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

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 ‘N’.

 

N

Naked Spots Dance – New (Flying Nun)

December 1982/IT Magazine

The second Naked Spots Dance 12-inch is five well-recorded examples of five directions the band may explore further in the future. Or then again, having recently lost vocalist Katherine and drummer Matthew, they may veer off somewhere else altogether.

It’s a record they can be proud of, and one that any self-respecting collector of modern/and/or NZ music should own.

To a large extent, Naked Spots Dance have been a victim of ye olde NZ band syndrome. A band such as this, with all their talent and ideas, must find the going hard playing often to lacklustre Wellington crowds who for no reason see so much more in O/S groupings experimenting within the same vague spectrum.

But New shows their worth. It’s great, the perfect accumulation of lots of ideas. It’s intelligent music with lyrics speaking from the head and heart and a bunch of nagging rhythms that go to make a sound for ’83. 7/10

 

Naked Spots Dance – Falling (Jayrem)

1984/TOM

Falling is a graceful, mature finale to a strange, erratic five-year trip for Wellington’s original avant-punk band Naked Spots Dance. It’s fitting that after this many years – years of line-up changes, musical promise and variable delivery in terms of both record and concert performance – NSD can bring it all together, perfectly, one last time.

Like distant cousins A Certain Ratio, NSD have a talent for taking certain elements of funk and disembodying them; melding them to disparate styles. Here, the racing bass/drums figures (Kate Walker/Matthew Fisher) are placed under the pseudo-folk singing style of Fran Walsh, who uses an eerie lilt to particularly good effect. The effect of Steven Norris’s guitar is quite subliminal; a pleasant thing in this current cycle of the world’s evolution where overdriven guitars are all the rage.

The other major element at work on Falling is tapes; various treatments of voices, recordings of phrases, looped or placed strategically for effect and atmosphere. Most will credit Byrne and Eno with the first use of this method, but it’s German studio Maestro Holger Czukay who did it first and most effectively. Personal favourites are ‘The Dance’, dream-like and underdone; ‘Falling’, which strikes me as somewhat pointless but still intrigues with its exotic overtones; ‘Jack And The Box’ and ‘Cabaret’. I would question the inclusion of oldies like ‘About But Not Our’, but needless the band has some respectable reason.

Falling is NSD not over-reaching themselves. It’s discrete and excellent modern music. 8/10

The Narcs – No Turning Back (CBS)

1983/TOM

No Turning Back is not a very emotive record. Real-life in Narcs music is reduced to a replicant’s resolve. Narcs make music for those who have yet to discover the extremes of feeling and thought that make life such a play of passion. Life is a series of ‘situations’: unexceptional, archaically teenage in approach. Uncomplicated.

This EP will appeal to Young People – those of a middle-class disposition – affluent enough to afford the product and imagination ripe enough to heighten the experience. It will not appeal to those same Young People a few wrinkles later. By now, they will have created Experience for themselves, or alternatively regressed into the illusion of Utopian make-believe via the selfish sick spectre of Heavy Metal. In which case, the Narcs’ innocuous and rather polite way of ‘rocking out’ would be akin to an S&M addict forced into the Missionary Position. 5/10

 

The Neighbours – The Only One You Need (Choice Records)

1983/TOM

It’s difficult to define The Neighbours’ appeal. Certainly, they have a considerable live reputation. Unfortunately, this EP doesn’t make the reason apparent. Okay, so I’ve just got through having my head torn off by the new Birthday Party EP, but I’m sure this little effort would still sound a trifle uneventful, and Trudi Green’s vocals limited – in this context, at least. The musicianship throughout is professional, and the recording well-rounded, so what’s missing? The Neighbours have, methinks, taken a ‘live’ approach to this recording. But without an audience it comes out sounding cool when it should be hot and sweaty. I don’t think it would be unduly unkind to describe The Neighbours as a big drawcard pub band, and as such I’m sure their appreciative audience will enjoy this as a memento of the songs they heard in concert. 5/10

 

Willie Nelson & Leon Russell – One For The Road (CBS)

1979/Evening Post

Leon Russell and Willie Nelson both have distinguished reputations, and One For The Road, a double album, sees a pairing of their talents.

Multi-instrumentalist Russell’s career spans session work for Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1950s, work with Joe Cocker in the early 1970s and the subsequent launching of a successful solo country music-flavoured career.

Nelson, born in 1933, is an “outlaw” country singer, popular with both country purists and the rock audience.

