The Ultimate A To Z Of Album Reviews By Gary Steel – H

May 15, 2021
13 mins read

Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘H’.




Nina Hagen – Unbehagen (CBS)

1980/Evening Post

German chanteuse Nina Hagen and her band’s Unbehagen makes for simultaneously stimulating sensory overload and very occasionally irritating listening. 7/10


Herbie Hancock – Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (CBS)

1979/Evening Post

Disco, even in its waning days, is attracting many formerly credible rock and jazz artists. Pianist Herbie Hancock has a fine jazz pedigree – including stints with the legendary Miles Davis – but his latest album, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, is disco-drek of the worst kind.

Not only has he filched the title from a Little Feat album, but the music is mechanical, soulless and very boring. Hancock has created a new genre: cocktail disco. It’s not good dancing music.

Only ‘Trust Me’, a beautiful slinky ballad on which he utilises the vocoder (synthesised vocals) recalling 1978’s Sunlight album, is worth lending your ears to. 5/10

Happy Mondays – Bummed (Factory)

1990/RTR Countdown

Delayed release for hyped Mancunian Brits. Horribly explicit inner sleeve. Dense mixture of sluggish dance rhythms and dirge-like vocals. A puzzle. 5/10

Roy Harper & Jimmy Page – Whatever Happened To Jugula (Beggars Banquet)

1986/Evening Post

Legions of heavy metal fans will buy this one for the liberal dose of Jimmy Page guitar herein. Surprisingly, his contributions are welcome, consisting of beautiful steely acoustic guitar picking and the occasional rich-toned, melodic electric workout.

Page’s playing is augmented by Harper’s own idiosyncratic guitar stylings and spare backing. On this album, the sound is simple and clear, which makes the few strategic effects – Harper’s multitracked voices – all the more magical.

Lyrically, Harper has become less difficult and more direct. ‘Nineteen Forty Eight’ and ‘Hangman’, for instance, could almost pass for old-fashioned protest songs were they not bestowed with musical depth and arrangemental interest.

One can almost picture some ridiculous satanic heavy metal aggregation singing the chorus of ‘Hangman’: “We are creatures of darkness/killers of time/Creatures of darkness/bodies in lime.” On closer inspection, the song clearly becomes an impassioned plea against capital punishment.

The tone of Jugula bespeaks a compassion and renewed idealism sometimes missing from the increasingly world-weary Harper of the early 1980s. “It’s time that we joined our hands/across the world/It’s time that we joined our hands/to save our world,” he sings on ‘Elizabeth’. The very risque ‘Twentieth Century Man’ celebrates the beauty and essential renewing power of primal lovemaking. Sorry, no lyrics.

Harper closes his best album in eight years with a funny, ludicrous throwaway, ‘Advertisement’ (subtitled ‘Another Intentional Suicide’). One of the wildly variable choruses goes: “I’m really stoned/I’m really stoned/Sitting on the big white smelly phone/I’m really stoned.” He himself recommends pulling a soldering iron swiftly across the track. 8/10

Roy Harper – In Between Every Line (EMI)

1985/Wellington City

The truly underrated Roy Harper does a double live, has the chance to show the world what a great guy he really is, and flunks it. What a difficult bastard. The songs are as long as could be, the recordings are like years from the digital race, the rock segments are kinda stodgy, and you need to read the lyrics to understand the words (important). If I said it was worth the effort you might well agree, and would probably never think about it again. Roy Harper needs some sharp musical stimulus to match his illuminative songwriting and poetic talents, and if I was on a Harper beginners course, I would start elsewhere. But yes (I knew you’d ask), it is worth the effort. 7/10

Cathie Harrop – I Like Life (Tartar)

1986/Evening Post

The art of song interpretation is a speciality; one requiring an understanding of song which enables, if not a total redefinition, then at least a strong rendition of the piece. Kiwi Cathie Harrop concentrates on Ye Olde English Pop Song on I Like Life. Unfortunately, much of the material is unbearably twee or hackneyed, despite the refreshing use of Celtic harp and electric arrangements. Too proper, too much a recital, this is not so much an album as a charity performance. 5/10


Hawkwind – Levitation (Bronze)

1981/Evening Post

This is the perfect companion piece to Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades album. Hawkwind has not changed dramatically since Motorhead’s Lemmy left in the mid-‘70s. In fact, despite numerous personnel changes and a temporary name change to the Hawklords, its music has altered direction little in the 10 years since the classic In Search Of Space.

Its music here, as always, is constructed around simple, heavy riffs. The dressing for these riffs is not the standard staccato, machinegun-type guitar fire one expects from heavy bands. It is, instead, clean guitar solos and squiggly, spacey synthesiser effects.

