Lamp of the Universe
k.d. lang & the Siss Boom Bang
The Last James
A New Day (1970, 44.04/79.12) ***/T½
Walking Down the Road
Goodbye Brother, Farewell Friend
Hurt By Love
Nine to Five
|Thank You Bean
Speak of Peace, Sing of Joy
Baby I Know
Accept Me for What I am
Sea of Tranquility
Brings My Whole World Tumbling Down
|Wake Me I am Dreaming
That's My Home
Help (Get Me Some Help)
Long Way Home
Io Senza Te]
The Love Affair are remembered chiefly for their early '68 UK smash, the Motown-alike Everlasting Love, although they released another seven singles and two albums in their brief career. The two members who went on to do anything much were vocalist Steve Ellis and keyboard player Morgan Fisher, who went on to record with his own band, Morgan and play with Mott the Hoople/Mott, before a lengthy solo career, highlights including 1979's deranged Hybrid Kids album and the two Miniatures releases.
1970's A New Day, released as L.A. in a brave effort to escape their teenybop past, was The Love Affair's second and last album. To be honest, it's a bit of a mess, musically, veering between the late-period psych of the opening title track, the bluesy, flute-driven Tull-alike Walking Down The Road, the vague Americana of Goodbye Brother, Farewell Friend and excellent proto-prog instrumental Ge's Whiz, despite its unnecessary drum solo.
Fisher sticks Mellotron strings all over the title track and Thank You Bean, with the kind of enthusiasm missing from most albums of this type. So; a cusp-of-pop-and-prog effort, neither flesh nor fowl, really, although it has some great moments, not least the Mellotron ones. Incidentally, Repertoire's greatly expanded version adds a plethora of singles and b-sides, a handful of the latter being actually worth hearing.
See: Morgan | Mott
Ambient Metal (2001, 77.15) ***/TT½Yggdrasil
Like a Motherfucker
The Neolithic Goddess
Whole Lotta Loki
Eckstasis - Beyond Rome
The Death of the Motherculture at Mona Mam Gymru, the Wailing Shamanic Fury of the Hoeurs and Druids and the Coming of the Romans
L.A.M.F. (yeah, yeah, Johnny Thunders...), are a seemingly one-off Julian Cope project which does exactly what it says on the tin; drumless, ambient metal. The end result basically sounds like a jammed-out metal album with the drums mixed out, although I'm quite sure that's how it was recorded. Like so many of the Drude's recent projects, this borders unlistenable in places, although it's a fascinating experiment in genre-splitting and no-one else has done anything similar... Oh, and spot the cheeky Deep Purple lift in the last track (Into The Fire, for what it's worth).
Three 'Tron tracks from Saint Julian, with church organ on opener Yggdrasil and overdubbed strings and choir on Like A Motherfucker and (very deep breath) The Death Of The Motherculture At Mona Mam Gymru, The Wailing Shamanic Fury Of The Hoeurs And Druids And The Coming Of The Romans, the latter with extra added pitchbend. Your tolerance for Cope's take on drone-rock may well depend on your fandom for his works in general; suffice to say, this isn't an easy listen, but should you be in the correct frame of mind (ahem...), I would imagine it does the business. Not all that much 'Tron, but you get a nice burst of church organ, for once.
See: Julian Cope | Black Sheep | Brain Donor | Queen Elizabeth
The Old Teahouse (2001, 55.50) ***/½Untitled
Sweden's LEAK, led by Danjel "Tolufim" Eideholm, also featuring In the Labyrinth's Peter Lindahl and another, entirely unrelated Peter Lindahl (!), tend to be described as 'dark ambient', or similar. Their debut album, 2001's The Old Teahouse, is a dark, meditational record, seemingly utilising a real Buchla synth for many of its sound effects (Don Buchla was a synth pioneer, along with the better-known Robert Moog and Alan R. Pearlman). As you can see, all nine of its tracks are titled simply Untitled, a sure sign of avant-gardeness, if ever there was one. Although it occasionally raises the energy levels, the bulk of the album sounds like a malfunctioning analogue synth in a wind-tunnel; that's actually a recommendation, in case you weren't sure.
