Crowded House – Afterglow (Deluxe Edition)

Released several years after the breakup of the original lineup of Crowded House, Afterglow was a collection of songs that had been relegated to B-sides, to soundtracks, and sometimes to the cutting room floor, never making it to an album but becoming a favorite in the band’s live show. There was material concurrent with all four of the band’s studio albums at the time, and it was something of a bittersweet revelation of how prolific the band was.

But if the original release was a fond reminder of that, the deluxe expanded 2-CD edition is a jaw-dropping revelation. It was known that, after the departure of Paul Hester from the drum seat, an attempt was made to soldier onward with Peter Jones, who had toured with the band after Hester’s abrupt mid-tour exit in 1994. Jones was heard on drums on the original Afterglow‘s incredibly atmospheric track “Help Is Coming”, so obvious some recording was done with him. But the biggest surprise of the second disc is a stretch of material revealing just how much was recorded with Jones – a series of songs that basically amount to an album side. So yes, the deluxe edition of Afterglow brings us half of a Crowded House album that could have been, and really should have been, because the studio demos are so polished – and just as atmospheric as “Help Is Coming” – that they’re sharper than some bands’ final studio masters, and they reveal a band that could very well have continued despite the unplanned personnel change.

After Neil Finn’s home demos of such songs as “Instinct” and “Everything Is Good For You”, the Finn/Seymour/Hart/Jones lineup returns with “Anthem”, a song Finn unearthed from the archives as a charity single a few years earlier, and while it lacks the polish of a finished track, it does show an arrangement that’s been worked out an honed, complete with vocal harmonies. The next track by this post-Together Alone lineup is even more surprising, featuring Mark Hart singing lead on a song that he wrote, “I Don’t Know You”. Again, the song is presented in a somewhat rough state, but one with a lot of promise. Hart eventually reclaimed “I Don’t Know You” for his solo album Nada Sonata, but there’s something stripped-down, bluesy, and incredibly catchy about the Crowded House rendition that may well make it superior to Hart’s final studio version. This should’ve been a single, though one wonders how a single without Finn’s voice (or writing credit) front and center might have been able to navigate the band’s complex internal politics.

Even more songs follow, including the trippy “A Taste Of Something Divine”, which could almost be in late ’90s U2’s wheelhouse rather than what anyone would’ve been expecting from Crowded House. If this is what the band could’ve accomplished with Jones on drums, it’s kind of a glimpse into an alternate universe where Together Alone was followed by even edgier, more out-there changes in style.

Following a nice, folksy rendition of “Spirit Of The Stairs” (a favorite in the Crowdies’ live set), this lineup drops one last surprise with a hard-hitting rendition of “Loose Tongue”, a song which eventually migrated to Finn’s first solo album, 1998’s Try Whistling This. Upon hearing that album in 1998, I remember asking myself “Why was it necessary to break up Crowded House to do this album?”, and this version of “Loose Tongue” really brings that question back. There was very little of Try Whistling This that couldn’t have been done by the full Crowded House lineup.

But the alternate timeline in which Crowded House with Peter Jones in tow ventures into more adventurous musical territory ends there; the rest of disc two is rounded out with the three “new” songs from the 1996 greatest hits album, “Instinct”, “Not The Girl You Think You Are”, and “Everything Is Good For You”, all of them “safer”, more traditional Crowded House songs with 4 out of 4Mitchell Froom at the mixing board and Paul Hester on drums.

The musical equivalent of deleted scenes is what Afterglow was always about, but the expanded edition offers a truly eye-opening glimpse into what could have been if Together Alone had been but the beginning of an experimental phase, and not the end of one. Very few expanded reissues of existing albums justify the double-dip like this one does.

