Scott Gagner moved to San Francisco from Minnesota (a good move, I suspect), playing drums for several bands from his new home town. I think 2010's Rhapsody in Blonde (ho ho) is his solo debut, an unexpectedly excellent slice of powerpop, highlights including gorgeous 12-string-fest Speak & Spell, Houdini and the drifting Laura No. 2, while closing with an acoustic version of Guns N'Roses Sweet Child O'Mine is either total genius or utter stupidity. Possibly both. It also exposes exactly how facile the lyrics are, but that's another matter. Of course, not everything here's classic; Right Before My Eyes and Between are a bit on the ordinary side and the whole album could probably do with trimming by ten or fifteen minutes, but that's splitting hairs, to be honest. Gagner and Jonathan Chi supposedly play Mellotron, with flute and string parts on You Can Say That Again and Houdini, although the choirs on Take Two and strings on The Least I Can Do really give the sample game away. So; yet another partially brilliant powerpop release, for those of you/us who can't get enough of those faux-Beatles melodies. Well, I'm sure there are plenty yet to be written, so why shouldn't Scott Gagner have a piece of the action?
So what's sadder? Naming yourselves (either ironically or in homage) after a Star Trek episode, or knowing the reference? Eh? Eh? (exhibit A: Spock's Beard). I think my inner nerd has just become one with my outer nerd. The Galileo 7's Staring at the Sound (their second album?) is actually an excellent powerpop release, with not a hint of clueless indiedom about it, thankfully, the band's influences hailing directly from the mid-'60s without bothering to pass 'go' or collect £200. Top tracks? Opener Anne Hedonia (very witty, chaps), both for music and lyrics, the acoustic Hiding From The Sun and the storming Not Gonna Miss You, although I'm really not hearing any genuine duffers here at all. Someone adds Mellotron samples to two tracks, with phased strings all over Waiting To Cross and obviously sampled flutes on Hiding From The Sun. All in all, a fine album only docked half a star for a lack of originality. What's that got to do with it, anyway? This is powerpop, it isn't intended to be original. Just good.
How to describe this? Gloomy, downbeat, rather mournful. Slowcore? I'm not sure if it has any 'best tracks', as one tends to sound quite a lot like another. Although both Nacho García and Isidro Lucuix are credited with Mellotron, the nearest we get to one is an occasional near-subliminal string chord on a couple of tracks. Fail.
I was surprised to find that Heritage & Visions was only Galleon's second album, after '93's Saga-influenced Lynx (***). Sadly, Saga seem to've been dropped in the interim, to be replaced by generic neo-prog as the band's overriding musical mentor, their sound having slipped into 'bastard offspring of Marillion with bits of Rush' territory, like so many other bands around the same time (Short Story's intro is effectively Rush's Subdivisions, only less punchy and with no atmosphere). Suffice to say, despite a reasonable analogue keys input (actually, so what?), this is tedious run-of-the-mill stuff, pretty much indistinguishable from dozens of other Euro-progsters of the time, only with impeccable English pronunciation.
Both Ulf Pettersson and bassist/vocalist Göran Fors (whom I once met - a lovely guy, despite his music) plays keys on the album, both playing analogue Oberheim polys, with Pettersson also using (his own) MiniMoog and Korg MS20. The 'Mellotron', however, is another matter. Is it any accident that this was recorded soon after the relase of eMu's Vintage Keys module? I don't think so... The flutes in the quiet section of opener Lullaby, the strings in the lengthy Permanent Vacation (haven't we heard that title somewhere before?) and the background strings and choir in Short Story are all, upon a re-listen, clearly samples.
Gallery are a Norwegian progressive-ish outfit, whose sole album to date, 2007's Jas Gripen, starts off well enough with the dynamic Painted Black, but quickly slips into post-rock-by-numbers territory, which is rarely a good thing. Stop wanting to be Thom Yorke, guys. Any other decent tracks? The seven-minute grief takes a while to get going, but builds up (hey! Crescendo rock!) to the best part of the album, its closing seconds featuring fakeotron cellos and an unusual whole-tone run. Vocalist Snorre Valen plays keys, including fake Mellotron, with cellos on Painted Black, Sarin And Airplanes and Grief and possibly a smidgeon of flutes somewhere, too. This could be so much worse and so much better simultaneously; the band need to nurture their strengths and kick the clichéd post-rock stuff into touch if they want to make a truly dynamic record.
The Gallery are a band at the cusp of powerpop and Americana, going by Restless. It outstays its welcome, even at only forty minutes, although better tracks include Ballroom Of Broken Hearts and Catalyst. Phil Allen's Mellotron? Surely not the strings in the cheesy Young And Restless? Or the flutely thing on closer Dream Girl?
Al Gamble formed The Gamble Brothers Band in 2001 with his brother Chad, splitting after their third release, Continuator. Stylewise, it's classic jazz/soul/blues (in roughly that order), indistinguishable, at least to my ears, from the '60s and '70s greats, although I'll admit the songs probably aren't as strong, at their best on opener Overboard and the funky, Clavinet-driven Back At School. Gamble's credited with Mellotron, presumably the samplotron flutes and cellos on E. Parkway Rundown.