One For The Road is an album chock-full of standards. The first platter contains vocal duets in a group setting on such as ‘Detour’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Trouble In Mind’ and Cole Porter’s ‘Don’t Fence Me In’. A pleasantly rollicking affair: sweet but gritty. The second disc sees Nelson’s scratchy voice straining to mawkish orchestral backing on ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Stormy Weather’ and others of that ilk.

If only these albums were available separately! A gripe also at the playing time, which nudges in at less than 15 minutes per side. 6/10

 

New Order – Movement (Factory)

May 1982/In Touch

The phrase ‘new romantics’ when used to describe the latest hedonist dance stance soon crumbles to leave its naked intention, cheap sex, in profile. New Order are romantics. They’re sad, almost morbid in the knowledge that reality can never match dreams. They make music which is very much a feeling, an atmosphere. Songs as a set of musical notations are of little relevance in their eyes. Movement is a melancholy debut that will give strength to all romantics and be incomprehensible to realists. It’s a brilliant debut, but will never be to everybody’s taste. 7/10

 

New Order – Blue Monday/The Beach (Factory/EMI)

1983/TOM

The proverbial breath of fresh air, ‘Blue Monday’ is the first recorded example of the electronically assisted disco with soul (as opposed to ‘soul’ with disco beat) which we heard on New Order’s tour late last year. I find myself with a synthesiser allergy these past months, but this is a prime example of technology being utilised to a wonderfully exact degree and at the same time on human terms. Somewhere along the way the synth scientists have forgotten that music pulls primary emotional chords. Therefore, music machinery can never be of any use unless we’re bright enough to know how to exploit that technology. New Order seem to have it all under control: ‘Blue Monday’ and its dub version ‘The Beach’ are both New Order and great dance music. And the sound? It’s HUGE! 9/10

 

New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies (Factory)

1983/TOM

The great new New Order in-the-wake-of ‘Blue Monday’ techno-beat with feeling LP this is not… quite. Like its predecessor Movement, Power, Corruption And Lies has zero impact value. Strangely, it’s not the 90-degree tangent away from the post-JD New Order-in-transition experienced on that first album, but a natural progression.

P, C & L doesn’t persist with ‘Blue Monday’s’ ultra-clean disco, or for that matter its computer fetish. Sure, it uses synthesisers, but only on a couple of tracks are they overwhelming, and even then their use is confined mostly to rhythm. Most of the tracks are medium-to-slow, and the sound is low-key, almost mainstream. Nothing sticks out of the mix. They are not sad songs, but neither do they avoid emotion. Sadness is evident on passages where required.

The most striking feature of this long-awaited second LP is the almost conventional melodic content of several songs, and damn good melodies they are too. The album gives a sense of anti-climax, though. As a whole it doesn’t quite gel. It almost presents itself as a unified work, but for all its merits there’s something missing/amiss. On the other hand, perhaps it’s all in my imagination – an inability to perceive quality in low-key manoeuvres.

Unfortunately, New Order have a lot to live up to as long as the Paul Morley’s of this world elevate them to guru status. Blanket critical adulation must surely delude musicians into thinking their creations as important and necessary. This album fits neither of those descriptions. Perhaps it would have, had those Morley’s not created such high expectations in the first place. 6/10

 

The Newz – Heard The Newz (Music World)

1980/Evening Post

It seems pointless to bitch about regionalism in local music when it’s for the good of the whole to avoid factions, but South Island talent loses out every time. And here at last is a group with enough pluck to combat Wellington and Auckland predominance.

The Newz have recorded their debut album in hometown Christchurch in an eight-track studio. Theirs is the first such album to be recorded in the South Island, and there is no distinct loss of fidelity over other New Zealand recordings.

The Newz’ (formerly Bon Marche and Bon Who?) debut comes complete with a set of snappy tunes dressed in new wave fashion, most displaying a satirical bent. They are essentially an old-fashioned New Zealand pop-rock band, but their new-wave gestures present a group simply keeping up with their peers.

Heard The News is a solid, dependable debut. It’s full of catchy tunes, the opening ‘Europe’ typifying the new wave pop offerings to be found on the album. The single, ‘Accident Prone’, unfortunately, comes across too much like a lightweight Talking Heads. But the rest is the best.

The most definite satirical numbers are the most enjoyable, with ‘I (Still) Want To Be An Arab’ the standout – really a harmless bit of fluff, but great party music. ‘Stuttgart Turnabout’ is the most upbeat, nasty rocking number and a fitting finish, though it’s still blessed with a catchy chorus. I’m sure all of us bohemians can identify with ‘Sunday’, a moan about lack of things to do on that most sacred of days.