Order this CDDisc One

  1. I Am In Love (4:37)
  2. Sacred Cow (3:36)
  3. You Can Touch (3:45)
  4. Help Is Coming (4:48)
  5. I Love You Dawn (2:33)
  6. Dr. Livingston (3:56)
  7. My Tellys’ Gone Bung (3:10)
  8. Private Universe (4:07)
  9. Lester (2:19)
  10. Anyone Can Tell (3:35)
  11. Recurring Dream (3:23)
  12. Left Hand (2:57)
  13. Time Immemorial (4:06)

Disc Two

  1. I Am In Love (Home Demo) (2:07)
  2. Instinct (Home Demo) (2:03)
  3. Spirit Of The Stairs (Home Demo) (3:39)
  4. I’m So Scared Of Losing I Can’t Compete (Home Demo) (2:11)
  5. Everything Is Good For You (Home Demo) (3:14)
  6. Not The Girl You Think You Are (Home Demo) (3:00)
  7. Anthem (3:31)
  8. I Don’t Know You (Studio Demo) (3:40)
  9. A Taste Of Something Divine (Studio Demo) (4:14)
  10. Spirit Of The Stairs (Studio Demo) (4:55)
  11. Loose Tongue
  12. Rough Mix (3:51)
  13. Instinct (3:06)
  14. Everything Is Good For You (3:52)
  15. Not The Girl You Think You Are (4:08)

Released by: Capitol Records
Release date: November 18, 2016
Disc one running time: 46:51
Disc two running time: 47:31

[…]

Rob Dougan – Misc. Sessions

From 2016 through 2019, Rob Dougan – an artist who had been absent since making a splash in the early 2000s when instrumental versions of some his music were included in key scenes of The Matrix Reloaded – resurfaced in the crowdfunded music arena to see if there was support for him to make new music. With Dougan, whose signature style is to add his rough-and-ready, almost-spoken-word vocals to a string section and either a live drummer or a drum machine, this was going to take a bit of investment from his fans. (As someone who enjoyed Dougan’s previous solo effort, Furious Angels, I was one of those pitched in.) The result was a series of EPs, released as the songs were recorded two, three, or four at a time.

The Misc. Sessions was my runaway favorite of this series of EPs. It’s the one that bears the most resemblance to Furious Angels in its lyrics and music, and it forms a kind of short, bittersweet song cycle unto itself, chronicling either the end of a relationship or perhaps the simultaneous end of several relationships. “She’s Leaving” is pretty self-explanatory, a kind of musical travelogue of what’s left of a home once shared by two, name-checking the things that she deemed unimportant enough to leave behind as reminders.

But the next two songs, “Undone By London” and “Open Sore”, are the real heart of the song cycle, dealing with the aftermath of what was described in the previous song. These two songs flow together nearly seamlessly – one begins in the same key and the same chord with which the other ends – and Dougan’s vocal delivery in “Undone” borders on unhinged the further he gets into the song. “Open Sore” is a bit more calm and accepting of what’s happened, but still darkly bittersweet. “Miscellaneous” is a bit more light-hearted, catching up with where she winds up next, and then we revisit the unhinged anguish of “Undone By London”…by playing it backward as a kind of twisted coda.

If Dougan’s voice doesn’t do it for you – which I get, his tuneful-but-about-as-smooth-as-sandpaper delivery is an acquired taste – the entire song is then repeated in two forms: instrumental (everything except Dougan’s voice and any backing vocals) and “orchestra only” (eliminating not just vocals, but drums, piano and other more conventional “band” instruments). These repeated tracks boost the EP to LP length, while also offering those interested a chance to study Dougan’s orchestral writing and arranging more closely. (It’s here that you really get a feel for how seamlessly “Undone By London” segues into “Open Sore”.)

4 out of 4It’s a lovely package, though for me the appeal is…I really like the songs. They hit me at a time when I myself was recovering from being undone (though not in London), from walking into a home that was suddenly empty of other people, and this little abbreviated song cycle helped me work through some of that. There may have even been a few cathartic, bloodletting singalongs – you’d have to ask my cats.