Gandalf (Austria) see:
Run for the hills - it's another Nick Hewitt review.
>This is a real oddity - I, Nick Hewitt, have been asked to review something that isn't Christian. Thank God I'm an atheist. Actually, there are a couple of reasons why Andy asked me to do this... 1) Andy doesn't have any Garbage in his collection, either literally or figuratively - and he told me to say that [no I didn't - Ed.]
2) Andy hates Garbage's debut album, but for a totally non-musical reason - he had a flat-mate who played it incessantly for months. Is that not so Mr. Thompson? [difficult to argue with this one... - Ed.] While I, too, have been subjected to something similar (my school's 6th Form record player always had Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother or Taste's On the Boards at some point during the day), it hasn't affected today's subject of discussion.
Garbage started out as a casual jam session with producers Butch Vig (who had produced Nevermind by Nirvana), Duke Erikson and Steve Marker. Some time later, they decided to recruit a lead singer. They settled upon a girl from Edinburgh, Scotland, by name of Shirley Manson, who had been part of minor league outfits Angelfish and Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie, based in her hometown. The rest, as they say, is history.
Garbage invaded the airwaves sometime in 1995, with the release of the single Stupid Girl - a brilliant single that gave a good indication on the eponymous album that was to follow, which didn't disappoint. Well-written simple (in the uncomplicated sense of the word) songs given a hard, heavy, driving rock treatment that succeeds at most levels. Best tracks are A Stroke Of Luck (a haunting beauty), Stupid Girl and My Lover's Box, which has the longest, heaviest slide I have ever heard. As far as I'm concerned, this has to be one of the finest debuts ever from the best band to have emerged since about 1990 - bar none. Mellotron is a bit tricky on this, as neither Andy nor myself are entirely sure IF there is any. There is something on Milk, but it's almost impossible to decide if it is 'Tron or samples of 'Tron. I'm certain that there are samples on Stupid Girl, as the chords last for more than 8 seconds. The credits on the CD insert don't help, as the 'Samples and Loops' ('played' by Steve Marker) refer to samples from tracks (e.g. they sampled Train In Vain by The Clash on Stupid Girl). Loops are also credited to Butch Vig, but that could mean anything. IF there is 'Tron, then it was almost certainly played by Duke Erikson.
Three years were to elapse before their 2nd album, Version 2.0 hit us, and it was another good 'un. They had got their style, they stuck with it - and quite right too. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. There was some criticism about the so-called difficult 2nd album, but I put this down to professional jealousy. Just listen to The Trick Is To Keep Breathing (which, I think, is about drug overdosing) and You Look So Fine and you'll see that they are in tremendous form. Definitely a **** album, albeit with no 'Tron. beautifulgarbage (yes, that's how it's printed on the cover - it's just put my spell-checker into rehab) came out in 2001, and compared to what had gone before, it was a massive disappointment. The songs were poor and lacking in strength. The band appeared to be devoid of any good ideas and even resorted to duetting (on one track) with Chrissie Kerr (of the Pretenders). The only decent track is Nobody Loves You, which soars into the stratosphere, but the rest of it is utterly forgettable. I'd give it **, but that's rounded up to the nearest significant *. Again, there was no 'Tron on this, but I doubt if its presence would have taken it out of the toilet.
2005 saw the release of Bleed Like Me, and it's a, thankful, return to form. They must have realised how far they had retreated into mediocrity with beautiful... as they've gone back to the style of the first two albums. It roars along, with its blend of hard/serrated edged chain-saw guitars coupled with beautiful ballad-type material, which they handle with loving care. There are a few references to specific previous tracks, particularly off Version... but don't let that worry you. You sometimes have to take a step back to go two steps forward. There is no obvious stand out track, though Happy Home is probably the best, with a slight discordant edge to it. Mellotron is credited to Duke Erikson, but there isn't a great deal to it. It's All Over But The Crying has a little background choirs during the choruses. It's a beautiful track, but there isn't enough 'Tron to make a lot of difference. Happy Home also has choirs, which come in rather late. Again, 'Tron is minimal, but is there, nonetheless. The CD insert specifically states... 'Mellotron and piano on 8 and 11' meaning that they're on It's All Over But The Crying and Happy Home, but I'm certain that they are on the title track as well [note: sampled Mellotron flutes]. I would be obliged if someone could confirm - there's a slight suspicion on my part that it may be a string synth.
Back to me. I've just discovered that there's a third relevant Garbage release, albeit only in remix form. They provided the theme song for 1999's Bond flick, The World is Not Enough, a perfectly decent effort that recalls some of the great '60s Bond themes. Of the single's two virtual B-sides, the relatively inoffensive UNKLE remix of the theme is bursting with Mellotron, Carwyn Ellis sticking cellos, brass and strings all over the thing in very pleasing fashion, sounding pretty real. The other 'B', Ice Bandits, sounds like a bombastic piece of incidental music from the film, unsurprisingly all orchestral. HOWEVER... Upon a re-listen, all the above sound sampled, even the early stuff.
