Nine Days Wonder
Nine Inch Nails
Norfolk & Western
Quarante Jours Sur Le Sinaï (2003, 65.03) ****/TAct I
Nil are a current French progressive outfit whose mix'n'match approach to the genre is refreshingly postmodern, as they combine elements of '70s symphonic prog, '80s metal, jazz and more recent influences into a mélange of progressiveness, creating something new in the process. Their third album, Quarante Jours Sur Le Sinaï ('Forty Days on the Sinaï'), seems to be rated the most highly by online reviewers; it's a concept work involving Atlantis and ancient Egypt, consisting of two lengthy acts, each broken up into numerous shorter pieces. A great deal of the album is instrumental, although there are vocal passages, including a spoken-word piece by (presumably) Audrey Casella, which is entirely unintelligible to non-French speakers.
Although there are many acoustic instruments credited, including soprano sax, cello, bass clarinet and harp, the overriding sound of the album is that of a regular rock band, with a great deal of guitar and modern synth work, although the latter never shifts into 'cheese' territory; keys man Benjamin Croizy appears to know what he's doing, and never overuses the 'typical' digital sounds. Although it's credited, there's actually very little Mellotron (picture of a battered face-plate in the booklet) on the album; all I can hear in the first movement is a brief choir part towards the end, although there's a major strings and choir section about halfway through Act II, before the more 'standard' 'boards kick in again.
So; a good album that will almost certainly get better with repeated listening (which I shall find time for... When?). Not much Mellotron, though, so don't go buying it on those grounds. Incidentally, their follow-up, 2005's Novo Sub Sole (reviewed here), definitely uses samples.
Streets of New York (2006, 64.27) ****/T
|Welcome to My Head
Asking Annie Out
Game of Fools
The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in
Best Friends Money Can Buy
Faded Flower of Broadway
|When One Stands
Whole World With You
On Some Rainy Day
Cell Phones Ringing (in the Pockets of the Dead)
Lonesome Dark-Eyed Beauty
Police on My Back
Streets of New York
For someone you've probably never heard of, Robert Anthony "Willie Nile" Noonan is older than you'd expect, born in 1948. He released his first album at the age of 32, although legal problems have interrupted his career enough that his fifth, Streets of New York, appeared 26 years after his debut. It's an excellent Americana/Dylan/Springsteenish record, albeit without the latter's grandstanding, full of songs where, although they're chiefly about the lyrics, he refuses to ignore the music, unlike many second- and third-rate singer-songwriters, many reviewed on this site. Honestly, there's not a bad track on it; I particularly like Cell Phones Ringing (In The Pockets Of The Dead), but anyone who appreciates meaningful songs, well presented, shouldn't have too much trouble connecting with this.
Andy York plays Mellotron, with background strings on Faded Flower Of Broadway and a more upfront part on On Some Rainy Day, although it could easily have slotted in elsewhere, too. So; not one for those who demand musical complexity, but bloody good at what it does. An incidental humorous quote from legendary NJ native Little Steven: "Willie's so good I can't believe he's not from New Jersey".
Nilsson Schmilsson (1971, 35.21) ***/T
|Gotta Get Up
Early in the Morning
The Moonbeam Song
Let the Good Times Roll
|Jump Into the Fire
I'll Never Leave You
Pussy Cats (1974, 37.02/56.08) **½/T
|Many Rivers to Cross
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Don't Forget Me
All My Life
Old Forgotten Soldier
Save the Last Dance for Me
Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga
Loop De Loop
Rock Around the Clock
Down by the Sea
The Flying Saucer Song
Turn Out the Light
Save the Last Dance for Me]
Knnillssonn (1977, 37.04) **½/T½
|All I Think About is You
I Never Thought I'd Get This Lonely
Who Done it?
Lean on Me
Blanket for a Sail
What irony; fêted throughout his career as a 'classic' songwriter, Harry Nilsson remains best-known for his overwrought version of Badfinger's cheese classic Without You, although we can't hold him responsible for the appalling Mariah Carey's abominable version, I suppose. After watching his Hollywood drinking buddies die around him, Nilsson, career in freefall, hung on until 1994, before finally drinking himself to death.
