Black Eyed Peas
Black Label Society
Black Moth Super Rainbow
Black Star Riders
Black Bonzo [a.k.a. Lady of the Light] (2004, 58.28) ****/TTT
|Lady of the Light
Brave Young Soldier
These Are Days of Sorrow
Leave Your Burdens
Where the River Meets the Sea
Sound of the Apocalypse (2007, 54.03) ****½/TTTTThorns Upon a Crown
Intermission - Revelation Song
Sound of the Apocalypse
Operation Manual: the Guillotine Model Drama (2009, 49.34) ****/TGuillotine Drama
Because I Love You
How Do You Feel?
Tell Me the Truth
Nest of Vipers
You think you've heard retro? You ain't heard nothing yet... Black Bonzo are a seriously authentic early-'70s sounding outfit from northern Sweden, apparently, and are, to all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from any lower-division heavy/progressive band from, say, 1972, with one important difference; they're excellent. Not to diss the likes of Gracious! or Stray, say, but these guys don't let the quality slip, or meander off into soft-rock territory. Their debut, Black Bonzo (a.k.a. Lady of the Light)'s erstwhile title track Lady Of The Light starts fairly generically, before suddenly mutating into Uriah Heep's Easy Livin' with added Mellotron, stretching the whole thing out to seven minutes, complete with piano interlude. One online reviewer has pointed out that this is probably the album's high point, but that isn't to say the rest of it isn't pretty good, too, just possibly not quite up there with the opener. Incidentally, they invoke the spirit of Heep again on New Day, which sounds like Stealin' this time.
Apart from the Hammond and synth (Moog?), Nicklas Åhlund gets a fair bit of 'Tron onto the album, with intermittent strings on Lady Of The Light and Brave Young Soldier, and a typical 'Strawberry Fields'-style flute part plus strings on Fantasy World. The other highlighted tracks all feature strings to one degree or another, with a beautifully lush part on Leave Your Burdens. Åhlund's work stands out for its restraint, with few of the relevant tracks having more than a few seconds of 'Tron here and there, fading in and out where necessary.
Their second effort, 2007's Sound of the Apocalypse, opens with a multi-overdubbed portamento-laden monosynth part worthy of Rick Wakeman's No Earthly Connection, with the essential difference that it's not the only thing on the album worth hearing. In fact, Black Bonzo have seriously raised their game here, making an album that sounds far more like themselves than Uriah Heep, or anyone else for that matter. This is seriously good stuff, from the two-minute Intermission - Revelation Song to the 13 minutes of the closing title track, with a proggier and more original feel than before, although their spiritual forbears are still the early '70s hard rock bands, rather than the progressive ones.
Mellotronically speaking, Thorns Upon A Crown features no 'Tron at all until a brief choir part right at the end of the song, although Giant Games ups the ante with a considerable string and flute presence. A flute melody duels with acoustic guitar on Yesterday's Friends, with more strings and choir on The Well. Now: confusion. Ageless Door has a 'stabbed' string part played in fifths that sounds both like and not like a Mellotron, with more of the same sound on Iscariot. Is this a different string sound? One of the new ones? No way of saying for certain, but it seems more likely to be a 'Tron than not.
2009's oddly-titled Operation Manual: the Guillotine Model Drama is more diverse than its predecessors, although Heep still play a large part in its sound. Somehow, it seems a little less exciting than Sound of the Apocalypse, although it still knocks the socks off most current bands. This lot should tour with Bigelf, thinking about it. Strangely, the Mellotron is hardly anywhere to be seen this time round, with naught but strings on opener Guillotine Drama and Nest Of Vipers, with real strings on a couple of other tracks.
So; three albums for retrohounds everywhere. Uriah Heep are probably Black Bonzo's chief influence, at least on their debut, but anyone who can't get enough of that turn-of-the-'70s Hammond-driven sound should buy these immediately. Decent 'Tron work, too. Buy.
Monkey Business (2005, 66.03) **½/T
Don't Phunk With My Heart
They Don't Want Music
Audio Delite at Low Fidelity
The Black Eyed Peas are apparently relatively unusual in the hip-hop world, refusing to conform on various fronts, although to the casual listener, hip-hop it remains. Their fourth album, 2005's Monkey Business, manages to mix serious lyrical concerns with the puerile My Humps, sung by female member Fergie, although she could be said to be making a stand against endemic male sexism. Maybe. Musically, a handful of tracks are more adventurous than the average, although the majority are the same old same old, I'm afraid.
