The Art Of McCartney
The true test of a great song is arguably whether it retains its essence when filtered and refracted through the eyes of other acts and musical styles. In this respect this double album tribute featuring some of rock’n’roll’s biggest and brightest talents shows the sheer genius in Paul McCartney’s songwriting.
With nary a dud over the 36 tracks herein (even the uber-bland Jamie Cullen brings a little charm to Every Night), Macca’s work as a solo artist is showcased alongside that with Wings and The Beatles.
Breathing new life into his biggest hits and lesser known tracks with neither pride nor prejudice, The Art Of McCartney also shows that whilst Sir Paul wrote a helluva lot of songs about relationships (his own and others), he wasn’t entirely about what his sparring partner John Lennon labelled ‘silly love songs’.
Highlights – and they are many – range from Billy Joel’s raw takes on both Maybe I’m Amazed and Live And Let Die; Bob Dylan’s raspy Things We Said Today; Heart’s faithful Band On The Run and Letting Go; Willie Nelson’s twanging tackle of Yesterday; Def Leppard glamming up Helen Wheels; KISS’s bombastic Venus & Mars/Rock Show; Harry Connick Jr’s Sinatra-styled My Love; Smokey Robinson’s beautifully soft So Bad; Dr John’s voodoo-infused Let ‘Em In; the incomparable Darlene Love’s take on All My Loving and Wanda Jackson’s whoop-and-holler through Run Devil Run.
Hearing these songs filtered through reggae, hard rock, country, folk, rockabilly and other styles show not only the versatility of the songs themselves, but also give some glimmers of insight into the early musical inspirations and influences that have affected and shaped McCartney’s art. A triumph.
BLANCHE BLANCHE BLANCHE
Hints To Pilgrims
Leave it to the universe to go out with a whimper; Vermont psychonauts Blanche Blanche Blanche have departed this mortal coil by dragging the nail of their middle finger down a chalkboard. Bowing out after having folded a lifetime’s worth of stark melodies and gravity-defying chord changes into four years and nine albums, Hints To Pilgrims makes even the strangest moments of last year’s Wooden Ball sound like Wham.
With the usual flotilla of detuned keyboards rejected for a lone piano, things take on an eerie sense of absence; War Games plonks like a Gregorian Final Fantasy theme, and New Food scratches into spiralling melodies in the manner of someone scratching about for a phantom limb.
The usual verbosity is toned down – this is the band that converted a series of sociology fieldwork surveys into a set of lyrics – with lyrics instead hemmed by stasis, channelling the disillusionment and struggle of being unable or unwilling to crash or crash through. When Sarah Smith sweetly sings that, ‘when you make a lot of music/all you keep is care’, it rings like the most fitting epitaph possible. If ever a band impaled itself in the manner of Oscar Wilde’s nightingale, it was this one. Vale BBB.
Listening to Ben Frost’s last album, Aurora, is something like the sonic equivalent of enduring a punch in the gut. Its thundering drums and claustrophobic noise may not be easy for the ears, but there is no denying the colossal vision within Frost’s production.
For something as ambitious as Aurora, it’s fitting that Frost has recruited some heavyweights for its remix EP, Variant. Evian Christ’s remix of Venter begins with long, drawn-out sounds that build and drop, seeding anticipation. It comes as a surprise, then, that the next two songs, credited to Dutch E Germ and HTRK, only seethe under the surface without amounting to anything more.
While the tracks still retain Frost’s unmistakable flavour, the originals’ piercing, often ugly synths are pared back for a more familiar, club-driven sound. Perhaps the most divergent is Kangding Ray’s remix of No Sorrowing; seven minutes of sparse techno that segue beautifully into Regis’ edit of Nolan, where everything escalates into faster perpetual motion before crashing back down in a catharsis of ambient noise.
As a whole, Variant is fragmentary at times, as is often the case with remixes. But what it lacks in structure it makes up for in its individual moments and the artists’ intelligent treatment of Frost’s material: a clean polish to the harsh ambiguities of his sound.
