White Noise – An Electric Storm

White Noise - An Electric StormAn Electric Storm is the adventurous debut album by a British outfit called White Noise. Even if the group is new to you, its members are familiar names: White Noise was a collaboration between electronic musician David Vorhaus and BBC Radiophonic Workshop members Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire, doing a little bit of work on the side. Originally, White Noise set out to record a single only: two songs. Island Records insisted on an entire album of material… and unfortunately, that’s where it started to go downhill, rapidly.

An Electric Storm starts out promisingly enough, putting the two most interesting numbers up front. “Love Without Sound” and “My Game Of Loving” were the A and B sides of the originally planned single, showing off the concept behind White Noise very well: to apply the working methods of the Radiophonic Workshop to something that was intended, from the outset, to be a pop song or two. Even these two songs aren’t without issues, however. “Love Without Sound” has a fantastic, mysterious feel, with vocals that anticipate the singing style of the new wave and new romantic genres by a good ten years, and “My Game Of Loving” isn’t bad either, with almost Brian-Wilson-esque vocals.

But both songs become novelty tunes with the addition of intrusive laughter on the former and orgasmic moaning on the latter. The “instrumental” backgrounds – and I used that term loosely since, as with Derbyshire’s famous version of the Doctor Who theme, few traditional instruments were used – are intriguing. Any album with Derbyshire and Hodgson involved would have been spectacularly well-produced at the very least.

Though I’m not as fond of the music, this leaves the relatively uncluttered “Firebird” and “Your Hidden Dreams” as the gems of this album. “Here Come The Fleas” takes things firmly into novelty song territory.

The last two tracks on An Electric Storm are wanna-be epics that wind up weighing the whole endeavour down. “The Visitations” clocks in at over ten minutes, and few of those minutes stand out as interesting music, while “The Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell” is a noise montage with track after track of overdubbed screams, resulting in a piece that, quite frankly, I’d be happy never to hear again. Legend has it that the trio cranked out the two longest tracks in the shortest amount of studio time simply to fulfill Island’s demands for a full album. An Electric Storm in hell, indeed: it’s almost as if the group made a deal with the devil and was in a hurry to get out of it.

To be blunt, An Electric Storm is really the A and B sides of two decent, if trippy, singles, and a further collection of filler material that’s not worth the time (and keep in mind, very few times in theLogBook.com’s Music Reviews has it ever been said that anything’s not worth at least one listen for curiosity’s sake). There would’ve been no honor lost in just doing a four-song EP – and my opinion of this collection minus the three filler songs would’ve been 2 out of 4raised considerably. White Noise actually continues to this day, having released an album each decade since An Electric Storm, though most of the “group”‘s output since this album has been Vorhaus on his own; Derbyshire and Hodgson went their own way following this album. It’s a pioneering piece of electronic pop music, but the artistic achievement isn’t quite on par with the technical prowess on display.

Order this CD

  1. Love Without Sound (3:07)
  2. My Game Of Loving (4:10)
  3. Here Come The Fleas (2:15)
  4. Firebird (3:05)
  5. Your Hidden Dreams (4:58)
  6. The Visitations (11:14)
  7. The Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell (7:22)

Released by: Island Records
Release date: 1969
Total running time: 36:11

Eric Woolfson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was

Eric Woolfson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never WasLet’s start out by pointing out one thing: the title of this album is a complete misnomer. There are, indeed, at least a couple of songs that were pitched as potential Alan Parsons Project numbers, but the bulk of Eric Woolfson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was is taken up by songs that were intended, from the start, to feature in Woolfson’s post-Project stage musicals. There’s nothing wrong with that – I’ve tried to follow Woolfson’s music as well as Parsons’ – but it just seems that this album’s title is more than just a little bit misleading. Perhaps it should be Eric Woolfson Boosts Sales By Mentioning His Past Association With The Alan Parsons Project.