Charly Garcia is the kind of Latin American artist who sells zillions of albums in his own country/continent, but is next to unknown anywhere else, leading to a culturally distinct musical approach that bears little relation to the American Hegemony. Influencia is around his 21st solo album in over 20 years, and mixes musical styles with abandon, from the mainstream pop of I'm Not In Love (not that one), complete with quotes from The Zombies' She's Not There to solo piano piece Pelicula Sordomuda and reworkings of various tracks dotted throughout. Not exactly Justin Timberlake, then. Until very recently, it seems highly likely that the entire South American continent hosted a grand total of zero Mellotrons, and I only know of one in Ireland, so it seems rather unlikely that an Argentinean recording in Dublin would have access to one. There are several points in the album where Garcia's credited 'Tron could possibly be sitting (chiefly the strings in the English-language title track), but it really doesn't sound much like one, so it's going here until anyone can prove otherwise. You probably don't need to hear this album unless you have a burning desire to listen to mainstream Latin pop/rock, but it's perfectly good at what it does, real Mellotron or not.
In case you're wondering how a solo artist can come from two different countries, Javier García was born and lived in Spain until he was thirteen, moving to the US via Ireland in his teens. After his highly successful eponymous 1997 debut, he went quiet for some years, returning in 2005 with 13, featuring a mix of Latin and modern pop styles, mostly sung in Spanish. This isn't, frankly, going to appeal to the average Planet Mellotron reader (haven't we heard this somewhere before?), but is perfectly good at what it does, keeping the energy levels up on most tracks, with impeccable musicianship throughout. Ricardo Martinez plays samplotron, with flutes and possible vibes (they're not otherwise credited) on Algo Especial.
Mark Gardener was shoegaze heroes Ride's frontman, so it shouldn't come as any great surprise to learn that his solo debut, 2005's These Beautiful Ghosts, has something of his old band about it; think: indie/shoegaze/singer-songwriter and you won't be too far off the mark (ho ho). Better tracks include the lovely Magdalen Sky and Where Are You Now?, although material like Flaws Of Perception and closer Gravity Flow are far too early '90s indie for their (or our) own good. Someone credited as 'Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones' supposedly plays Mellotron, so I can't say I'm overly surprised that the flute parts on Rhapsody and in the distant background on a couple of other tracks sound fake as hell. Ride fans probably need this, the rest of us don't.
The outrageously-coiffed Hirsh Gardner was drummer with mighty pomp/AORsters New England, who, after twenty years and several other projects, settled down to producing a solo album, released in 2002 as Wasteland for Broken Hearts. Does that title give you some idea of what you're going to get? Yup, it's solid AOR, tending towards the heavier end of the spectrum, played by multi-instrumentalist Gardner and a cast of thousands, including a virtual New England reformation on More Than You'll Ever Know. I have to say, compared to more recent exponents of the style, there's something to be said for being there first time round; this is far more inventive than the 'by numbers' approach of the likes of Two Fires. Personal favourites include Never Love, the ridiculous Bad Cowboy and the Welcome Home/More Than You'll Ever Know segue, but nothing here actually offended, which is pretty good going for the style. Gardner's credited with Mellotron throughout, with strings on Don't You Steal, She Is Love, Bad Cowboy and Welcome Home while his old New England cohort Jimmy Waldo adds it to More Than You'll Ever Know, but... it's all sampled. As so often, the high notes are the giveaway, as indeed are some of the low ones. So; should you love the proggier end of AOR (I use the term loosely), you'll probably love Wasteland for Broken Hearts. I mean, even I liked some of it.
Gargamel's first album, 2006's Watch for the Umbles, is a strange prog/psych crossover record, heavily influenced by Peter Hammill/Van der Graaf, with much tortured vocalising, which becomes a little wearing after a while, even from Hammill himself, never mind someone else. Most of the album's five tracks have a jammed-out section, albeit usually at a funereal pace, rather than Hawkwind-style space rock, making the album rather longer than it really needs to be, all of which makes it sound like I'm dismissing the record, which I'm not. Fake Mellotron on three tracks, with choirs on Strayed Again and Below The Water and a muffled solo string part opening Into The Cold, reiterating later in the piece. To be honest, Gargamel's follow-up, 2009's Descending, is a better, less formative record (real Mellotron, too), but this isn't bad for a first effort, vastly better than most modern prog and not a whiff of a Dream Theater influence to be heard. Hurrah!
Jörg "Wechsel Garland" Follert's eponymous album is a kind of ambient electronica effort, all gentle, chiming synths and faint electronic noise, Staub Im Licht being the nearest it gets to 'loud'. Somewhere in the mists of time, I must've seen a reference to Mellotron use. Somewhere in the mists of time, someone was wrong.