Nilsson Schmilsson is a somewhat mixed bag, despite (or because of?) containing the aforementioned Without You; few of the songs strike me as being 'classic', while the supposed 'hard rock' of Jump Into The Fire, well, er, isn't really. Very tame, although I'm sure I'm heavily missing the point (The Point! Geddit? Oh, never mind...). Maybe the album made more sense at the time; listening to it thirty years later, it's impossible not to compare it with everything that's happened since. Mellotron on two tracks; Driving Along has strings and maybe brass, played by both Harry and Richard Perry, while Nilsson tackles the flutes on The Moonbeam Song alone. Hardly classic use, to be honest, although it's always nice to hear a reasonable Mellotron part.
The Moonbeam Song also turns up on 1974's Son of Dracula (soundtrack to the film of the same name), although I believe it's the same recording as on Schmilsson. Pussy Cats from the same year has one Mellotron track, too, with exceedingly smooth strings on Black Sails (a.k.a. Black Sails In The Moonlight), one of the album's least irritating efforts. Produced by the 'lost weekend' John Lennon, the album is decidedly uneven, not helped by Harry's rupturing of a vocal cord during recording, a fact he hid from Lennon (how?). Several dodgy covers do nothing to improve matters, so I think you're probably best off giving this a miss.
Nilsson's penultimate release, 1977's Knnillssonn (you'll know the sleeve, if not the contents) features his last Mellotron use (thanks, Mark). The album is pretty much what you'd expect from a terminal alcoholic, although the amusing talking blues (Nilsson style) Who Done It? caught my attention, while balladic closer Perfect Day (not that one) lends the album a hint of late-in-the-day gravitas. Someone (Nilsson himself?) plays Mellotron on two tracks, with flutes (later morphing into strings) on Old Bones and flutes running right through Blanket For A Sail, for what it's worth.
Anyway, if you like what Nilsson does, you probably already own Nilsson Schmilsson and if you don't, you won't; just don't go buying it for its Mellotron use. Conversely, while Pussy Cats is a dullard of an album, it has one excellent Mellotron track, although neither of Knnillssonn's are essential. Typical. Little-known fact about Harry Nilsson (gleaned from Wikipedia - sorry): both 'Mama' Cass Elliott and Keith Moon died in his London flat; no wonder he got rid of the place soon after the latter's demise.
We Never Lost Control (1973, 35.35) ***/TTDays in Bright Light
The Great Game
Angels Due to Arrive
We Grasp the Naked Meat
Only the Dancers (1974, 38.42) **½/TTLong Distance Line
Only the Dancers
It's Not My Fault
Time is Due
The Way I'm Living
Nine Days Wonder formed in the mid-'60s, but didn't release anything until 1971's Nine Days Wonder; that version of the band broke up, leaving vocalist Walter Seyffer to join Medusa, who became the second version of Nine Days Wonder (their countrymen The Scorpions pulled a similar stunt a couple of years later). Their second album, with an almost entirely new lineup, was We Never Lost Control, which falls into the same general area as Message, being rather middling prog-ish German rock, without any major distinguishing features. It's not a bad album, but not something to which I expect to return that often. Freddie Münster plays Mellotron on three tracks, with full-on cellos and strings on Fisherman's Dream, a brief flute line at the beginning of the oddly-titled We Grasp The Naked Meat, with a string part later on in the nine-minute track and some very background strings in closer Armaranda.
They followed up with 1974's Only the Dancers, which is, by and large, more mainstream than its predecessor, more in line with Message's later albums. The nearest the album gets to a highlight is closer Moment, which is the only progressive track here, if you use the term loosely. 'Tron strings from guest Steve Robinson (from Twenty Sixty Six & Then) on It's Not My Fault and The Way I'm Living, although the only part worth writing home about is on Moment, where he actually goes for it properly, though it's a case of too little, too late, I'm afraid.
Nine Days Wonder's fourth and last album was the fairly useless A Sonnet to Billy Frost (**), which is probably even worse than the later Message albums I've heard, to continue the comparison. Of these albums, We Never Lost Control is clearly the better of the two, but neither's a classic in any way whatsoever, so unless you're a German prog fanatic, I'd advise going elsewhere. OK, some passable Mellotron work, but nothing you couldn't live without.