In a way, the album serves as a Woolfson “best of” collection, drawing from his numerous musical productions. The pieces heard here are not sung by the cast, however: these are demos or fresh recordings of the songs, arranged and sung by Woolfson himself. There are no repeats of known Project material here; if you’re new to Woolfson’s musicals, this material will be new to you. The only pieces I recognized were a couple of songs from his Poe concept album (which was more or less a commercially-released demo to prove the viability of the concept of a musical based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe), but they appear here in very different forms.

Listeners who soaked up the series of remastered Project albums will find two familiar pieces of music here: Rumour Going Round, previously presented as a mostly-instrumental backing track with a very incomplete rough vocal, is fleshed out with full vocals here (though the very 1985 backing track makes it a bit of a novelty by default). And if fans need a further stamp of Parsons Project authenticity, longtime Project guitarist Ian Bairnson lays down some brand new riffs on “Any Other Day”, the album’s only other bona fide Project song that never was.

But there’s plenty more for Woolfson’s longtime fans to enjoy. “Golden Key”, the lead track, bears more than a passing resemblance to 1983’s minor Project hit “Don’t Answer Me”. One of the best songs on the album, “I Can See Round Corners”, is an ethereal song with some haunting multitracked harmonies. “Nothing Can Change My Mind”, heard originally on Poe, is perfectly suited to Woolfson’s vocal range and his unique delivery. One of the most intriguing demos is a rootsier, raw rock version of Poe‘s “Train To Freedom”, here titled “Train To Wuxi” (after the Chinese tin-mining city Woolfson was visiting when he wrote the song); not only does the song have an unusually stripped-down sound, but Woolfson himself plays a decent guitar riff throughout.

The title may be a bit of a misdirection, but the music here is still solid. I’d really like to hear Woolfson cook up another album like Poe, but along the lines of classic Project concept albums 3 out of 4like I Robot and The Turn Of A Friendly Card. With this album, he’s demonstrated that he has musical colleagues he can call upon to instrumentally make up for the other half of the Project. It may never be the production piece that it would be with Parsons aboard, but I’d like to hear some more original music from Woolfson. This album shows he could do it.

Order this CD

  1. Golden Key (4:12)
  2. Nothing Can Change My Mind (4:00)
  3. Rumour Goin’ Round (4:39)
  4. Any Other Day (3:08)
  5. I Can See Round Corners (5:15)
  6. Steal Your Heart Away (3:20)
  7. Along The Road Together (3:21)
  8. Somewhere In The Audience (4:36)
  9. Train To Wuxi (4:19)
  10. Immortal (6:02)

Released by: Limelight Records
Release date: 2009
Total running time:

Eric Woolfson’s Poe: More Tales Of Mystery & Imagination

Eric Woolfson's Poe: More Tales Of Mystery & ImaginationAs most fans of the Alan Parsons Project know, Project co-founder, songwriter and later vocalist Eric Woolfson split from Parsons after the two collaborated one last time on 1990’s Freudiana, an album Parsons produced as a Project concept album but which Woolfson treated as the concept album for a stage musical, the direction he ultimately decided to pursue full-time. Woolfson went on to create several musicals that went down well in Europe, often mining his own Project material for many of the songs. So many fans were surprised to see this 2003 release, boasting an entirely new album of material written by Woolfson which promised to revisit the subject of the very first Project album: Edgar Allan Poe.

But was Woolfson doing a straight-ahead rock album, or auditioning material for a future musical here? Freudiana proved that one can do both at the same time, but now that we’re about halfway through the Project remaster series, with its early-draft bonus tracks, it’s pretty safe to say that Freudiana – and indeed several Project albums – turned out so well because of the checks and balances that existed in the Woolfson-Parsons partnership, with Parsons reeling in some of Woolfson’s music-hall excesses from time to time. Woolfson on his own, however, doesn’t have that somewhat steadying influence, and the result is this somewhat schizophrenic album.