Someone calling himself Dr. B. Uhno plays 'duo-Mellotron', whatever that means, with strings on track three that could easily be samples, but hopefully aren't, especially as Lindahl owns an M400. I really wasn't sure whether or not to give this an extra half star, as its sonorities certainly aren't for everyone, possibly including myself. However, it does what it does to perfection, although with so little Mellotron, I couldn't seriously recommend it on those grounds.
See: In the Labyrinth
SuperCleanDreamMachine (2005, 54.47) ****/TT½
|The Untold Want
Be Still! Mumís the Word
Grow up! For Heavenís Sake
The Untold Want
Seen From a Train
Die Maienfelder Furrga
A Coign of True Felicity
I Donít Mind if I Do
Too Far! Too Late! Already Bolder Proggers
Were at the Gate!
| Childrenís Playsong
Doo Dah Damage
No One Will Ever Know (Fare Thee Well)
Childrenís Playground Revisited
Lady Lake formed in the early '70s, releasing an album, No Pictures, in '77. After many years and lineup changes, they followed it up 28 years later with 2005's oddly-titled SuperCleanDreamMachine. It wouldn't be unfair to say it could be compared favourably with Camel, with maybe a hint of the obligatory Focus. Wholly instrumental, its chief melodic input comes from Fred Rosenkamp's Andy Latimer-style guitar work, solidly backed up by Leendert Korstanje's keys, including drummer Jan Dubbe's brother Berend's MkVI 'Tron, Hammond and Rhodes. Album highlights are probably the relatively short The Untold Want (sounds like a Spock's Beard title), which squeezes 12 parts into 14 minutes, and the album's second-longest track, Ford Theatre, although there are no clunkers, despite an occasional slight blues influence in Rosenkamp's guitar style.
The MkVI sounds so smooth it could almost be mistaken for samples in places, although it's definitely the real deal. A short string part somewhere towards the end of The Untold Want is bettered by the flutes in Wet Sounds and strings in No One Will Ever Know (Fare Thee Well), although the album's 'Tron highlight has to be Ford Theatre, with its full-on strings and choir parts, rising to a stunning crescendo at the end of the piece. All in all, this is a good, modern symphonic prog album, and what it might lack in originality, it makes up for with tasteful and imaginative playing, not to mention some nice Mellotron work. Worth a punt.
Daß Kein Reif... (1976, 39.42) **½/½Liebe im Wald
Komm, Weil ich Dich Brauch'
Ein Alter Falter
Reise Nach Prag
Daß Kein Reif
Das Geheime Leben (1981, 40.27) ***/0Das Geheime Leben
Es Wächst das Gras Nicht Über Alles
Begierde und Hoffnung
Das Unendliche Rätsel
Reinhard "Lacky" Lakomy is an East (as was) German electronic musician, whose first, eponymous album appeared in 1973. '76's Daß Kein Reif... is a very mixed bag, I have to say, opening with the passable balladry of Liebe Im Wald, then suddenly shifting gear into the cheesy, female-vocalled, disco-pop horror (sorry, Angelika Mann) Sieben Zwerge, the joke number Bier, the jazzy Komm, Weil Ich Dich Brauch' (Mann on vocals again)... I think you get the idea. The side-long title track sounds like an uneasy compromise between Lakomy's progressive tendencies and his label's love of capitalistic, one-size-fits-all commercial music, the end result being an eighteen-minute soft rock ballad with an exceedingly slight progressive feel. Weird. Lakomy plays Mellotron, with mini-bursts of choir on the title track, although the album's string and other choir parts are (mostly) clearly real.
1981's Das Geheime Leben is a fairly typical Germanic electronic album of the era, despite hailing from behind the Iron Curtain. The title track is a side-long epic, Es Wächst Das Gras Nicht Über Alles being a good half that length again plus two 'shorter' tracks, covering various electronic bases, though not particularly originally, I'm afraid. Lakomy's credited with Mellotron, although I've absolutely no idea where, as I can't hear anything that obviously stems from one.
So; Daß Kein Reif... is generally worth avoiding, while Das Geheime Leben is a passable electronic album, albeit with no obvious Mellotron. Maybe not.