Although British, one-time Orb collaborator Duke Garwood not only has an American-sounding name, but an American-sounding voice to go with it, at least going by 2015's Heavy Love. The adjective that might best describe this album is 'haunted'; Garwood's half-spoken delivery over sparse instrumental backing recalls the most despairing end of the blues spectrum. This is what I'd hoped Robert Johnson might actually sound like, before discovering that he sounded nothing like it at all. Best tracks? Heavy Love, Sweet Wine and six-minute closer Hawaiian Death Ballad, possibly. Alain Johannes is credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, but the distant flutes on Hawaiian Death Ballad do little to convince, frankly. Death-blues, anyone? This does what it does rather well, but even a mere forty minutes are hard-going for the non-fan.
The Gateless Gate (named, it seems, for a 13th Century collection of Chinese koans) are Allister Thompson's ambient solo project, bridging the gap between Eno-esque ambient and modern post-rock. His first release, 2012's Xinjiang, is, unsurprisingly, influenced by the same ancient Chinese traditions as his moniker, its material bearing various Occidental motifs, from the synthesized ambiences of opener Tian Shan and Taklamakan through the mutated acoustic guitar work of Bezeklik and Karakoram to the electric guitar/'Mellotron' duet of Dunhuang and Lop Nur's fractured fuzz bass. Thompson uses sampled Mellotron on several tracks, notably the string lines on Dunhuang and Lop Nur and the chordal part on Dandan Uiliq, although you wouldn't call it a central feature of the album. Four releases and two years on, 2014's Near North channels Thompson's native Canadian wilderness, a pastoral feel evident across much of its length, highpoints including the reverby piano of Snow And Lake and Ken's Eagle. Less samplotron this time round, with muted strings on several tracks and an upfront flute line on Ottawa River, but once again, it's hardly a defining feature.
Rebecca Gates was frontwoman for The Spinanes, releasing her first solo album, Ruby Series, in 2001, the year after the band's last release. It's actually one of those 'neither fish nor fowl' releases, too long to be an EP, too short for an album, leading to that awkward 'mini-album' designation. Musically, it falls neatly into the 'wispy indie' bracket, seven slow, quiet tracks where the lyrics are almost certainly more important than the music. Would it be rude of me to say that it shows? Probably. Noel Kupersmith is credited with Mellotron, but the smooth, speedy flute line on In A Star Orbit sounds distinctly sampled to my ears, frankly. So; another gentle indie release, not even a real Mellotron.
Bright Window is an album of undistinguished, vaguely countryish balladry, easily at its best on Irish Boy Sweet, the brief piano instrumental that closes the record. Matt Fell may very well be credited with Mellotron, but those are clearly samplotron flutes on opener Sunny Wings and Screaming Alone.
Norwegians Gazpacho are often compared to the likes of Radiohead, Hogarth's Marillion (all of the original band were, horribly, involved with their fan club) and, God help us, Coldplay, none of which are designed to lighten Planet Mellotron's heart; Radiohead are a good band, but a hopeless influence, it seems. Anyway, 2002's oddly-titled Get it While it's Cold (37°) is, essentially, a demo for their debut proper, the following year's Bravo (er, Brave?); its first incarnation was as a four-song promo handed out at a Marillion convention (aargh!), subsequently becoming the seven-song CD/download we have here, dropping one track from the original version. Six of this version's tracks went on to be included on Bravo. Confused? Good. The version we have here consists of several rather lightweight compositions in a sub-Radiohead vein that are usually bearable for a minute or two before the teeth-grinding sets in, which is about the nicest thing I can think of to say about it. Thomas Andersen adds exceedingly murky 'Mellotron' strings to opener Sea Of Tranquility, with a solo part opening Delete Home, alongside flutes, although that appears to be it. Is there any more fakeotron on Bravo? Or any of the band's later releases? I hope not, as it'll save me tracking copies down and listening to them.
Aviv Geffen is a superstar in Israel, largely known outside his home country (if at all) due to his collaborations with Steven Wilson, not least their albums together as Blackfield. 2006's Im Hazman [a.k.a. As Time Goes By] is a Hebrew-language singer-songwriter album, musical influences including the likes of U2 and Coldplay, alongside very traditional-sounding ballads, so don't get too excited. The albums has its moments, but frankly, this is pretty turgid stuff, its meaning lost on all but Geffen's home crowd due to language issues. Geffen is credited with Mellotron, but the occasional string part either sounds real or even less authentic than Wilson's ropier samples. Sorry, I'd hoped for something a little more interesting than this, but, like most singer-songwriter efforts, it's all about the lyrics, not a single one of which I understand.
General Rudie were a Québecois ska outfit, whose first full album, 2001's Cooling the Mark, sticks to the genre template on most of its sixteen short tracks, exceptions including the didgeridoo on Highway and the Latin ska (!) of Lion Of Judah. Best track? Hard to say, without being more into the style, although they seem to do it perfectly well, by modern standards. Marc Thompson plays samplotron, with a discordant flute part at the end of Rickshaw Ride Through Thailand.
At first glance, Gentle Knife look like Norway's latest entrant in the 'symphonic progressive rock' stakes, although, as their eponymous debut progresses, it becomes obvious that the band's influences are more wide-ranging than that relatively narrow field. With no fewer than ten members on board, they have a wide instrumental palette to pick from, members of the woodwind and brass families adding an unexpected jazziness to proceedings at random intervals, while several flavours of prog, hard rock, jazz, folk and other styles worm their way into the compositions, to the point where no one track sounds particularly like any other. The upside? Variety is the spice of life. The downside? Just when you think they've slotted into a groove, they take a left turn, not always for the better.