Bizarre official site
The Downward Spiral (1994, 64.57) ***/½
|Mr. Self Destruct
March of the Pigs
I Do Not Want This
|Big Man With a Gun
A Warm Place
The Downward Spiral
The Fragile (1999, 102.52) **½/½
The Day the World Went Away
We're in This Together
Just Like You Imagined
No, You Don't
The Great Below
The Way Out is Through
Into the Void
Where is Everybody?
The Mark Has Been Made
I'm Looking Forward to Joining You, Finally
The Big Come Down
Underneath it All
Ripe (With Decay)
With Teeth (2005, 56.05/64.24) ***/½
|All the Love in the World
You Know What You Are?
The Hand That Feeds
Love is Not Enough
Every Day is Exactly the Same
The Line Begins to Blur
Beside You in Time
Right Where it Belongs
[UK pressing adds:
Right Where it Belongs (Version 2)]
I've never really understood why so-called 'industrial' music is so popular; I remember when the term was first used to describe bands like Einsturzende Neubauten and SPK, who were using genuine industrial machinery on stage and generally making a fine old racket. NIN and their ilk, to my ears, anyway, sound like a goth/metal crossover with 'industrial' sounding samples; not the same thing at all really, is it? NIN are not so much led by Trent Reznor as 'are essentially his solo project', with other musicians taken on board as and when they're needed, but given that Reznor runs the whole show, his/their work achieves a kind of consistency often missing when a committee (i.e. other band members) are involved.
1994's The Downward Spiral is famous for hosting possibly Reznor's best song, Hurt (as covered monstrously well by Johnny Cash), but the bulk of the record is more typical of his style, being, basically, electronic rock: sampled drums and sequenced synths paired with metallic guitars and sinister, up-close vocals, used to surprisingly good effect in places, not least the piledriving I Do Not Want This. Reznor plays skronky Mellotron flutes on the title track
Five years on, The Fragile falls into the 'if I don't personally like it, how do I review it?' area. It's a huge sprawling double CD's worth of material, sounding, well, rather like NIN really, with no obvious stand-outs. Reznor plays a bit of 'Tron (assuming it's real, as useable samples were cropping up by this point) on a couple of tracks; The Wretched has some almost inaudible strings, and the title track has a quick blast of flutes. And that's it.
2005's With Teeth seems marginally less electronic than its predecessors, with more of a 'band sound' about it, although it's still recognisably a NIN record. Best track? Could just be Beside You In Time, although that probably isn't the fan's choice. One 'Tron track from Mr. Reznor, with just-about audible strings at the end of You Know What You Are?, although there's a good chance they're sampled, I'd say.
So; if you like NIN, you'll have these already, and none of them are worth it for the Mellotron. The Downward Spiral's probably the best of the three, but everything's relative.
All of Us (1968, 35.48/46.05) ***½/T
The Touchables (All of Us)
The Show Must Go on
Girl in the Park
Frankie the Great
|You Can Try
Everybody Loves the Clown
St. John's Wood Affair
Oh! What a Performance
C Side of Ocho Rios]
This is the band who took Kurt Cobain's crew to court, eventually settling the matter amicably. Alex Spyropoulos and Patrick Campbell-Lyons started working together in 1967, a few months after Cobain was born, releasing their debut, The Story of Simon Simopath, that autumn, making it possibly the first narrative 'concept' album. Despite being tagged 'psychedelic', the duo were more about well-crafted songwriting than studio trickery, although their 'classic', Rainbow Chaser, used phasing (actually ADT) extensively.
Rainbow Chaser opened their second album, 1968's All of Us, and although it's the album's best track, that's not to denigrate the rest of the material. There are a couple of slightly regrettable moments, not least the children's choir on Everybody Loves The Clown and the rhyming of 'Frankie' with 'wanky' in Frankie The Great, but overall, we're talking songs of the quality of Girl In The Park and St. John's Wood Affair, making this a solid late-'60s effort, while not up with the likes of The Zombies' deathless Odessey & Oracle or Fairfield Parlour's From Home to Home.