A gentleman calling himself Printz Board, for some reason, plays what sounds like real Mellotron on Don't Phunk With My Heart, with string and flute stabs, ending with a weird little choir melody that I can't imagine anyone else in the hip-hop world going anywhere near. Anyway, one so-so 'Tron track, and for all its invention, the album's still hip-hop. I shan't be playing this again.
Alive Without Control (2005, 44.23) ***/T
|Three Sheets to the Wind
Last Call at the Toothless Saloon
Alive Without Control
Third World U.S.A.
I Need to Know
The Black Halos hail from Vancouver and play punk bloody rock mate as it was, is and evermore shall be. Actually, they make a pretty decent noise, not entirely locked in the past, with real, unfettered energy, unlike absolutely anything that could be described as 'indie', however much they protest to the contrary. Alive Without Control is their third album and rocks along nicely, although Billy Hopeless (stop laughing)'s vocals do grate somewhat. Best track? Probably Broken, with its churning, high-energy riff, although nothing here's going to irritate the seasoned punk fan.
Jason Staczek plays occasional piano, Hammond and Mellotron, the latter on Tight, which opens with some very authentic-sounding solo cellos, before the track shifts into the band's usual gear. A lot of you aren't going to like this at all, and I'm not sure how often I could listen to it, to be honest, but it does what it says on the tin, and one decent 'Tron intro's a lot better than none. Incidentally, for the handful of you who haven't noticed, their label name is a joke that was old when the mighty Blackfoot used it in a lyric in, ooh, 1981 or so.
Softly Towards the Light (2009, 38.14) ***½/TT½
|Run With Me Run
Gloomy Monday Morning
When You're Not There
Number Ten Girl
Lead Me to Your Fire
Let Me Be the One
Can't Stop These Tears (From Falling)
|How Did We Get Here
Don't Be Afraid to Ask
The cheekily-named Black Hollies wear their sole influence quite clearly on their velvet-jacketed sleeves: what Americans call the 'British Invasion'. Softly Towards the Light is an album of stunning unoriginality, although it's also an album of fun, good quality songs that do absolutely nothing to offend anyone who loves the just-pre-psych era as much as The Black Hollies. They're got all the right moves: Farfisa organ? Check. Yardbirds harmonies? Check. Corduroy caps? Check. There isn't a bad track on the album, but nor is there one you don't feel you've heard many times before, The Yardbirds' For Your Love obviously being a band touchstone. The most blatant steal is probably on Lead Me To Your Fire, and then more for its lyrical reference to coming on down from the 13th floor (Roky who?) than any specific musical quirk.
Jon Gonnelli and Justin Morey both play Mellotron, a rare glitch in their homage, as few bands of the era hit it this hard, with a very real-sounding flute melody, complete with key-click, towards the end of opener Run With Me Run, string chords on Gloomy Monday Morning and How Did We Get Here and a faint flute line in Everything's Fine. As on so many records, it may be hidden away on another track or two, but it's rather hard to tell. So; fun but deeply unoriginal. And how, precisely, it that any different to most of the music from the last decade or two? The fun bit, chiefly.
Brothers (2010, 55.28) ***½/TT
Howlin' for You
She's Long Gone
The Only One
Too Afraid to Love You
|Ten Cent Pistol
The Go Getter
I'm Not the One
Never Gonna Give You Up
Turn Blue (2014, 45.08) ***/TT
|Weight of Love
Year in Review
Bullet in the Brain
It's Up to You Now
Waiting on Words
In Our Prime
Gotta Get Away
I'll openly admit I've never heard The Black Keys before, the limit of my knowledge being that they're from Devo's hometown, Akron, Ohio and they're a bassless duo, à la The White Stripes, only without their image-consciousness and with a drummer (specifically, Patrick Carney) who can play, the other half of the partnership being guitarist Dan Auerbach.
