Continuous Hit Music: R.E.M. – Out Of Time

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: R.E.M.
Title: Out Of Time
Original Release: 1991
Label: Warner Bros
Store: Peter Forsyth Auditorium, Glebe
Price: $15
(Original US pressing)

The early 90s was a bad time for vinyl. It was probably the worse time. Vinyl was forgotten. Cassette hung in there, but it was all about the CD. Many of the biggest albums of the era never saw a vinyl release. Lots have been reissued, but finding an album from the 90s is a pretty good find. And as I said in my last post, my day at Glebe Record Fair descended into a 90s day.

R.E.M.‘s Out Of Time is, of course, one of those biggest albums of the 90s. 18 million copies! That’s a crazy figure. It propelled the most beloved indie band in America to one of the biggest rock bands in the world. For many, R.E.M. would never be the same, or ever as good. Not for me, as I think a lot of their best work is still to come.

So here’s the thing I want to say about Out Of Time. It’s actually a bit of a weird record isn’t it? I think of it as one of the weakest R.E.M. albums. Second album into their Warner deal, it feels like they had no idea what they were doing, and they were trying everything.

It opens with a rap song featuring KRS-One. “Shiny Happy People” has three singers. There’s an instrumental. A total of 22 people play on the record. No two songs sound the same.

Sometimes that can be ok, a bit of diversity. But R.E.M.‘s best work is when the four diverse heads come together. Their best albums are of a single piece (the murky power pop of Murmur, the mortal folk of Automatic For The People, the cold electronics of Up, the fiery straight rock of Document and Accelerate). Their weakest are when they try to do too much in one go (Around the Sun, Reveal).

Some of their best songs are on this record. “Losing My Religion“, a song that will live on after R.E.M. are forgotten (in a few centuries time). “Country Feedback“, a fan favourite that is a live staple. “Near Wild Heaven“, “Low“, and more. There is just something really scattered and unfocused about the record. And even I’ve grown tired of “Shiny Happy People“.

My point is this. Out Of Time is the album that made R.E.M. into stars. And for every record after that, they tried to match it. Out Of Time became the one to beat. And it really shouldn’t have been. It obscured the rest of their career, and it’s a shame.

I’m still happy to own this album. R.E.M.‘s 90s vinyl is still rare. The 80s stuff has been reissued now. Last years celebration of 1991 missed out on this album, but one day these guys will look back and I will probably see this on record everywhere.

Continuous Hit Music: Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: Franz Ferdinand
Title: Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Original Release: 2009
Label: Domino
Store: Peter Forsyth Auditorium, Glebe
Price: $22.50
(Original UK pressing)

Glebe Record Fair. It happens twice a year, and it’s the biggest record fair in Sydney. It’s been going for as long as I remember, and I’ve gone every time it’s on (and I’m in town) for over a decade.

I started this journey of trying to not only expand my vinyl collection, but write about. Knowing full well that my feelings about it all will change over the course of the year. And it’s true, standing at Glebe Record Fair, I realised some of things I hate about vinyl.

First of all there’s a LOT of crap. And it’s the same crap over and over. The Beatles. The goddamn Beatles. It’s like every second bit of vinyl ever pressed was a Beatles album. And people still buy them! Who are these people? I would be surprised if at that record fair, there was less than 200 copies of Abbey Road in there.

It’s also a nostalgia fest. I’ve been trying to hunt down a fair bit of 80s indie, 90s alternative, or weird new things. And those boxes usually have no one thumbing through them. But the same old Led Zeppelin, Stones, Beatles and classic rock stuff – people line up to go through those boxes.

I didn’t get much that day. Only two records from that day will be written about. I decided after a bit of a wander that I am going to concentrate on the 90s stuff and later. I found a couple from Pacific Records, a former store that has become an eBay store. However, they are re-opening in Dee Why and I’m sure I’ll get out there and write about the store. They were having a half price sale as well.

The record. Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. This record is just three years old, and I loved it when it first came out. But I’ve fallen more in love with it in those three years. It is a loose, trashy party album. It is a perfect album to go walking to, or to get dressed to. In my mind, it’s better than their debut.

The big songs (at least in the UK) were “Ulysses” and “No You Girls“, both amongst the greatest guitar driven dance songs I’ve ever heard. The record never gets boring, and ends with the tender acoustic “Katherine Kiss Me“, perhaps the most direct thing they’ve ever done.

New release vinyl is going through a golden period. This album is generously split over two records, allowing the sound of each track some real space on the album. The sticker with the album name is over the shrinkwrap, leaving a lovely clean image of the cover. It’s a thick sturdy package – a real treat.

