Monday, 29 December 2014

The Outfield - Play Deep (1985)

 Originally formed in Manchester under the monikers Sirius. B in the late 1970's, The Outfield spent many of their early years in conflict with the surging popularity of punk rock amongst the mainstream music scene in the UK. The Outfield originally adopted a more pop-rock sound and as such struggled to break through. The band disbanded although they returned a few years later under the name 'The Baseball Boys', played shows around London and recorded a demo that would eventually get them signed to an American label. Stateside record companies were impressed with the band's American style of sound and probably because their name contained the word 'baseball'. Following a final change of band name and thus becoming The Outfield, the band released their debut album Play Deep in 1985.

The album achieved incredible commercial success, reaching #9 on the Billboard 200 in early 1986 and going on to reach triple platinum status. This was partly due to the band championing a sound that the Americans just couldn't get enough of. Bands such as Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Boston and Dire Straits all enjoyed #1 albums between 1985 and 1986 and The Outfield's debut impressed most because of how honed their music style already style sounded. Little did the American public know though is that the band had been playing this kind of music for years already, albeit in small UK venues and as such away from the mainstream. 

'Say It Isn't So' was the album's opener and the first single released by the band. The video featured a young woman wandering through the hustle and bustle of northern English night life and four heavily-mulleted gentlemen (with white Stevie Wonder on keyboards) who very clearly looked like they knew what they were doing. They had the drumstick twirling, the fist pumping, the baleful staring and pointing directly at the camera; they had it all. The lyrics were quintessentially 80's, from the opening line of "you got me all screwed up so much I can't turn 'round/and I've been running about with some funny girls, I'm not so tough" to the lovelorn chorus of "say it isn't so, tell me I'm the only one". 
Second track "Your Love" was the one that nailed it for The Outfield and the one that essentially pushed the album so highly in the Billboard charts. The single hit #6 on the US singles charts and up to yet has reached over 17 million views on YouTube (incidentally the single reached #83 in the UK charts, highlighting the stark contrast in popularity from one side of the Atlantic to the other). Bassist and lead-vocalist Tony Lewis's singing style is just perfect for the kind of music The Outfield were playing. Play Deep was full of emotionally charged, heart on your sleeve moments and Lewis could convey that as well as anyone else around that time. The bombastic, gang-vocals on the chorus lyric "I don't wanna lose your love tonight" sounded like Van Halen in their peak, not an English band fresh from their first album. 

The Duran Duran-esque "I don't Need Her" kicks up the tempo and adds a little more bite to precedings. It's worth noting that while Tony Lewis was lead vocalist, all the songwriting was done by guitarist John Spinks, a man that very clearly looks like he belongs in an 1980's rock band. His mullet was like a gigantic, blonde peacock and his fashion sense was something Freddie Mercury would have been very proud of. A talented songwriter and eccentric musician, Spinks sadly passed away earlier this year.
If you want to see just how popular The Outfield became in their first year as a mainstream band, go check out the video to "Everytime You Cry". The video was shot at a live concert, with a backdrop of an endless sea of hands and lighters. This is followed by the excellent, power-pop double header of "61 Seconds" and "Mystery Man".

One of the things I most enjoy about the band is that they play their music with a smile. If other British bands such as U2 and Depeche Mode are a little bit too serious for you then The Outfield are a fine substitute. Even in videos for their most emotional, loveless-themed songs, frontman Tony Lewis can be seen beaming from ear to ear. The rest of the band carry a swagger and a good time vibe that very little modern British bands seem to want to harness. 

The next few tracks of Play Deep consist of the ten tonne ballad "All The Love", Mr Mister influenced "Talk To Me" and "Taking My Chances" which featured additional vocals from Spinks. The album is rounded off with "Nervous Alibi" which is a brooding ballad that gives Lewis a chance to really stretch his vocal chords.

Sadly, The Outfield's success was short lived. Follow up album Bangin' was a top 20 hit and was certified gold but popularity waned with each subsequent release. The band eventually announced a lengthy hiatus in the 90's but returned to play a couple of shows back in the UK. One of my favourite tales surrounding their reformation was that many of their shows were played in a small pub in the East End with many of the crowd unaware the band had sold millions of records in the US. Such was the polar opposite levels of popularity the band achieved stateside and back in their homeland. Following this was a complete disbandment of the band until in 2009 the original lineup reunited to record their 9th album Replay which was received with extremely favourable reviews.