Besuited young sharpsters, Custom Royal, serve up an impressive platter on their debut EP, showcasing a sound that harkens back to some touchstones of rock n’ roll whilst driving resolutely and confidently towards a brazenly original identity of their own.
Those touchstones are more vibe-related than necessarily influences from any individual band: there’s some ‘60s garagey guitar work, super-tight rhythms, multilayered catchy melodies and groove, baby – lots of groove.
Supernaut, Hide Yourself, Chinese Lanterns and Cut Me Loose are all dynamite, capturing their irrepressible live energy thanks to producer and Eskimo Joe man Joel Quartermain, who singer/guitarist Mitchell MacKintosh has credited with helping them find ‘elegant arrangement solutions’ to some of these songs which have been around for a while.
Having taken their time to craft their own sound as a unit for three or so years now, it seems apparent that Custom Royal are ready to go for gold, and as they cut loose on, er… Cut Me Loose, singing, ‘you can’t sing the songs if you don’t have a soul’, it’s obvious that this young four-piece have rock and soul in spades.
German sociologist, Max Weber, had a few things to say about charisma. Weber defined charisma in the context of exceptional powers and qualities, which were not available to ordinary men and women. On the basis of such attributes – which suggested divine origin – Weber noted charismatic individuals tended to positions of authority and leadership. Had Weber the opportunity to apply his theories of charisma to soul music, he’d have found plenty of examples to mull over.
Emma Donovan is oozing with the charisma and passion of the great soul singers of yore. On Black Woman, Donovan is in ‘70s social justice mode, giving powerful voice to the perils and pitfalls faced – and resilience shown – by black women both in Australia’s marginalised indigenous communities and throughout the world. My Goodness is as slick and stylish as a late night cocktail in a smoky bar; Dawn is dripping with Motown elegance. There’s a haunting beauty about Mother – is it deeply personal, ethnographic or metaphorical? Its parental companion piece, Daddy, evokes memories of The Temptations in psychedelic mode, offering a colourful glimpse into a world where everything is neither as it seems, nor as it should be.
Keep Me In Your Reach is lovin’ soul track like few others; Donovan channels Dusty Springfield and takes you to a higher emotional place. Come Back To Me is laden with psychological pain; you can feel the yolk of regret, and the only thing that makes it better is the beauty of the song. Voodoo is packed full of self-belief; for everything bad that’s gone down, and Donovan is bouncing back, and nothin’s gonna get her down. On Over Under Away, Donovan is reflective, contemplating the good, bad and indifferent of the world around her; in Donovan’s voice, it’s all worth listening to. Great soul singers are born, not made, and Emma Donovan is a charismatic soul singer for the ages.
Peel Me Like An Egg
Punchbowl’s finest death punk thrash rockers know they’re unlikely to be winning new fans over with this, their 11th full-length album, and continue to deliver the intriguing stylistic mixture of music that their fans will be familiar with.
That’s not to say there’s no progression on Peel Me Like An Egg: after their recent 30th anniversary tour with original singer/drummer Keish DeSilva as frontman, original guitarist (and singer these past dozen years) Blackie and bassist Ray Anh have invited their former bandmate into the studio to add some backing vocals and the results are more melodic than we’ve seen from the band for quite a while.
Blackie still impresses with his nuclear attack guitar work, but while early fans will probably still miss DeSilva’s sweeter singing and the band’s pop-punk-metal approach, Peel Me Like An Egg succeeds in being their most instant and accessible album from the past decade by virtue of marrying their earlier, bouncier approach with their more recent wall-of-riffnoise assault work.
With Blackie’s sense of humour firmly in place, Shadow Self, With Structure-With Stress, Darth Vader Pretends, Those Hard To Get Spots and the harkening-back-to-their-Yummy-era title track lead the catchy charge, while Burning Up On Re-entry, Sweatin’ On The Beat, the furious blast of WeJust Ripped Off Paul McCartney and menacing closer, Ain’t Got No Guardian Angel, prove the band as musically volatile and relevant as ever.