As for specific influences, Our Quiet Footsteps is reminiscent of ...Poseidon-era closer King Crimson, closer Coda: Impetus is nearer to the early '80s version of that band, complete with some proto-hard rock riffery, while, in places, I'm also reminded of Anekdoten, themselves Crimso-influenced, particularly in the vocal melody department. Highlights include opener Eventide, Beneath The Waning Moon and the appropriately gentle, synth-drenched, Epilogue: Locus Amoenus. If I have a criticism, the band sometimes throw too many ideas into occasionally overlong material, but the pros generally outweigh the cons. They've been refreshingly honest regarding their Mellotron sample use, with flutes on opener Eventide and Coda: Impetus, distant strings on Tear Away The Chords That Bind and more upfront ones on Beneath The Waning Moon and the title track, although you'd rarely call it a major component of their sound.
2017's Clock Unwound (which appears to be subtitled 'Gentle Knife II') seems to be a vague concept work based around (to quote from the press release) 'the relentless passage of time...delves into lives overshadows by longing and disappointment'. Starting to feel the effects of advancing age, are we? Join the club. The music is every bit as diverse as on their debut, from short, beautiful French horn/piano opener Prelude: Incipit, to classic (heavyish) prog epic The Clock Unwound itself, through the strange, mid-'70s soft funk-influenced Fade Away, the gentler Plans Askew and the suitably darker Resignation. Very little samplotron this time round, the chief use being the distant strings on Fade Away.
Going by Hi Honey, Gentle Readers play a kind of '60s-influenced indie, at its least uninspired on Difficult and California. Like so many others, I've seen a reference to Mellotron use in the past, but am no longer able to find it, so it's no great surprise that Brandon Bush's keyboards include nothing of a tape-replay nature.
Q. Is Canadian indie-by-numbers better than American? A. No. 'Gentleman' Reg Vermue's third album, Darby & Joan, is yer actual wet-as-water indie horror, at its least bad on Over My Head and closer Navy Brown. Dave Draves is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Bundle and Don't Bring Me Down are clearly bogus. Four years later, a compilation appeared, Little Buildings, consisting of a handful of tracks each from Darby & Joan and 2002's Make Me Pretty, with one new track. I can't speak for the earlier record, but the compilers missed both of Darby's better tracks, although they managed to include both of the samplotron ones. The set's one new recording, Something To Live For, goes for the MkII 'moving strings', an obvious sample pointer, if ever there were one. Jet Black starts off as if Vermue's toughened up his compositional skills a little, but quickly slumps back into his well-worn groove. Draves on samplotron again, with strings on To Some It Comes Easy, although I can't imagine the strings on Falling Back are even pretending to be Mellotronic.
Although best-known as producer for Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart and their ilk, Noah Georgeson is a talented musician in his own right. 2006's Find Shelter is his first album, featuring his startling voice, a powerful, Scott Walker-esque baritone that sounds like it could probably tackle The Great American Songbook, should he ever feel the urge. His classical guitar playing, allied to unusual arrangements and That Voice are a million miles away from what the media assumes people want to hear, although Newsom et al. are beginning to prove the lie to that particular theory. There isn't a bad track on the album, but highpoints include Glorious Glory, solo guitar piece Tied To The Coast and closer Angry Afternoon. Georgeson plays samplotron on two definite tracks, although the polyphonic flute part on Build And Work insufficiently prepares the listener for the loud-to-the-point-of-distorting choirs at the end of An Anvil.
Gerard (Japan) see:
Having not released a new studio album in a decade at the time of writing, Italian progressives Germinale appear to be a spent force, which is a shame, as their '70s-influenced sound stands out sharply in contrast to the contemporaneous work of many of their countrymen. Their second album, 1996's rather overlong ...E il Suo Respiro Ancora Agitata le Onde..., swings between excellent, angular prog with plenty of (sampled) piano work and undistinguished modern guitar riffery. Edit, edit, edit... Many of its tracks feature both good and mediocre parts, better efforts including brief opener Il "Gia Sentito" e il "Non Ancora" and Avant - Grado, while the 'bonus' version of Van der Graaf's Meurglys III (The Songwriters Guild) is excellent, albeit largely due to the compositional quality. Although Marco Masoni is credited with Mellotron, it's quite clearly nothing of the sort. To be honest, his use is pretty unsubtle, lurching straight in with big block string chords at the beginning of Il "Gia Sentito" e il "Non Ancora" and great slabs of flute on Le Onde, Respiro Del Mare, although the strings on D'Io are more tasteful.