Very little Mellotron, to be honest (player unknown), as most of the album's strings are real, although the overlapping single string notes on You Can Try are definitely a MkII, although that seems to be it. A good album, then, without being outstanding, though one killer track in Rainbow Chaser. Try to pick up the expanded CD of the album, as most of the bonus tracks are worth the effort, unlike most.
dA dA dA (1994, 55.33) **½/TT½
|dA dA dA
What We Did on Our Holidays
Mourir Avant Quinze Ans
Whales of Tadoussac
|Day & the Night
Desert Island Song
dA dA dA was The Nits' first international release (the band have been together since the mid-'70s), sung in English, although it didn't make global superstars of the band. Listening to it, it's hardly surprising; it isn't a bad album, but its skewed take on mid-'90s pop was never going to get them that platinum disc. The title track seems to be an offbeat eulogy for someone's father, thus the childlike title, with most of the rest of the album being folk-influenced vaguely Celtic pop/rock, just that little bit too far from the mainstream to sell in large quantities, although that was clearly its intention.
Keys man Robert Jan Stips was a lynchpin of revered Dutch progsters Supersister in the early-to-mid-'70s. His association with The Nits began when he produced their 1979 effort Tents, joining the band full-time in 1983. I don't know if he's used any Mellotron on any other Nits albums, but he gets a good bit in here, with very obvious strings on Dreams, a short flute solo part and more strings on What We Did On Our Holidays, strings (over synth ones) on Mourir Avant Quinze Ans and flute stabs on Homeless Boy. It's almost as if they recorded the album, song by song, in its eventual running order and Stips could only make it for a few days, so he only contributed on tracks two to five. Odd.
Overall, then, a reasonable enough album if you like the style, inoffensive, but a bit dull for the rest of us. Genuinely good Mellotron use, though, almost to the point of me saying 'worth it for that if you see it cheap'.
Tragic Kingdom (1995, 59.24) ***/T
Excuse Me Mr
Just a Girl
You Can Do it
World Go 'Round
End it on This
Return of Saturn (2000, 54.43) **½/½
Simple Kind of Life
Six Feet Under
Magic's in the Makeup
Suspension Without Suspense
|CDS (2000) **/½
Simple Kind of Life
Ex-Girlfriend (acoustic live)
Everything in Time (B-Sides, Rarities, Remixes) (2003/04, recorded 1996-2001, 64.21) **½/½
Everything in Time (Los Angeles version)
You're So Foxy
Everything in Time (London)
Oi to the World
I Throw My Toys Around
New & Approved (remix)
A Real Love Survives (Rock Steady remix)
A Rock Steady Vibe (Rock Steady remix)
I've seen No Doubt described as 'punk/ska', which poses the question, "Where's the punk?" OK, there's some reasonably energetic rock thrown into the mix, but punk? I think not. Mind you, if the ludicrous Green Day are 'punk', so are No Doubt. Anyway, there's enough ska and reggae to support that bit of their description, complete with two-piece horn section. Turns out their singer is the hugely-overrated Gwen Stefani, known mainly to myself for her horrible 2005 reworking/mauling of Topol's If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof; irredeemable.
She puts in a reasonable performance on 1995's Tragic Kingdom, while showing little sign that she'd become a (concurrent with No Doubt, apparently) solo success. Amusingly, the title track is apparently a reference to Disneyland, with lyrical references to various urban myths surrounding the theme park. Mellotron on one track, played by unknown (Eric Stefani? Matthew Wilder?), although the flutes on The Climb sound suspiciously suspicious to me, in a sample kind-of-stylee.
2000's Return of Saturn is probably best described as a No Doubt album that does what No Doubt albums do, which pretty much absolves me from having to make any real judgement on it. No, I didn't like it very much. Gabrial McNair plays Mellotron on the album's second single, Simple Kind Of Life, with faint choirs and a handful of flute notes towards the end of the track.
