Tag Archives: rock

188. Deep Purple – In Rock

Deep Purple - In RockIf there was an embryonic trinity for heavy metal, with Led Zeppelin bringing the riffs, and Black Sabbath delivering the scary, then this is the album where Deep Purple brought the batshit insane.

In fact, Deep Purple had been around for a while, with some success, but it was “In Rock”, their fourth album, and their first with the classic lineup featuring Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, that cemented (get it?) their reputation.

The opening solo of “Speed King” sounded like nothing that had ever existed before, a cacophony of axe-mangling that would have made Led Zep and Sabbath spill their tea. Then after some unnecessary organ fiddling, it bursts into an orgy of Little Richard lyrics (nice touch), introducing an entire new hellscape of fast, hard metal.

The second track, “Bloodsucker” is mellow enough to let you take a breath, even if it sounds like meandering jam session, but things heat up soon after.

“Child in Time” is a monster. It’s long, it’s bold, it’s loud and it’s many things mashed into one. It starts with what sounds like a reflection of Deep Purple’s psychedelic roots, with gentle vocals that channel Jim Morrison (as well as sounding puzzlingly like Tony Hadley), and takes up a quarter of the entire album. There’s no time for nostalgia though, as it steps up quickly into some powerful guitar work from Ritchie Blackmore, including a three-minute solo that’s nothing short of spectacular. When the psychedelia comes back (at around the six-minute mark), it’s back with full rock afterburners on, with high-pitched choral screams that might have inspired Queen.

“Flight of the Rat” isn’t quite as epic, but it does mix the psychedelic and the thrash together neatly, plus it brings a great bit of wah-wah silliness at 4:46, as well as some great drumming at the 7-minute mark.

“Into the Fire” is riffy and more conventional, but it’s effective and exciting. It’s followed by “Living Wreck”, which is the most traditionally Deep Purply track as well as being the runt of the litter. Still, it manages to steal some effects from “Hush”, and there’s even some of the “Smoke on the Water” riff hidden in there.

The album concludes with “Hard Lovin’ Man”, which harks back once again to the band’s 60’s roots, with some ace electric piano and Moog-mangling, but it also has a high-tempo metal riff that feels ahead of its time and goes out in an orgy of distortion and feedback that would make Kurt Cobain proud.

As an album, “In Rock” was never quite as iconic as “Led Zeppelin II” or “Paranoid”, but as you listen to it you can hear Iron Maiden, Van Halen and Twisted Sister being conceived on the mixing desk, and that’s just on the first track.

Even with one foot still planted in the sixties, “In Rock” manages to stand as a bold statement of what rock music was going to become.

187. Led Zeppelin – III

Led Zeppelin IIIIt’s easy to forget sometimes that there’s another side to Led Zeppelin, at least if you’re listening to them in these early career stages anyway. The blues to rock to epic bang that defined tracks like “Communication Breakdown” and of course, “Whole Lotta Love” were, by this time in their career, the Zep’s trademark, but they did alright on the softer acoustic side as well.

I never particularly liked Led Zeppelin III growing up, despite the fact that it begins with what is probably (one of) my favourite tracks, the blindingly exciting “Immigrant Song”. This is the first album that really explores that ‘other’ Led Zeppelin, with gentle acoustics and a mix of (blatantly nicked) folk-blues and weird Druid shit.

“Immigrant Song” is explosive, angry, frightening even, an adrenalised fury of howling vocals and thunder. It’s a song that came to define the Zep’s live sets (when they weren’t going drum batshit on “Moby Dick” anyway), and damn it’s good. Check this puppy out…

It’s been covered to death, recently and notably by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” soundtrack (it is quite a Scandinavian song), but for me the best ones are a VERY early and noisy Nirvana…

… and a rather more sedate but evocative acoustic cover by SOAK.

“Friends”, which follows, is the first taste of that ‘other’ Led Zeppelin on the album, with the band stretching their acoustic legs on a simple but intriguing number that even dares to have strings! (Judas!). But don’t fret, it ends on some nice Moog that leads into “Celebration Day”, a more traditional rock number.

“Celebration Day” isn’t the band’s most remarkable track (the critics weren’t kind to the rock numbers on Side A of this album), but it does come at you like a freight train, and the bass and lead guitars work in delicious synergy.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” returns to the acoustic, and is one of the more notable tracks on the album, full of soul and blues. Like three other tracks on here, it was ‘covered’ by Page and Plant for their MTV ‘Unledded’ performance and subsequent album “No Quarter”, mixed with a Middle Eastern orchestra and despite the strange surroundings, is more bluesy than ever.