Parts of Poe are trying hard to be a great rock concept album; in classic Project style, the album starts with an instrumental and then segues into “Wings Of Eagles”, an orchestral rock anthem that thunders along under the sheer power of vocalist Steve Balsamo’s vocals. Balsamo does the vocal duties on much of the album, and his range is mindblowing – he can go from operatic to a throat-thrashing raw rock style that just about reminds me of frequent-flyer Project vocalist Lenny Zakatek. The next song, “Train To Freedom”, is a fantastic piece of music that I’m not sure ever would’ve flown with Parsons in the studio, borrowing from the style of black southern gospel music. Balsamo returns for the ballad “Somewhere In The Audience”.

Next up is a musical rendition of “The Bells”, performed by a mixed choir called the Metro Voices, and it’s really one of the weak points of the album. I will admit to a bias here – I’m quite familiar with Poe’s written works, and “The Bells” simply isn’t among my favorites. Translating it into a stagey musical format doesn’t improve that – it just sounds a bit silly. After “The Bells”, the three-part mini-rock-opera “The Pit And The Pendulum” is a refreshing course correction, with Balsamo back at center stage in what may well be the most Project-esque song on the entire album.

Woolfson then steers things back toward a stage musical direction with “The Murders In The Rue Morgue”, which seems to be trying hard to emulate Freudiana‘s “It’s Funny You Should Say That”, complete with silly character voices; I’ve listened to this album about half a dozen times as of this writing, and I’ll confess to having skipped this track on all but two of those listens. Balsamo returns for another ballad, “Tiny Star”, followed by another choral number, “Goodbye To All That” (which isn’t all that, bogged down again by Woolfson’s stagey sensibilities).

The final song on the album is a bit of a shocker, opening with Orson Welles’ narration recorded for the original 1976 Alan Parsons Project debut album Tales Of Mystery & Imagination (but not used as part of the album until the revised 1987 CD edition), and becoming a rather intense power ballad showcasing Balsamo’s impressive vocal range. The song itself ponders the nature of immortality, and whether or not Poe unwittingly achieved it through his work.

3 out of 4More Tales would be a fantastic album, except for the 25% of it that succumbs to Woolfson’s stage musical excesses. While he pulls off a couple of things here that I don’t think we would’ve been treated to if Parsons had been involved in this album (namely “Train To Freedom”), More Tales isn’t on a par with, say, Freudiana. Freudiana‘s stagier pieces at least worked within the context of the album, while their counterparts on More Tales completely interrupt any musical flow that the album might have. On the plus side, we get Steve Balsamo’s simply amazing performances and some fairly decent songs out of the deal. It’s no Alan Parsons Project album, sure, and while it’s probably not fair to expect anything even approaching one, it’s also inevitable that the comparison will be made.

Order this CD

  1. Angel Of The Odd (2:36)
  2. Wings Of Eagles (4:45)
  3. Train To Freedom (4:40)
  4. Somewhere In The Audience (4:47)
  5. The Bells (5:32)
  6. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part I (2:31)
  7. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part II (2:02)
  8. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part III (2:02)
  9. The Murders In The Rue Morgue (4:35)
  10. Tiny Star (2:44)
  11. Goodbye To All That (5:15)
  12. Immortal (5:30)

Released by: Sony
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 46:59

Who’s Serious: The Symphonic Music of the Who

Who's Serious: The Symphonic Music of the Who It’s been a concept as old as the music industry itself. Whenever you need to need to squeeze out a few more dollars from a songwriter’s catalog of hits, simply hire an in-house orchestra to record those same songs in a more “classical” setting. It started with 101 Strings in 1957, and continues to this day with the “String Tribute To…” albums that seem to get churned out more and more each week. But what if the orchestra that offers the tribute is worthy of tribute themselves?

Who’s Serious is one item from a line of rock-meets-symphony albums by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, etc.), with The Who being the band toasted. But just one listen and you can tell that this is a cut above your average “tribute” album. The album kicks off with “Overture”, a medley of Who hits performed by Roger Daltrey’s touring band. The next track starts the album off proper, with “I Can See For Miles” being performed by the Orchestra. They continue with a string (sorry, bad pun) of The Who’s songs until the last track, “Listening To You,” is again recorded by Roger Daltrey’s band.