There’s one more Glebe Record Fair this year. Let’s see if I do any better at that one.

Continuous Hit Music: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Title: Cosmo’s Factory
Original Release: 1970
Label: Liberty
Store: Pigeon Ground, 102 Salisbury Road, Camperdown, Sydney
Price: $8
(Original AU pressing)

Pigeon Ground is a hidden treasure. It’s been there as long as I can remember. On this little road with no other shops around. This little shop that was rarely opened, that sold oldwares, second hand clothes and some records. They have a pretty big selection of secondhand stuff – focussing on soundtracks, fuck and soul. But plenty of pop rock too. They also have a new section, all imports, focussing on the beat records – be it Ramones or Gil Scott Heron. In short it’s a very cool store. I feel like a loser just walking in. I feel like I should own more film soundtracks or something.

A visit to Pigeon Ground is always an event. You’re never just ‘in the area’. It’s on the way to Newtown, so a quick stop isn’t hard. But there is no other reason to stop. You park on some odd suburban street and you make your way into the shop.

There’s always something to find at Pigeon Ground. I could walk away with half the shop. This week I decided I needed to stock up on my Creedence vinyl, having recently seen John Fogerty in concert. For $8, and in good condition, I was pretty happy to find Cosmo’s Factory.

Fogerty‘s recent Australian tour had a neat gimmick. Depending on your town, you got either Green River or Cosmo’s Factory in full. The Sydney show was Green River, which was great, because I love Green River. I hung off every note, and in order. Cosmo’s Factory though – that was a suprise for me. I’ve never really spent time with it as an album.

It’s one of the longest CCR albums. And it has lots of hits – 6 that charted here – including ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain‘, ‘Looking Out My Back Door‘, ‘Up Around the Bend‘ and more. Having spent more time with it, it’s pretty great. It’s rounded out by a number of solid rockers, a couple of cool covers and all the good things about a CCR album.

Hidden at the end of the record is one of Fogerty‘s best, and my second favourite Creedence song – ‘Long As I Can See the Light‘ (the first being ‘Wrote A Song For Everyone‘). A slow, soulful ballad that’s pitched at the very top of Fogerty‘s range, it’s a sombre end to a pretty good-time album.

This is an Australian pressing on Liberty Records. It has an excellent old ASSN Gold Record Award sticker on the bottom left. The artwork print is awful, but the record sounds pretty damn good.

Continuous Hit Music: Laura Nyro – Eli And the Thirteenth Confession

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: Laura Nyro
Title: Eli And the Thirteenth Confession
Original Release: 1968
Label: Columbia/Sony Legacy
Store: Red Eye Records, 143 York Street, Sydney.
Price: $36.98
(US reissue)

Red Eye Records in Sydney is an institution. It is by far the best record shop in Sydney. It used to be one of many, but as physical retail died off in the last few years, Red Eye was the one to survive. It’s my go-to for all my vinyl new releases. I love the staff, and they’re always good for a tip. The years have not been kind and it’s recently moved to a new smaller location. But it is still the best we have and I try to support it when I can.

And where else would you find an album as glorious as this one? Laura Nyro. Just typing those words fill me with music happiness.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of the 70s girls again. It happens every so often. Carole King‘s Tapestry, Joni Mitchell‘s Blue, etc. And this, Eli And the Thirteenth Confession, is perhaps the best of the lot. It’s overflowing with melody, of joy, of heart. Her tremendous voice soars, over her own piano led songs. And she’s terribly quirky. The albums flows in and out of hazy madness.

I hear her in the music of others. Most famously, Todd Rundgren‘s whole Something Anything album was a double record tribute to her. Regina Spektor‘s sound and restless muse gained her many Nyro comparisons. Most excellently, a whole episode of Sports Night was devoted to the spookiness of the song ‘Eli’s Comin‘ (later covered by Three Dog Night).

My favourite track is ‘Sweet Blindess‘. It’s the perfect drinking song – capturing the heady stops and starts of a night of getting on it, with trumpets whirling away in the back somewhere. But every song here is a classic.

This album was hard to find for many years. It was only available on expensive import for ages. And there was never a hit on this album, and Nyro still lacks a great one disc best of. She remains obscure – yet in her day she was a minor pop star. I guess in the long run, it’s maybe good to seel out and write that pop hit – just once. To pay the rent. She died in 1996, in obscurity.