They followed up with 2001's Cielo e Terra, notable for a preponderance of shorter material (with two exceptions) and the duelling male/female vocals featured on several tracks. To be honest, the material doesn't particularly enthral this listener; maybe, like many prog albums, it needs multiple plays? The problem with that is, you can find the time to play something twenty times (how?) and find that it still doesn't grab you. It has its inventive moments, not least the accordion on Balera and the spoken-word parts, but too much of the overlong album passes by without anything happening of note. Andrea Moretti's credited 'Mellotron' turns out to be no more than a few sampled string chords on Atleta; no surprise as the 'Hammond' on several tracks (notably closer Lucciole Per Lanterne (Si Vendono)) is an emulation, too.
Although I'd never previously heard of Per Gessle, it turns out he's vocalist/guitarist/all-round leader of Swedish megastars Roxette and the less well-known internationally though huge back home Gyllene Tider. Older than I'd expected, he formed the latter as far back as '77, forming Roxette in 1986, both bands still operating in one form or another. The World According to Gessle, released as Gessle, is his third solo album, the first two dating from the mid-'80s. I am so relieved I don't have to listen to those. Er... Anyway, The World... has many things in common with classic powerpop, notably opener Stupid, although it spoils it with cheesy mainstream hit single stuff like I Want You To Know and B-Any-1-U-Wanna-B. Overall, the two just about balance out, giving the album a compromising three stars. Clarence Öfwerman plays samplotron, with strings and quite overt flutes on I Want You To Know, background flutes on I'll Be Alright and phased strings on Lay Down Your Arms.
2003's Mazarin is his solo follow-up (under his full name this time), a rather different album, largely because it turns its back on the international market, reverting to being sung entirely in Swedish, as were his first two. Sad to say, it's far blander than its predecessor, being mostly ballads and mainstream pop; about the best thing here is probably Jag Tror Du Bär På En Stor Hemlighet, with its electric 12-string and nice bottleneck work. Öfwerman on samplotron again, with strings on Tycker Om När Du Tar På Mej, sounding as if they're combined with synth strings.
UK indie-by-numbers with extra added irritating-mockney-vocals, at their worst on the spoken-word section on The Long And Short Of It All. Sam Duckworth and Danny O'Neill have Mellotron credits, but the rather shrill strings on The Joy Of Stress and Home aren't doing it for me on the authenticity front.
Going by their debut, 2005's Geography Cones, the Rhode Island-based Get Him Eat Him (stupid name, if nowhere near as bad as Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly) played a form of vaguely '60s-inspired indie. Infuriatingly, its snatches of interesting music are swamped by some acreage of by-numbers indie, making this a difficult listen for anyone not already immersed in the genre. Matt LeMay plays samplotron flutes on closer Early Scarlet Globes, effected in places.
The Get Up Kids are some kind of indie/emo crossover band from Kansas City (confusingly in Missouri), which probably isn't going to endear them to you any more than it has to me (the indie/emo bit, not Kansas City). Their third album, 2002's On a Wire, is, frankly, a dullard of a record; this clearly appeals to someone, but that someone isn't me. It's deeply unoriginal, too; the vocal melody on opener Overdue sounds like bloody Oasis, while Let The Reigns Go Loose starts like a poor outtake from Television's seminal Marquee Moon, quickly taking a left turn into 'mush' territory. James Dewees plays a sampled Mellotron (?) flute part on All That I Know, to no great effect and despite a couple of 'are those fakeotron strings?' parts, that appears to be it. I think you know what (not) to do.
Brothers Chris and Drew Peters formed 9th division grungers whirlingRoad in the early '90s, jumping ship after one album to hitch a ride on the latest bandwagon, electro-rock/pop. Getaway Cruiser's eponymous second album sounds (clearly quite deliberately) not unlike Garbage; female vocals? Check. Programmed drums? Check. Processed distorted guitars? Check. Skronky samples? Check. They even get a couple of hip-hop dudes to do their thing on a couple of tracks, although their recent grunge past keeps coming back to haunt them, notably in the riffage on Something About You and No More Blue. Both brothers are credited with Mellotron; the string line and flute chords on Come To Stay and flutes on No More Blue almost convinced me, but the wonky, pitchbent strings on Bad Time, particularly the sustained chord at the end have left me with no choice but to bung this into Mellotronic quarantine. Getaway Cruiser's pretty bloody dull, frankly, not to mention badly dated. I get the impression that the Peters brothers' desperation to 'make it' led them in whichever direction made sense at that moment; unsurprisingly, they remain non-megastars to this day.
It's a Wonderful Life is what Americans call a 'holiday album' - Christmas, to the rest of us. Kerry Getz puts several carols and other traditional seasonal songs into a folky pop/rock style, alongside a few originals, the end result being faceless, if ultimately relatively harmless. Barry Hovis is credited with Mellotron on Suspended In December and In The Bleak Mid-Winter, by which I can only imagine they mean the vague strings on both tracks. Fail.