Ignoring EPs and the previous year's Blakroc collaboration, 2010's Brothers is their seventh album proper, forged in the heat of a Brooklyn summer and at the legendary Muscle Shoals in Alabama. The duo are clearly exceedingly well-versed in all aspects of ye olde rock'n'roll, no two tracks of its fifteen sounding alike, while all fitting into an r'n'b/soul groove with a slight hip-hop edge to the vocals, with other influences dipping in and out as required. The most surprising of these is '70s glam rock, several tracks, not least opener Everlasting Light, sounding like dead-ringers for T. Rex. Auerbach refers in an online interview to having bought a Mellotron, transporting it to Muscle Shoals for the recording, utilising it on Next Girl, (faint choirs under sustained guitar), The Only One, I'm Not The One and Never Gonna Give You Up (strings), alongside the harpsichord they inadvertently persuaded their manager to locate. Anyway, despite sitting slightly outside my comfort zone, Brothers is good enough to transcend the usual barriers to acceptance, making for a most satisfying listen, merely enhanced by its Mellotron use. Worth hearing.
There's no Mellotronic involvement on 2011's El Camino, but it reappears on Turn Blue, three years later. The album does what The Black Keys do, essentially soulful rock'n'roll, at its best on opener Weight Of Love, which has something of the Neil Youngs about it, the electronica-influenced Fever (a hit, I believe) and Bullet In The Brain. Presumably Auerbach on presumably Mellotron, as I've heard more authentic-sounding use. Perhaps he sold that M400? Anyway, we get distant strings on Weight Of Love, a supporting flute melody on Fever, a string line on Year In Review and chordal strings on 10 Lovers and In Our Prime, but I wouldn't go too far out of your way for this, at least on the Mellotron front.
See: Dan Auerbach
Shot to Hell (2006, 44.04) ***/TT
Black Mass Reverends
Blacked Out World
The Last Goodbye
Give Yourself to Me
Nothing's the Same
Hell is High
|Sick of it All
Faith is Blind
Blood is Thicker Than Water
Lead Me to Your Door
Zakk Wylde (that's Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt to you) got the gig with Ozzy Osbourne in the late '80s, keeping it to this day, although it's hardly what you'd call the most full-time post these days. As a result, Zakk has plenty of time to run his own outfit, Black Label Society, which seems to be as much a beer, barbecues and bike club as a band. Going by their seventh studio album, 2006's Shot to Hell, Zakk appreciates that sometimes you need to slow things down a bit, although the bulk of the album's made up of Ozzyesque metal with a bit of Sabbath thrown in for good measure. The first half of New Religion surprises, being a piano-and-orchestration instrumental before the guitars cut in, while Nothing's The Same and Sick Of It All pile on the piano and (relatively) sensitive vocals, but don't make the mistake of thinking Zakk's gone soft on us, er, so to speak.
I've seen both Wylde and producer Michael Beinhorn credited with playing the latter's M400 on the album, so I'm not sure which credit's more accurate. Quite possibly both. Anyway, someone plays strings on Nothing's The Same, a flute intro on New Religion, flutes on Sick Of It All over the synth strings and another flute melody on closer Lead Me To Your Door, which is vastly more than I'd expected. Overall, then, a modern metal album with retro touches and some quiet bits laced with Mellotron. Does that sum this up sufficiently?
See: Ozzy Osbourne
Dandelion Gum (2007, 46.42) ***/TTTT
Jump Into My Mouth and Breathe the Stardust
They Live in the Meadow
Neon Syrup for the Cemetery Sisters
The Afternoon Turns Pink
|When the Sun Grows on Your Tongue
Spinning Cotton Candy in a Shack Made of Shingles
Lost, Picking Flowers in the Woods
Wall of Gum
Untitled Roadside Demo
Black Moth Super Rainbow are usually referred to as a 'psychedelic' band, but their fourth album, 2007's Dandelion Gum, is more 'indie psychedelic electronica' than anything else, with programmed beats and (presumably real) analogue synths all over the place. Mostly instrumental, the album has its more acoustic moments, but those looking for a 'typical' psych outfit should probably look elsewhere.
There are uncredited Mellotron flutes on most tracks; interestingly, the band's Wikipedia entry mentions that they use a Novatron, so although it sounds too smooth to be genuine, it seems unlikely that anybody would bother going to that level of detail when they merely mean Mellotron samples. Anyway, particularly heavy use on Sun Lips, The Afternoon Turns Pink and When The Sun Grows On Your Tongue, assuming it's real.