The new vinyl reissue of this album is one of the prettiest I’ve seen. It doesn’t come in a fancy box, it’s just a well made standard copy. The record is hefty and sounds perfect – especially for an album where the detail is in the sound. The sleeve is sturdy, and has a neat trick. The liner notes fold outside of the back, bends over the cover and has the title and artist name. Lifting out the insert leaves that album image clean of all text. A really neat trick, and I wonder if it’s on the original. It’s all topped off by a black inner bag – a great small touch. Well done, Sony.

Random bits of writing around the web

I’ve been doing a bit of writing for other blogs in the last couple of months. Now, you can enjoy them here.

A Rational Fear – Searching For My Favourite Bland…
A sort of rant talking about band names.

MAX – Live Review: John Fogerty
Just like it says on the box, on the website for the MAX channel.

The In Sound From Way Out – Cheer up Sleepy Jean and Goodbye Davy Jones
A personal goodbye to one of my faves.

The In Sound From Way Out – Nada Surf exclusive album stream – “The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy”
An introduction to the new Nada Surf album stream for EMI Australia’s blog.

The In Sound From Way Out – Blur at the Brit Awards
A quickly written piece after watching Blur at this year’s Brit Awards.

Continuous Hit Music: Silver Jews – American Water

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: Silver Jews
Title: American Water
Original Release: 1998
Label: Drag City
Store: Big Star Records, 160 Magil Rd, Norwood, Adelaide
Price: $15.00

Big Star records is an Adelaide institution. Every major city in Australia had their premiere indie record shop. Adelaide’s was Big Star. It is, of course, named after the the great rock band (before that rock band got quite famous), and they would sell t-shirts and have stickers that recreated the logo from Big Star’s #1 Record. I would wear my short overseas and people would think it’s the band.

In the last 10 years, CD and physical retail has taken a blow, and taken many of this country’s great record shops with them. Big Star in Adelaide closed their city store. However, the original store in Norwood, a little corner shop really, still exists. It’s not far from the city, and Norwood is a pretty cool hub these days.

There’s not a huge selection, but there’s plenty of new indie CDs and box sets, etc. Whereas a shop like Canberra’s Landspeed has expanded to t-shirts and merch, Big Star is all about – or just about – the music. There are small new and used vinyl collection – with some collectables. There wasn’t much, but I assume with the record fair and so many tourists in town, maybe the shelves were cleared before I got there.

What was on the shelf was a new copy of American Water by the Silver Jews. Quick check on the Drag City website shows it’s currently in print. I assume this is just evergreen stock for Big Star. This record, I assume, was one of their biggest sellers at a time. This almost totally forgotten record.

This album was pretty big news when it came out. It was the Pavement angle – Stephen Malkmus plays on this record, and with other members of Pavement on previous Silver Jews albums. The last Pavement album, Brighten the Corners, was so good, that people bought whatever Malkmus did next. I certainly did. I just wanted to head back into the world that Brighten the Corners had brought me into. With some added David Berman.

It seemed like, for a whole year, everyone listened to this album. Both Youth Group’s Toby Martin and Soap Star Joe covered songs from it immediately (Random Rules and Honk If You’re Lonely Tonight respectively). Pitchfork gave it 10 out of 10. In a couple of years, the whole idea of what indie music was would change overnight. Until that day, this was one of the most loved and popular American indie records of the 90s.

The vinyl package doesn’t bring much to the party. A lyric sheet insert and a label that recreates the disc art. It was never a album with a great package anyway. But it’s a lovely vinyl record. It’s short and sweet and full of ideas. It’s a very lovable little album.

And I love it too. It’s one of those albums I know by heart. The weird lyrical asides, the catchy and dissonant guitars that slink over the songs. Then there was Berman, part hopeless romantic, part beat poet, with that deep Stephen Merritt voice. You’d think that this album would have propelled them to the next level, but Berman wasn’t really a star. Three more albums followed, but his method of indie rock fell out of style. Silver Jews broke up in 2009.

Continuous Hit Music: The Damnwells – No One Listens To the Band Anymore

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: The Damnwells
Title: No One Listens to the Band Anymore
Original Release: 2011
Label: Clifton Motel
Store: Clifton Motel Website
Price: $11.99 US
(Original US pressing)

Sometimes the only way to get an album on vinyl is from the band directly. The Damnwells made my favourite album of last year, and it’s not even available on iTunes in Australia. So I coughed up the dough, and bought the last two albums by the Damnwells on vinyl for a bargain $12 Us each, plus postage. Bargain!

Even better, the vinyl is coloured. Sure, it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of sound, but it is occasionally pretty. On the other hand, the cheap cost meant that the package as a whole seems a bit filmsy. The artwork is pretty bare. But hey, the record still sounds pretty good, an the songs are fantastic.