“Out on the Tiles” is often overlooked, which is a shame, because it evokes the sound of their first album and ends the A-side nicely.

Once the vinyl flips though, the real essence of this album starts to come out. It starts off with a rousing (and once again pilfered) cover of Leadbelly’s “Gallows Pole”, and is a grand new step for the band, not just acoustic but creatively structured and merging folk banjo with more familiar rock drums. It leans on tradition but is full of invention and never fails to excite.

It’s followed by “Tangerine” and “That’s the Way”, both among the band’s more gentle and emotional songs. Both incidentally were used to great effect in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”, with “Tangerine” providing the perfect outro (man, I love that film). “That’s The Way” also gets the “No Quarter” treatment, quite effectively.

“Bron-y-Aur Stomp” is a triumph of a track, sounding both richly acoustic and different to anything the band had done previously, while the album’s closer “Hats off to Roy Harper” is a surreal mix of slide guitar and distorted vocals that shows off Plant’s prowess as a blues singer.

It’s a fitting end to this album that the closing track leans on the blues tradition and acoustics rather than the usual crunchy riffs. When Led Zeppelin III was released, it got a rough ride from the critics (so much so that Page refused to give interviews for 18 months), but as Page himself stated, “Led Zeppelin III was not one of the best sellers in the catalogue because the audience turned round and said ‘What are we supposed to do with this?’—’Where is our ‘Whole Lotta Love Part 2’?”.

Led Zeppelin III has been redeemed over the ages, and it’s an album I warm to in a way that teenage me didn’t. The band would soon reach a creative zenith with “IV” and “Physical Graffiti”, but this is an important album, a reminder that in a world surrounded by Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin had the smarts to push the envelope a bit.

186. Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

After The Gold Rush - Neil YoungAs I mentioned in my previous review, Neil Young was a hard sell for me back in my youth. The ‘godfather of grunge’ was a singer-songwriter with a weird whiny voice, and “After the Gold Rush”, his third solo album and the first one I ever bought, was pretty far removed from Mudhoney.

So, I bought it, gave it a couple of listens and ultimately let it gather dust. There were a few highlights to be heard, like the original version of St. Etienne’s “Only Love Will Break Your Heart”, or “Southern Man”, the song that would later get Lynyrd Skynyrd so lyrically pissed off. But ultimately, there was nothing really exciting to be found here.

It’s a misconception that I’m not alone in. When the album was initially released, it fell on critical deaf ears, with Rolling Stone’s Langdon Winner savaging it as a “half-baked pie” that he couldn’t listen to all the way through.

Time though, has been kind, and with good reason. Those pedestrian-sounding melodies open up after a while, and this album grew in time to be a critical hit, and Rolling Stone itself rated it 71st in its “Greatest Albums of All Time” poll in 2003.

The album kicks off with “Tell Me Why”, a gentle but fulfilling start that sets the mood nicely. Throughout, “After the Goldrush” is reflective, even sorrowful, but not without hope. Is it an album about loss? Heartbreak? Or simply a hymn to the end of the 1960’s?

It’s a hard question to answer, but the best insights go into the title track, a surreal but haunting piece with lyrics that have long been puzzled over, but essentially it boils down to a three-verse structure reflecting on past (“Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming…”), the present (“There was a band playing in my head and I felt like getting high.”), and future (“Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying”). It’s soothing and a great example of Young’s distinctive wrong-octave singing.

“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” follows “Tell Me Why” as one of the more heart-rending songs of the album, and it becomes increasingly clear that this is an album about heartbreak. From this point of view, it feels rich and multilayered. And of course, it wouldn’t do not to plug the gorgeous Saint Etienne cover while I’m here (how adorable does Sarah Cracknell look in this by the way?).

The rock, and the vitriol, step up for “Southern Man”, a hard-hitting attack on racism in the south, with an early appearance by the 17-year-old Nils Lofgren on piano, and it’s followed by the charming “Till the Morning Comes”. The powerful and bleak “Oh Lonesome Me” finishes off the trinity of heart-tuggers, and the B-side is filled with more esoteric stuff, like the hopeful “Don’t Let it Bring You Down”, the beautiful “Birds”, and the charming “When You Dance I Can Really Love”. The album’s closers, “I Believe in You” and the short and folky “Cripple Creek Ferry” help realise this album’s charm.

“After the Gold Rush” is, for the most part, a gentle album, and it’s one that captures the best of Young, from heartfelt lyrics to vocal range to ability to combine country sentiments with the rock sound. He’d go on to bigger things with “Harvest” (so I’m told), but in the meantime, there’s a lot to discover here.