Monday 18 December 2017

Rock: Unearthing those hidden sonic gems

Siouxie and the Banshees
Siouxie and the Banshees
Super Furry Animals
Richard Ashcroft's Alone with Everybody.
U2's October
Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Buttefly album cover
John Meagher

John Meagher

Dan Hegarty, who's normally to be found on 2fm's graveyard shift, has just published a book which aims to uncover great music that has slipped under the radar.

Buried Treasure (Liberties Press, €14.99) offers both Dan's take on a host of local and international albums that deserve to be discovered (or re-discovered, in some cases) and the recommendations of a host of contributors, many of them musicians.

It's something of a well-trodden concept, but one this author does with considerable aplomb - even when he's making a case for U2's weakest album, October: "There are plenty of the band's finest moments captured over the 11 tracks," he bravely argues.

He's on more rewarding ground when discussing Shot in the Dark, the final, and barely remembered, album from Kilkenny band Engine Alley (who are best known for their superb 1992 debut A Sonic Holiday) or arguing the merits of Coping Mechanisms, the as-yet-only album from Dublin experimentalist Si Schroeder. His words made me scurry back to both after many years' absence and, although somewhat patchy, they're certainly worth investigation.

Although there's something of a weak spot for so-so Irish bands who came of age in the 2000s - I'm looking at you Super Extra Bonus Party and Humanzi - Hegarty makes some robust arguments for re-appraising such 'uncool' fare as The Wonder Stuff's Eight-Legged Groove Machine ("their boldest venture. It was musically anarchic at the time and still holds much of its individuality years later") and Kylie Minogue's self titled album, the one that opens with Confide in Me ("her biggest musical risk... the singles have much more of an edge to anything she had released prior to this"). Say what you will about Hegarty, but don't call him a snob.

There are some intriguing albums discussed by contributors as eclectic as actor Aidan Gillen (Sun Kil Moon's April) and producer Gareth "Jacknife" Lee (Siouxie and the Banshee's Kaleidoscope). I really must applaud the fantastically named Blind Boy Boat Club from The Rubberbandits who opted for Woodstar's Life Sparks.

Granted, it's one Limerick bloke rhapsodising about other Limerick blokes, but Woodstar should have been contenders. Their sole album knocked me for six when I first heard it in 2003 and its keenly observed, brutally honest songs still sound essential today. (Good luck trying to find a copy, though - and don't expect to locate it on Spotify, Deezer et al either).

Larry Mullen has written a foreword to the book and has plumped for Richard Ashcroft's 2000 album Alone With Everybody. It's difficult now to remember just how huge The Verve were in the late 1990s, and how quickly their decline came, but Ashcroft's solo debut was neither a critical or commercial success.

Mullen does his best to argue its merits although, in truth, U2 devotees will likely be more intrigued by his admission that at the time of its release, it was just one of two albums he possessed in his New York apartment. The other was Van Morrison's incontestably great second offering, Moondance. So much for a sprawling record collection.

Reading Buried Treasure has encouraged me to think about wonderful albums that remain somewhat obscure. From an Irish point of view, The Stars of Heaven's debut from 1986, Sacred Heart Hotel, really should be more widely known while many of us who admire the first two albums from Pony Club, the Dublin band of a more recent vintage, are baffled as to why Home Truths and Family Business continue to languish in the margins. Morrissey was a fan, but a fat lot of good his endorsement did them.

From an international point of view, every single year throws up albums that end up as sunken treasure. Consider American Whip, the second album from New York duo Joy Zipper, which was released in 2003: just how did such a beguiling dream-pop collection co-produced by My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields and Belfast's finest David Holmes fall through the cracks? Super Furry Animals' Rings Around the World, from 2001, may not be quite as obscure but it, too, has not received its due. A vaultingly ambitious album, it delivers time and time again.

*****

Online petitions have become one of the great bores of the age and the latest to do the social media rounds is attempting to have Kanye West removed as Glastonbury headliner.

Organiser Neil Lonsdale has branded West an "egotistical, maniacal disgrace", which is especially strange given the tendency for big name acts to be both egotistical and maniacal. According to Lonsdale, "West is an insult to music fans" and he attracted more than 80,000 signatures of support.

But love or loathe the man, Kanye has delivered some of the most significant and challenging work of the past decade and his 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, stands head and shoulders above the efforts of most of his peers.

Listen up: Album of the week

TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY

(Interscope)

The second album from the most exciting American rapper of the last five years is every bit as provocative and exhilirating as his first. Lamar offers a brutally honest appraisal of his home land - a place, he argues, that's rife with corruption and discrimination.

There's sustained anger as he raps about police brutality and the ugly spectre of racism. His wordplay is remarkable throughout and there's a dizzying array of music styles showcased. Occassionally, Lamar's ambition gets in the way of his songs, but for the most part, he's soaring.

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