It’s a silly thing, but it’s fun to take an album you’ve known and loved on CD or mp3, and discover where the side 1/side 2 gap. And to own the big artwork. And to get it in the mail or at a shop and just be filled with excitement. Because you love the music on here, but now you have it in your hands, and you’re about to enjoy it all over again.

For the last few years, I’ve always tried my best to at least get my top 10 albums of the year on vinyl. It’s not always easy, but seems to be getting easier with the internet. Just order them. It’s only ever the Australian bands who don’t make vinyl.

I know many won’t care about this band. If you’re eager to have a listen, I suggest Werewolves, the title track, the Great Unknown and … well any of them really.

It’s a few months into 2012 and I still happily spin this record every so often. The songs get better with repeated listens. New snippets of lyrics wash over. New guitar lines stick out. This is such a perfect record, and perfect records live on repeat listens. I’m looking forward to repeat listens for many years to come.

Continuous Hit Music: The Monkees – Monkeemania

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: The Monkees
Title: Monkeemania
Original Release: 1979
Label: Arista
Store: Arkaba Hotel, Glen Osmond St, Adelaide
Price: $3.33
(Original AU pressing)

Adelaide Record Fair is a new event on the calendar. It falls on the same weekend as the Adelaide Fringe festival, a wonderful time to be in Adelaide where the entire city is out, and many tourists are in town. There are plenty of other things going on, taking advantage of all the extra people. This record fair is one.

The mix of fringe, record fair and good friends was all the excuse I needed for a weekend away.

It’s new, so it’s small. It has two main stalls – Revolve Records from Erskineville (who is just down the road from me) and OzVinylJunkie, a stalwart of the record fair scene. It’s held in a mega pub, the Arkaba, just slightly out of the city main.

It’s not a huge selection, but hopefully it’s the start of something good. There was plenty to go through, and opposed to Parramatta, a friendly vibe and no one really trying to rip you off. I walked away with dozens of albums, many from the 3 for $10 boxes. This record is one.

Davy Jones passed away a few days before this record fair. I am a huge fan, and wrote a piece about Davy for EMI Australia’s blog. I adore my deluxe Rhino CDs, box sets and Monkees collections through the years. But the vinyl I’ve seen around have been mostly poor condition.

So it was nice to find this mammoth Monkees anthology. The name Monkeemania was recently reused by Rhino for a new collection, but this one is pretty definitive. No matter where you stand on how great this band is, you have to own at least 20 of the songs here. Over the 40, it hits all the big songs and the best album tracks. However, it does fall into the later years in the end – I’m not sure how often I will play side 4.

One of the best things about vinyl is that double albums make sense. These double best of collections are just a treat. If you’re a fan, you can really sit with them in an afternoon, pour over the artwork and really immerse yourself.

The music. So Clarksville, Pleasant Valley Sunday, both the Believer songs…they’re all here. Then there’s the lesser known track. Take A Giant Step, Randy Scouse Git, For Pete’s Sake, Cuddly Toy and so much more. It doesn’t capture everything, but no 40 tracks can (try the Music Box boxed set for that).

This probably sorts out my Monkees on vinyl for a bit, until I track down some high quality versions of the first four albums. The artwork is fun, and reflects their innocent pop image. There’s a full sleeve sized Monkees comic, and collage of magazine cut outs, photos and track notes.

There are times when I want to listen to the Monkees, and it’s tough to choose between those first few albums – they are all so good. But this will do for now.

Continuous Hit Music: Sunnyboys – Sunnyboys

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here

Artist: Sunnyboys
Title: Sunnyboys
Original Release: 1981
Label: Mushroom
Store: Parramatta Town Hall, Church St, Parramatta
Price: $50
(Original AU pressing – limited edition)

Continuing the adventure of Parramatta record fair (I bought so many records, I figure I can squeeze this out over a couple of weeks). Now, record fairs are great because of the range (hundreds of thousands of records in one roof) and the price (people know what things are worth, but still pretty competitive). But above all that, it’s the few times in life you actually get to see some real rarities.

If there is one rarity of Australian vinyl it’s the Sunnyboys‘ first album of yellow vinyl. I heard about the existence of this album for over a decade. A yellow version of the iconic blue cover. A limited, 2000 copy first run. I’ve been looking for this album ever since, and finally found it. At $50, it’s probably right on in terms of value. That’s what it goes for on eBay.