I reviewed Ghost's Hypnotic Underworld several years ago, but have just had 2007's In Stormy Nights brought to my attention (thanks, Mark). As other reviewers have pointed out, it's almost a microcosm of their career, veering between the acoustic psych of opener Motherly Bluster, the insane, near-half hour improv Hemicyclic Anthelion, Caledonia's (possibly unsurprising) attempt to replicate a Scots pipe marching band crossed with Magma and a distortion pedal and closer Grisaille's haunted, epic dark folk. Despite a lack of any keyboard credits, someone plays the pseudotron strings on Grisaille and the choir part running right through Water Door Yellow Gate, a chord at the end held for long enough to give the sample game away. Is this any good? Well, parts of it are good, which parts depending on your taste, I suppose. I prefer the prog/folk end of their sound, but some of you will go for the tripped-out stuff.
If you've managed to avoid Sweden's Ghost up until now, you must be even more disconnected from the media than your humble writer; their ridiculous image, cunningly crossed (see what I did there?) with a superb ear for a melody, has seen them rise through the metal firmament like a mitre-shaped rocket. Y'know, ludicrous though their image undoubtedly is, I can't fault their dedication to the cause; not only is it both faultless and consistent, but they've succeeded in keeping all their identities secret across a three-album (and counting) career. 'Current' vocalist Papa Emeritus III (it's generally believed that his two 'predecessors' are actually the same guy) shares the stage with five totally anonymous musicians merely known as 'Nameless Ghouls', some of whom are reputed to have changed over the years, while their image subtly shifts from tour to tour. Impressive, in its own way. Beat that, Kiss.
2015's Meliora is their third album, its contents possibly best described as a mock-satanic, melodic-yet-heavy take on Metallica schmoozing with Queensrÿche, while fellow Swedes Europe and the Blue Öyster Cult look on from the sidelines, although I'm sure their influences range far further afield. Highlights include opener Spirit, complete with mock-gothic intro, the super-catchy Cirice and Majesty, but there really isn't anything on this LP-length release that could easily be discarded. Any wrong moves? Near-fatally, closer Deus In Absentia sounds like a death metal-lite take on Madness' House Of Fun, ever-so-slightly reducing its devilish impact, but it's a minor quibble. 'Ang on, I've suddenly realised who Ghost remind me of more than anyone: NWoBHM act Demon, who quickly outgrew the genre's limitations to become unsung heroes of interesting-yet-tuneful hard rock in the musical wasteland of the '80s. There you go, an updated Demon, possibly appropriately.
Despite warbling on about using 'Mellotron' on the album, the choirs on several tracks and occasional strings (notably on He Is) are very clearly sampled, to no-one's great surprise. Four stars? I wasn't going to, but a second listen affirmed the obvious: Ghost might be rather silly, but when you've listened to as much awful music as I have, something this well-constructed is a blessed relief. Did I just use a religious term there? Sorry, guys.
The Ghostwriters are an occasional Aussie supergroup, comprising members of Midnight Oil, Hoodoo Gurus, Diesel and others. Their second release, Second Skin, consists of the expected rootsy pop/rock with the odd contemporary touch, at its best on I Come To My Senses and closer Come Clean, perhaps. Chris Abrahams' Mellotron credit presumably refers to the barely-Mellotronic background strings on Empire Building and Not My Time.
Giant Sand's 13th album, 2000's Chore of Enchantment, is typical of their skewed take on Americana, sounding like it was recorded in a desert full of cranky old keyboards. Highlights include the creepy Dusted (For The Millennium), the abrasive 1972 and the acoustic Dirty From The Rain, but there's nothing here that will offend those used to a bit of pre-country. Alleged Mellotron from three different players, Big Star producer Jim Dickinson, Rob Arthur and Kevin Salem, although it all sounds sampled to my ears. Dusted (For The Millennium) has flutes and very background strings, with brief double-tracked, panned strings on Shiver, although it's possible that various cellos and vibes are 'Mellotronically'-produced, too. A bizarre little coincidence that happened while I was listening to this album: Satellite features the line, "You could get Leonard Nimoy to play the part of Leonard Cohen". What am I reading at the time? Nimoy's second autobiography, 1995's I Am Spock. Much too weird and probably very Giant Sand.
How to describe Giardini d'Autunno's Frammenti di Idee Perdute? Progressive, Jim, but not as we know it. They've clearly been listening to King Crimson (hey, haven't we all?), but there's a lot more to them than another Crimso knock-off, as they head further into the realms of avant- than Bob and the boys ever managed. Tiziano Rea allegedly plays Mellotron; a solo flute part opens Interludio - Parte Prima, reiterating later in the piece, brass on the title track, strings on Interludio - Parte Seconda, choirs on Storia Vana and various other parts. All a bit irrelevant, really, as it's clearly sampled, but there you go.
The Gift have been around since the early 2000s, although there's an eight-year gap between their debut and Land of Shadows. In many ways, it's a typical neo-prog album, song-based, the music sometimes (and only sometimes) feeling like it's slightly subservient to the lyrics, although it has enough moments of musical oomph to carry it. Samplotron? Howard Boder adds definite chordal string and flute parts to The Willows, with possible other parts elsewhere.