One thing I noticed while listening to the album: the arrangements are top-notch. The melody, in particular, captures Roger Daltrey’s inflections perfectly (for example, the “hiccup” on “Who Are You”). But there are still some qualms present. First, only a handful of The Who’s most well-known songs were chosen, meaning that this probably won’t appeal to casual Who fans. Who purists, on the other hand, may also find fault with the fact that the Orchestra may have taken liberties with the arrangements (“Baba O’Riley”, for instance, repeats the first verse and chorus before going into the second verse). Thirdly, even though Roger Daltrey’s touring band performs on the bookends of the album, there is little mention of them in the liner notes besides listing each member of “The Band”. Maybe it’s just because I obessively catalog my music collection, but I would have prefered a little more than that to go on. And lastly, despite all the good intentions and professionalism Rating - 3 out of 4brought to this project, one gets the feeling that the only reason this came about was to, yes, line someone’s coffers.

It probably goes without saying that if you’re new to The Who, then you should pick up the original recordings first. But for Who fans looking for a new twist on some old favorites, this may well be the album for you.

Order this CD

  1. Overture(6:18)
  2. I Can See For Miles(3:21)
  3. Pinball Wizard / See Me, Feel Me(5:13)
  4. My Generation(5:51)
  5. Dr. Jimmy(12:30)
  6. Baba O’Riley(5:34)
  7. 5:15(7:44)
  8. Love Reign O’er Me(6:41)
  9. Who Are You(4:37)
  10. Listening To You (from We’re Not Going To Take It)(4:48)

Released by: BMG
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 63:03

Roy Wood – Starting Up

Roy Wood - Starting UpThe year is 1985. Euro-pop has taken hold, but is rapidly giving way to watered-down hard rock “hair” bands. And despite having a fine and, it must be said, multi-colored head of hair, if you’re old school rocker Roy Wood (founding member of The Move and ELO), you fit into neither of these categories.

Not that he didn’t try, mind you. Woody’s always been an advocate of reinventing his sound, of trying to do something that either hasn’t been done before in rock ‘n’ roll or trying to bring back something that’s fallen out of favor. After trying to give rock music a full-time string section with Electric Light Orchestra, he moved on to create groups like Wizzard and Helicopters, centered around a 50s-style wall-of-saxophone sound. (It’s this last permutation that seems to have stuck, as Wood still tours to this day with Roy Wood’s Big Band.) But in ’84, Wood returned briefly to what he did with his underrated 1975 classic Boulders – recording everything by himself – only with much more modern tools at his disposal.

The sole drawback to this: Starting Up probably could have charted in 1980 or 1981, when the sound of synths and drum machines was fresh where the mainstream was concerned. And Wood’s voice isn’t a million miles away from, say, Gary Numan’s. It wouldn’t have been a bad fit for the early days of synth pop. But in 1985, most of the songs on this album already sounded dated, and 20 years later, time hasn’t been much kinder to them.

Oddly enough, one of the only two tracks that stand head and shoulders above the rest suffers (or perhaps benefits) from a near-total sonic disconnect from every other song on the album. Featuring Louis Clark (of Hooked On Classics fame, and longtime orchestral arranger for ELO) and a full orchestra backing, “On Top Of The World” is a catchy song with a snazzy tune, and easily Wood’s best vocals on the whole album. It’s like this song dropped in from a better-written, better-produced album that we’ve never gotten to hear. The other standout track, “Turn Your Body To The Light”, is a nice melding of synths and Wood’s trademark sax, and it’s a catchy tune too. These two songs easily eclipse the rest of the album.