So; plenty of Mellotron, albeit only flutes, on an album that seems largely devoid of boring stuff like tunes. In fact, what little melody gets through is largely from the Mellotron... The band's frontman, Tobacco (hey! Good name!), has released a handful of solo albums, including one with Mellotron inclusions, assuming (again) it isn't sampled.
Black Mountain (2005, 46.31) ***½/T½Modern Music
Don't Run Our Hearts Around
Set Us Free
Heart of Snow
In the Future (2008, 57.16/72.22) ****/TTTT
Queens Will Play
[Limited ed. adds:
Bastards of Light
Wilderness Heart (2010, 42.49) ****/TTT½
|The Hair Song
Let Spirits Ride
Buried By the Blues
The Way to Gone
|The Space of Your Mind
Black Mountain are a funny old mixture; usually described as 'psychedelic', on their eponymous 2005 debut, they actually mix early-'70s hard rock (notably on Don't Run Our Hearts Around) with various strains of late-'60s psych, including that weird 'folk collective' style (think: massed vocals from both genders, sometimes with a vaguely gospel feel), with hints of late-'70s Noo Yawk noo wave and modern indie, to mostly good effect. The band are known to own a real Mellotron (actually a Novatron), but for all their championing of it, there's not actually that much to be heard on Black Mountain, with background choirs on Set Us Free (as it kicks off) and a flute part on Heart Of Snow, probably from Jeremy Schmidt; the strings are either an old string synth or a modern emulation, by the sounds of it.
It took the band three years to follow up with In the Future, chucking out most of its predecessor's foibles in the process, making it a more straightforward and cohesive release. It's unlike me to praise a limiting of horizons, but it's actually a better record for being more focussed. They've seriously made up for their debut's failings on the 'Tron front (Schmidt again?), and how, with strings and choirs on opener Stormy High, nicely upfront string and flute melodies in Angels, strings, flutes and choirs on the epic Tyrants... Wucan's strings are certainly wobbly enough to be real, while Stay Free features the first appearance of a second tape frame and cellos, with more choirs on Queens Will Play and Wild Wind and a return to that second frame for the brass on the 16-minute Bright Lights. A limited edition version of the album adds rather good three tracks to a second disc, two from a limited-edition 12". Bastards Of Light features a 'Tron flute part, with more of the same, plus choirs, on Thirteen Walls.
2010's Wilderness Heart delves even further into the past for its inspiration, sounding like a more psychedelic Sabbath in places; the stupendously rocking Let Spirits Ride could almost be a Heaven & Hell outtake, while the seriously Zep-esque The Hair Song and Old Fangs help to keep the standard up. Nearly as much Mellotron as last time round, with semi-Arabic scale strings on The Hair Song, more strings on Old Fangs, something unidentifiable, yet clearly Mellotronic, on Rollercoaster, background choirs on Let Spirits Ride, another major string part on Buried By The Blues, strings and near-solo choirs on the title track with more of the same on closer Sadie to finish things off nicely.
All in all, then, if you prefer waffly indie/psych with the odd hard rock interjection, go for Black Mountain's debut, but if you're of a hairier persuasion, In the Future and Wilderness Heart are yer men. As for their Mellotronic content, as you can see from their ratings, there's absolutely no contest.
See: Sinoia Caves
Black Sabbath (UK) see:
Kiss My Sweet Apocalypse (2009, 91.22) ***/TT½Ernesto
Kiss My Sweet Apocalypse
Black Sheep at the BBC (2009, 34.16) ***/½Bank of England
The Doorway Character
Black Sheep are Julian Cope's latest band project, clearly based around the concept of resistance and revolution. Released in what appear to be two fairly different editions (CD and vinyl), 2009's double-CD Kiss My Sweet Apocalypse is, unsurprisingly, longer, with the title track nearing half an hour. Musically, it both sounds like 'typical Cope' and not, with lengthy jams intercut with chanted slogans and hand-thwacked bass drums. But are there any songs on it? I hear you cry. Er, not really, no, but then that isn't really what you buy Cope albums for, is it? Is it? Cope (credited, amusingly, as 'Julian H.') plays Mellotron M400 (and credited as such) on four of the six tracks, with harsh flutes and deliberately wobbly strings on Ernesto, complete with probably the roughest Mellotron pitchbend I've ever heard committed to virtual tape, although I can't hear the credited 'Tron on the relatively short Che (sound effects?). Leila Khaled starts with a Mellotron string line, switching between strings, reedy choir and flute before leaving the song to its strummed acoustic and wind effects, while the title track has a flute melody near the beginning, then bugger-all until a clicky repeating string line near the end of the behemoth.