The sound is far from monotone, what with shadings and shiftings of flow and texture in songs such as ‘5th Second Of Forever’. It is pomp rock-reminiscent hammed up to the hilt. It is larger than life and grandiloquently lush. It is indulgent and irrelevant to the drift of modern music, but an enjoyable diversion.

As with any fiction, one has to suspend one’s cynicism and worldly disbelief in order to enjoy fully. But that is a necessary subconscious process in appreciation of anything larger than life – from King Kong to Lord Of The Rings.

Mention of the new lineup is obligatory. Founder-member Dave Brock sings and dabbles with guitar and synthesiser. Former Cream drummer Ginger Baker joins the band for the first time. Abstractionist Tim Blake operates synthesiser. Huw Lloyd-Langton and Harvey Bainbridge contribute guitar and bass guitar respectively.

Old hippies Hawkwind may well be, but this album seems to herald a revival, however unwelcome it may be to some. 6/10

Hayseed Dixie – A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC (FMR)

June 2003/Metro

A genuine bunch of hillbillies from the famously inbred Appalachians performing country versions of those brutal hard rock classics by Aussie band AC/DC… well, it’s a brilliant idea! The fact that this group is led by the son of the chap who wrote ‘Duelling Banjos’ is just too spooky. Unfortuantely, while it’s well executed, the whole shebang becomes rather one-dimensional after the second or third song. At least AC/DC had the firepower and sheer moronic dynamic to maintain interest until you lost your hearing. 5/10

HDU Crosschannel Multitap (Flying Nun)

1998/Sunday Star Times

Life in New Zealand Guitarland has been so tedious over the past four or five years that, sometimes, I get the feeling HDU have become a rallying call simply because people had become desperate for some guitar-based rock that wasn’t fatuous, empty, facile and plain ridiculous.

It’s a fact that this album will be considered the most important and crucial thing to come out of NZ this year, and that expectations have been ridiculously high. It’s something HDU must be aware of, and bravely, they’ve responded with a left-field answer that their audience could hardly have expected. Where previous HDU product provided a kind of ‘best of Flying Nun’ historical oversight firmly rooted in the dangerous harmonics of early Bailterspace, Crosschannel Multitap risks audience alienation and incomprehension by using the studio as a creative tool, and making a beast which is light years from the live HDU experience. The new territory is mapped on the first cut, ‘Space Blues’, which defies blithe description with its open-ended musical contradictions; part cosmic jam and end-of-century instrumental theme, its wall of sound is also fundamentally structured. Read: orchestral.

Intelligent sound engineering and studio manipulation are key ingredients. On ‘Scinelens’, what could have been a predictable stormer avails itself of disquieting sonics which accentuate the quiet passion of the vocal performance; ‘Deleuzion’ probably resounds with heavy meaning, if you want to intellectualise it, but at the end of the day it sounds fucking cool, a controlled, dryly psychedelic piece that keeps on bursting its seams in guitar freakout; ‘Masd’ harnesses the naked simplicity of savage quietude by magnifying every twitch and blink of the performance; ‘Even As’ achieves the impossible by combining the impossible sadness of the best Cocteau Twins with the epochal guitar squall HDU are known for; ‘The Shark & The Pilot FiKsh’ is another object lesson in contrast between their gargantuan noise machine and a delicate, contemplative beauty.

Only on ‘El True East’ do we get a taste of the HDU of old, with the awesome guitar power and motorik drumming, but then we’re hurled into another orbit on the last two songs, the aching beauty of ‘Overtortures’ and the rarefied late period Talk Talk ambience of ‘Marsunrise’.

It’s my guess that HDU’s fanbase will be disappointed with the lack of rock bombast on Crosschannel Multitap, that Kiwis won’t really understand its wondrous allure. I hope I’m wrong. 9/10

The Headless Chickens – The Headless Chickens (Flying Nun)

1987/Evening Post

The Headless Chickens attempt a kind of emotional catharsis through their sabotage of sound and words; a rare example of a group working towards toppling the applecart instead of adding to it.

Their application of canny and unsettling synthetic effects to more conventional song structures enhances its accessibility, though the sonic aggravation of their seven-track mini-album won’t appeal to those of nervous disposition. 8/10

Heatwave – Hot Property (GTO)

1979/Evening Post

Slick, smooth, forgettable disco. Nothing here up to the standard of ‘Boogie Nights’. 5/10


Herbs – Light Of The Pacific (Warrior)


