibe around them, one that you could shoot up or get along with depending on your preferences, Red Rose Speedway makes no cohesive artistic statement whatsoever. It is not particularly homely, not particularly surrealist, not too charmingly nonsensical, certainly not socially or politically relevant; it does not care much for the musical trends of the time, be it prog, glam, or proto-punk. Really, it's just a bunch of songs.

And yet again, as time goes by and we get more and more accustomed to once again perceiving albums as just bunches of songs, and the startling musical innovations of the last century start fusing together in one solid time-independent mass, Paul McCartney regains the winning hand. Take away historical context, stay with the music and music only, and Red Rose Speedway will emerge as just another excellent collection of very nice musical moments. As an LP, it is rather pointless; as an LP from 1973, it puts its creator way behind the lines of the great innovators and visionaries of that year — but there is not a single bad song on the album, albeit some moments may be more irritating than others.

Perhaps the very worst idea that Paul had implemented here was joining the last four songs together — an eleven-minute medley that would be inevitably compared to the conclusion of Abbey Road, and just as inevitably lose. The wonder of the Abbey Road medley was precisely in the fact that the used material consisted of semi-finished snippets, melodically and atmosphe­rically diverse, unpredictable, and occasionally challenging. Taken together, they were not telling any cohesive story or even making literal sense, but somehow still merged into their own uni­verse, where the routine could smoothly lead into the transcendental. None of that mystery or grand scope can be found in the ʽHold Me Tightʼ medley, which is really just four short and simple love songs melded together for no apparent reason other than tell us, "hey look! I'm still the guy who could do this sort of thing in 1969, remember?" Well, yes, except that, of course, back in 1969 you used to do that while still partnered with that other guy, remember?

The sad thing about it is that all four songs, on their own, are quite nice. The ska-ish ʽHold Me Tightʼ (no relation to the ʽHold Me Tightʼ that Paul wrote for With The Beatles — just how many song­writers, I wonder, actually write two different songs with the exact same name?) goes a bit overboard with the number of times that the title is repeated, but the main vocal hook is still immaculately constructed. ʽLazy Dynamiteʼ has a healthy soul vibe to it; ʽHands Of Loveʼ is a charming pop ditty whose soft, but fussy percussive pitter-patter is just irresistible; and ʽPower Cutʼ is actually one of those how-does-he-do-it magic moments where a single "baby I love you so" can gain extra depth just by being defiantly straightforward and simplistic (no, this can't happen to anyone, but at least in 1973 Paul still had a knack for these things).

Perhaps he thought that, since all four songs were so simple and melodically compatible (to the extent that, like on the Abbey Road medley, certain leitmotifs may crop up repeatedly — all the main themes are replayed in the ʽPower Cutʼ outro, for instance), they should go together; and outside of the comparative context, I see no problem with that. But no Beatle fan really lives outside of the context, and so, from a purely pragmatic point of view, it may have been better if he had spread the four jingles throughout the album (which would still allow for thematic repeti­tion). Are they «Beatle-quality» on their own, though? This is hard for me to say, yet not every simple love song that Paul did with the Beatles was perfect, anyway. But if you are a fan of ʽGood Day Sunshineʼ and ʽYour Mother Should Knowʼ, I see no reason to bypass these little offsprings of the light-as-a-feather Paul vibe.

None of these received any radio play, though: instead, the popular fate of Red Rose Speedway was determined by ʽMy Loveʼ, arguably the first Grand McCartney Ballad that tore opinions apart — some viewing it as yet another great achievement in his troubadour canon, others com­plaining that ʽMy Loveʼ had betrayed everything that the Grand McCartney Ballad used to stand for, and was not fit to lick the boots of ʽLet It Beʼ, ʽThe Long And Winding Roadʼ, and even ʽMaybe I'm Amazedʼ. I suppose that the sentimental string arrangement and the ultra-slow tempo of the song were the main irritants here, but should they have really detracted people from asses­sing its melodic strength? (Even when those people were consistently lambasting Phil Spector for adding his own sentimental strings to ʽThe Long And Winding Roadʼ, they rarely dared to put down the song itself). As far as I'm concerned, ʽMy Loveʼ is classic McCartney — a dynamic verse-chorus unity that rises, falls, rises again and comes down in loving and lovable peace, with a creative bridge to boot that also doubles as a coda. Throw in the magnificent guitar solo by Henry McCullough, who does his own romantic impression of Paul's vocal melody, and you have the best Burt Bacharach song that Burt Bacharach never wrote. The lyrics suck? My love does what good? Who really cares when he hits those falsetto notes on the final "does it good... too-whoo-whoo-whoo... me"?..

But okay, whatever; if you still think ʽMy Loveʼ is just a generic exercise in MOR balladry, I'd like you to repeat this in the face of ʽLittle Lamb Dragonflyʼ, my all-time favorite song from this album. Someday somebody is going to make a late-night McCartney compilation entitled Ah, Look At All The Lonely People, celebrating the man's several decades of exploring loneliness, compassion, and empathy for the outcasts in music, and when this is finally done, ʽLittle Lamb Dragonflyʼ is going to be one of the highlights, Beatle- or post-Beatle era. The song had many literal interpretations, even including one about an actual lost sheep on Paul's farm, but there is no need to overthink it in order to understand that this one goes out to all the separated people out there — particularly touching, I'd think, if you physically lost a loved one. Consisting of two separate parts (I always think that the real title should have been ʽLittle Lamb / Dragonflyʼ, with the slash somehow lost on the way to print), it starts and ends on an epic note: the guitar-strings duet in the opening, eventually joining forces with Paul's la-la-la vocalize, seems to be setting the stage for a medieval ballad in its first couple of bars, only to begin descending into morose, introspective depths in the next couple — a light, but serious lament for something or somebody that used to be important but is now fading out on the horizon. The slightly faster, livelier ʽDragonflyʼ section has its share of gorgeous chord changes, but the best thing about it is still how, at the end of things, we revisit and fade out our grand lament.