The band recorded a BBC session at that organisation's famed Maida Vale studios on April 5th of that year, released as Black Sheep at the BBC, delivering four revolutionary tracts (sic) over the course of 35 minutes, with varying levels of musical success. Near-quarter-hour opener Bank Of England sees the band chanting 'bankers' (or something very similar) for its first few minutes, massed drums, rudimentary piano and guitar feedback filling out the sonic tapestry, while Not Happy, substitutes squalling synth for pretty much any other tuned instrumentation. Vachel Lindsay is a rough-hewn acoustic number, leaving the short, distorted synthscape of The Doorway Character (credited to Black Sheep Electronic Division) to finish things off. Cope adds Mellotron flute (?) chords to Vachel Lindsay, although that would appear to be your lot.
So; another day, another (two) Cope record(s), although these ones take a bit of a left turn, referencing the Black Panthers and (at least on the vinyl version of Kiss) the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Mellotronically speaking, the album proper actually features one really good effort (hurrah!), although it's a bit thin on the ground on the other credited tracks, while the BBC disc really isn't worth it for the Mellotron.
See: Julian Cope | Christophe F. | David Wrench
The Killer Instinct (2015, 46.04) ***½/½
|The Killer Instinct
Charlie I Gotta Go
Through the Motions
Sex, Guns & Gasoline
|Turn in Your Arms
You Little Liar
Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham has been playing in various reformed lineups of the band (such as it is) since the '90s, although (sensibly), none of them have recorded under the name. Upon deciding to finally make an album (2013's All Hell Breaks Loose), the band opted to release and promote it under the name Black Star Riders (from 1993 western flick Tombstone, fact fans), although it seems that Lynott's estate also objected to their using the Lizzy name, somewhat forcing the decision upon them. Incidentally, before anyone argues the toss, Wikipedia lists the four-fifths American band as 'American', so American it is.
And their second release, 2015's The Killer Instinct, sounds like... Er, Thin Lizzy? A classic Lizzy harmony part opens the title track, strongly reminiscent of, say, Chinatown's opener We Will Be Strong, Northern Irish vocalist Ricky Warwick (The Almighty) channelling Lynott for all he's worth, although his vocal emulation softens as the album progresses, almost as if they recorded his parts in the eventual running order. Plenty of highlights, despite the album's slight air of second-handedness, not least Bullet Blues, the gentler Blindsided and epic closer You Little Liar, while Soldierstown and Turn In Your Arms channel Emerald's Celtic vibe admirably.
Producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush) is credited with Mellotron and his beloved Taurus pedals on Blindsided and regular release closer You Little Liar, with background strings on the former and something that sounds more like a Hammond than anything Mellotronic on the latter. Are we actually hearing a Mellotron at all, Mr. N? Or some digital thingy? Or something else entirely? This will stay here until/if I get any more information. Incidentally, is it just me (yes, probably), or is a sleeve design featuring a young lady in her underwear just a little... passé in 2015?
See: Thin Lizzy
Holding All the Roses (2015, 40.45) ***½/0
|Let Me Help You (Find the Door)
Holding All the Roses
Living in the Song
Rock and Roll Again
Woman in the Moon
Wish in One Hand
Randolph County Farewell
|Payback's a Bitch
Lay it All on Me
No Way Back to Eden
Fire in the Hole
Blackberry Smoke's very name tells you where they're coming from: deep-fried, southern rock, with a side helping of country, sitting somewhere inbetween the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their fourth album, 2015's Holding All the Roses, covers all the bases, from rolling opener Let Me Help You (Find The Door), the acoustic-into-heavy title track, complete with countryish fiddle work, the barrelhouse blues of Rock And Roll Again, epic slow one Woman In The Moon, full-on country in Too High and even a short acoustic workout, Randolph County Farewell. Highlights? Let Me Help You, the stomping Wish In One Hand and closer Fire In The Hole, but if truth be told, there ain't a bad track here.