Official German-language site
Framed (1979, 42.12) ***/½Take a little Bit of My Life
Remember Me All Ways
This is My Neighbourhood
Welcome to My Dream
Dave Lambert has been, of course, The Strawbs' lead guitarist for most of their career, joining for 1973's Bursting at the Seams and playing on most releases since; 1979's Framed is his only 'proper' solo album, 2004's Work in Progress being a partial retrospective. It's not dissimilar to The Strawbs' output from the time, being largely late '70s pop/rock with the occasional nice moment, though overall, clearly not quite enough to grab the average listener's ear, not helped by Lambert's diffident voice. The best thing here (for Strawbs fans, anyway) is closer Crystal Virgin, a proggish effort for most of its length, before ending with rather ordinary guitar and synth solos.
Given that his parent band were one of the decade's heaviest Mellotron users on the quiet, it's probably not entirely surprising that Lambert chose to use one on his solo effort, despite it having been technically 'superseded' by polysynths by then. Played by Robbie Buchannan, it's only obviously used on Crystal Virgin, with what sounds like a flute part (although it could be synth) and definite choir chords, hardly the instrument's heaviest use. Strawbs completists probably need to hear Framed, although it's really not strong enough to make it worth an expensive purchase.
No Bitter Smiles (2013, 36.18) **½/T½
Diamonds for Dummies
No Bitter Smiles
I've seen Dutch quintet Lambshade described as 'post-grunge' or somesuch, but going by their second album, 2013's No Bitter Smiles, I'd say a rather unencouraging 'heavy indie' fits the bill perfectly. Is any of it any good? Parts of some tracks aren't too bad, especially their patented downtuned, picked intros, but decent entire songs seem to be beyond their grasp, sadly. Oh, go on, there must be something listenable here... Closer Ruins, perhaps?
Ruud Peeters plays his own M400 on a few tracks, although it's hardly the most upfront use you'll ever hear. It enters tentatively, possibly expecting fans to disapprove, with distant strings on the title track, complete with some radical pitchbending, more strings on For You and Cherish (slightly more upfront on the latter) and a genuine full-on part on closer Ruins, rounding the album off with a solo section. Sorry I can't be more positive about this record, but... I can't. Nice Mellotron work on Ruins, anyway.
Gossip in the Grain (2008, 45.05) ***/T½
|You Are the Best Thing
Let it Be Me
I Still Care for You
Hey Me, Hey Mama
Henry Nearly Killed Me (it's a Shame)
|A Falling Through
Gossip in the Grain
Supernova (2014, 42.45) **½/½
She's the One
Pick Up a Gun
No Other Way
Coming from a troubled background, Ray LaMontagne was well into his twenties before he delved into the murky world of the singer-songwriter, releasing his first album at the age of 31. 2008's Gossip in the Grain is his third such, showcasing his mix of American folk, country, blues and even a little jazz, its strongest compositions including the heartfelt I Still Care For You, the lengthy acoustic Winter Birds and the closing title track, not to mention his strange homage to The White Stripes' Meg White in march time. Producer Ethan Johns plays Mellotron, with flutes on I Still Care For You, Meg White and the title track, with some noticeable 'warble', although all the album's strings appear to be real.
Two albums on, 2014's Supernova bears a passing resemblance to its predecessor, although more of a Syd-era Floyd influence makes itself heard here and there, notably on She's The One and Smashing. Sadly, most of the rest of the album sounds somewhat lacklustre compared to Gossip in the Grain; more mainstream, more radio-and-TV-friendly, even when its ups the rock quotient slightly. Leon Michaels (misspelt Micheals throughout) supposedly plays Mellotron on most tracks, although the only audible use is a distant string line on Airwaves; not even the sole track featuring producer Dan Auerbach (Ojai) has anything that might be seriously described as 'Mellotron'.
If Gossip in the Grain has a fault, it's its inconsistency, although its stylistic variety should probably be seen as a positive, although I find it difficult to be as positive regarding Supernova.
Acid Mantra (2009, 53.36) ***½/TTLove Eternal
Searching for a Sign
Astral Planes of Knowing
I believe Lamp of the Universe is essentially New Zealander Craig Williamson's solo project and with a name and titles like that, it should come as no surprise to any of you that he/they are psychotropic adventurers of the finest kind. 2009's Acid Mantra (yes!) is their seventh album, featuring more sitar than you can shake a rainstick at and mucho reverb-drenched (naturally) acid guitar, along with the trippiest lyrics this side of Steve Hillage's long-awaited '70s band reformation. Its one real fault is that it, er, 'goes on a bit'. I'm sure that's the Grateful Dead-esque idea, but if you're not smoking the same stuff as Mr. Williamson (or indeed, anything at all), it does sort of drag in places, docking it half a star.
