When I first sat down to compile a list of albums for this exercise some time last summer, I had the vague notion that I should leave the last slot blank so that it might be filled by something new. Then I discovered that my first pass at the list was well into three figures, so I used the 60th slot as I couldn’t see a way to lose even one more from the list.
Perspectives change, though and (to let a little daylight in on the magic here) I discovered quite early on that there were a few albums on the list which I loved, but about which I had relatively little to say. Fortunately, as I weeded those few out, I discovered that I had also missed several titles off the list, so the revised total ended up at 59.
Which was no problem; I could easily go back to the original list and slot one in (surely I’d find room for a Deep Purple album… surely). Instead, I went back to Plan A – a space would be left at the end for whatever came out in the year and a bit it took to get this far, and I just had to hope that something would not only grab me, but relate in some way to what I’ve been banging on about all this time.
I reached the beginning of August, not panicking exactly (there was a new Big Big Train album, and – out of nowhere – a new Porcupine Tree one; I’d just have to do some shuffling of the order), but hoping that I’d be naturally led to something, rather than have to start digging and look for something I hope I’d like.
One of the things I haven’t really given enough attention to in these essays is the impact of YouTube to my musical experience. Not only can I dial up pretty much any album or track I want on Spotify (other streaming services, etc…), but I can often find things on YouTube I’d otherwise never have been aware of. A live performance by a half-forgotten band, or an interview with someone which illustrates nicely exactly what I’m trying to write about.
The other thing which YouTube brings me is the opinions and music of creators – people just putting their own stuff up online, or taking the time to share their expertise with the rest of us, and it’s through the channels of the likes of Paul Davids, Mary Spender, David Bennett, David Bruce; and the reaction channels of Doug Helvering, The Charismatic Voice, or Beth Roars, that I have found so many things which might have otherwise passed me by over the last few years.
Yes, that’s just a representative sample; there are hundreds out there – go find the ones you like…
It was one of the YouTube music channels which dropped this album in my listening space at the beginning of August. Rick Beato is a music producer and fan (I suspect he might put those two descriptions the other way round). He’s also almost exactly the same age as me, although his musical education took place on the other side of the Atlantic, so his memories are intriguingly different from mine in places. He also works in music, so has a much more in-depth knowledge of the music I missed while I was busy doing other things in the nineties and beyond.
I watch his videos partly to be entertained by the choices he makes in lists of the “ten best” this or the “twenty essential” that, but I also watch them because he’s a great teacher, and helps the amateur enthusiast like me understand why certain things work, and just what that drum pattern is doing. “Oh, it’s in 13/8”, he might say, and while I like to think I’d have got there, it’s great to have those signposts helping me understand what’s going on in that song I can’t quite drum my fingers along to.
At the beginning of August, with much going on in the rest of my life, I saw a Beato video called “The Musical Revolution We Need Right Now” (his caps). I was intrigued at the idea that there were any revolutions left to be had, and that we were in need of one now as opposed to any other time, and I watched. I don’t think that revolution is what the video gives us at all – it’s partly a review of the Seattle grunge scene of the 1990s – which I ought to feel more connected to, I think, given that I can see Washington state from my deck – and partly an introduction to what he calls a “new supergroup”, featuring members of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.
Which all sounded interesting enough, if not quite up my street. Just under three minutes in, however, he plays a clip of this new band, 3rd Secret, and I’m immediately hooked. Partly by the sound, and partly by the fact that there are two female singers given – as far as one can tell from a short clip – equal billing. Now that’s interesting. I dig around for more information, and find very little – there’s more out there now, about unusual guitar tunings and some influences, but not much – certainly not the kind of marketing you’d expect for a “new supergroup”. That’s also interesting.
There’s a whole album; it’s only available to stream (so far, anyway), and it’s the work of mere moments to crank it up and see what I think.
(Spoiler alert – it’s on this list on merit; easily one of my favourite albums of the last 20 years, and despite me having only lived with it for a couple of months, as familiar to me as any ten or 20 others on this list, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves)
Everything I’d heard in the video had been in some way grunge-related, so it’s fair to say the opening of Rhythm of the Ride took me by surprise; it’s folky in that Led Zeppelin III kind of way, with ringing open guitar strings and a voice which feels contralto to me; based in the lower registers, only occasionally soaring into the chorus. There’s nothing distorted or overdriven here; some minor chords for sure (or flattened sevenths, or whatever those music experts spot a million miles away), but the spacious beauty of the song is not at all what I’d been expecting. I’m immediately hooked, and on first listen, went back to hear it again before moving on, such was the power of its simplicity.
I Choose Me is much more anthemic; probably a lot more like what ‘grunge supergroup’ is supposed to sound like; it relies on a driving, distorted riff and some terrifically understated drumming for its energy, and a couple of distinctly different short guitar solos from the two distinctly different guitarists on display here. It’s mesmerising and powerful, and while there are dozens of influences I can hear in this, I’m trying not to go down that road.
Last Day of August is a dreamy drone of a song, with a chorus which mixes melody with a structure which seems designed to keep you on edge (and out of breath if you try to sing along) by going where the music takes it, rather than where the lyricist might want it to go. It was the first song from this set I found myself humming along to in an idle moment, taking a few seconds to recognise what it was my brain had decided to sing along to. It also has a delicious false ending, complete with the sounds of nature before the instruments decide they hadn’t quite finished what they had to say. It does feel like a song you’ve always known before you’ve even finished listening to it once; generally a sign of quality, I find.