Producer Brendan O'Brien is credited with Mellotron on the title track (well, he's played one often enough in the past), but I'll be buggered if I can tell you what it's supposed to be doing. I'm not saying it isn't there, but it's pretty well hidden if it is. So; Blackberry Smoke aren't doing anything new, but they do something old exceedingly well, Mellotron or not.
Blackfish (1993, 45.24) **½/0
I Don't Care
The Only One
Easy as Saying Goodbye
Down for the Count
|I Wanna Know
Check it Out
I Believe in You
Blackfish were a one-off late-period hair metal band who had the sense on their sole, eponymous album, to play down the sub-Mötley Crüe-isms and dig out the acoustic guitars on a few tracks. The material on Blackfish is pretty unexciting all round, to be honest, and Down For The Count rips the riff from Rush's The Spirit Of Radio something rotten, while Sugar Shack cops Boston's Peace Of Mind. I wouldn't be surprised if other riffs had origins other than in their rehearsal room, but I'm not well-versed enough (or at all) in their contemporaries to know.
Sean Slade is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be buggered if I have any idea where. Is that the choirs? Nope, backing vox. Strings? Nope, E-bow guitar. Why bother? I mean, why? Lovers of commercial hard rock will probably go for this relatively obscure outing, but the rest of us can sit safely at home knowing that we're missing out on nothing.
|7" (1973) ***½/T
Nothing to Hide (1973, 36.05/53.32) ***½/0 (½)
My Oh My
Now We're Three
The Spring of '69
On His Own
Standing in the Road
Sing Don't Speak
2 B Free
Strangers (1977, recorded 1974, 37.34/48.14) ***/T½
|Care to Believe
Touch the Sky
Shoot All Strangers
Nostalgia Ain't (What it Used to Be)
Bye Bye Birmingham
Get it All to Me
You Need Love]
Blackfoot Sue are remembered today, if at all, for their one-off UK hit, Standing In The Road, a 1972 no.4. Helmed by twins Tom and David Farmer, their 'classic' lineup included guitarists Eddie Golga and Alan Jones, all but Jones doubling on keyboards when required. Their official site mentions that they bought a Mellotron, but never took it on the road, in which case, why bother? Why not just hire one when you need it? Odd. Anyway, their third (non-album) single, Summer, is an atypically gentle number, sometimes referred to as being part of the 'Seasons Suite', although I can't trace any references to the longer work. It features a few Mellotron flute pitchbends for good measure, although it's some way off 'Mellotron classic' status.
They released their only album to appear during their 'lifespan', Nothing to Hide, in 1973, bullishly containing no singles, while featuring a vicious put-down of the then-current glam scene, Glittery Obituary. The album's peak, though, is the ripping The Spring Of '69, a condensed heavy epic on a par with the genre's market leaders. Although there's no Mellotron on the original record, it's the easiest place to find the aforementioned Summer, one of no fewer than five bonus tracks on Repertoire's mid-'90s CD issue, although, oddly, the track's ('Tron-free) b-side, the rather average Morning Light, has been added to their follow-up.
This unluckiest of band's said follow-up, Strangers, was recorded in 1974, but not released until '77, and then only in the States, just as the band were splitting up. The bulk of it comprises workaday hard rock-lite, until halfway through side two, when they suddenly lurch into an eleven-minute instrumental prog epic, 1812 (apparently a live fave), complete with musical quotes from Tchaikovsky's piece, church bells, cannon fire and a studio trickery-assisted lengthy Mellotron choir chord at the end. It's not the only 'Tron on the album; Joining Together, while not a great song, features a full-on strings part, although it does little to improve the track. As on Summer, no-one's credited, so it could be either of the Farmers or Golga.
Blackfoot Sue were, at heart, a hard rock band who never really gained enough audience credibility to break through commercially, despite some fine album tracks. As their site says, in the early '70s you were either a 'serious' album artist, or you had hits. They had a hit, cogito ergo sum. Or something. Although their first album's noticeably better than their second, it doesn't contain 1812, so if you really want to hear this lot properly, you're going to need both, as 1812 doesn't appear on any compilation (although, sensibly, The Spring Of '69 does). Incidentally, the band later morphed into Liner, a cheeso late-'70s mainstream band whose one, eponymous album is a classic 'record company record', i.e. the label loved it, but nobody bought it. Forget that, remember them this way.