Light Of The Pacific is without a doubt one of the best New Zealand albums ever. That statement came easily, but I wouldn’t write it if I didn’t mean it. Too often in concert, Herbs find it necessary to emulate – gratuitous Santana-cum-Hendrix guitar solos and an ambience more fitting Maoris On 45 Kulture Cheepnis than the true Pacific identity their blurb would suggest Herbs are forging. That said, this, their second LP, makes me think my misgivings misguided indeed. It has been a long time in the coming, and worth the wait. Five of the seven songs are differing degrees and shades of reggae. Everyone must have heard ‘French Letter’ by now, but not the extended version found here. Likewise ‘Jah’s Son’. While as singles somehow unimpressive, these songs sound fine in album format. ‘Them’s The Breaks’ is the finest piece of reggae on offer, both for its genuinely plaintive qualities and its message. Two very different tracks are the worst and best offerings respectively. ‘Metel’ can be gleaned as little more than fun – a cruisy amalgam of Pacific sounds. The title track is surely the most stunning thing here. Its seven-odd minutes span two very distinct pieces: a calm ballad which would make a great national anthem and a slow funk/soul groove that takes Herbs places I wish they (and other NZ groups) would travel more often. Credit here also goes to the backing cast, especially Corina Fleming’s singing and Gerard Carr’s drum programming. Great sounding, good songs, and somehow very satisfying. That’s Light Of The Pacific. 7/10

Herbs – Sensitive To A Smile (Warrior/WEA)

1987/Evening Post

Another major Auckland release is the latest from Herbs, Sensitive To A Smile. Despite a polished production job (or possibly because of it) the album fails to harness Herbs’ real strengths.

The funky Light Of The Pacific from 1984 offered one possible direction, and the tuneful, organic Pacific Long Ago offered another as well as heralding the band’s growth into maturity.

But instead of moving forward, Herbs have attempted to refine their sound in the studio, and the result is freeze-dried.

Ex-Be Bop Deluxe bassman Charles Tumahai – now firmly established in the ranks – could be the problem. The Herbs sound is half-submerged in studio perfection, and the band have become adept at lyrical clichés. While ‘Sensitive To A Smile’ (the single) and ‘Sunshine At Night’ do nothing but platitudinize, ‘Rust In The Dust’ at least rails against 2,4,5-T with conviction, not to mention thunderous bass and drums.

Maybe Sensitive To A Smile just takes time to sink in, but on several listenings I failed to detect either the joyousness or the Pacific flow of their past music. 6/10

Hip Singles – Play Up (Hit Singles)


Are Hip Singles some kind of industry fraud? Who gives a damn? Play Up broadcasts the incredibly popular Hip Singles as reasonably talented makers of medium-wave pop; pop that’s still miles ahead of the other pretenders, so who’s complaining? Play Up is mostly pleasant, a little boisterous and a bit of fun. All the songs sound overly familiar, as of course they are. We’ve heard different permutations of the same basic themes in countless derivative pop-fluff bands. I just can’t get bitchy about mediocrity anymore. It’s all pleasant enough. Even the worst local single of the year, ‘Typewriter’, sounds okay.


Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin (CBS)

1959/1986/Evening Post

Indulge me, once more, with feeling.

Somebody should slam a copyright on the “I love…” phrase. You know, the one with the heart. There’s a nauseating profusion of “I love…’ bumper stickers ripping round this town’s roads on clapped-out vehicles, and now CBS has the temerity to market a back-catalogue of astounding, necessary music under the banner “I Love Jazz.”

Musical expression as deeply felt and exquisite as Billie Holiday’s 1959 Lady In Satin demands to be examined under naturel light, not tarnished with over-worn advertising slogans. Never mind… it’s available, we’re extremely lucky.

Lady In Satin is not the greatest jazz record in the history of Earth. Nor is it innovative or particularly interesting in a jazz context. Its musical consistency belongs in that beleaguered, chastised domain often referred to as schmaltz; a kind of pseudo-jazz with an overlay of sentimental strings well-known to unfortunates with uncles who “dig” Lawrence Welk and his Orchestra.

But to make fun of a musical topping most often used by the tasteless is erroneous when Billie Holiday is at hand to add fibre to the product, and more than a grain of a sad reality known humbly as the human condition.

Lady In Satin, sung to the tunes of 12 torch songs, is the sad but true tale of a worn-out woman whom the world has treated without due care. The ultimately horrifying reality behind that voice – singing on her last proper LP before her humiliating death – is hidden beneath a disarming dignity. 8/10


Holly & The Italians – The Right To Be Italian (Virgin)

1981/Evening Post

Holly Vincent and her ‘Italians’ come from Los Angeles and base themselves in Britain. Their first LP is a modern pop concoction: slight, cheap and lively.

Holly’s fondness for 1960s girl groups is evident in both the songs and her vocals. This aspect of the group is endearing. Listen to ‘Just For Tonight’. Guitar overkill and a careless pressing detract from the fun, but the updated energetic, electric rush here-in compensates.

Much of this material is eminently suitable for radio play, which is its proper environment. It is also great party fodder. But on the home stereo system, songs like ‘Baby Gets It All’, ‘Youth Coup’ and ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’ (a hit in Britain) tend to sound too similar.