And let’s set one thing straight – drum machines alone don’t doom a song to cheesiness. Two demos Wood recorded with old friend and former bandmate Jeff Lynne circa 1990 have leaked out, very simple, low-tech productions showcasing a couple of beautifully written nuggets of rock ‘n’ roll that most of the world has never gotten to hear. And that’s what Starting Up is really missing: well-written songs. This is the same Roy Wood who gave us “Blackberry Way” and “Fire Brigade” back in the Move days, and has peppered his solo career with lesser-known but equally-worthwhile songs like “Dear Elaine”…not that you could tell from listening to Starting Up. To put the cards on the table: his songs this time around either weren’t as inspired, or the intent got lost in the execution.

2 out of 4A real curate’s egg, this one, and it’s also Woody’s last solo album to date. Considering what his former bandmate was able to accomplish with Zoom under the ELO banner, I’d really like to hear Roy Wood come back and zing us with a solo project now. Because, as hard as I’m sure he tried to accomplish something unique with Starting Up, he’d almost certainly do better with the technology and techniques available today…and he’s had time to write some new songs too.

Order this CD

  1. Red Cars Are After Me (3:56)
  2. Raining In The City (4:17)
  3. Under Fire (4:24)
  4. Turn Your Body To The Light (4:31)
  5. Hot Cars (3:13)
  6. Starting Out (3:20)
  7. Keep It Steady (3:49)
  8. On Top Of The World (3:30)
  9. Ships In The Night (5:04)

Released by: Castle
Release date: 1985
Total running time: 36:04

Steve Winwood – About Time

Steve Winwood - About TimeA long time ago, Steve Winwood was high on my list of favorite artists, back in the days when he was milking that Yamaha DX7 sound for all it was worth – and I loved it, frankly. I was a bit let down when he followed up great albums like Arc Of A Diver and Talking Back To The Night with a long period of silence, and then the mellowed-out Back In The High Life, and then another long hiatus after which he took a head-first plunge into low-tech rock with Roll With It. About Time is a minor letdown to the 80s Winwood fan in me, in that it continues along that path. In retrospect, and having learned a lot more about Winwood’s background since my teenage years, I realize that low-tech rock is what the man’s all about, and perhaps what he’s best at. And on that level, I can enjoy About Time quite a lot.

This time around, instead of trying to recapture his electric-organ-virtuoso Spencer Davis Group days, Steve Winwood is leaning on a sparser, bluesier sound. Every song on About Time sounds like a tune that evolved organically from a loose jam session – and generally, if you’re listening to something with a blues-based sound, that can’t help but be a good thing. And while synthesizers have come and gone out of fashion with him, Winwood still has a full command of his most powerful voice – he still has one of the most distinctive, effortless-sounding voices in rock music. He never sounds like he’s straining to hit a note, and he shows no sign of having written his material around a limited range.

“Cigano” is easily one of the album’s standout tracks, but the show-stealers here are two slow-bake numbers, “Silvia” and most especially “Horizon”, which is one of the best songs Winwood has ever done, hands-down. Now, one byproduct of the easy, bluesy style of most of About Time‘s tracks is that it can fade into the background a bit – even, I’ve found, if you’re listening on headphones. But those standout tracks (and your mileage may vary one which songs are the best on the CD) make it worthwhile. You’ll know which ones you like when you like ’em.

rating: 3 out of 4It’s a good album, and it’s good to hear Steve Winwood getting back into the swing of things. I wouldn’t kick him in the shins for giving us a great pop song like he used to, but songs like “Horizon” are timeless and impossible to pigeonhole – and I’ll gladly take that too.

Order this CD

  1. Different Light (6:36)
  2. Cigano (For The Gypsies) (6:21)
  3. Final Hour (5:36)
  4. Why Can’t We Live Together? (6:39)
  5. Domingo Morning (5:07)
  6. Now That You’re Alive (5:29)
  7. Bully (5:40)
  8. Phoenix Rising (7:27)
  9. Horizon (4:31)
  10. Walking On (4:55)
  11. Silvia (Who Is She?) (11:28)

Released by: Wincraft Music
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 69:51

Brian Wilson – Smile

Brian Wilson - SmileI can’t possibly say something about the provenance and evolution of this album that hasn’t been said elsewhere, and I don’t have the musical knowledge to critique it professionally, so I won’t try. I will, however make a few observations from the perspective of a music lover.