The Outfield are still active today and I would love to catch them live someday. However with the recent death of Spinks the band's future is uncertain, though with modern popularity of bygone-era bands such as Fleetwood Mac, The Who and Black Sabbath then I guess anything is possible. One thing's for sure though if you like big hair and big tunes then grab a copy of Play Deep and relive one of the most playful, catchy and downright beautiful albums the 1980's had to offer.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Top 20 albums of 2014

2014 has sure been an eventful year and yet again it's a year that has given us so much great music. Over the course of the last 12 months I've sat down and attempted to rank the twenty albums that have left the biggest mark on me, whether it be through musical endeavour, talent, quality or just downright guilty pleasure.
As always, this ranking is based solely on my viewpoints and opinions and in no way is it definitive, therefore I'm not asking you to agree with me. It's just a bit of fun, innit?
One thing I will say though is that none of these decisions have been swayed by chart positions, album sales or how many times they've got naked to sell records. Go and listen to Capital FM if that's what you're after. This is pure and simply the music I've most enjoyed this year.

20. Taylor Swift - 1989

I'll admit, I've previously been very critical of Swift and her music. Her cack-handed attempt to revive country pop (Michelle Branch did it much, much better) and her never ending list of disgruntled ex-fellas have all led up to this, her fifth album, which for a 24 year old is impressive in itself. I'm a sucker for synthpop and this has it by the bucketload, while obviously being very well produced. This is one of many albums that have surprised me in 2014. Maybe I'll grow to like her one day, maybe even take her seriously. Who knows?

19. TV On The Radio - Seeds

For those that don't know, TV On The Radio are an art rock band from America and Seeds is their fifth album. Of all the things I enjoyed about Seeds, the sheer eclectic range of styles is my favourite. Very few bands get the balance between electronic and rock as perfect as this. As reflective, euphoric, gentle and poppy as any album released this year. 

18. Weezer - Everything Will Be Alright In The End

Now I don't know about you, but I fucking love Weezer. I could listen to Rivers Cuomo's eternally teenage outlook on life and love all day. Everything Will Be Alright.. marks an upturn following a couple of suspect albums. Weezer will always appear on any drunk playlist I make and I found plenty of tracks from this album that would make great additions. I already wrote extensively about this album and you can read all about that HEREEEEEEE.

17. Royal Blood - Royal Blood

Most people heralded the release of Royal Blood's debut as 2014's rock revival and while there have been much better rock albums this year, it's still an impressive album in itself from the Brighton duo. The dirty wails and drones of the bass guitar is something I've never really heard before in a mainstream album and I love the garage/blues rock feel of the whole thing. Whether Royal Blood become just another flash in the pan remains to be seen, but for now its good to just get down and dirty with the debut.

16. Gaslight Anthem - Get Hurt

It's literally impossible for these guys to make a bad album. I've been entranced with The Gaslight Anthem since The '59 Sound and my obsession is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Their blend of classic rock, punk and an endless supply of clever, lovelorn wordplay is a formula that never has to change because it's been perfect with every album, topped off by Brian Fallon's scratchy howl-like vocals.

15. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Probably the only time I've ever agreed with NME's end of year best album list (AM was not the best album of 2013 guys, give it a rest) St. Vincent is a damn fine album. I've been a fan of Annie Clark's work for a few years, including 2012's project with seminal filmmaker David Byrne, but none of it has grabbed me as much as this album. Some albums manage to capture the sound of a musician at their absolute peak, none more so than this. 

14. Future Islands - Singles

Over the years, there have been more and more bands that manage to capture the sound of the 80's and turn it into success. Future Islands are definitely one of them. I didn't know much about them until 2014, but with their fourth album Singles I've become quite a fan. There's all sorts of influences going on here, from Pet Shop Boys' knack for a tune to Human League's avant garde style of storytelling. I love an album that's good enough to make you want to check out the rest of the back catalogue.

13. The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream

It's been a long long time since I've heard a band champion the atmospheric, 'spacey' rock sound made so popular by U2, as much as The War On Drugs. So many bands try it and ultimately fall by the wayside, unable to tell the whole story and getting lost in the sound they're trying to create. Lost In The Dream is the best U2 album to be released in 2014 and yes I'm including the one made by the Irish botherers themselves in the equation. 

 12. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

The second album from 'Swedmerican' duo First Aid Kit builds on the success of the debut, without any need to change anything. The new dynamics and shift towards a more orchestral sound is a bold one but it results in Stay Gold becoming THE folk album of 2014. A lot of people who don't like folk such as myself can easily find something to love about Stay Gold, whether its the warm, soaring vocals or the big, heart-on-sleeve choruses. It's so easy to fall in love with First Aid Kit.

11. Ariana Grande - My Everything

I'm deadly serious. If you're not familiar, Ariana Grande played the eternally pre-pubescent Kat on Nickelodeon's fanny fest Victorius. She's certainly grown up now though and although i've probably lost about 400 man points from liking My Everything, its a damn fine album with a starstudded guest vocal cast. It's also been produced to within an inch of its life. Her acting might be shite but her music career is sky high. My Everything is just fire. Or maybe I'm just going soft.

10. Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways

The hype surrounding this album was enough to swallow a man, but rest assured it was (for the most part) totally worth it. Sure, Dave Grohl's lyrics sound like an infant wrote them but fuck that, this is rock and roll at its finest. It's imperative to point out that eighth album Sonic Highways is a concept album and one must watch the accompanying documentary to truly understand it, but it's very rewarding once you do. Grohl has said the next 'proper' album will be heavier and that is definitely worth getting excited about.

9. Temples - Sun Structures

I was absolutely blown away by Sun Structures from my first listen. How a bunch of twenty-something British upstarts could seamlessly transcend back to the 60's was completely beyond me. It's refreshing too that some bands don't feel like lyrics always have to be fully comprehended, because not many in Sun Structures even half make sense. Temples are definitely one to watch for the future. Of course, you can read my more expansive review of Sun Structures here - LINKY

8. SomethingALaMode - Endless Stairs

Simply put, Endless Stairs is the slickest electronic album of 2014. From when I first heard their collab with L.A indie band DWNTWN I instantly knew they were something special. The added orchestral elements push this beyond being just another electronic album, as well as its unwillingness to pigeonhole itself to just one genre. SALM definitely deserve more acclaim than they are receiving, so here's hoping 2015 is their year.

7. Sleeper Agent - About Last Night

About Last Night is an album full to the brim of good time, warm, fuzzy garage rock. There's absolutely no pretence here, It's the kind of music you can't help but smile about. It's the kind of album that if it was your first time seeing Sleeper Agent live, within minutes you'd have your drink raised while singing the words at the top of your lungs. Sometimes music tried to be too clever for its own good, and then sometimes it just wants you to throw caution to the wind and have a good time.

6. Pink Floyd - The Endless River

We have a lot to be thankful for in 2014. Out of all those things, the one we should be most gracious for is some higher power deeming this year worthy of The Endless River, Pink Floyd's fifteenth and final album, as well as their first release in twenty years. Created as a tribute to late keyboardist Richard Wright, The Endless river is a sporadic collection of guitar tinged ambient soundscapes. It's absolutely beautiful and I'd encourage anybody to listen all the way through, to give yourself up and to lose yourself in it's current.

5. Lights - Little Machines

No doubt about it, Little Machines is the best out and out pop album of 2014. Canadian singer-songwriter Lights has taken stock from recently becoming a wife and mother to create what I consider her strongest release to date. She's added a newer simplicity to her usual blend of abstract art style of songwriting and it just works on so many levels. Its only a matter of time before the inner mainstream circle invite her in, because Lights deserves big things. Read my extensive 5/5 review of Little Machines HERE.

4. Tinashe - Aquarius

I was as surprised as anyone with how much I liked this album. I'd heard about Tinashe a few months before its release and after hearing a few tracks I instantly got the feeling that this album would be something special. Despite being advertised as a RnB album, its so much more than that, carrying elements of trip hop, dubstep and electronica. Tinashe can sing, rap, probably even cure the common cold, who knows? One thing's for sure though, Aquarius has left a huge mark on me and it deserves all the acclaim it gets.

3. The Colourist - The Colourist

I've been a long time fan of American indie band The Colourist and the handful of tracks I'd owned previous to this album's release were listened to a hell of a lot. Thankfully, their self-titled debut was better than anything I could ever expected. It was the main soundtrack of my summer. The male/female shared vocal chemistry is what carries this album along. I've listened to this album to death since I bought it and I can see it continuing that way long into the future.

2. Lonely The Brave - The Day's War

Hands down the best rock album of 2014, although most surprising of all is that it's by a British band. Lonely The Brave are a band that are just as powerful on CD as they are live, as their set at Truck Festival was one of my live highlights this year. The lyrics carry a dark, atmospheric feel to them and the music is often fast, frantic and anthemic. While 2014 has not quite been the 'rock revival' that people anticipated, Lonely The Brave have proven that rock is not dead at all and it's a lot closer to home than we think.

1. Broods - Evergreen

So the best album of 2014 as voted for by myself, comes from New Zealand duo Broods. I fell in love with them around the release of their self-titled E.P, yet Evergreen completely took me over. As far as I'm concerned it's the perfect mix of trip hop, electronica and synthpop released this year. Broods have yet to break in the UK despite already being hugely popular in NZ as well as taking the U.S by storm, so I can only hope that changes in the near future. Evergreen is the perfect example of an album that doesn't have to try too hard to be considered a masterpiece.