Now, I know for definite of three Kiwi M400s, but I've no idea which (if any) Williamson used here, assuming it's real at all, of course. Anyway, he puts distant choirs on opener Love Eternal, although the flutes on Searching For A Sign are synthesized, and absolutely smothers closer Universe Within in strings, right through its eleven-minute length. Hurrah! Overall, then, a decent psych release, although maybe slightly impenetrable to anyone outside the field. Like he cares. One good 'Tron track and one mediocre. Worthwhile.
Stumble & Glow (2008, 52.37) ***/½
The Angels Fault
Cocaine in Her Kiss
Better Than You (the Jimmy)
|Silver and Gold
On and on
Green as the Vine
Braden Land is a fairly typical Americana artist, making country-influenced folk/rock with none of your horrid Nashville schmaltz. I believe 2008's Stumble & Glow is his second album; it's not a bad record, certainly within the confines of its genre, but I have to say, I've heard rather better, too. What's wrong with it? Hard to say, exactly, but while I'm sure he identifies strongly with the songs contained herein, few of them impinged themselves on this reviewer, the notable exception being Amy, one of the album's more acoustic tracks, with the heartrending line, "I though she'd filled the bathtub with red wine".
Tyson Rogers is credited with Mellotron, with faint flutes and possibly cellos on Silver And Gold, one of the album's better tracks, although that's your lot, sadly. So; not bad, not great, but if Land can concentrate on his strengths, he could produce a killer album in a few years.
Landberk (Sweden) see:
Terra Serranum (1995, 71.10) ***/TTTLife as We Know it...
The Revolution, Like Saturn, Devours its Children
For Reasons Unknown
The Philosophy of Containers
A Castle, Mother, Nanny and a Warm Soft Bed
Neptunes Last Tear
...The End of Life as We Know it
Lands End were one of the earlier entrants into the, er, New Wave Of American Prog (NWOAP?), following hot on the heels of Magellan, Episode and Now, amongst others, all of whom were hanging onto '80s neo-merchants North Star's coattails. After a couple of demos, their first 'proper' album was '94's Pacific Coast Highway, quickly followed by Terra Serranum. Now, it isn't a bad album, but in all honesty, nor is it that good a one, either; reasonably complex material is sabotaged by simplistic neo-prog style chord sequences and frequently cheesy keyboard sounds. The album's epic, Neptunes Last Tear [sic], holds together for a while, but slumps into a morass of neo-prog clichés after a while and would have been a great deal better heavily edited.
The band's site mentions the Mellotron, disproving my conjecture that it's early sample use; the only sound they use (from Fred Hunter) is some very wobbly strings, though, which sound like they've been put through some sort of pitch-shifting device. Anyway, there are a few chords in (deep breath) The Revolution, Like Saturn, Devours Its Children, (another deep breath) A Castle, Mother, Nanny And A Warm Soft Bed and Neptunes Last Tear, all completely upstaged by the fairly heavy string use on the title track and the (relatively) brief ...The End Of Life As We Know It.
'96's An Older Land, '97's Natural Selection and 2005's The Lower Depths all use samples and pretty ropey ones at that (reviewed here). So; Terra Serranum is OK, but pretty unadventurous for an album described by the band as, "We tried a bit too hard to be 'progressive'", but many of you may well like it anyway. Actually pretty good 'Tron use, even if it sounds like a dying animal in places.
See: Samples | Transience
Lana Lane (US) see:
Field Songs (2001, 42.17) ***½/T
|One Way Street
No Easy Action
Pill Hill Serenade
Don't Forget Me
Kimiko's Dream House
Blues for D
She Done Too Much
Blues Funeral (2012, 55.53) ***/TT½
|The Gravedigger's Song
Bleeding Muddy Water
Gray Goes Black
St Louis Elegy
Riot in My House
Ode to Sad Disco
Deep Black Vanishing Train
Tiny Grain of Truth
Mark Lanegan broke into the foulness known as the 'music industry' by singing for Screaming Trees from 1985 to 2000, before finally bailing out and carrying on the solo career he'd been running concurrently since 1990. Since then, he's played with Queens of the Stone Age, The Twilight Singers, Isobel Campbell from Belle & Sebastian and no doubt others; a busy man. Field Songs is his fifth solo album, and like the other ones I've heard, is a minor masterpiece of mostly quiet, melancholic, Americana-influenced music from someone who understands the power of understatement. Of course, he knows how to rock out, too, but by and large, he seems to do that in band situations, appearing to prefer to keep his more personal material for his solo oeuvre. It's difficult to pick out 'best' tracks, as pretty much everything here is good, and will doubtless reap further rewards should I ever find time to play them more often. There's nothing here with the raw power of Because Of This, the last song on 1998's Scraps at Midnight, although Fix (also the last song) has a shot at it, in a more restrained fashion. Mellotron on one track from Keni Richards, with a nice upfront string part on No Easy Action, although, sadly, that's your lot.
