Ranking The Frank Zappa Albums #39 The Yellow Shark

Released in November 1993 The Yellow Shark, was the last Frank Zappa album to appear in his lifetime, almost exactly a month before he died of the cancer from which he had suffered for several years. It features live recordings from the Ensemble Modern’s 1992 performances of Zappa’s compositions. In the album’s notes, Zappa describes The Yellow Shark as one of the most fulfilling projects of his career, and as the best representation of his orchestral works. A bit of background:

Zappa has had a long and often unfilled relationship with orchestras trying to play his ‘serious’ music; both in terms of the complexity and Frank’s demanding style (there’s a couple of excellent chapters in Zappa’s autobiography about this). But in 1991 he was chosen to be one of four featured composers at thd 1992 Frankfurt Festival and was approached by the German chamber ensemble, Ensemble Modern, which was interested in playing his music for the event. Although ill, Zappa invited them to Los Angeles for rehearsals of new compositions and new arrangements of older material. In addition to being satisfied with the ensemble’s performances of his music, Zappa also got along with the musicians, and the concerts in Germany and Austria were set up for the fall. In September 1992, the concerts went ahead as scheduled, but Zappa could only appear at two in Frankfurt due to illness. At the first concert, he conducted the opening Overture, and the final G-Spot Tornado as well as the theatrical Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992 and Welcome to the United States (the remainder of the program was conducted by the ensemble’s regular conductor Peter Rundel). The first concert was aired live by German pay TV channel Premiere, presented by the station’s “Special” host Christian Eckert where Zappa received a 20-minute ovation. It would become his last professional public appearance, as the cancer was spreading to such an extent that he was in too much pain to enjoy an event that he otherwise found “exhilarating”. Recordings from the concerts appeared on The Yellow Shark, Zappa’s last release during his lifetime.

It’s kind of bitter-sweet that Frank had finally found an ensemble that could do his compositions justice and this is the best orchestral representation of his music but it was to be his final completed work before his death. You can hear Zappa’s Stravinsky influences in this work, especially in Times Beach III, and the orchestral renditions of his Mothers work showcase just how much of a great composer he actually was. 3/5

Frank Zappa – conductor, producer, performer
Peter Rundel – conductor, violin
Dietmar Wiesner – flute
Catherine Milliken – oboe, english horn, bass oboe, didjeridu
Roland Diry – clarinet
Wolfgang Stryi – bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, contrabass clarinet
Veit Scholz – bassoon, contrabassoon
Franck Ollu, Stefan Dohr – french horn
William Formann, Michael Gross – cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, trumpet
Uwe Dierksen – trombone, soprano trombone
Michael Svoboda – trombone, euphonium, didjeridu, alphorn
Daryl Smith – tuba
Hermann Kretzschmar – celeste, harpsichord, voices, piano
Ueli Wiget – celeste, harpsichord, harp, piano
Rumi Ogawa-Helferich – cymbalom, percussion
Andreas Böttger – percussion
Detlef Tewes – mandolin
Jürgen Ruck – banjo, guitar
Ellen Wegner – harp
Mathias Tacke, Claudia Sack – violin
Hilary Sturt – violin, voices
Friedemann Dähn – violoncello
Thomas Fichter – contrabass, Fichter electric upright bass
Ensemble Modern – main performer

Sponsoring The Moshpits 2 (b): a guide to HMHB

The latter half of the nineties saw the band reach a new level of stability. Ian left and Neil returned to the bass – Ken Hancock joined to play lead guitar and Carl Henry became the drummer, where they remained until 2017 (previous drummer Carl Alty joined Northern Ireland punk-poppers Joyrider, although he did continue to appear occasionally at gigs until Christmas 96). The new line-up (including Carl A.) released a 4-track EP Eno Collaboration, 2 of these tracks would appear on the next album the following year, with the title track skewering pretentious bands looking for their next big success.

Voyage To The Bottom Of The Road, their sixth album was released in July 1997 on the faithful Probe Plus and in my opinion its one of the best examples of the band’s work. The album is a mixture of post punk songs combined with lead songwriter Nigel’s continuing love of folk and blues. Standout track (amongst many) is Tonight Matthew I’m Going to Be With Jesus.

Less than 12 months later the Biscuits made the unusual move of releasing another album; they’d previously released a new record every two to three years. Although there are some good songs here (Turn A Blind Eye, Secret Gig) it’s not one of my favourite albums and it sounds a little rushed and tired in places. Still, when it hits, it hits hard. A Country Practice being the best track, and one of the band’s best ‘spoken’ songs.

HMHB closed out the decade with a 3-track ep, which wasn’t really a high to go out on (the title track is the only song that stands out). Not the greatest end to the 90’s for the band but the following decade would see the band go from strength to strength.

Sponsoring The Moshpits 2 (a): a guide to HMHB.

