Sunday, September 21, 2008


"Richard Wright: Wish You Were Here"
by Billy Altman
Mon Sep 15, 2008
from Stop The Presses!

The news that founding Pink Floyd member Richard Wright has passed away from cancer at age 65 will no doubt bring a barrage of stories detailing the assorted onstage/offstage twists and turns of the group's long career. And make no mistake: Over the years, the group's combination of both the bizarre and the bitter when it came to their internal affairs was as much a source of fascination to their legions of fans as their often brilliant music, which have generated enough album/CD sales that if laid end to end would probably stretch from the London architecture school where they first met in the early 1960s all the way to that dark side of the moon and back again--and probably a few round trip's worth at that.

Trips, of course, of both the physical and mental variety, were what Pink Floyd's earliest recordings such as "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Astronomy Domine" were all about--especially in the day-gloed days before their original guiding force guitarist Syd Barrett went on a few too many of them and had to leave the group. And while the emergence of bass player/songwriter Roger Waters and Barrett's skilled replacement David Gilmour certainly led the way for Floyd's ascension in the 1970s as one of rock's premier acts with 1973's aforementioned Dark Side or 1979's epic The Wall, it was in many respects Richard Wright's expansive keyboards that served as the musical compass that allowed Pink Floyd to continually (as the song said) "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun."

Those familiar with the band's history probably know that it was during the recording of The Wall that the increasingly difficult to work with Waters forced Wright out of the band as an "official" member, leading to an increasing period in the 1980s in which the keyboardist toured with his own group--as a salaried accompanist. It wasn't until the latter part of the decade after Waters finally left the band--and unsuccessfully sued Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason over rights to the Pink Floyd name--that Wright rejoined as a full member. (In the interim Wright released a solo album, fittingly titled Identity.)

Anyone who saw Wright perform alongside Gilmour, Mason and yes, Waters, too, in their short but power-packed set at the Live 8 megaconcert in England in 2005 can attest to the still potent collective sound made by this ever-strange quartet of players.

And wherever Wright and Syd Barrett (who physically left this planet a few years ago) may now be, here's betting they're plugging in and getting ready to check out that piper at the gates of dawn.

Friday, September 12, 2008


"Will those feet in modern times
Walk on soles that are made in China?"

So asks The Verve's vocalist Richard Ashcroft in the standout track "Love Is Noise" from the band's new CD, "Forth".

Released on what appears to be the band's own label, On Your Own Records, "Forth" is the first proper album by The Verve since 1997 (if you don't count their "best of" CD, "This Is Music: The Singles 1992-98", released in 2004).

What happens to a band when it dissolves at the top of its game (as The Verve did after 1997's masterpiece "Urban Hymns") then doesn't reunite to release new material for over ten years? Sometimes the results can be abysmal, but sometimes it can be inspiring. The latter is the case with the wondrous "Forth".
At times it sounds like The Verve never left, because there is a comfort zone for Verve fans in much of this new disc. There may not be any "Bittersweet Symphony", "Slide Away", "Blue" or "Weeping Willow" on "Forth", but there are electric neo-psychedelic tracks such as "Noise Epic" and "Columbo" and prettier tunes like "I See Houses" and "Valium Skies". But along with the kinds of things we fans would expect to hear from The Verve there are some new things to behold.

Richard Ashcroft still writes songs about life, love and loss. He is still in amazingly good voice, if not actually better than he has ever been, if that is possible. Nick McCabe has not missed a beat with his highly-crafted guitar sounds; he still has a knack not just for creating intriguing sounds and textures, but for knowing why they must be created to make each song work. Simon Jones' bass lines still plod, gallop and weave their way through every song, and drummer Pete Sailsbury's steady hands and feet drive the band each and every way.

What is different here from past Verve efforts is in the song structures. For those of us who have been fans of The Verve for the last decade or more, who would have expected a tune with an uptempo dance beat and highly polished vocals? "Love Is Noise" is fantastic. When I hear this song, I realize it is one of the most incredible-sounding things I have heard in a long time. This one drives. It starts off with some chord changes that might have serious music listeners thinking "What in hell are they doing here?" About 1-2 mintues into the song, it suddenly falls together and makes frightening sense. Frightening as in awesome, in that these guys are modern rock and roll gods when they want to be.

Not only will you hear the band playing with less of a wall of sound and with smarter, intricate arrangements, you will also hear marked tempo changes within songs. You will also hear more keyboard sounds present in the mix. The Verve has always been a bit experimental, a band on a journey, their sound maybe not quite portraying a feeling of completion or of place. This time around, they have matured. It's kind of like a good wine that has aged a bit, and the aging process has helped the finer aspects of the flavor to stand out.

I doubt that The Verve released "Forth" to prove anything. I think it is because they may believe that as a band they add up to way more than just a collection of individuals, and this is some of their finest expression; they still have plenty in their tank, and they want to share it with their fans. As a group they still swerve, drop, grind, and whirl through sludgy psychedelic landscapes as well as they finesse their way through beautiful tunes such as the remarkable album-closing ballad "Appalachian Springs".

The CD art, outside and in, contains some gorgeous pictures of clouds taken from above. The visuals describe the auditory: an above-the-clouds experience.

The Verve tend to be an acquired taste for some listeners. At times they can sound harsh and brutal; at other times they sound heartbreaking, tender, beautiful. Their body of work has covered a wide range of emotions withing an infinite range of evocative sounds. If you are a first-time listener, give the disc a few listens and allow yourself the chance to be drawn in by it. If you are a Verve fan already? Kick back and enjoy!

There has been a lot of good music released in 2008. Radiohead released what could be seen as a comeback of sorts with "In Rainbows". Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" is very, very good, and so is M83's "Saturdays=Youth". REM made a trimpuhant return to form with "Accelerate". Fleet Foxes have burst onto the scene as a sort of CSN&Y or Byrds for the 21st century. Some under-the-radar bands have released excellent CDs this year too, as with "Rook" by Shearwater, The Ruby Suns' "Sea Lion" and Elbow's "The Seldom Seen Kid". The Black Angels have followed up their wonderfully dark "Passover" with the equally psychedelic "Directions to See a Ghost", and Mark Kozelek's band Sun Kil Moon's "April" is one of the more naked albums I hvae heard in years.
Those are all great recordings... but for my money and for 2008, my "album of the year", so far, could well be "Forth" by The Verve.
I can't say how great it is to have them back!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

AUGUST 24, 2008