Lanegan continues to plough his very singular furrow with 2012's Blues Funeral, which sounds better to my ears as Funeral Blues, although I'm sure he knows what he's doing. It's a typically murky, Laneganesque release, better tracks including propulsive opener The Gravedigger's Song, the ultra-distorted Quiver Syndrome and epic closer Tiny Grain Of Truth, although I'm sure he wouldn't thank me for comparisons with U2 on a few tracks, notably Harborview Hospital. Alain Johannes plays keys, including what I take to be a Mellotron, with flutes (?) on Bleeding Muddy Water, Phantasmagoria Blues and Deep Black Vanishing Train, strings on Ode To Sad Disco and Tiny Grain Of Truth and cellos on Leviathan. Is it real? I was highly doubtful until Tiny Grain Of Truth, which features heavy strings all the way through its seven-minute length, high enough in the mix to sound reasonably gen-u-wine.
If the thought of listening to several albums of what Pink Floyd memorably referred to as 'quiet desperation' sounds like your idea of fun, Mark Lanegan's made six to date, probably all as good as or better than Field Songs. But up until Blues Funeral, none of the others have had any Mellotron.
See: Screaming Trees | The Twilight Singers | Gutter Twins
Sing it Loud (2011, 42.09) ***/½
A Sleep With No Dreaming
The Water's Edge
Sing it Loud
Habit of Mind
Kathryn Dawn "k.d. lang" Lang (note lowercase, possibly inspired by e.e. cummings) is one of Canada's most fêted country singers, while simultaneously a gay/animal/Tibetan etc. rights activist. Subversion, I think it's called. Her thirteenth album (in a near thirty-year career), 2011's Sing it Loud, credited to lang and the Siss Boom Bang, is a long way from full-blown country, being more a little bit country/little bit jazz collection of slightly torchy ballads; difficult to fault, although this listener also finds it difficult to like. lang has collaborated with Ben Mink, once of the mighty FM, but not only is he not present here, but he's hardly going to persuade her to cover City Of Fear, is he? No, he isn't.
Joe Pisapia plays Mellotron on two tracks, with background cellos on The Water's Edge and the title track, presumably real, but who knows? Anyway, k.d.'s fans will (and doubtless do) love it, but the rest of us can probably just admire her music from a distance.
My Name is Hope Webster (2009, 33.51) **½/TRainbow
You Were Meant for Me
The Heart of Saturday Night
Don't Let it Bring You Down
Going by what may or may not be her debut album, 2009's My Name is Hope Webster, Karen Lano writes melancholy folk/pop with more than a hint of her French heritage, despite singing in English. In fairness, it's a perfectly good album of its type, neatly avoiding the 'slush trap' of trying to appeal to crummy US TV shows by writing the kind of dross that everyone else writes, ending up sounding more like, say, Rickie Lee Jones than anyone contemporary. Kudos, incidentally, for a decent Neil Young cover, Don't Let It Bring You Down.
Michael Leonhart plays Mellotron (as well as mellophone, confusingly), with a chordal flute part on The Clearing, although that would seem to be your lot. As I said, good at what it does, but very laid-back with little Mellotron.
Mine Damer og Herrer (2010, 39.37) **½/T
|Uden for Døren
Botox og Silicone
Danser Med Dig
Du er Min
Næ Næ Næ
Har du Hørt
Mit et og Alt
Giv Mig en Chance
Mænd Med Måner
According to Wikipedia, Kim Larsen is 'possibly the most successful artist in Danish popular music history', which could be quite a cross to bear, I suppose. During and after his considerable success with major Danish act Gasolin' in the '70s, he's conducted a very successful (if rather sporadic) solo career, 2010's Mine Damer og Herrer being his tenth release in nearly forty years. To be perfectly honest, a Danish-language singer-songwriter album is highly unlikely to appeal to anyone much outside Denmark, its mainstream pop/rock stylings almost indistinguishable from those originating in dozens of other countries, while its doubtless erudite lyrics are lost on the non-speaker.