In between the «biggies» are scattered all sorts of goodies, diverse to the point that nobody is probably going to like all of them: even I, the album's biggest fan, will admit that the goofiness of the opening ʽBig Barn Bedʼ, for instance, is nowhere near the level of intensity for ʽMonkberry Moon Delightʼ — this is the second time in a row that Paul is trying to open the album up with a bit of «rowdiness», and this time (unlike ʽMumboʼ), it seems as if he were actually trying to say something, but in the end it still comes out as a counting-out rhyme ("weeping on a willow, sleeping on a pillow, leaping armadillo"), hopelessly stuck in transit on its way to becoming an arena-size pop-rocker: still formally catchy, but not funny enough and not crazy enough. On the other hand, speaking of crazy, I am a big fan of ʽLoup (1st Indian On The Moon)ʼ, which Gavin Edwards at RollingStone has very aptly described as feeling "like a man drowning in an ocean after midnight with only a bassline to save him" — with wolves howling on the shore, I should add, a remark that should bring us closer in contact with both the song's title (ʽLoupʼ) and the actual guitar and vocal howling patterns in the main section. Comparisons have been drawn to Pink Floyd here, which is probably not a coincidence, since Floyd were recording Dark Side Of The Moon pretty much next door to Paul at the time at Abbey Road Studios; of course, for Paul this was just a temporary diversion, but given the brutal strength of that bassline, it still makes me wonder how a real musical collaboration between the two might have turned out.

Other points of interest include the Ram outtake ʽGet On The Right Thingʼ (with a very Ram-like echo on the vocals and a very Ram-like hysterical conclusion); the simple, sweet, sad excourse into country-rock stylistics ʽOne More Kissʼ, whose chorus I will defend to the death (also, watch out for these sliding little lead guitar pings that either McCullough or Laine do at the end of each bar on the chorus right after the instrumental verse — bringing the song up to a whole new level of sadness); and ʽSingle Pigeonʼ — the demo-like little brother of ʽJunkʼ and ʽAnother Dayʼ, another short and brilliant musical observation about being down and out in love. Really, as I said, just about every song here does something; if anything suffers, it is only the cumulative effect, which basically amounts to «well, uncle Paul wrote us some more songs, DUH!».

If you throw in most of everything that did not make the final cut, the situation does not exactly become any better. The rocking material that the band produced was mediocre: ʽHi, Hi, Hiʼ became more famous for being banned because of assumed drug references and the infamous "get ready for my body gun" line than for its musical content, and ʽThe Messʼ, although I suppose somebody like The New York Dolls would have liked it, is an attempt at mimicking the hard rock bands of the day but, in the end, is really just... a mess. The Denny-sung ʽI Lie Aroundʼ is vaude­villian Brit-pop that seems highly influenced by the laid-back Ray Davies style of the time, and so should have benefited highly from a Ray Davies-type vocal rather than Denny's unsubtle croak. And ʽLive And Let Dieʼ, the Bond theme song, although also recorded at the same time, never made it onto the album — but perhaps its grandiose symphonic ambitions would seem too incom­patible with the general feel, were it ever considered for inclusion.

Paul himself seems to have ended up with the same negative associations for the album that Mick Jagger now holds for Between The Buttons: since the albums yielded few hits and were not originally held in high esteem, they should best be forgotten. The only song from here that Paul has ever performed live is ʽMy Loveʼ (because that one was a hit), even if I am one hundred percent sure that most fans would pay twice the regular price to ever see him do ʽLittle Lamb Dragonflyʼ in concert. But on the positive side, Red Rose Speedway did mark his full-fledged return to the recording studio as a newly-self-confident artist: it is the first solo McCartney (or Wings, whatever) album that never sounds underproduced (occasionally overproduced), and if it took him a few more months to find a more stable direction and a more clear niche in the musical world of the Seventies, well, I can understand. In the meantime, I'll just keep on insisting that this is, perhaps, not a very good LP, but a pretty damn good collection of pop songs anyway. They just got clustered together in an inexplicable feat of gravity-related accidents.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On


1) What's Going On; 2) What's Happening Brother; 3) Flyin' High; 4) Save The Children; 5) God Is Love; 6) Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology); 7) Right On; 8) Wholy Holy; 9) Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).

General verdict: The "born again" / "coming out" record for Marvin, a triumph of soul over formula, groove over melody, spirit over shape, question over answer.

Of the two superheroes that managed to throw off Motown's shackles of formulaic oppression in the early Seventies and go on to become legends in their own rights — Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder — Stevie was, fairly inarguably, the musical genius. Marvin was never much of a player, had relatively limited interest in composing throughout the 1960s, and put just about everything he had in his singing. If you are looking for rich, innovative, pattern-rupturing melodies that took R&B to unprecedented (and still unsurpassed) heights, Stevie is your man. If you want Marvin to be your man, well... you have to be looking for something different.

This little preamble is necessary in order to understand why I have never been such an ardent fan of What's Going On as is usually prescribed by, uh, the «musical establishment». If you view this record outside of its historical context, and if you stay away from its lyrical content, it just doesn't really look that magnificent. Its sound is very typical of lush 1970s soul — gentle, soft grooves with soothing brass and luxurious strings, not very much unlike something you might encounter on even, say, a Barry White record. (Robert Christgau, in his original review, shot out a particularly vicious putdown of those strings, and, for once, I'd have to admit that he had his mind more or less in the right place). In all honesty, it does not even seem to me as if Marvin put that much thought and care into the preparation of the instrumental basis for this album: the sessions were fairly loose and spontaneous, with a lot of different people coming and going — something that is subtly reflected in the free-flowing atmosphere of the songs, but does not hint at a whole lot of compositional skill.