Order this CD

  1. She’s Leaving (4:19)
  2. Undone By London (4:27)
  3. Open Sore (4:58)
  4. Miscellaneous (3:53)
  5. Undone By London (Reprise) (4:01)
  6. She’s Leaving (Instrumental) (4:03)
  7. Undone By London (Instrumental) (4:25)
  8. Open Sore (Instrumental) (4:59)
  9. Miscellaneous (Instrumental) (3:56)
  10. Undone by London (Orchestral only) (4:02)
  11. Open Sore (Orchestral only) (4:40)
  12. Miscellaneous (Orchestral only) (3:51)

Released by: Rob Dougan
Release date: October 23, 2016
Total running time: 51:34

The Lickerish Quartet – Threesome, Vol. 1

Lickerish Quartet is a collision of former members of Jellyfish and/or offshoots of Jellyfish, two categories you’ll often find in the same record collection. Jellyfish lasted long enough for two albums; a posthumous box set of live cuts, demos, and collaborations rounded out the band’s legacy, but still left a lot of potential on the table. Many a Jellyfish fan (like the scruffy fellow I occasionally spy in mirrors and other reflective surfaces) obsessively follows the individual former members of the group through their solo careers and later work with other artists – and sometimes minor family reunions like this one. With Jellyfish founding member Roger Manning and Spilt Milk-members (and former Umajets) Tim Smith and Eric Dover aboard, Lickerish Quartet is indeed something of a family reunion. The plan is for the band to gradually write, record, and release a series of EPs, each supported by fan pre-orders, so that the end result will be about an album’s worth of music.

Threesome Vol. 1 is the first of those, with the “threesome” in the title describing the band; “quartet” is actually a better description of the number of songs on this first volume, somewhat confusingly. But that’s the kind of perversely anarchic humor that we’re expecting from Jellyfish alumni, right?

That sense of humor also extends into the first song, “Fadoodle”, whose lyrics can best be summed up as “I cleaned house and did some chores, can I get laid now?” (Pro tip: guys…you should be doing your share of the housework because it’s part of the unspoken social contract of sharing space with other human beings, not because you’re expecting sex at the end of said chore.) Maybe I’m just showing my age here, but these lyrics and their dancing-between-sung-and-spoken-word delivery didn’t land with me, even though the music itself is fine; there’s a great bass line that makes it all incredibly catchy, and the instrumental bridge may be the best thing about the song.

“Bluebird’s Blues” is a definite improvement, and perhaps should’ve been first song (though I do get it, if you’re banking on the Jellyfish connection, “Fadoodle” sounds more whimsical and Jellyfish-esque than anything else here). Together with “There Is A Number”, “Bluebird’s Blues” really digs into that ’70s power-pop sound, which is really what I hope to hear out of a reunion of any configuration of Jellyfish, a lot more than I hope to hear whimsy. They’re both excellent songs, though I get a chuckle out of the first lyric in “There Is A Number”: “I never meant to cause you too much pain.” Is there really some acceptable amount of pain one can cause others before a line is crossed? (As with the playful lyrics of “Fadoodle”, I’m probably overthinking it here.)

“Lighthouse Spaceship” was the song most heavily promoted prior to the EP’s release, and with good reason: where “Bluebird’s Blues” and “There Is A Number” are classic bittersweet ballads, “Lighthouse Spaceship” is a straight-up, unapologetic rocker that reaches for – and just about achieves – a late ’60s/early ’70s psychedelic rock flavor with both its lyrics and its 3 out of 4instrumentation. At over six minutes, I get why this wasn’t the lead track, but it seems obvious that the band realized this was the strongest thing in this particular track listing.

It’s all worth a listen, and perhaps best of all is the promise that more from this lineup – and perhaps even better material – is yet to come.

Order this CD

  1. Fadoodle (3:46)
  2. Bluebird’s Blues (4:31)
  3. There Is A Magic Number (4:14)
  4. Lighthouse Spaceship (6:26)

Released by: InGrooves / Label Logic
Release date: May 15, 2020
Total running time: 18:57

[…]

Vangelis – Rosetta

Maintaining public interest and support of a space mission that’s expected to take years to complete is something of an arms race in the age of constant internet distraction. There’s social media outreach, classroom outreach, a constant battle to get the mission to even register as a blip in an increasingly polarized 24-hour news cycle, and of late, there are the citizen-scientist angles and engagement in the arts to consider.

It’s that latter category where the European Space Agency has excelled in recent years. The landmark Rosetta mission to Comet 67/P Churyumov–Gerasimenko was one of those missions for the ages, right up there with the Voyagers, Veneras, and Vikings – it was a robotic space probe that would chase a comet, maintain a close distance for further observations, and finally drop a lander onto the comet itself. That was quite a laundry list of goals for a single mission to achieve, and Rosetta checked off all the boxes. It was a mission any nation or group of nations could’ve called an achievement, and it was one of ESA’s finest moments.