2003 brought a four-CD box set of No Doubt stuff entitled Boom Box, later split into its individual components. Disc 3 was reissued the following year as Everything in Time (B-Sides, Rarities, Remixes), largely consisting of b-sides and outtakes from Return of Saturn, with some other stuff chucked in. It's apparently pretty good as such collections go - I'll openly admit I can't tell; about the only track that grabbed me at all was their cover of Bad Brains' Sailin' On. The only track that even remotely interests us here is Cellophane Boy, a b-side, with a smattering of very-possibly-not-real 'Tron flutes, possibly from Gabrial McNair.
Overall, Tragic Kingdom's better than expected, which isn't actually a recommendation, while Return of Saturn and Everything in Time are plain dull. One Mellotron track on each, but suspect samples.
RossoNoemi (2011, 37.27) **½/TUp
Vuoto a Perdere
Odio Tutti i Cantanti
Poi Inventi il Modo
Le Luci dell'Alba
Veronica "Noémi" Scopelliti broke into the mainstream due to her involvement in Italy's 2008 X-Factor, so it's a minor surprise that her second album, 2011's RossoNoemi, injects a level of rock into the expected pop. Opening with the dulcet tones of a grinding Hammond, powerchords and full-blown widdly guitar solos are all over the record, although the material will only disappoint anyone looking for anything out of the ordinary.
Roger Manning Jr. (Jellyfish, many others) plays Mellotron, with background strings on Fortunatamente and flutes on Sospesa, although all other string parts sound real. While the album has its moments, it's basically lightweight pop/rock, so don't go too far out of your way.
|7" (1971) **/TT
As with other Israeli artists, finding any info on Akiva Nof (male, in case you were wondering) is a near-impossibility; I'm not even convinced 1971's Jezebel was actually a single, although it seems likely. As with many other Israeli records from the era, it's a folk-influenced pop number, of next to no interest to the outside world, klezmer fans excepted.
An unknown musician plays Mellotron strings across the track; the first Mellotron in Israel? It's certainly the first track I'm aware of, for what that's worth. Anyway, if I find out anything else about this (was it on an album?) I shall report back.
Noise Ratchet (2003, 23.09) **½/TWhen Losing Ends
From Your Lips
A Way to the Heart
Going by their last release, 2003's Noise Ratchet EP/mini-album (following two full-length albums), the band of the same name sat firmly in the 'alt.punk' ghetto, most of the disc consisting of punchy, emo-ish material, although closer Desire goes for more of a post-rock thing, sadly.
Ben Moore plays (possibly genuine) Mellotron strings on Desire, which do absolutely nothing to improve a pretty awful song. What more can I say? Not a lot; not entirely terrible, but pretty tedious stuff overall.
Nonames [a.k.a. Ktzat Acheret] (1975, 43.15) ***½/½
The Little Prince
Nonames (or No Names, a.k.a. Ktzat Acheret) were one of a handful of Israeli progressive bands in the '70s, along with the better-known Zingale and the recently-discovered Atmosphera; they were apparently something of a 'supergroup', comprising members of other fairly well-known outfits. I believe Nonames was their sole album, and is a mixture of psych, folk and early progressive elements, jumping from one style to another in a slightly disconcerting, though refreshing way. In fact, I think it's fair to say that every track on the album sounds different to every other, but if you're fine with diversity (and why wouldn't you be?), you stand a good chance of enjoying this.
Very little Mellotron indeed, with strings on the frankly bizarre Bissalad from Shlomo Gronich, but really not enough to be worth bothering with. In fact, where the hell did they get access to a Mellotron in mid-'70s Israel? I know there's a couple in Tel Aviv now, but then? Must've been one somewhere. Anyway, a good, unusual album that covers a lot of ground in forty-odd minutes, and which will doubtless repay repeated listens. Worth the effort, though not for the 'Tron.
Luring (2004, 44.31) ***/T½
|Kveldssong for Deg Og Meg
Farvel Til Deg
Orda du Gav Meg
Borga i Ur
Under ein Cowboyhatt
Odd Nordstoga broke through commercially in his early thirties after the release of his second solo album, 2004's Luring. Best described as Norwegian pop/folk, it's a cheery record, full of accordions, massed male voices, banjos and fiddles, which is actually rather better than it sounds. Top tracks? I'm not sure I'd go that far, but the balladic Orda Du Gav Meg and Borga I Ur work well. Cropredy Festival Friday afternoon fare, if that means anything to you.