In Australia, there actually aren’t that many reknowned rarities. A handful of singles will go for a few hundred dollars. But that whole business of mono vs stereo versions and printing errors had gone out of style by the time Australian music got really good. Most of the really respected bands of the 80s that were Australian were usually signed to labels overseas. So in Australian record collecting terms, this is gold.

But I really don’t know the story of this limited edition. Anyone out there care to enlighten me? First – 2000 copies? That means I’ve probably met half the people who claim to own this on yellow vinyl. Was there a second printing? And why yellow vinyl? I know yellow was used on some of the early artwork of the band. Was it that simple?

Most importantly – the tracklisting differs. Not only is ‘Happy Man’, the album’s first single, not included, but there is a large sticker on the front telling us ‘Happy Man’ is not included. As if it was selling point. What is going on? I don’t know.

This album would be worth nothing if it wasn’t brilliant. It made number 37 in the book ‘100 Best Australian Albums’. For me it’s much higher than that, sitting around number 10. It’s a brilliant slice of edgy, jangly pop guitars bashing against the sombre, dark words of Jeremy Oxley. So many bands sound like this today – and I hope they know the Sunnyboys got there first.

The big hit from the album is ‘Alone With You‘. It’s one of the greatest songs to come out of Australia and is worth the price of admission alone. Even without ‘Happy Man‘ you have ‘I Can’t Talk To You‘, the frantic ‘It’s Not Me‘ and the brilliant closer ‘I’m Shakin’, and most bands would kill to make an album this good. Hell, most bands would kill to make an album COVER this good. Surely one of the most iconic images in all Australian music.

Sadly, the current CD version is awful, and no effort has been made to reissue this album, and it’s fallen away, almost forgotten. Unbelievable, but it’s happening to so many great Australian albums. No one is taking care of them.

Continuous Hit Music: Crowded House – Temple Of Low Men

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here.

Artist: Crowded House
Title: Temple Of Low Men
Original Release: 1988
Label: Capitol
Store: Parramatta Town Hall, Church St, Parramatta
Price: $3.33
(Original AU pressing)

Parramatta Record Fair is one of the staples of the Sydney record collecting scene. It has been going for many years. I went to my first one around ’98. You would see flyers for it in every record store. Twice a year, you’d make your way out to Parramatta, and fight it out with the various anoraks and weirdos that make up the record collecting set.

I’ve been away for years, and it’s like going back to your old family home. Has it shrunk? Or have I grown? There didn’t seem to be as many stalls as previous years. The variety was missing too. Secondhand CDs are worth almost nothing these days. And lots and lots of old records – and not selling for that much either.

It was a delight in the late 90s and early 00s. For all of the music industry’s excess, it was high time for quality CD box sets, and fancy promo items. Now you’re just fighting over a $5 Randy Newman album.

There is so much to say about this world. Like the way people treat eachother. Or the pair of charming older ladies talking to stall owners about gigs they once saw. Or the pair of young girls, who were impressively out of place. But that will be a story for another day.

$5 each or $10 for 3. You’d see that in a lot of boxes. For years I’ve avoided them, looking for more precious jewels. But this little blog project has set me back going through them. In one of these boxes I found this album – Temple of Low Men by Crowded House. Amongst 20 or 30 purchases that day.

I could have written about quite a few albums but this one is interesting. First of all, it’s not that easy to find. You see the first album around a lot, but this one is a bit rarer. And not because it’s more hunted… probably because it is less loved.

Common concensus is that this is the least of those early Crowded House albums. The debut, self titled Crowded House is an established classic (and Triple J listener’s favourite), and Woodface was the hit record with the best story. Together Alone has been reassesed in recent years, and has been declared an underrated classic. Which leaves us with Temple Of Low Men.

And yes, I would also say this is the 4th best album by early Crowded House. But it is a fantastic album. It just had two things set against it. It was a bit all over the shop stylistically. And it is hopelessly sad compared to their hopeful debut.

As the years go by, we see more and more that Neil Finn is powered by his melancholy. He can write a snappy tune with the best of them, but his body of work is tied to sadness. It’s just his radio hits that are bright. And it is this side of Neil Finn that blooms more than ever on this album.

Let’s not forget all the great songs on here. ‘Into Temptation‘ is the best ‘sad’ song Finn has ever written. ‘I Feel Possessed‘ is spooky and mysterious, and gifted with a chorus that most songwriters would kill for. And there’s ‘Better Be Home Soon‘. A song that everyone in Australia knows, and should have been a smash.

In a way, this album was the end of Crowded House. The bright, sunny joker-y of the first album could not be sustained. Tim Finn gave it a shot in the arm, but one more failure and it was all over.