Then there is that other side of the story — or, rather, there is the story as such, which, in itself, is so awesome that many people probably fall in love with What's Going On before hearing the first note of this album. The story that tells about a spiritual and creative rebirth of a very much broken down man, depressed by his disintegrating family life, by feeling trapped within a suffo­cating and restrictive musical machine, and, on top of that, by having one of his best friends just die a horrible death at an unbelievably young age. How that broken down man, sick and tired of having to perform formulaic and insincere commercial tunes written for him by other people, found a new meaning in life by completely rejecting those conventions and coming up with a conceptual suite that actually addressed some real issues — war, racism, poverty, inequality, pollution, God, Love, you name it — at a time when hit-oriented factories like Motown still looked largely impermeable to such artistic tendencies. How, eventually, especially after that man's own tragic demise a decade later, the suite came to be regarded as one of the highest achievements in the history of popular African-American music, or even popular music as a whole, and has provided inspiration for several generations of musicians and music listeners.

It's a wonderful story, indeed, and one with which even Stevie Wonder would find a hard time to compete — not even Songs In The Key Of Life, his sprawling encyclopaedia of human emo­tions, can boast such an intense spiritual glow. But, like all such stories, it also begs the question: what really matters? The intention or the realisation? The context or the substance? Our biases and expectations, or our pure, unconditioned gut reaction? How are all these things linked? What's really going on, brother?

If you feel like there's a sacred cow slaughter coming up here, don't: What's Going On has enough spirit in it to withstand any criticism of its melodic content. If anything, Berry Gordy must have felt much like I did upon first hearing the title song and telling Marvin it was a bunch of nonsense — not because he was scared of its political content, but because he did not perceive any serious musical value. It was just a groove, really, with James Jamerson's bassline starting and ending its melodic potential, while Marvin's vocalizing never gelled into a proper hook, instead preferring to dissolve into little pools of falsetto scatting. Yet there was something there to cause its immediate popularity: not the message itself, but probably the soft, peaceful, and very intense feel of sincere pain behind the vocals. Far from being the first R&B protest song, ʽWhat's Going Onʼ still hit some nerve that many previous songs did not, and this can only be blamed on the unexplainable magic of the vocalist.

The fact that songs mostly segue into one another without any breaks, and the fact that mid-tempo syncopated R&B grooves are at the core of almost everything here makes most of What's Going On look like one steady flow of a vast musical river — interrupted and realigned only once, with the Latin-bluesy seven-minute chug of ʽRight Onʼ warily throwing in a different style that is just a tad bit more aggressive (accentuated by some very lively jazzy flute parts). Marvin himself sounds like he is being gently carried by the current, laying all his troubles on you like one huge confession — singing, usually, although he also likes to have fun here by experimenting with his vocals, overdubbing several different Marvins across the board, one time even having them parrot the same lyrics off each other, one set sung, one set recited (ʽSave The Childrenʼ). There is no other way in which the record would speak to me: even if it did yield several formally disjointed hit singles, I can only make peace with it if I take it as a single, prolonged musical oratorio, much more of a single-piece than, say, Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick.

And, of course, it is precisely that move from a gifted hitmaker to the free spirit behind the musical oratorio that matters most here. What's Going On clicks best if you keep remembering that this is a musical awakening — even the lyrics, very naïve and simplistic on the whole, are those of a man-child who finally got around to shaking off the slumber and looking at this strange world we are living in with brand new eyes. The title of the album, after all, is a question, and the entire suite is an endless series of questions (and in art, as we all know, it usually pays off to ask questions rather than give answers): what's going on? what's happening brother? who's willing to try to save a world? where did all the blue skies go? who are they to judge us? It is not really required, after all, that a naïve musical awakening like that should be filled to the brim with intelligent and complex musical innovation. Just keep on rolling, and asking those questions in that sweet, innocent, amicable manner.

The way-too-overtly religious moments on the record (ʽGod Is Loveʼ, ʽWholy Holyʼ) have be­come the most dated — those intervals where Marvin slips from troubled questioning into zealous preaching feel cheap next to the burning issues — but it is a spiritual record made by an R&B performer, and that pretty much guarantees that some prayers are inevitable. They are short and few, though, and it is interesting that Marvin preferred to end the record not with one of them, but with ʽInner City Bluesʼ, easily the most scared-sounding tune on the album, where the vocals are delivered in little punctuated outbursts, fluttering and panicking: the inner child becoming more and more terrified with reality as questions remain unanswered and the blues begins to set in. Not a «depressing» or «apocalyptic» ending per se, but one that is supposed to leave you perturbed and agitated at the long journey's end.

In the end, I have a nagging suspicion that What's Going On remains one of those albums that everyone admires, but probably rarely listens to — a sort of Pet Sounds for the R&B genre, except that Pet Sounds, the coming-of-age masterpiece for Brian Wilson, actually features uniquely innovative musical textures, whereas for Marvin, the coming-of-age thing was played out in an entirely different dimension; and people do listen to Pet Sounds quite a bit for that reason, while What's Going On must find you in a very special state of mind — like, worrying about the world's problems, yet wanting to remain fairly mellow about it. Most importantly, though, you have to be sure that you appreciate What's Going On not because of some cheap politically correct reason (Important Milestone In Black Music History, etc.), but because of the real reason — because behind it there is a deeply hurting soul that finally, after years of re­pression, has earned the right to let some of that hurt out in public. Real soul, real hurt, real music; not particularly adventurous, but real soul and real hurt do not always have to be adventurous.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Chelsea Wolfe: Hiss Spun


1) Spun; 2) 16 Psyche; 3) Vex; 4) Strain; 5) The Culling; 6) Particle Flux; 7) Twin Fawn; 8) Offering; 9) Static Hum; 10) Welt; 11) Two Spirit; 12) Scrape.

General verdict: I'd take Babymetal over Chelseametal any time of day. At least it's a MUCH more fun challenge to come up with an existentialist interpretation of their music than it is for Chelsea's.

I guess it was bound to happen, sooner or later: Hiss Spun marks Chelsea's definitive conversion to heavy metal. It may be just a passing phase, of course, but looking back, it seems that all the roads were slowly leading to this point — and now we see Chelsea fortifying herself in the studio of Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou (who also makes an appearance on one of the tracks) and, in addition to her long-term musical partner Ben Chisholm, enlisting the services of Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens Of The Stone Age) and even inviting Aaron Turner of Isis to add growling vocals on one of the tracks. (It would be far more awesome if Chelsea learned to growl herself, though — the contrast with her siren-like falsetto could be mind-blowing!).