To celebrate this, even as the mission was only just leaving the ground, ESA commissioned musical works, short films, and yeah, there were even plushies of Rosetta and its Philae lander. Vangelis was originally commissioned to create three pieces of music depicting three key events in the mission, including the comet landing; those three pieces are joined on the Rosetta album, by others, adding up to a musical narrative of the mission from beginning to end. And Vangelis – he of Chariots Of Fire and Blade Runner fame – is an inspired choice, though there’s much more in common with his non-soundtrack works (and lesser-known soundtrack works) here. (It’s worth noting that Vangelis had been tapped by NASA to create a musical experience for the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission as well.)

The icy synthesizers running throughout the album – utterly appropriate for the vacuum of space – bring Vangelis’ soundtrack from Antarctica to mind (and, yes, there’s a bit of Blade Runner to be found there too). But Vangelis, even when working with electronics, tends to arrange his music as if an orchestra’s going to be playing it, so it still manages to sound organic in its own way. “Sunlight”, in particular, is appropriately warm and shimmering. “Rosetta” also falls into that uncanny musical valley of human and synthetic, reminding me of the delicate “La Petite Fille de la Mer” from L’Apocalypse des Animaux, as well as bringing some recognizably Greek elements to its arrangement.

“Philae’s Descent” and “Perihelion” are the closest the album really gets to some of the pulse-pounding excitement one might expect if this were a soundtrack, pointing up the precision (and the hazards) of the descent to the comet’s surface. “Mission Accomplie (Rosetta’s Waltz)” releases some of that tension in a much more relaxing musical victory lap. (These were the pieces 3 out of 4originally commissioned by ESA.) “Elegy” and “Return To The Void” give the mission a bittersweet sendoff since, as is often the case with deep space missions, none of the hardware was ever going to return to Earth.

I can’t think of anyone better than Vangelis to provide the musical chronicle of Rosetta’s flight. The album may, if taken in in a single sitting, be a little too ethereal for some, but it does conjure up that sense of wonder that the mission itself brought us as well.

Order this CD

  1. Origins (Arrival) (4:21)
  2. Starstuff (5:14)
  3. Infinitude (4:30)
  4. Exo Genesis (3:33)
  5. Celestial Whispers (2:31)
  6. Albedo 0.06 (4:45)
  7. Sunlight (4:22)
  8. Rosetta (5:02)
  9. Philae’s Descent (3:05)
  10. Mission Accomplie (Rosetta’s Waltz) (2:12)
  11. Perihelion (6:35)
  12. Elegy (3:06)
  13. Return To The Void (4:19)

Released by: Decca Records
Release date: September 30, 2016
Total running time: 53:36

The Tourists – Reality Effect

The Tourists seem to be doomed to forever occupy an odd footnote in history, relegated to the description “the band Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were in before they started the Eurythmics”. Technically, that’s not inaccurate, but there’s quite a bit more to it than that. Led by Peet Coombes, the Tourists were a new wave five-piece that rocked harder than some of their peers, leaving real guitars and drums in the mix as quite a few other bands in that genre abandoned them for wall-to-wall synths and drum machines. In many other respects, though, the Tourists were an absolutely typical new wave group, doing more modern cover versions of older songs (such as Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Wanna Be With You”, which was a moderate hit from this album, probably due in no small part to an early music video that demonstrated that Lennox was both a sonically and visually arresting performer).

But let’s not forget that Dave Stewart was in the Tourists as well (it’s bad enough to keep having to remind everyone that he was half of the Eurythmics). His classic rock guitar riffs are unmistakable, and give the Tourists a sound that wasn’t typical in those early days of new wave.