Attendence tonight 123

Half Man Half Biscuit released 5 albums and 2 EP’s in the 1990’s, so this post will featured the first half of that year. After reforming in 1990, with a performance at the Reading Festival following, a new single, Let’s Not was issued before the year was out, and this was followed in 1991 by a collaboration with Margi Clarke on a version of Edith Piaf’s No Regrets. The third album, released in October 1991 was McIntyre, Treadmore And Davitt. The album’s title came from a line in the episode of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns (Golden Gordon) and the cover is taken from the same episode. The songs are a little slower, more mature in some points and the standout track is Everything’s A.O.R., a song which paints a picture of boredom in the office, petty power struggles and bland musical taste.

Two years later saw This Leaden Pall (referred to by Nigel as their Closer) was released, and two band members left: drummer Paul Wright, who was replaced by Carl Alty, and keyboardist David Lloyd who was not replaced. It’s another album of post-punk tunes written by guys cursed with a photographic memory for the overwhelmingly trivial and banal, and the band sound comfortable exploring their instruments and songwriting skills. Best track to showcase this is Malayan Jelutong.

Another two years go by and the band release their fifth album, Some Call It Godcore, with the same line up as the previous release. It has a similar vibe to Leaden with quite a number of songs being dominated by Neil Crossley’s driving bass riffs, though they do throw a few surprises in now and again; £24.99 From Argos features a very cheap sounding drum machine and has an electro-pop vibe to it, the folky Even Men With Steel Hearts features a nice bass solo and some welcome brass, and the last song, Tour Jacket With Detachable Sleeves, is the first in the long line of ‘spoken story’ songs, a trend that the band would continue on subsequent releases. But my favourite track is Friday Night And The Gates Are Low, a jaunty tale of despair and masochism at Prenton Park.

That’s all for the first half of the 90’s, the post will look at more line up changes, 2 ep’s and probably the best HMHB of that decade.

Live And Lou’d(GDLIYWI) #38

This album, from 1978,was recorded during May at The Bottom Line in New York and contains ad libs by Reed during and between songs, among them a detailed story of the origin of Walk on the Wild Side, and a rant against rock music critics, particularly Robert Christgau (who said it was “essentially a comedy record. Lenny Bruce is the obvious influence. And I thank Lou for pronouncing my name right.”)

Reed later said, “everybody said I never talk. I was in my home town of New York, so I talked…I thought of even titling it Lou Reed Talks, And Talks, And Talks… but we called it Take No Prisoners because we were doing a job, a phenomenal booking in a tiny hotel in Quebec. All of a sudden this drunk guy sitting alone at the front shouts, ‘LOU!! MAN!! TAKE NO PRIS’NERS, LOU!!’. And then he took his head and smashed it as hard as he could to the drumbeat. And that was only halfway through!”

Lou spots a rock critic on the front row.

I was never the biggest Lou Reed fan: sure, I had the first Velvet Underground LP and heard Berlin a couple of times but for the most part I never really clicked with old Lou. So coming into this album I was a little apprehensive; I vaguely remember an old Kerrang! magazine (when it used to be published fortnightly) had a regular article called Strickly For Konnoisseurs (sp) and Mick Wall was praising this as a great album to hear Lou banter, bicker and berate the audience; and this was the first time I heard the phrase ‘toe-fucker’ in relation to the aforementioned Christgau, so that piqued my curiosity in this album but until now I’ve never actively sought out this record (and I have heard Metal Machine Music several times!)

As a casual (read: very, very casual) Lou Reed listener, I liked the ‘songs’ where Lou is berating and being antagonistic towards the audience more than the ‘proper’ songs being played; which is a bastard mix of Mott the Hoople/Bowie/Rocky Horror Picture Show, although I love the heavy bassline halfway through Street Hassle which rouses the song out of its stupor. The songs are OK but appear tired and lame when compared to the long songs were Lou talks. The 16 minute story of Walk On The Wild Side, where the song is played briefly in passing, is thd highlight here as Reed lambasts rock critics, the rock’n’roll lifestyle and all the (true) characters in the song.

It is indulgent, to be honest; 4 of the 10 tracks are over 10 minutes but they are, for me, the best tracks on here (I’ll give Street Hassle a pass for the great bassline). Honestly, if the whole double album was 10 tracks of Lou Reed just talking and venting over music, I’d probably score it higher. As Christgau points out, it is a comedy album and maybe it acted as an inspiration for the likes of Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins to do talking albums.

It’s not for the casual Lou listener, but I do recommend that you listen to it at least once for the humour. If I were going to re-listen to this, it would be for the talking. 6/10

Next time, we travel by bus to Babylon! TTFN!