Does this help? Certainly not. Up until this point, it was still possible to sit on the fence about whether Chelsea Wolfe could be taken «seriously»; with this transition, her image is finally set in stone as that of an entertaining vaudeville performer, albeit still less entertaining than all those outlandish doom metal clowns — at this stage, I would much rather sit through, say, an Arch Enemy album (rage! terror! gore! giggles!) than through a set of songs on which an artificially somnambulant singer slowly makes her way across an interminable field of generic sludge metal riffs while trying to make you believe that she is "depleted by love", "ready to fall apart", and that she will "be hunting for you, buried under flowers".

The biggest problem is that this music does not properly work as a «horror show», either. Pure vaudeville has to be flashy, extravagant, buoyant, going all-out there. The guitar riffs of these songs, however, fail at this purpose, and so do the vocals, as Wolfe continues to be locked in her usual mood (Ophelian delirium) throughout the album — a mood that typically aspires to artistic seriousness rather than cheap thrills. And when you have a record that fails to deliver artistic seriousness and involuntarily lands face-first in a dish of cheap thrills instead, well, that is one of the worst things that could happen in art, as I'm sure your mother told you when you first tried to impress her with your poetry when you were eight years old. (That is, if you have / had a really mean, tough bitch of a mother).

I don't even want to write about any of the individual songs this time around. Listening to those endless tales of mental and physical abuse, alienation, rejection, sexual frustration, whatever, I feel like I am expected to want to reach out and give her a hug, but not a single one of these tracks goes deep enough into the soul to make me believe that she actually needs that hug (which I'd like to reserve for the likes of Beth Gibbons, or at least someone like Trish Keenan of Broad­cast — who was somehow much more capable of making you feel other people's pain without explicitly dwelling too much on it). As for the bombastic sludge that surrounds her vocals, well, I'd rather just listen to some proper Queens Of The Stone Age instead — they are not the best band in the world, but at least they are capable of kicking ass without any of that mock-Freudian bullshit. This here is a combination that does not even begin to work. Sorry.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool


1) Burn The Witch; 2) Daydreaming; 3) Decks Dark; 4) Desert Island Disk; 5) Full Stop; 6) Glass Eyes; 7) Identikit; 8) The Numbers; 9) Present Tense; 10) Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief; 11) True Love Waits; 12*) Ill Wind; 13*) Spectre.

General verdict: TWell, at least Radiohead with strings is an improvement over Radiohead with pings.

With this odd speeding up of time, I am not even sure that most of us realize just how old Radio­head were in 2016 — but it has actually been twenty-three years since the release of their first album, meaning that if they were The Beatles, Thom Yorke would already have been shot dead by some irate hater of King Of Limbs, and Jonny Greenwood would be producing Press To Play Another P. T. Anderson Soundtrack, with somebody like, say, Ed Sheeran playing guest guitar and co-produ­cing where possible. Fortunately, times have changed, and all these guys know better than to embarrass themselves that badly. However, one thing that has not changed, amazingly, is that much of the musical establishment is still looking up to them to provide direc­tions, set trends, blow minds, and remind us, the hoi polloi, of reasons why music matters. And not in the same way that Rolling Stone looks up to Bruce Springsteen or U2, either: if you are a man of good taste, you are probably supposed to sneer at Bruce and Bono, but Radiohead still remain a fearful icon, largely beyond reproach.

Truth be told, A Moon Shaped Pool was a comeback of sorts, but then again, it probably did not require that much of an effort to rebound from the limp lethargy of King Of Limbs — all that was needed was a conscious snap: «Let's rebound from the limp lethargy of King Of Limbs, OK?» The opening guitar and col legno string rhythms of ʽBurn The Witchʼ are precisely that kind of snap, marking the most exciting start to a Radiohead album since... okay, never mind. The album in general seems like a very deliberate course correction, and in many spots it aligns itself thematically with Kid A and even OK Computer rather than anything they did later — not co­incidentally, with quite a few of the songs going back to very old ideas, chief among them ʽTrue Love Waitsʼ that we have been hearing live almost for decades now (see I Might Be Wrong), but somehow it was not until 2016 that they agreed to have finally found the appropriate studio arrangement for it.

A prominent component of the sound here is the London Contemporary Orchestra, which is no doubt connected to all that extra experience that Greenwood has amassed while working on his soundtracks — a very welcome component, I'd add, because at this point Jonny is able to do much more thrilling things with strings than Thom is with electronics. It is the orchestra that makes ʽBurn The Witchʼ really memorable, and adds depth (and sometimes even hooks) to many other songs; although I still have a lurking suspicion that Nigel Godrich (who may have been distracted by the recent death of his father) had much less of a hand in the orchestration than Jonny did, which is a pity: Nigel's work with strings on Beck's Sea Change had some of the most inspired and magnificent ideas since Paul Buckmaster, and overall, A Moon Shaped Pool loses in comparison. Still, a fresh twist is always welcome.

Then again, ʽBurn The Witchʼ is the best song on the album, and even that one does not cut very deep. The subject matter is Radiohead's favorite topic (society's pressure on the individual, the works), but the entire song is essentially one concentrated pull, a tension-raiser, but not a tension-releaser. The menace and terror are subtly hinted at by the relentless string onslaught and by the ironically tender, sly "we know where you live", but I cannot do anything about it if it all sounds like a prelude to something potentially grander, more massive and terrifying... something that never comes. (Ah, weren't things different in the good old days of ʽParanoid Androidʼ?). The song still gets its due thumbs up for the cool sonic textures, yet it is also pretty emblematic of the entire album: A Moon Shaped Pool almost completely consists of musical foreplay that very rarely, if ever, grows into something more... umm... vital.