Kåre Chr(istoffer) Vestrheim plays Mellotron, with a brief descending string line on Farvel Til Deg, a string part doubling the real violin and cello on Borga I Ur, chordal strings on Kom and a brief, uncredited string part on closer Sjøfararsong. I wouldn't really buy this for its Mellotron use, but as a primer as to what sells well in Norway, you could do a lot worse.
Dusk in Cold Parlours (2003, 39.24) ***½/TT
|A Marriage Proposal
Letters Opened in the Bar
Jealousy, it's True
|No Else Where He Can Go
The Tired Words
At Dawn or After Dusk
A Gilded Age (2006, 32.10) ***/TPorch Destruction
A Gilded Age
Watch the Days Slowly Fade
There Are No Places Left for Us
Clyde and New Orleans
We Were All Saints
A Voice Through the Wall
The Unsung Colony (2006, 46.56) ***/½
|The Longest Stare
The Shortest Stare
Barrels on Fire
How to Reel in
The New Rise of Labor
Rehearsing La Dolce Vita
Banish All Rock
From the Interests of Few
The Longest Stare (Reprise)
Dinero Severo (2010, 52.58) ***½/TTT
The Long Goodbye
Not for Good
|So That's How it is
This is a Number 5
Sue and the Short Order Cook From Chesterfield, SC
Joe the Stalker
Approval From Anyone
Norfolk & Western (doubtless named for the old railroad company) play an intriguing old-tyme Americana/indie crossover, where the dusty American West is sporadically sharply juxtaposed with modern guitar rock, which actually works better than you might expect. All this from a band who apparently incorporate a genuine century-old Victrola Gramophone into their act...
Their third album, 2003's Dusk in Cold Parlours (like the UK spelling, guys), seems to be fairly typical of their sound, highlights including opener A Marriage Proposal, with its tremoloed guitar, the laid-back Impossible, Oslo and A Hymnal. Tony Moreno and Adam Selzer play Mellotron flutes on Impossible and the linguistically-tangled No Else Where He Can Go, with overt flute parts opening Oslo and Disappear. 2006's short A Gilded Age is a good record, without being outstanding, helped along by barely topping the half-hour, not giving it time to pall in any way. Best tracks? Probably the title track (banjo rock, anyone?) and the melancholy There Are No Places Left For Us, though nothing here offends. Rachel Blumberg plays Mellotron, with flutes on Porch Destruction and Minor Daughter and an additional brief wobbly string part on the latter, but nothing you haven't heard before, to be honest. The same year's full-length The Unsung Colony is roughly comparable to its predecessor, stylewise, better tracks including How To Reel In and the lengthy Arrangements Made. Several of its tracks are uncharacteristically noisy, notably The New Rise Of Labor and Banish All Rock, although the overall vibe is still 'subdued'. The album has no Mellotron credited, strangely, but it's clearly audible on the finished product, with a major flute presence on The Longest Stare from Dave Depper.
2010's Dinero Severo sees the band stretching out a bit (channelling Neil Young on The Long Goodbye) and generally combining their influences more effectively than before, at least to my ears. My personal preferences lie towards the rocky Turkish Wine, the talking blues Whippoorwill Song and the rockabilly of Sue And The Short Order Cook From Chesterfield, SC, but there isn't actually a duff track on the record. Blumberg, mainman Adam Selzer and Dave Depper all play Mellotron, with strings on Turkish Wine, Every Morning, Future Mother and Angel Feet, cellos and strings on The Long Goodbye and flutes (pitchbent on the former) on Sue And The Short Order Cook From Chesterfield, SC and Approval From Anyone.
So; Norfolk & Western cross genre boundaries with impunity, largely due to the array of talent within the band (various members play with M. Ward, The Decemberists, Laura Veirs and a host of others), so I look forward to hearing the rest of their catalogue. As you can see, of the better albums above, I found Dinero Severo to be a more rounded listen than A Gilded Age, while which isn't to denigrate the latter in any way, although the former and Dusk in Cold Parlours are quite clearly their major Mellotron albums.