The wild card that really defines the Tourists’ sound, however, is Coombes’ duets with Lennox throughout. Their harmonizing is a sound unique to the Tourists; even on songs where one or the other seems to be taking the lead (as Lennox does on the aforementioned cover of “I Only Want To Be With You”), the other is a prominent co-lead, and their similar vocal ranges make for a unique sound. Really, the Tourists end up barely fitting into the new wave category, perhaps more due to their look than their sound, because in most respects they were very much a classic rock band, applying some of the new aesthetics of the late ’70s and early ’80s to rock ‘n’ roll. The highlights include “Nothing To Do”, “So Good To Be Back Home”, and “In The Morning 3 out of 4(When The Madness Has Faded)”, but even in less stand-out-ish tracks such as “In My Mind (There’s Sorrow)”, there’s a lot to love about the Tourists’ sound (and Coombes’ songwriting).

Are the Tourists just the Eurythmics with three extra people tagging along? Hardly. You can hear, in Lennox’s vocal stylings and Stewart’s precision guitar work, some of the seeds being planted, but if the Tourists had scored a bigger hit before breaking up, the ’80s music scene might have taken a very different shape with regard to one of its major success stories.

  1. It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way (3:38)
  2. I Only Want To Be With You (2:21)
  3. In The Morning (When The Madness Has Faded) (3:57)
  4. All Life’s Tragedies (3:43)
  5. Everywhere You Look (3:11)
  6. So Good To Be Back Home Again (2:33)
  7. Nothing To Do (3:22)
  8. Circular Fever (3:00)
  9. In My Mind (There’s Sorrow) (4:37)
  10. Something In The Air Tonight (4:04)
  11. Summer’s Night (3:16)

Released by: Epic
Release date: October 19, 1979
Total running time: 37:42

[…]

Röyksopp – The Inevitable End

The Inevitable End isn’t the inevitable end of Röyksopp as a recording entity; the grimly titled album was their farewell to the album as the format in which they’d be releasing their work. That’s a very sad farewell indeed, because some of Röyksopp’s back catalog, including Melody A.M. and Junior, convinced me that maybe the album still had something to offer, and that the entire world wasn’t giving up to the whims of streaming and issuing singles only. And ironically, The Inevitable End falls into that category as well – an album so thematically cohesive that listening to it in one sitting is more rewarding than just hearing any one song from it in isolation.

The theme that recurs most often on The Inevitable End doesn’t become evident until you’re a couple of songs past the inevitable beginning. Beginning with “Sordid Affair”, whose subject matter is quite literally what it says on the box, the album seems to be chronicling different stages and perspectives of an extramarital relationship of some kind. (I always question this as subject matter for a song, especially since the songwriter’s going to be subjected to a lot of scrutiny afterward, i.e. “did you write this as a result of a personal experience?” “Sordid Affair” and “Compulsion” describe the rush of the illicit relationship while it’s happening, and “You Know I Have To Go” and “Save Me” explore the end of it from two perspectives. “I Had This Thing” mourns the relationship, and in a way, “Rong” does too, being an almost classically-flavored piece with a single repeating lyric (“what the f___ is wrong with you?”).

Röyksopp has become famous for its all-star line-up of guest vocalists, and while Robyn is all over the first two tracks of The Inevitable End, the real standout MVP who emerges is Jamie Irrepressible, vocalist on “You Know I Have To Go”, “I Had This Thing”, “Compulsion”, and “Here She Comes Again”. He’s got an incredible range and a great sense for dynamics, as his usual hushed delivery on “I Had This Thing” suddenly explodes into something more pleading and anguished toward the end of the song. (Spoiler: Röyksopp has continued as an entity that issues singles, and they continued to work with Jamie after this album, notably on the excellent “Something In My Heart”, so obviously they know a good thing when they hear it.)

“Coup De Grace” deflates the album’s somewhat steamy topic, filling the obligatory instrumental-only slot that’s become a tradition since “Röyksopp’s Night Out” on the first album. The album closer (and the farewell of Röyksopp as a duo that turns out albums) is “Thank You”, which works as effectively as part of the album’s storyline as it does without any of those trappings.

4 out of 4I’ll really miss Röyksopp as an “album band” – their best work has reminded me of the heyday of the Alan Parsons Project, both production-wise and as proponents of concept-based theme albums. It’s sad to hear them giving up on the latter. The singles that have arrived since The Inevitable End have been fantastic – “Never Ever” and “Something In My Heart” would be highlights of an album if they were on an album. But, I get it, album sales aren’t what drives iTunes…especially if no one wants to continue making them.