For instance, I will be the first to admit that on ʽDaydreamingʼ, they almost succeed in inventing a new type of sound — a sort of multi-layered anti-minimalism, where a solitary, minimalistic, sonically «warmed-up» piano line is attenuated by what sounds like miriads of sparkling, scintil­lating electronic ripples, in an odd way that I cannot directly associate with any of their predeces­sors. The contrasting string wailings at the end and the funny multi-tracking of real and string-imitated snoring are in themselves an exquisite coda to this sonic painting; and I would dare to assert that there is more pure invention going on in this track than on anything they did for King Of Limbs or even In Rainbows. But in terms of deep-reaching emotion, the effect is still tepid and fluffy — probably because that main piano melody... well, it sounds like something that even somebody like Harold Budd could have knocked off in his sleep (although, admittedly, Budd's music usually does sound like it was written while sleepwalking). Thom is just cooing along about dreamers who never learn and white rooms where the sun comes through, and then, of course, there is some symbolic message you are supposed to catch, but forgive me if I am too lazy to draw up the necessary mental links between "we are just happy to serve you" and the entire history of literary, musical, and philosophical thought in the past hundred years. I am just happy enough to realize that the song does not suck — which is still not enough to turn it into a neo-psychedelic masterpiece.

Rinse now, rinse and repeat for just about every other song in this moon-shaped pool. The sound, oh yes, the sound is good — now that they no longer think of themselves as electronic gods, the balance between regular rock instrumentation, electronics, and string arrangements is as perfect as it gets. But the band's ability to raise sonic hell has not returned, and even the most «rocking» songs still sound locked in a test tube — ʽFul Stopʼ is relatively fast and features a loud, suitably grumbly bassline, but its problem is the same as in ʽBurn The Witchʼ: the entire song is one non-stop monotonous ride towards the edge of a cliff, and once you've reached the edge, we fade to black and the credits start rolling in. Gimme some closure, goddammit!

I would be only too happy to see A Moon Shaped Pool start up a process of artistic healing; as far as I'm concerned, from 2001 and all the way up to 2011 Radiohead were sick, and this record is their first in a long, long time that offers glimpses of recovery — should we thank Paul Thomas Anderson for that? — by returning to more lyrical and emotionally accessible territory. However, much of the damage may have been irreparable: Greenwood has forgotten how to rock, Yorke has forgotten how to sing like a human being of flesh and blood, and the band in general has become way too obsessed with having to maintain their towering reputation — a slave to its towering reputation, really. At least we have to thank them for finally working out that arrange­ment for ʽTrue Love Waitsʼ — whose wobbling verse melody, with that wonderful swoon from complaint to consolation, is a nice reminder for us that there used to be a time when Thom Yorke knew how to write heart-wrenching vocal hooks.

If you have the deluxe-whatever edition, you also have a chance to hear ʽSpectreʼ, Radiohead's ill-fated attempt at delivering a Bond theme song — admittedly, asking Radiohead to write a Bond theme song is a bit like asking an ISIS leader to star in a condom commercial, but still, you gotta appreciate the effort. It is in the same style as the album, with ominous strings all over it, but it is much better suited to a world in which James Bond suffers from acute illness anxiety disorder, listens to Messiaen in between kills, and has all his one-liners quoted from Schopen­hauer (like "after your death you will be what you were before your birth!"). Come to think of it, that movie would still be tons more exciting than A Moon Shaped Pool.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Nile Rodgers: Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove


1) The Land Of The Good Groove; 2) Yum-Yum; 3) Beet; 4) Get Her Crazy; 5) It's All In Your Hands; 6) Rock Bottom; 7) My Love Song For You; 8) Most Down.

General verdict: Much better than contemporary Chic — believe it or not, the title does not lie!

Nile Rodgers' first solo album was actually released about six months prior to Believer, so I am disrupting the chronology here a little — but perhaps it was worth it to smoothly trace the Chic arc down to its lowest point before turning our attention to a record that is actually much, much better than any Chic album after Real People. In fact, the quality of the material here is so high in comparison that one cannot get rid of the feeling that Nile himself already regarded Chic as a millstone over his neck — although, surprisingly, the only significant difference from Chic here is that Edwards is not involved in the songwriting; he does, however, play bass guitar throughout the album, meaning that the sessions were, at least on the surface, still conducted amicably. Also, none of the girls from Chic are involved: in their place, lead vocals are shared between Rodgers and Sarah Dash (formerly of The Bluebelles, Patti LaBelle's backing group) — but this is hardly of any relevance, since the female singing on Chic records was largely depersonalized anyway after the departure of Norma Jean Wright.

What makes Adventures such a better proposal than Take It Off or Believer is that the record consists of, well, adventures. Like all things associated with Chic, it does not aspire to anything higher than providing you with a good time, but unlike Believer, Adventures actually make good on that promise. The rhythms are lively, the riffs memorable, and the atmosphere is surprisingly diverse and even humorous. Although the electronic age is still persistently visible throughout, with plastic percussion, synthetic bass, and plenty of keyboards, at the core of most of these songs is a nicely constructed live guitar melody, played as if it really mattered — look no further than the mid-section of the title track, where Nile plays a brightly pinging funk solo, urging himself on with sweaty "come on! come on!"'s in an overtly hyped-up manner: there is really nothing that energetic on post-disco Chic albums.

Perhaps the best example of this new approach is ʽBeetʼ (sic!), an exciting four-minute festival of truncated guitar riffs, insinuating backing vocals, colorful minimalistic bluesy solos that almost sound as if taken out of the book of, say, John Fogerty, and a subtle sense of fun intrigue all around. Other dance-rockers here operate more frequently on well-worn lyrical or rhythmic clichés, but still have plenty of nice touches to compensate — thus, ʽGet Her Crazyʼ opens out somewhat disappointingly, with a pedestrian gang chorus shouting out the title too loud and too often, but eventually your attention will slip over to the little bits of blasteroid guitar that Nile spills all over the place, going from funk to jazz and back to funk, and eventually letting loose with an uninterrupted stream of hard-hitting bullet licks that fades out much too soon.