When was the last time you heard an album that you just didn’t feel you could skip through? Smile is an album of pure Americana – very unfashionable, if not somewhat rude these days. But Smile neither sugar-coats nor apologizes for its theme. It’s not nostalgia.

“Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over
Ribbon of concrete – just see what you done –
Done to the church of the American Indian!”

or

“Who ran the iron horse?
Have you seen the Grand Coulee workin’ on the railroad?”

Sentiments like these find easy perch among the America-basher subculture often found in hemp stores and the like, but that crowd will have a hard time embracing this album. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks have created an album which embraces all of America – the good and the bad, the beautiful, the glorious, the oppressive, and the grim.

All of the songs are short. Of course the album was for the most part written in a time when singles had to be less than 3:30 to get airplay, but many of the pieces are around 2 minutes. And each piece is filled with changes in key, tempo, production sound, instrumentation, and even melody.

The song “Old Master Painter” is a solo cello introduction and single verse of “You Are My Sunshine” performed in a minor key through a vox box. At just over a minute in length, on any other album it would be a bridge piece. Here it’s a scene in a sprawling mural. This is a true concept album, and the bridges occur in the songs themselves.

Musical influences? They’re vast and varied. The entire album is sprinkled with the open harmonies which created the Beach Boys, but it would be more surprising if it weren’t. One note – if you’ve heard Brian Wilson in the last 20 years, you’ve noticed that his voice has thickened. I don’t know if the cause is drugs or just living. You can hear that thickness here. For that single reason, I think this album might have sounded better had it been recorded in 1966.

But listening to the album you hear Gershwin, Pink Floyd from the Syd Barrett days (there are some scary similarities to pieces like “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”). Aaron Copland’s influence is apparent, but that’s almost a requisite for a musician toying with Americana.

There’s also a surreal relationship which is hard to keep straight. You can listen to “I’m In Great Shape” and hear orchestration reminiscent of Supertramp, then you remember he wrote this a decade or more before Roger Hodgson. “Vega-Tables” has elements which are pure They Might Be Giants, but again this actually predates TMBG by 30 years. Come to think of it, a lot of this sounds like TMBG, both in song structure and lyrics, to wit:

“I threw away my candy bar and I ate
The wrapper. And when they told me
What I did, I burst into laughter.”

This album could almost have been written by XTC, but Andy Partridge was barely out of diapers when it was written. And of course Partridge would be hard-pressed to write an album of Americana.

Lastly this album does one more thing that is perhaps unprecedented in pop music. It turns a song you’ve known your entire life into something completely different. “Good Vibrations” was always the final song of Smile, but we’ve come to know it as the single. As good a single as it is, when you listen to this album you come to realize the song was never complete. I can’t think of another example of something like this. The version here is not substantially different from the version you’ve known. That song was always supposed to be in this album, and once you hear it in this setting you’ll know it immediately.

Rating: 4 out of 4Who would have thought Van Dyke Parks would be back in the forefront of music in 2004? Probably not even him. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke deserve all the attention they’re receiving. They deserve the awards they’re destined to receive for this landmark work, and they deserve to be very proud of this remarkable contribution to American music.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Our Prayer / Gee (2:09)
  2. Heroes And Villains (4:50)
  3. Roll Plymouth Rock (3:48)
  4. Barnyard (0:58)
  5. Old Master Painter / You Are My Sunshine (1:03)
  6. Cabin Essence (3:31)
  7. Wonderful (2:06)
  8. Song For Children (2:16)
  9. Child Is Father Of The Man (2:18)
  10. Surf’s Up (4:08)
  11. I’m In Great Shape / I Wanna Be Around / Workshop (1:56)
  12. Vega-Tables (2:20)
  13. On A Holiday (2:36)
  14. Wind Chimes (2:52)
  15. Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (2:27)
  16. In Blue Hawaii (2:59)
  17. Good Vibrations (4:36)

Released by: Nonesuch
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 46:55