Order this CD

  1. Skulls (3:46)
  2. Monument (TIE Version)(featuring Robyn) (4:46)
  3. Sordid Affair (featuring Man Without Country) (6:19)
  4. You Know I Have To Go (featuring Jamie Irrepressible) (7:31)
  5. Save Me (featuring Susanne Sundfør) (4:38)
  6. I Had This Thing (featuring Jamie Irrepressible) (5:46)
  7. Rong (featuring Robyn) (2:32)
  8. Here She Comes Again (featuring Jamie Irrepressible) (5:04)
  9. Running To The Sea (featuring Susanne Sundfør) (4:52)
  10. Compulsion (featuring Jamie Irrepressible) (6:57)
  11. Coup De Grace (3:14)
  12. Thank You (6:15)

Released by: EMBAS
Release date: November 21, 2014
Total running time: 61:40

Paul Melançon and the New Insecurities – The Get Gos Action Hour!

There’s certainly no shortage of practitioners of power pop, but I’m always happy when one of my favorites resurfaces, as Paul Melançon has done after a lengthy spell punctuated by side projects, live shows, and an EP or two. Melançon’s 2002 opus Camera Obscura is still one of my favorite specimens of the power pop genre, and while he’s an excellent guitarist, his voice may be his most potent instrument, capable of straight up belting out a song in the best rock traditions as well as handling all the nuances of his homemade singer-songwriter fare. I couldn’t even point you to anyone I can honestly claim he sounds like – maybe a little hint of Robin Zander at the height of Cheap Trick’s popularity? – because he just sounds like himself, and I’m a big fan of that sound.

Armed with a three-piece backing band that perfectly complements his sound, and a clutch of new songs exploring some experiences he’s had confronting chronic anxiety in recent years, Melançon delivers a surprisingly sunny musical meditation on mental health that you’d expect to have been the result of 2020’s non-stop roller-coaster of mental-health-challenging events, but instead it arrived, pleasantly enough, right at the beginning of it, and it’s been one of my go-to albums for my self-quarantining playlist. Some of the songs are obvious with the subject matter – “Hyperventilate” conjures up images of a drowning man – while others make the listener work a little harder to get to the song’s center. Which is an absolute delight, since each song is coated in layers of ’70s-inspired pop-rock confection. There are hints of something new in Melançon’s musical vocabulary here too – I definitely picked up on a newfound love of a good freeform jam, which crops up such songs as the jaw-droppingly hummable “The New Decay”, among others. (And when Paul and the New Insecurities bust out a jam like this, they’re not kidding around either. It’s heady stuff.)

Highlights include the aforementioned “New Decay” and “Hyperventilate”, as well as “St. Cecilia”, a fantastic ballad with – yet again – that terrific ’70s vibe, and “Here And Now I Was” and “When Do We Get Smaller?”, the two songs most reminiscent of Camera Obscura. “Fitzcarraldo” is a mesmerizing mid-tempo rocker that challenges you to figure out which is the verse and which is the chorus, but when the whole song sounds great, does it matter? “Mareación” is an eleven-minute journey in the form of a self-contained, 4 out of 4interconnected song cycle that also features that jamming element mentioned earlier. It may be the album’s most challenging listen, but it’s a mini-epic that earns the “power-pop-era” label on the front cover.

All of this is wrapped up in a package suggesting some lost, band-centric 1970s Saturday morning cartoon, an element that also carries over to the videos produced for some of the songs here. In short, this album has just about everything that power pop fans love – new music wrapped up in a dash of nostalgia, and it’s really good new music to boot. Highest recommendations.

Order this CD

  1. Theme from The Get Gos Action Hour! (0:40)
  2. Permanent Makeup (2:34)
  3. Robot World (3:14)
  4. This Shaky Lullaby (2:40)
  5. Hyperventilate (3:56)
  6. The New Decay (5:00)
  7. St. Cecilia (4:36)
  8. When Do We Get Smaller? (3:54)
  9. Fitzcarraldo (3:45)
  10. Mareación (11:09)
  11. Here And Now I Was (4:29)
  12. The Answer Is Yes (3:40)

Released by: Paul Melançon and the New Insecurities
Release date: April 10, 2020
Total running time: 49:37

[…]