It does not always work like that: ʽIt's All In Your Handsʼ, for instance, has too much sentimen­tality in it to ever expand far beyond the nice acoustic arpeggios laid across the stuttering beat — most of the rest of the song just consists of repeating "all in your hands, I put all in your hands" over and over for our dummy pleasure. And the straightforward ballad ʽMy Love Song For Youʼ is only notable for featuring the vocal talents of Sarah Dash — whose silky texture is amusingly close to the original Norma Jean style, which may have been the one reason why Nile was so happy to temporarily get rid of Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin; otherwise, it belongs in the trash can with Luther Vandross and most of the sentimental R&B of the early Eighties.

But still, if you are looking for decent R&B from the epoch, Adventures is a fairly solid bet, arguably the peak of Rodgers' efforts to blend in the new crowds after the demise of disco — if only because he is not afraid here to let loose and remind us why on Earth could we ever think of this man as a guitar-totin' wizard. It was a bad time for Chic, but a good time for Nile, the man: remember that right at the same time he would be producing David Bowie's Let's Dance, and one year from then on, he would be playing on and producing Madonna's Like A Virgin — both of them classics of the dance-pop era (though after that, he would stumble with Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger, but that's the subtle treacherous difference between 1983-84 and 1985-86 for you). If you like the overall sound of those albums (of course, not everyone does), Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove will fit in with them quite nicely.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

King Crimson: Discipline


1) Elephant Talk; 2) Frame By Frame; 3) Matte Kudasai; 4) Indiscipline; 5) Thela Hun Ginjeet; 6) The Sheltering Sky; 7) Discipline.

General verdict: The one record that forever broke the wall between Apollonian and Dionysian.

We have no real reason to believe that it was first and foremost for the sake of extra publicity that Fripp decided to reinstate the name «King Crimson» for a band that had, for several months, sported the name «Discipline» — consisting of himself, Adrian Belew on lead vocals and second guitar, Tony Levin on bass and highly intimidating Chapman stick, and old pal Bill Bruford on regular drums, whacko drums, and pseudo-drums. In fact, «Discipline», eventually relegated to the title and title track of the album, was a perfect name for this new team; I suppose that the main reason for brushing the dust off the King Crimson moniker was that, once the going really got good, Robert understood that he would not be averse to spending a lot of time with those guys — five years, as it turned out, which was much longer than any previous incarnation of KC anyway — and wherever Robert's heart is at the moment, you'll find King Crimson.

Discipline was recorded in mid-1981, and if there is a single base reference point for the album, it is clear enough — Talking Heads. Fripp had plenty of time to watch and interact with the band (and occasionally even play on their records) during his New York period, not to mention being good friends with Brian Eno, who produced their best albums; and Adrian Belew, one of the hottest session players at the time after having worked with Zappa and Bowie, had also paid his dues to the Heads by playing on Remain In Light and accompanying the band on their sub­sequent tour. Like his friend Peter Gabriel, another successful survivor from a previous epoch, Fripp astutely understood where precisely the heart of the artistic future (present?) of rock music was concealed at the moment; and although he spent a bit too much time waiting before reaching out for it — too much to have his name added to the honorary roster of New Wave Pioneers — he did have the advantage of wisdom, planning, and, well, discipline to ensure that the new produc­tion of King Crimson could not be dismissed as cheaply derivative bandwagon-jumping. (Of course, people who «professionally» hate progressive rock while extolling the virtues of New Wave may still feel free to dismiss that production as cheaply derivative bandwagon-jumping, but for the sake of simplicity we will put them in the same group here with Holocaust deniers and flat Earth theory supporters).

So, what is Discipline? A simplistic, but not entirely incorrect, answer would be — seek the average between Larks' Tongues In Aspic and Fear Of Music, and you will be as close to Discipline as possible. In this new avatar of King Crimson, most of the traces of the 1973-74 heaviness have been wiped out — most, but not all, since brutal riffage and thoroughly distorted guitar still play an important role on tracks such as ʽIndisciplineʼ. What has been retained, however, is the «math-rockish» aspect, with complex chord patterns mechanically played in unusual time signatures — but instead of the bluesy and jazzy basis of the past, Fripp and Belew are now more frequently working with heavily syncopated, choppy, funky rhythms that they took right out of the David Byrne / Jerry Harrison textbook; indeed, I am fairly sure that the main reason why Fripp added a second guitarist to the line-up was his impression of those two guys and their interlocking, tightly woven rhythmic patterns — along with a sort of «surely I can do better!» reaction to the relative (relative!) lack of «discipline» in these patterns.

Indeed, upon first hearing a track like ʽElephant Talkʼ, it is easy to decide that it would have perfectly fit in on Fear Of Music. The same kind of paranoid funk; the same type of impression where two guitars and one bass sound like three frightened, scurrying insects running in circles; the same kind of mildly psychotic, babbling, perturbed vocalist who spends more time shouting and hiccuping than actually singing. But there is a reason why Fear Of Music went twice as high in the charts as Discipline: the new King Crimson's approach is much more complex, and though the songs superficially sound danceable, trying to properly dance to them will most likely result in the gravest of injuries. David Byrne actually does sound like an unfortunate victim of modern society when he delves into his alleged phobias on record; Belew and Fripp prefer to make wise­cracking commentary on that society. And even then, Talking Heads songs always have meaning: with King Crimson, you have to work in order to convince yourself that they do.

In a subtle way, there is a third element in these tracks, one that we kept missing on classic KC albums and certainly could never imagine on Talking Heads ones — a subtle, barely perceivable presence of the spirit of Giles, Giles & Fripp. I have always refused to believe that the presence of an «elephant» on Cheerful Insanity (ʽThe Elephant Songʼ) and here (ʽElephant Talkʼ) was pure coincidence, because ʽElephant Talkʼ softly reverts us to the humorous (British?) absurdity of 1968 (never mind that much of the absurdity is provided by an American this time around). As Adrian shouts out lengthy foreign words from dictionaries in a rally-like style, concluding each outburst with a reproachful "it's only talk!", the guitars clash with each other and with the rhythm section in busy, fussy, flurry-roaming fashion, creating the atmosphere of pointless, but still never ending urban commotion... with the image of an «elephant», represented both by the final scorn­ful reference to "elephant talk" and those crazy guitar effects Belew does that really sound like a bigass elephant in heat, towering over all the "brouhaha, boulderdash and ballyhoo". When you really put your mind to it, it is impossible not to see a little bit of that condescending Pythonesque eccentricity that puts the icing on the cake — but also, perhaps, at the same time alienates large bunches of listeners for whom it is much easier to identify with the closer-to-home Byrne sound.