Tim Christensen plays one of his own Mellotrons on Blå Lanterne (Blue Lantern), with an upfront string part duking it out with the track's real strings. Enough to make this worth hearing for the non-fan? No.
Under the Surface (2006, 36.55) **½/T
|In Came the Light
Under the Surface
Don't Save Me
Only a Fool
This Time Tomorrow
The Sinking Game
|To an End
Marit Larsen is a Norwegian singer-songwriter at the poppier end of the spectrum, produced by Kåre Christoffer Vestrheim (Gluecifer, Morten Harket), whose first two Scandinavian albums, 2006's Under the Surface and The Chase, from two years later, have been cherry-picked for 2009's worldwide compilation If a Song Could Get Me You. While perfectly good at what it does, Under the Surface is a desperately unsatisfying listen for anyone interested in music below the surface, being no more than vapid adolescent pop; efficient pop, yet still pop.
Vestrheim plays Mellotron, amongst other things, with flutes on Only A Fool and The Sinking Game, with possible but unconfirmed use elsewhere. While this album may be good at what it does, that is in no way a recommendation; it and its follow-up bored me rigid, but I'm sure there are plenty of young women who love Ms Larsen's work. Two minor 'Tron tracks, one of which (Only A Fool) is also on If a Song Could Get Me You.
Granfalloon (1974, 41.22) ***½/TCloset Casualty
(Whoever) You Are (You)
Despite a certain infamy, Laser Pace are one of America's least-known recorded progressive bands, whose sole album, 1974's Granfalloon, has languished in obscurity for decades. With nine players listed on the album, it's hard to tell just how many musicians were in their live lineup, although the core of the band were a trio, with probably five in the stage version, four of whom played keyboards of one kind or another. Their 'infamy' rests on two pillars: 1) being in possession of a female lead guitarist, still considered pretty radical in the early '70s and 2) being in possession of Silver Apples' Morton Subotnick's Buchla synthesizer, with which they peppered the album with rafts of strange sounds. The album was actually released on legendary oddball John Fahey's label, Takoma, who didn't really seem to know what to do with it, so it disappeared when their catalogue was bought out by Chrysalis at the end of the decade.
So what's Granfalloon actually like, I hear you cry? Imagine experimental, jammed-out psych/prog with a funk feel and you might be getting somewhere. Most of its eight tracks are more 'song' than 'jam', although closer Scatter is about as 'out there' as the albums gets, mixing jazz, psychedelia and electronics into an unholy experimental stew. Said guitarist, Maureen O'Connor and Doug Decker (originally credited as "D. Distorto") are both credited with Mellotron, with strings and cellos all over Endless, although that would appear to be your lot, maybe surprisingly.
Granfalloon is a classic case of Internet interest leading to a reissue, Decker putting it out on his own imprint, allowing a new generation of fans to discover the record for themselves. Only one Mellotron track, but that really isn't why you'd buy this, to be honest.
Non Stop Dancing 77 (1977, 43.27) *½/T
|Run Back to Mama/Don't Go Breaking My
Getaway/Play That Funky Music/Heaven
is in the Back Seat of My Cadillac
Howzat/Dance Little Lady Dance
I Only Wanna Be With You/School Days
|Disco Duck/Bump de Bump Yo Booty/New York Disco/Devil Woman
Jeans on/More, More, More/In Zaire
Daddy Cool/Money, Money, Money/Sweet Love
Feel the Shelter/Dream Weaver
Shake Your Booty (Shake, Shake, Shake)
Do you believe I actually bought this album? Well, do you? I did. Jesus shit, I've finally crossed the line, haven't I? I mean, the godawful Harris Chalkitis was bad enough, and I laughed my arse off when I heard about this one, but then I stumbled across a copy in an ultra-cheapo Aussie record shop, and it was 'only' AU$2.00... Oh well, it gives me a(nother) chance to tell one of my favourite jokes:
Q: What's the difference between a bull and the James Last Orchestra?
A: The bull has the horns at the front and the arsehole at the back...