Jamie Blake (1997, 39.06) **½/½
Whisper Too Loud
What You Say
You Asked Me
|When We're Dumb
Things I Could Have Said
The Worst is Over
Despite Jamie Blake's eponymous 1997 debut slotting neatly into the 'mainstream pop/rock' bracket, she's had trouble sustaining a solo career; as a result, she currently plays in The Rentals, alongside an ex-member of Weezer. Jamie Blake is the kind of album that's raided by TV execs looking for background music for feelgood TV show and films, in this case, Gossip Girl (TV) and Darkness Falls (film), which probably gives you a good idea of how it sounds. Best tracks? Not really, no, although a couple of the more energetic efforts (So Precious, What You Say, You Asked Me) are relatively palatable.
Jamie's credited with Mellotron, so I suppose we have to assume that the exceedingly background flutes (and strings?) on When We're Dumb are just that, although the cellos on Dragstrip Girl are more likely to be generic samples. Sean Slade (Dinosaur Jr.) co-produces, so who knows? It might even be real. While I've heard an awful lot worse than Jamie Blake, I've also heard a hell of a lot better, so if I were you, I probably wouldn't bother.
Le Long des Lignes (2005, 43.57) ***½/TT½
Tout se Dévoile
Le Long des Lignes
Si c'est Ici
Celui que tu Cherches
Blanc seem to be a French indie outfit, although I know little about their history. Le Long des Lignes is an interesting effort, although I found some of it dragged a little, though not enough to really spoil the album. Several excellent tracks, though, including La Panne and the epic Je Respire, which has a wonderful cinematic feel to it. They recorded the album in Paris, then presumably sent the tapes (does anyone record on tape any more?) to Mattias "Änglagård" Olsson's Roth Händle studio in Stockholm for overdubs. As you do.
Doubtless amongst other things, Mattias added Mellotron to several tracks, with flutes on Les Aléas and various combinations of cellos and strings on the other highlighted tracks. Strangely, nothing on Je Respire, but most of his 'Tron work is typically upfront, with particularly fine strings on Celui Que Tu Cherches. It's perfectly possible that there's more 'Tron on there, considering some of the more unusual sounds in the Olsson collection, but this is all I can actually hear. So; good album, though not one for the progheads out there, with some nice 'Tron work from the ever-reliable Mattias.
Happy Families (1982, 40.32) ***½/½
|I Can't Explain
I've Seen the Word
Living on the Ceiling
I have to admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the more inventive end of the early-'80s synth-pop scene; Soft Cell, OMD, even Blancmange. Remember Blancmange? Their biggest hit was the frankly bonkers Living On The Ceiling, which you probably know, even if you think you don't. They took a while to get themselves signed, missing the main synth-pop boat in the process. Their first release was an independent EP in 1979, Irene & Mavis, but it took them three years to sign to London and get anything else out, and then it wasn't until their third single that they actually started selling records in significant numbers. Their unique sound was a combination of vocalist/guitarist Neil Arthur's declamatory tones and Stephen Luscombe's exemplary synth work, initially still in analogue times.
Their debut album, Happy Families, featured a sleeve painting in the style of Louis Wain, whose anthropomorphic cats are another thing you'll know even if you think you don't. I mean, compare this to Spandau Ballet... The best synth-pop of the era can be seen as a kind of successor to art-rock, and tends to be beautifully crafted, as against, say, Spandau Ballet... Living On The Ceiling fits this description perfectly, and is merely the best example of their style on the album, with its bizarre chorus and iconic Coral Sitar line. If you really haven't heard them, imagine Kraftwerk filtered through a (new) romantic haze, with Bryan Ferry's evil twin on vocals, or a less arty Japan. Unlike, say, Spandau Ballet, the album even features a beautiful instrumental, Sad Day, which sounds unbelievably familiar, although from where I have no idea.
So what's this doing here, eh? Obvious answer, but howcum I found out? Stephen Luscombe wrote to me a little while back to let me know, so I felt the least I could do was pick up a copy of the album the next time I saw it going cheap. One 'Tron track only, in that wasteland decade for the instrument, with some almost unrecognisable heavily-effected choirs on the album's first single, God's Kitchen, which just goes to show what a futile undertaking this site can be sometimes.
So; unlike, say, Spandau Ballet, Blancmange were interesting, arty and fun, making Happy Families a worthwhile listen. Next to bugger-all Mellotron, but don't let that put you off.