Album Reviews A-Z – A 40-year repository of critiques
Gary Steel has critiqued 40 years of popular – and often unpopular – music through his sometimes withering critiques. He has been described as “NZ’s most acerbic music writer”. This is the landing page for his complete A-Z of album (and a few EPs and singles) reviews.
Here’s Steel’s full explanation of this ongoing archiving project: ALL THE DETAILS HERE FOLKS! Suffice to say that all these pages are “live” and will be added to every week. After you click on a letter, then just search the document for the artists you want to read about.
I will highlight one of the added reviews each week on this landing page for entertainment value. Cool bananas!
There is one crevasse into which so very many capable New Zealand rock groups continue to fall. This dilemma gets the best of all but the hardiest. Should a band attempt to make their music appeal to as many members of the public as possible – after all, it is a small, supposedly middle of the road population in New Zealand – or should they remain true to themselves and plough their own furrow in the way they think best?
Most Kiwi bands take the first option, and by trying to appeal to all they actually appeal to few. Bar patrons may drink to their music, but why waste beer money on their records?
Only a few bands have had the gumption to stick to their original vision. The notable example is Split Enz, who had a large cult following from the beginning because their music was genuinely bizarre and unusual.
There are several New Zealand groups with vision, originality and commitment to what they are doing and believe in. Take away the Government’s 40 percent sales tax, and there would soon be a healthy export of records by these artists to Europe, a continent that laps up such material in large doses. With restrictions still imposed however, records by such groups are unlikely to be made in the first instance, and even more unlikely to be noticed with interest by any but the few.
An example of such a band is Wellington’s Shoes This High, whose EP (their first) was recorded in Auckland. To say it is exceptional is an understatement. It is fair to say that if Shoes This High were a British band, this record would be a much sought after item. It is an independent release, produced by the group. The cover and distribution are also handled by the group.
Their music does contain elements of music heard elsewhere: Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, Pil, The Fall, Gang Of Four… but overall the sound is unmistakably Shoes This High.
‘The Nose One’ is an addictive trance dance with nagging bass and guitar lines by Jessica Walker and Kevin Hawkins respectively, and lyrics that perhaps reflect the band’s own philosophy: “I just follow my nose/I don’t care about my clothes/I close my eyes/I fall asleep… nothing, nothing, nothing!”
‘Foot’s Dream’, played with the air of inevitability of the average New Zealander’s limiting lifestyle attacks in particular, the institution of marriage. In ‘A Mess’, vocalist Brent Hayward gives examples of mindless violence and self-abuse, screams a fierce “I don’t think it’s so funny”, and reinforces it with a hurt: “It’s a mess, a horrible mess.”
‘Not Weighting’, the finale, is an ominous almost-instrumental, with xylophone/breaking glass sound effects. Spare and jarring, it is quite unlike anything recorded in this country.
With bands like these New Zealand has come of age. It’s time we realised it. 9/10
Religion: a giant hoax perpetrated by evil aliens. The human race: play things of The Meninblack.
The latest Stranglers album purports to be ‘The Gospel Of The Meninblack’. Provocative? Yes! So is the cover. In the foldout is da Vinci’s Last Supper painting with infiltrating Meninblack. The back cover includes a takeoff of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ addressed to you know who.
Musically, this is possibly the best of all Stranglers albums. It is unfortunate that the album is too short on explanatory lyrical content to adequately convey the concept. Here, as in early days when The Stranglers were accused of being sexist, the band falls prey to lyrical ambiguity. However, this hardly merits complete dismissal of a band whose merits are many.
The Meninblack is a bass-heavy, evil-sounding album; totally in tune with its subject matter. The Stranglers are not the most subtle musicians but they always show a willingness to experiment from within the boundaries of their formula.
Innovations for The Stranglers are quirky, futurist leanings, squealing synthesisers and nasty, chipmunk-type voices on some cuts. Overall, this is an album well worth investigation. 7/10