Tubes Snake Boogie (GDLIYWI) #37

What Do You Want from Live is The Tubes debut live album released by and was recorded at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon, London during the height of the punk rock era in 1977. Despite their somewhat out-of-step musicality, the band’s humorous and manic stage show found favor all over the country. The cabaret-like shows lasted over an hour, ending with Waybill – in character as “Quay Lewd”, a parody of a drug-addled rock star – getting crushed to death by a giant stack of (fake) speakers. NME pronounced the tour a great success, writing: “They came, they outraged, they conquered.”

What I know about The Tubes could be written on the back of a postage stamp and after listening to this double live album, I’m quite happy to be in my ignorance. It’s not a bad album; it has a nice mix of Todd Rundgren/The Cars/A.O.R radio friendly rock, with some occasional jazz-rock moments; the show has a very theatrical/musical bent (particularly Game Show and Smoke) which showcases how great a frontman Fee Waybill is, but ultimately whilst it’s enjoyable for a couple of listens, it’s not a record that demands repeated plays.

The band is great, the songs are OK but nothing outstanding (even White Punks On Dope doesn’t hit as hard as the studio version), although I did enjoy them using the Damned’s New Rose riff for their cover of I Saw Her Standing There. Ultimately, this album didn’t excite me or make me want to check out anything more from the band, so I can’t really recommend this and wouldn’t want to re-listen to it.

Not the worst live album I’ve heard but not the most inspiring one either. 4/10.

Revealing my inner beauty

Handsome looking fella, aren’t I?

I created a video of these lovely ‘self-portraits’ (which are just pictures of a tree trunk knot and manipulated using the GlitchLab and MirrorLab apps) on Vimeo. If you have a moment, then please check it out. (yes, I know this is shameless self promotion, but if I dont promote my self who else is going to do it?)

Todd-A-Doodle-Doo (GDLIYWI) #36

Recorded during week-long stints in New York City (The Bottom Line), Los Angeles (The Roxy), and Cleveland (The Agora) Back To The Bars features music from Todd Rundgren’s albums Something/Anything?, A Wizard, a True Star, Todd, Initiation, and Faithful with a couple of Utopia numbers thrown in for good measure. Sides 1 and 4 feature Todd with his Utopia cohorts (Roger Powell, Kasim Silton and John Wilcox) whilst sides 2 and 3 feature other musicians with only drummer John Wilcox playing on the whole album. This album features some of his best blue-eyed soul/pop-rock songs and is a real delight to listen to. I’d only ever had The Hermit of Mink Hollow and a couple of the later years Todd albums, so I was coming to this record with fresh ears.

Todd voice is great and his knack for writing catchy, soulful songs is undisputed; the way he uses hooks would make a Cenobite jealous! It’s hard to pick out the highlights as it’s all great for the most part but Initiation, The Last Ride and Black Maria are all fantastic, as is the soul medley of I’m So Proud/Ooh Baby Baby/La La Means I Love You /I Saw The Light.

It’s not all fun and games: there’s nothing from the aforementioned Hermit of Mink Hollow and the songs Never Never Land and Zen Archer fall a little flat for me but these are minor-ish quibbles. There’s no drum solos on here, the band, Todd and the crowd sound like they’re having fun and, other than the medley, no song is over 10 minutes long. So for all those reasons I’m giving Back To The Bars an 8/10 and would recommend this album to listen to. TTFN!

In The Light

And if you feel that you can’t go on

And your will’s sinking low.

Just believe, and you can’t go wrong

In the light, you will find the road.


Lyrics: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones.

Digital artwork inspired by the Led Zeppelin song In The Light taken from the Physical Graffiti album released on the Swan Song label in 1975.

Artwork created digitally using the MirrorLab app to digitally alter a photograph I took of the sun and clouds.

For Whom The Bell Tulls (GDLIYWI) #35

I used to be a narcissist, but look at me now.

Bursting Out is a 1978 live album by the rock band Jethro Tull. It was recorded at various locations during the European Heavy Horses Tour in May and June 1978. Though the specific recording dates and locations are not credited, the liner notes and stage introduction indicate that at least some tracks were recorded at the Bern Festhalle in Switzerland, on 28 May 1978. spelling error on the spine of the first US, Spain and Sweden LP pressings listed the title as “Busting Out”.

Thanks to my school friend taping some of his older brother’s record collection for me, Bursting Out was my first introduction to Jethro Tull and it has remained my go-to record when I need my Tull fix. For a live record you can ask for much more than what is contained on here: strong, dynamic versions of their classics (Locomotive Breath, Thick As A Brick), classic banter from a front man who has the audience in thd palm of his hand, top-notch musicianship and a surprisingly decent six-minute flute solo! I didn’t even hate the drum solo in Conundrum!

For me it’s pretty much a perfect live album, all the members get to shine and flex their muscles but also they combine their talents to form one ferocious rock and roll band. I got to give it a 10 because I can listen to this on repeat for ages and not get bored.

Up next is a live album from a wizard, a true star but until then TTFN!

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