However, ʽElephant Talkʼ is also an exception in that it is the only track on the album that strives to be openly amusing. A great benefit of Discipline is that it actually covers a lot of emotional ground — at their best, King Crimson are never above stirring up the most base human feelings, even if they constantly search for really weird ways to do that. ʽFrame By Frameʼ, if it were an instrumental, would be just a thematic variation on ʽDisciplineʼ (the track); Belew's vocal part gives it a tragical face, even if the lyrics do not specify precisely the nature of the tragedy (one interpretation is that lines like "death by numbers in your own analysis" are his subtle criticism of Fripp's way-too-calculated approach to music making). And ʽMatte Kudasaiʼ, featuring one of the most heavenly slide guitar tones ever captured on tape, is an almost surprisingly accessible ballad, one that you could easily expect on some adventurous country-western album.

Where it all comes together is on ʽThela Hun Ginjeetʼ, to me, still the quintessential early Eighties KC track (although, like almost everything else on here, it became even more impressive live on stage: I almost always listen to the Absent Lovers version instead of this one). Faster and tighter than the rest of them, this anagram for ʽHeat In The Jungleʼ is like a symbolic musical representation of the hustle-and-bustle of modern society — live, Fripp is typically sitting in his chair, mechanically weaving the mother thread riff like an unperturbed, unchangeable Moira, while Belew is frantically running around, throwing off guitar firecrackers and engaging in all sorts of sonic craziness, yet in the end inevitably coming full circle and adding muscular, choppy, scratchy funk support to Fripp's more intricate spinning wheel. On top of this urban madness, we have Fripp overdubbing surreptitiously recorded pieces of Belew's account of how he was accos­ted by gangs and the police in a seedy spot in London, adding to the overall confusion and para­noia. This is the one track of theirs that probably would have felt right at home on Fear Of Music, but chances are most people won't even notice all the symbolic aspects of it because they will be too busy headbanging to the awesome groove. Look no further than ʽThela Hun Ginjeetʼ, though, if you are looking for a piece of music that can be 100% equally assuaging for the mind and the body — admirable as a mixture of mathematical order and improvisational chaos, and at the same time totally stimulating in a "let's go crazy" kind of way.

In the end, however, Fripp gets the upper hand. The title track, admired by some and totally incomprehensible to others, is the distilled and refined essence of this mark of King Crimson: an exercise in coordinated musical complexity that, I imagine, would be tough to beat even today. The amazing achievement of King Crimson is that somehow, in some totally incomprehensible manner, they manage to make this complexity alive and kicking. Perhaps it is the fact that, all of the time, Bruford plays the simplest drum pattern of them all (a pitiful 17/16 next to the 4/4 of the bass drum); more likely, it is because the exercise has a carefully planned and effective build-up, because, apart from all the different time signatures, we also have intelligently prepared shifts of speed and pitch — as the guitarists gradually «warm up» and their imaginary circuit boards start blinking on-and-off like crazy, it is as if those pulses start sending direct signals to specific neurons in your brain, establishing brief one-on-one connections; give in to the effect and this almost literally becomes a violent brainfuck (so I'd actually be cautious about recommending the track to anybody with psychological problems). In any case, ʽDisciplineʼ appeals to my own little inner demons far more than, say, just about anything on Trout Mask Replica — or, if we wind the tape in the opposite direction, far more than any given track by Tool — through a mix of its internal logic and its calm, restrained, but grimly determined playing style.

The album is not note-for-note perfect: one serious misstep, for instance, is ʽThe Sheltering Skyʼ, a nice, but unexceptional, atmospheric piece, slightly New Agey in essence, that for some reason turns out to be the longest track on the album. For anybody else, it could be a career highlight, but in the overall context of Discipline, it has the function of a relaxation piece, a chance to let you catch your breath after the hustle and bustle of ʽThela Hun Ginjeetʼ, and little else. While I have nothing against this, the more-than-eight-minute length bothers me — allegedly, the track was originally terraformed as an improvisation during the band's first rehearsals, which explains the length formally, but the result is that much of it sounds meandering, an accusation that cannot be directed towards any other composition here. Then again, I guess no King Crimson album is ever complete without a bit of meandering (from ʽMoonchildʼ down to ʽProvidenceʼ, we must have played them all), so this had to be expected. But, if you ask me, it is no big surprise that the track pretty much vanished from the live setlist after the 1981-82 tours, and is the only number from Discipline not to be featured (in a generally superior version) on Absent Lovers.

Minor quibbles aside, Discipline is a real mother of a landmark. It introduces a trilogy of records that is arguably the single best example of an old-time progressive rock act creatively adapting to the radically new standards of intelligent music making — in some ways, it might even be thought of as a triumphant culmination of the New Wave movement, summarizing most of its structural and textural achievements and closing the book on it, doing this so firmly, in fact, that no subsequent lineup of King Crimson could be comparable to this one in terms of image trans­formation. An important part of it is also that Discipline reaffirmed, almost to the point of fetish­izing, the role of complex playing technique — where classic New Wave, growing out of the punk movement, still protested against the superfluous complexities of the prog era, Fripp, Belew, Levin, and Bruford showed the world how it was perfectly possible to pacify and merge those two opposites, playing virtuoso-style while at the same time retaining all the, let's say, «body enter­tainment value» of New Wave music.