Roland Gift was, of course, vocalist for the Fine Young Cannibals, a band as ubiquitous in late-'80s Britain as shoulder pads and hair gel (and that's just the men). For those of us for whom the mainstream held only horrors, their records were the worst kind of lightweight schlock you can imagine; fittingly, they now clog up charity shops and probably landfills across the length and breadth of the country. Gift took many years out of 'The Biz' (and who can blame him?), returning with an eponymous solo album in 2002. It's pretty much as you'd expect from a mainstream album from the time; a bit dancey, a bit retro, a bit Take That, a bit, er, crap. Yeah, yeah, it's impeccably done, but this kind of bland dross clogs up not only chazzers and landfill, but the airwaves, too, making it more offensive than it would be if it were only to be found in the homes of his fans. There aren't any best tracks. Although Mellotron use is rumoured, the only obvious parts appear to be samples, to no-one's great surprise, with an obvious flute part on the album's hit, It's Only Money and what could be strings on A Girl Like You. Overall, then, the kind of music that drifts out of clothes shops that cater for the slightly older customer. I try to avoid such shops and thus such music. I can only recommend that you do the same.
If I told you that Rob Giles writes songs that are used in Grey's Anatomy-type TV shows, you'd assume that he was an insipid singer-songwriter, wouldn't you? I'm not saying that This is All in Your Mind is exactly groundbreaking, but it's also a long way from the usual Hollywood clichés, at its best on Broken People and Meds, their (admittedly relatively light) rock backing a million miles from Giles' competitors. Oren Hadar is credited with Mellotron. I have no idea why.
Eliza Gilkyson's 2005 release, Paradise Hotel, starts off as no more than a copy of its predecessors, but she ups the ante on fourth track in, Jedidiah 1777, beating anything on the two aforementioned albums hands down, other top tracks including Is It Like Today and, despite its religious connotations, the beautiful Requiem, although I'm not sure why she hums the organ melody from A Whiter Shade Of Pale over the end of the title track. I'm also not sure why it took two musicians, Mark Hallman and Mike Hardwick, to play the samplotron string part on Jedidiah 1777, unless there's more hiding away somewhere.
Thea Gilmore is one of those artists who is invariably lumped in with 'folk', due to her acousticity, but who would be better described as a singer-songwriter who just happens to play acoustic guitar (see: Joni Mitchell, a million others). Her second album, 2000's The Lipstick Conspiracies, is a decent collection of songs arranged in a variety of folk and pop/rock styles, top tracks including sprightly opener Generation Y?, the haunted My Own Private Riot and Bulletin Britain. Gilmore's husband and musical collaborator Nigel Stonier is credited with Mellotron, but the barely-audible strings on The Resurrection Men triggered my 'querulous face' (yes, I have one); is that really a genuine, two-man lifting job Mellotron we're hearing? I think not, sadly.
2008's Liejacker (a lie hijacker, basically) is her eighth album in a decade, and her first full independent release (albeit distributed by Universal). It's a searingly honest collection of songs of the quality of opener Old Soul, Icarus Wind and Breathe, fully justifying Gilmore's increasing success, the occasional subtle use of sampled rhythms enhancing rather than detracting from the music, which makes a pleasant change. Stonier on 'Mellotron' again, though not a lot, with naught but faint flutes on opener Old Soul, by the sound of it. This is one of those records that will almost certainly grow on me with time; amusingly, one of its highlights is the 'bonus' (can you buy a disc without it?) acoustic version of Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Round (Like A Record), proving the quality of the original songwriting.
Ignoring his multifarious side-projects (not least SilverGinger5), Yoni is Wildheart David "Ginger" Walls' second solo album, stuffed with his usual trademark pop/metal exuberance, highlights including the glorious When She Comes, Smile In Denial, Night I Was Born Again, This Bed Is On Fire... All of it, really. Criticism? It's too long. The legendary Tim Smith (Cardiacs, Spratleys Japs) produced and played a raft of instruments, including (allegedly), Mellotron. Um... Tim had one Mellotronic source: me. It wasn't used on this project. Therefore, proven by the strings on Smile In Denial. Fine album, though.
Ginger Leigh and Sarah Dashew's Vera Takes the Cake is a kind of soul/jazz/blues effort, also throwing folk and indie moves into the mix, for an eclectic listening experience, probably at its best on the gentle Crazy Anyway and its worst on the tracks where one or the other women - well, 'rap' has the wrong connotations, but how else to describe that kind of non-sung vocalising? This appears to be yet another one of those albums for which I saw a 'Mellotron use' reference years ago, which has since disappeared. Suffice to say that Glover Gill's keyboard strings on Deep are generic samples.
Erin "A Girl Called Eddy" Moran is an ex-pat American living in the UK, with a slightly surprising Francis Dunnery connection. Her debut (and to date, only) eponymous solo album is a rather unappealing mixture of soul and pop, chock full of weepy, string-laden ballads like Kathleen and Heartache. I'm sure this is all terribly heartfelt, but it's all pretty drippy, too. Co-producer Colin Elliot (with supposed Sheffieldian hero Richard Hawley) is credited with Mellotron, but the only places it's even vaguely audible are the strings on opener Tears All Over Town and the flutes on closer Golden, two of the album's more listenable tracks, although I'm pretty sure it's sampled.