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

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’.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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)

1983/TOM

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

 

Hip Singles – Play Up (Hit Singles)

1983/TOM

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)

1983/TOM

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

 

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

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