‘Just Young’ is a pleasantly soulful departure, with Holly coming down with a fit of Chrissie Hynde-itis, and ‘Miles Away’ is pleasing pop dramatics ala Bruce Springsteen in a light moment.

Are Holly & The Italians disposable? In a word, yes. But they are a lot of fun and the cover is definitely worth a peek-a-boo. 6/10


Willie Hona – She Needs You/Rocking Down (WEA 7” 45)


Ex-Herbs man Hona’s attempt at the AM airwaves is a big bad ballad which, though it avoids the vile macho swagger of a Humperdink, equally misses the mark by falling short of Tui Teka in the style and gumption stakes. B-side ‘Rocking Down’ almost sounds like country-rock, but the Charlie Rich of Kiwi Krap Hona is not.


The Hulamen – Beer And Skittles (Eelman)

December 1982/IT Magazine

Seven tracks by this year’s Rodents, Wellington’s own soul congregation. Not bad, not bad at all if you’re into loping easy sunny Sunday arvo music. But well, heck, it reminds me so much of another Quincy Conserve, but without the jazz, and so much of it drifts along nicely going nowhere. If I was in a bad mood I might describe this as pub fodder. Enjoyable. 5/10



Human Instinct – Peg Leg (Rayon)

June 2003/Metro

Thought lost until recently, the master tapes of this never-issued 1975 album by the seminal Auckland rock group eventually turned up in a dusty warehouse in Ponsonby. Lovingly remastered, Peg Leg gets the attention denied so many other worthy local releases from that era. We’re not dealing with a lost classic: the playing lacks the firepower of earlier albums (which benefited from the hot guitar of Billy TK), the songwriting is patchy, and it often seems on stylistically unsure feet but the album is worth a listen for the wonderful naivety permeating mid-‘70s New Zealand musical endeavour. 6/10

Ian Hunter/Mick Ronson – Ian Hunter/Mick Ronson (Mercury)

Former Bowie and Mott The Hoople ‘70s glam rockers on the comeback trail. Their cliched rock and roll perspective hasn’t worn well. 5/10

Hunters & Collectors – Human Frailty (White Label)

1986/Wellington City

H&C have evolved from an effective evocation of the Australian outback, complete with Aboriginal imagery, into a rock and roll band. The new, plain H&C have ironed away all the extremes and come up with an honest, earnest new routine that works in the time-honoured rock and roll tradition (i.e., it’s a mating ritual). But it means little else. Leader Mark Seymour would like the world to be a nicer place, but rock and roll isn’t philosophically sound, and neither is life on the road, and H&C are a life-on-the-road type of band. Unfortunately for the band, their stripping away of the layers has left a hammer and a nail, and the poor fingers just keep on getting in the way of the beat. Token sensitive moment: ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’. Maybe I’m being too hard on the poor things. It doesn’t stink, it’s just a little crusty round the edge, okay? 5/10


Luke Hurley – Make Room (Lotus Records)

1986/Wellington City

Luke Hurley. Another name about as appealing as Dish Water or Gherkin Jar. The man lives in Dunedin, and he’s a competent acoustic guitarist who believes in himself with an admirable conviction. His songs are earnest and meaningful and generally about big issues. This is his first vinyl album – though he has released and distributed several others on cassette – and as a singer/songwriter, he has severe problems. Veering between a tendency to mimic Neil Young/Dylan while approaching the diosyncratic wavelength of British folkies Roy Harper and Richard Thompson, Luke never establishes a real personality here; but most of all the songs, and particularly, his singing of them, fall flat and resoundingly monotonous. 5/10


Husker Du – Candy Apple Grey (Warner Bros)

1986/Wellington City

The first major-label release for a real US cult phenomenon, Candy Apple Grey is a surprisingly accessible work from a group I had been led to believe rendered eardrums senseless from 100 paces. There ARE songs where the instrumental backdrop is simply massive, but anyone could recognise the pop qualities of songs like ‘Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely’. Similarly, ‘Too Far Down’ and ‘Hardly Getting Over It’ (depressing stuff to be sure) are near-acoustic, heartfelt ballad surges. If you want to hear something different, something honest in 1986, you have to look to the land of the red white and blue, and in particular, Husker Du. 7/10

Huxton Creepers – 12 Days To Paris (Bigtime)

1986/Evening Post

This is mainstream rock music played with a numbing degree of mundanity. Workable melodies and riffs – sad but true – are buried by humdrum playing, humdrum lineups, humdrum arrangements. The songs are written by a fellow called Rob Craw, and the band comprises Oz-rockers. The best song is ‘Part The Seas’, which varies ever so slightly from the others. There may very well be some tasty licks here for session musos but otherwise, 12 Days To Paris and indeed, the Huxton Creepers, are both incredibly unimaginative. No points. 0/10

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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