There’s a paise for breath to let the final notes die before church bells usher us into Winter Solstice, and I’m immediately going to abandon my recently-established rule, because if this doesn’t knowingly pay homage to Sandy Denny while the carillon of bells rings the changes behind more of those gorgeously open guitar strings, I’ll eat my hat. And, yes, I do have a hat.
I haven’t heard this song in winter yet; I suspect it will be even more effective when there’s frost on the windows, and the howling of the dogs in the mix sound less like the singalong of Steve Marriott’s dog on Seamus by Pink Floyd, and more like a pack of wolves out in the fields, paying homage to the December moon.
As Rick Beato notes, if you’re looking for those trademarked grungy riffs, Lies Fade Away is the song for you. For me, this is the song where I can pay attention to the individual parts which make up this band – the vocal interplay; the causally brilliant drumming; the guitar solo which lifts this into another dimension, and the properly grungy bassline, courtesy of the man who played bass on Nevermind.
Not halfway into this album, the thing which is most clearly obvious to me is the variety. Every song has a distinct personality, while still being obviously by the same band, and being played on familiar instruments. Unlike so many albums which appear weighed and measured so that everyone has an equal amount of time in the spotlight, this one just serves the song. Live Without You is under three minutes long, bounces along cheerily despite its fatalistic lyric, and ends when it needs to because it’s said all it has to say. It is, needless to say, delightful.
Having said all that about familiar instruments, Right Stuff is an accordion-driven song. If you were wondering what I see in this album, here’s your answer – a wheezy ballad which lopes along putting smiles on the faces of everyone who hears it. Remember way back when I was complaining about Gerry Rafferty being bland, overlong and overproduced? This is the feel I was hoping for; it sits right beside that Mercury Rev album for authentic musicality; a bunch of people having fun making proper music.
More sumptuous acoustic guitar soundscapes introduce Dead Sea, a song which seems to me to have a delicious tension to it – the guitar wants to deliver an ordered structure, while the voices slide around, pulling it in directions it doesn’t quite want to go. There are some delicate keyboard sounds, the bass (it may be the bass strings on the guitar) slides in from time to time to try and keep order, but the harmonies are determined to do their own thing – I’m trying not to use the word ‘dreamy’ again, but I’m not sure any other word will do.
Again there’s a shift in mood, in style, and in instrumentation. Diamond in the Cold has the feel of an instrumental workout at first, which I’d have been on board for, but once again the voices cut through the curtain of guitar and open the song up; the 3-3-2 rhythm slides into something slightly different but equally off-kilter, and then the chorus drops in to lend some normality to proceedings before the riff asserts itself again and drags us back to the beginning, layering distorted riffs and threatening to disintegrate altogether before it rights the ship and brings us into harbour, disoriented but thrilled by the ride.
Somewhere in Time is a song which could have appeared at almost any point on the timeline of this exercise. If I’d heard it during the frenzy of 1978, I’d remember it as one of my favourite unheralded classics from that year which was bursting with them. I might allow that the production sounds somehow more modern than was possible back then, but I’m not sure there’s much you could actually point to which wouldn’t have been possible then; there’s a point where everything drops out to leave just bass and voice, and it’s as thrilling and vital as anything the Clash were doing back then. Sure, it’s just a rock song, but then so are the vast majority of the things I’ve talked about these past 59 weeks; what sets this – and a fair few of the others, to be fair, it that it has a timeless quality. Stack it up against the songs on Revolver, and all the basic elements are right there.
I used to think that was a bad thing; that maybe we hadn’t moved forward in nearly 60 years; now I celebrate it – age cannot wither it, nor custom stale its infinite variety, as someone once said…
We go out on something of an epic. The last few weeks have seen a definite return to my Prog roots in this list, so I think it’s fitting that The Yellow Dress, the last song I’ll review for this, is seven minutes long, begins with sound effects, and seems to be built in sections, including a thunderstorm which ushers in the kind of thundering heartbeat we encounter when woken in the night. Like all good nightmares, this eventually subsides back to the calmer rhythms we need to get us back to sleep, although now – in a pattern all too familiar to us, the brain is now chewing things over; there’s an instrumental break where the two guitars outdo each other in trying to sound like something otherworldly without ever breaking the sonic spell this song weaves around itself. Like the best songs, the parts where the band push and prod, looking to see just how far this structure will bend, it doesn’t break. It all makes sense, in the context of the song; in the context of this wonderful, captivating album, and in the context of 60 years of music.
When I sat down and clamped on the headphones for the first time back in the August of 2021, wondering if there was anything at all new I could say about Revolver, and I heard the opening strains of Taxman, I didn’t know where this journey was going to take me. I had no idea if I could even do this – make time to write a significant number of words every week, and try to keep it interesting and not too repetitive. Here at the end of the road, an album which didn’t exist when I started seems to me the perfect capstone to the whole thing. As I planned this week’s post, I initially thought I could tie it back, almost song by song, to all that has gone before (Sandy Denny and Led Zeppelin III survived from that idea, but a lot ended on the cutting-room floor which is my brain), but I think that would have done it a disservice – this is new music; building, like everything else in here, on what has gone before, and looking out to an uncertain but exciting future.
It’s been a blast. Thanks for sticking with it all these weeks, if you did, and thanks for dropping in if this is your first visit. Have a look around; there might be at least one other album in here you like….
Any other albums by this artist to consider?
Nope. First album, and all that.
Compilations to consider?
No, but there are a couple of live clips on YouTube…
Well, an enormous back catalogue. Just this once, however, while encouraging you to check out everything these musicians have done before, I’d also encourage you to pick something from the other 59 on here if you don’t already know it, and give it a whirl. You never know what you might find.