The best track, though, is also the most serious, ‘Hole In My Heart’. Derivative vocally of Police, this melancholy ditty boasts an affecting chorus but an unfortunately messy performance. Special mention must go to Simon Darke, who on record, minus zany stage charisma, comes across as an exceptional vocalist, husky-voiced but adaptable. 7/10

 

Nico & The Faction – Camera Obscura (Beggars Banquet)

1986/Wellington City Magazine

It doesn’t matter that the music doesn’t mean anything in particular; the lyrics are (purposely?) indecipherable, leaving the voice to find its place as instrument in the layered textures. The original ice queen of rock sings with the usual doom and disdain while new collaborators The Faction hatch a shiny silver sound brimming with exotic synthetic effects. Percussionist Graham Didds can claim much of the kudos for the hypnotic and even magical propulsion. There is a sadness to this John Cale production. The sallow worldview of 48-year-old German nihilist Nico is extemporised throughout; at its most romantic on her unique interpretation of ‘My Funny Valentine’, and at its saddest on ‘My Heart Is Empty’. 7/10

 

Night – Night (Planet)

1979/RIU

Night features two New Zealanders, vocalist Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and bassist Billy Kristian (ex Max Merritt and the Meteors), plus drummer Rick Marotta, vocalist Stevie Lange, guitarist Robbie McIntosh and on keyboards, Nicky Hopkins.

They play soul-based material, though the phrasing owes more to rock and the sound tends towards orthodox California cruise music. The first side is devoted to covers, which aside from the catchy single ‘Hot Summer Nights’ and the eerie ballad ‘Cold Wind Across My Heart’ is a largely redundant exercise as they in no way upstage the originals.

Side 2 is primarily original material, but revealingly the only cover, ‘Shocked’, is the standout track, along with Thompson’s own raunchy ‘Come Around (If You Want Me)’.

Nothing to write home about, but a welcome change from the standard session musician MOR stillborn ‘product’. 5/5

 

John Niland – Inside (Eelman)

1986/Evening Post

Former Hulamen, Pelicans and current Tombolas pianist records a mini-LP of his own instrumental compositions. Some settings are jazz trio (with Rob Mahoney and Ross Burge along for the burp and sizzle). Others lean towards Keith Jarrett’s more ragtime improvisational foragings. It doesn’t blow me away, but it sure is nice to hear some competent ivory-thumping on a clean recording. 6/10

 

Nocturnal Projections – Things That Go Bunt In The Night (Mission)

A cassette-only recording I believe originating from New Plymouth or thereabouts, TTGBITN is approximately 30 minutes of proficient, belligerent second-wave punk, as in the old ethics dressed up in more intelligent clothes ala The Fall or, in this case, The Ruts. The recording quality ain’t the best, and after listening to this a number of times I’m still in more than two minds about its merit. Glad to see this sorta thing circulating though. 6/10

 

No Idea – Class War (Jayrem)

1986/Evening Post

No Idea make slam dance music for rhythmic spastics. Their seven-song EP is modern punk with a nod to the brutish, clean middle-class American wham slang, but without the highly racist and sexist obnoxiousness that genre is famed for. As predictable as a week of rain in Wellington, No Idea lyrics display a conscience and an occasional funny line – ‘Rugger Bugger’ is worth a listen – but these songs are ultimately a mirage on the desert of their own imaginations. 5/10

 

The Nolan Sisters – The Nolan Sisters (Epic)

1980/Evening Post

Just go away, will you? 1/10

 

The Nolans – Making Waves (Epic)

1981/Evening Post

This is the second Nolans album but I have a sneaky suspicion that it is merely the first Nolans album dressed up in a new cover. Nice to see CBS is not overestimating the average Nolans fan’s intelligence. For as long as music like this continues to proliferate, this music fan will continue to feel superior to those who consume it and the companies that sell it. The bad taste award of the year goes to the cover. 1/10

 

Gary Numan – Dance (Beggars Banquet)

Dec 1981/In Touch

Poor old Gazza. Painted into a corner and smugly passed off as last year’s bad joke. He really does deserve better. That said, however, Dance does little to stop the gradual decline Numan has experienced since that piece de resistance, Replicas.

Dance sees my namesake exploring new territory. The music here is remarkably low-key and, surprise-surprise, with a funk/soul sound. No, he hasn’t auctioned off the synthesiser, techno fans. Unfortunately, Numan the crooner doesn’t quite come off. The problem being that the man’s voice still hasn’t matured past that wimpy grizzle that worked so well on those unhealthily festering early albums.

Numan’s not ready to be written-off yet. There’s much to interest both the casual listener and the Numan fan on Dance. But it ain’t exactly a vindication of faith, either. 6/10

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