Of course, it didn't quite work that way in terms of popularity. The new look KC never became a huge commercial act (not that this was ever a part of the original plan), and it is not often that you find Discipline or any of its follow-ups in top critical lists on the «100 best New Wave albums» and suchlike. For all the transformations, Fripp and his brethren remained too brainy (and, per­haps, also too dragged down by their dinosauric reputation) to become major critical darlings in the pop press — the best they could achieve is an aura of polite reverence, where, if you talk about Fripp, you tend to do it politely, but better not to talk about Fripp too much in the first place. But if we make an effort and judge these guys exclusively based on the music, and not on the ability to create a publicity vortex, then Discipline is quite unquestionably going to be in the top five or so records released in 1981. (Fortunately, that is precisely its current status on the RYM listing). And, for that matter, if this is as close as the band ever got to «pure» math-rock (though nobody really knows what pure math-rock is), then it should be the best math-rock album ever made, period. (Studio album, that is: one should always keep in mind that live King Crimson after the transformation is nearly always preferable to studio King Crimson).

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Nick Mason: Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports


1) Can't Get My Motor To Start; 2) I Was Wrong; 3) Siam; 4) Hot River; 5) Boo To You Too; 6) Do Ya?; 7) Wervin'; 8) I'm A Mineralist.

General verdict: A super-cool chunk of absurdist art-pop, but be warned — it has (almost) nothing to do with Pink Floyd, so be sure to go in with the right expectations.

Okay, so this record is probably the last one on the mind of the average Pink Floyd fan: of all people, a Nick Mason solo album? Nick Mason, of the ʽGrand Vizier's Garden Partyʼ fame? Not only that, but this isn't really even a true Nick Mason solo album — all the songs here are written by eccentric jazz visionary Carla Bley, sung by eccentric avant-rock visionary Robert Wyatt, and musically dominated by the guitar of session hero Chris Spedding... oh, wait a minute...

...actually, these are the precise reasons why Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports, instead of being merely a rarely visited footnote to Pink Floyd history, should count as an interesting and unique «special project», one of the better ones to come out in the early Eighties. Normally, I shouldn't even be reviewing it: Nick's role here is reduced to drumming and co-producing with Bley, and there is at most one song that even begins to sound anywhere close to Pink Floyd (see below). But formally, this was a Nick Mason album — it did grow out of his own desire to make a record for himself, it just so happened that Carla sent him a demo tape of her songs and he liked it so much that he decided to use it. In the end, it may have been a good deal for everybody: Mason profited by having a good batch of songs to his name that he would not have been able to pen on his own, and Bley profited by gaining a bit more exposure — I mean, this was probably the best chance for a Floyd fan to learn of her existence in the first place.

In any case, since I am not doing a retrospective of Carla Bley's own career anytime soon (a very uneven career, given her radical experimental ambitions, but quite mind-blowing in spots), I might as well compensate for this by giving the proper thumbs up to this little oddity. Despite being formally known as a jazz artist, Bley is really very eclectic when it comes to music-making; her contributions for Mason are in a strictly pop/rock vein, somewhat reminiscent of classic 10cc, Sparks, and other wildly experimental art-pop bands of the Seventies. Yes, Fictitious Sports is a light (not necessarily "lightweight"), often satirical album, whose sense of humor is larger than all the attempts at humor in Floyd history put together, but whose intelligence actually matches, if not surpasses, the average Floyd.

Some of the songs are pure, but thoroughly enjoyable, jokes, like the opening ʽCan't Get My Motor To Startʼ — the basic gag here is to make the guitar and drums sound all the way like what it says in the title, while the lyrics never stray too far away from it, either; or ʽBoo To You Tooʼ, a blues-boogie-rocker providing solid advice for beginning rock bands on what to do when you get booed. Others are parodies — like ʽSiamʼ, poking fun at «Oriental» stereotypes, with snippets of Far Eastern melodies thrown into the grinder (although the real reason behind the song seems to be the alluring phonetic similarity between "Siam" and "I am"). Still others are little odd Randy Newmanesque tales of human weirdness, delivered by Wyatt with the appropriate poker face (ʽI Was Wrongʼ, in which a burnt-out skepticist is finally put to shame by arriving UFOs); and the super-slow ʽDo Ya?ʼ, clad in epic-romantic brass parts, plays out like a send-up of the stereo­typical Euroballad, with the same effect of not knowing whether to laugh or to cry, the same way it often happens with Sparks songs.

However, at the end of each side you are greeted by something slightly more serious. ʽHot Riverʼ is a bizarre (sometimes downright disturbing) sexual-psychedelic fantasy on which they make Chris Spedding give his best Gilmour impression, laying down sharp, slick, cosmic slide guitar lines and having singer Karen Kraft vocalize à la ʽGreat Gig In The Skyʼ — perhaps that, too, is a parody, but it sounds damn serious, and even a little morbid, by the end. And the final song, ʽI'm A Mineralistʼ, employs solemn, almost funereal, piano and organ chords while painting a surreal lyrical portrait of somebody who "will make love to minerals as long as I can" (lyrical highlight: "Erik Satie gets my rocks off, Cage is a dream, Philip Glass is a Mineralist to the extreme"). Both tracks do a good job of steering the record away from pure comedy and into far more nuanced territory — but never abandoning the general irony.

This is not to say that Fictitious Sports is supposed to be anything more than a colorful diversion for all parties involved. But there have always been records that never pretended to being anything other than «intelligent fun», and when these turn out to be genuinely intelligent and genuinely funny, they have to be endorsed and promoted. If you are strictly a Pink Floyd fan, this is as far away from typical Pink Floyd values as possible, so beware. But if, in addition to your favorite pastime of taking pigs (three different ones) on an interstellar overdrive, you also happen to like solid, unpretentious, and stylistically diverse pop music with a twist, be sure not to forget to engage in some fictitious sports with Nick Mason and his unexpected musical allies. Not to mention, of course, checking out the long and winding careers of both Carla Bley and Robert Wyatt — two giants of 20th century music who were, nevertheless, still not above con­cealing their personalities behind that of a guy who didn't even have an ʽOctopus' Gardenʼ to his name.