Boom boom! Actually, that's really unfair, isn't it. Isn't it? I dunno - Last is so far beyond all normal conceptions of good taste that he exists in a world of his own devising, where playing ultra-naff light orchestral versions of current hits actually sounds like a good idea, not some kind of sick musical joke. Non Stop Dancing 77 appears to be the 18th in a series of biannual releases, presumably distinct from all the other albums Last releases, or at least did at the time. The format is: medleys of current hits, sung by a small vocal group backed by a regular rock band and brass section, frequently with strings. This volume in the series features a certain Peter Hecht on synth/Rhodes/Clavinet/Mellotron; correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Hecht play in Lucifer's Friend? Ahem... 'Tron also played by 'Hansi', a.k.a. Last himself, though I've no idea whether he'd ever used one before, or ever did again.
Musically, this album seems to be the height of pointlessness; piss-weak abbreviated versions of not-that-good recent chart entries, presumably German, American and British, although Last toured/tours right across Europe, as well as in the UK and US. Despite the crowd noises that crop up here and there, I suspect this is a studio album; wouldn't he use a string section if it was, though? Oh, who knows. Suffice to say that it isn't even duff enough to be really funny, succeeding only in irritating. Funnily enough, it's the mostly unison male/female vocals that really get on my nerves, even more than the steady disco beat and the largely awful material. This is about as lightweight as it gets, but then, that's the point, isn't it?
I actually expected more Mellotron than this, given that it's being used as a string section substitute, but on side one it's only to be heard near the beginning, on the Don't Go Breaking My Heart/Dancing Queen medley, while side two gets Money, Money, Money/Sweet Love (more Abba...). Apart from the minimal 'Tron, Hecht does some groovy Moog stuff on In Zaire (wasn't that Hamilton Bohannon? God, my brain's full of useless shit...), and a funky bit of Clav work in Cliffy's Devil Woman (wait till I find a copy of Cliff's Mellotron album cheaply enough... Stop press: got it...), but, well, it's like polishing a turd, isn't it? I'm not even sure why I bother.
Well, this is drivel, but it's pretty harmless drivel, all things considered, although I sincerely hope I never need to listen to it again. And as for that cover... Unlike, say, the ridiculous Candlewick Green, it isn't even smothered in enough Mellotron to make it a 'Tron curio, so, just on the remote chance you might (well, I did...), DO NOT buy this album.
Fuck me, it's a British fan site. Run away!
Kindergarten (1996, 40.46) ***½/TTT½
Better Put Some Light in There
True Love Fades
Waiting for the Day
The Alter Ego
Explore This Thing 'Bout Her
I'm in Love
The King Has Left His Castle
Watery (part 1)
Watery (part 2)
Lars Pedersen (also of experimentalists When) formed the superbly-named The Last James during the '80s, releasing three albums over the course of the following decade. Their calling card was psychedelically-influenced powerpop, sitting somewhere in between (at their best) The Beatles and Syd's Floyd, although, to be brutally honest, their compositional chops weren't quite up to those of their mentors. To my knowledge, 1990's Grape features nothing even remotely Mellotronic, while '93's The Last James appears to use samples.
1996's Kindergarten is an all-round improvement over their eponymous '93 release, highlights including the opening title track, the powerpop of True Love Fades, the heavily psychedelic Civilization (opening with a brass fanfare over a sitar drone) and the Moody Blues-esque Watery (Part 1)/Drunk/Watery (Part 2)/Kindergarten (Reprise) segue that finished the album. Other notable features include the explicitly McCartney-esque vocal melody on Explore This Thing 'Bout Her and the string arrangement on the sparse The King Has Left His Castle.
Pedersen adds Mellotron to several tracks, with queasy, wildly pitchbent strings all over the title track, to the point where I can't decide whether we're listening to good samples or a real machine put through a pitchbending device. We get more strings on Waiting For The Day (played by Vidar Ersfjord), low string notes on Explore This Thing 'Bout Her and background strings on Watery (Part 1), Drunk, Watery (Part 2) and Kindergarten (Reprise), finishing things off nicely. 'Proof' that it's genuine? The point at the end of Watery (Part 2) where the tape chokes off. Very much an improvement over its predecessor, Kindergarten is well worth hearing for psychonauts everywhere, its Mellotron use merely enhancing what is already a very good album.
See: Samples | When