Trashed! L7 – ‘Bricks Are Heavy’

For a brief period in the early-nineties, L7’s abrasive, metallic, punk-rock sound crossed over into the mainstream. They’d already released two albums of their ferocious grunge before they recorded Bricks Are Heavy with Butch Vig. That LP, and in particular, its lead single, the slacker anthem Pretend We’re Dead chimed with the zeitgeist, got a lot of airplay, caught imaginations and become a surprise global hit.

No one would claim that L7 achieved universal popularity, but they were loud, brash, self-deprecating and funny and they put out some of the most memorable tracks of the brief period when grunge was everywhere. L7’s contribution to that particular phenomenon is often overlooked these days but Bricks Are Heavy is an essential album of the genre; solid quality from start to finish and with some moments of real inspiration.

However, that’s not enough for some folks. And some of them have registered their displeasure via the medium of the Amazon review.

Some reviewers, like N in 2018, get straight to the point

“I HATE IT”

That’s the title and those are her capitals. The entire review reads:

“Wasn’t the music I thought it would be. Please take it back.”

No explanation of what she was expecting or why she bought it in the first place, but she gets across her opinion pretty succinctly. As does S, who dismisses Bricks Are Heavy, with the exception of Pretend We’re Dead, as “90s dirge”.

SBS employs a different tactic, lulling the reader in with a little praise to reassure everyone that he’s a considered and reasonable person:

“I respect that this band was an innovator in the grunge movement”

It’s a two-star review, so you know there’s a ‘but’ coming:

“But the songs are not that strong making this more form over substance.”

There it is! In fact SBS is so reasonable that he offers L7 some useful retrospective career advice:

“This band would have been better off steering towards a more melodic direction (the naysayers will call that going “pop”, “selling out”, “going commercial”). When you are a band, a good band, it’s not because you’re in a certain genre, or you are a pioneering feminist movement or anything else. Good songs/musicianship/arrangement are just that. Grunge is fine music but there’s only so much that you can do with it. This band should have taken a hint from what Joan Jett did and sprout some wings and develop and progress. They should have pursued the nuances of the bandmates and pulled from the grunge.”

No doubt L7 will be kicking themselves for not having received the benefit of SBS’s wisdom back in the ‘90s and transformed themselves into a completely band. Too late now, sadly.

CW is also dishing out free advice; this time to potential buyers:

“Save your money and down load from I TUNES”

As is an anonymous reviewer from 2000:

“Save your pennies… you will be bored with the CD within a few spins.”

That review finishes with this cryptic sentence:

“Courtney Love is still the girl with the most cake.”

Now that’s one to ponder. CLD is also pretty thought-provoking in her review from 2003.

“Feminism is more than just tampons and big boots…”.

And that’s just the title. CLD goes on to credit herself with having her finger squarely on the pulse:

“British fans of the feminist Riot Grrrl movement will, or indeed, should know that it’s taken a good while for this pretty underground phenomenon to reach our shores and get anywhere near the level of recognition it should. L7, along with the likes of Bikini Kill, Babes In Toyland, Luna Chicks have been battering away at their guitars and rambling into mic’s about the life of your average everyday riot grrrl for a good few years with only a few of us finely tuned individuals paying much attention.”

Just to reiterate, this was written in 2003, several years after every single one of the bands CLD lists had split up and more than a decade after Riot Grrrl movement peaked. Truly CLD is a “finely tuned individual”. She reckons that “L7 had all the balls but not much originality”, gives Bricks Are Heavy zero stars and recommends that “beginners to the scene” look elsewhere because “the joy is found more in the message than the musical content here and we wouldn’t want to put you off!”

But if you thought CLD was patronising, B’s 2013 review takes condescension to a new level. Look away Riot Grrrls, here’s the title:

“There’s a reason why women and conventional anger is a difficult combination”

Ouch! The review itself says:

“The songs on “Bricks are Heavy” are not genuinely hard or even remotely emotional or “beautiful”; rather they are extremely conventional hard rock with a different lyrical attitude.”

“The vocals of Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner and Jennifer Finch are extremely bland and lacking in any sort of feeling whatsoever.”

And:

“the moodiness is so superficial”

Before this knockout closer:

“Women singing with an angry tone is awkward for biological reasons, and Sparks, Finch and Gardner do not even since [sic] with an “angry” tone here, rather L7 offer ordinary hard rock songs devoid even of hooks.”

B is all over the place here and leaves a lot of questions hanging. Are L7 attempting to sing in an “angry tone” or not? What’s so different about their “lyrical attitude”? And, most importantly, what are these “biological reasons”? We may never know, but it’s safe to conclude that B is just the sort of clueless, misogynistic dipshit that L7 would’ve really enjoyed eating alive.

l7-banner

Trashed! The Velvet Underground & Nico

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

‘Fuel My Fire’ by L7 covered by The Prodigy – Magnificent Cover Version No.18

 

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‘Transmission’ by Joy Division covered by Hot Chip – Magnificent Cover Version No. 35

Transmission comes as close to being archetypal Joy Division as any track in their incredibly strong but tragically brief discography. Released as a single between their two albums, Unknown Pleasures in 1979 and Closer in 1980, it’s intense, captivating, claustrophobic and with the palpable sense of threat that this unique band were capable of conjuring up at will.

Like all Joy Division songs, it’s haunted by the ghost of Ian Curtis. The depth of his lyrics is matched by the sincerity and desperation in his voice. He was just 22 when Transmission was recorded, but he sounds much older. Much wearier.

And we would go on as though nothing was wrong
And hide from these days we remained all alone
Staying in the same place, just staying out the time
Touching from a distance
Further all the time

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio

It’s affecting, unsettling, electrifying and beautiful. It’s perfection.

So why would anyone cover it? What would make an indie, electro-pop band like Hot Chip dip into Joy Division’s iconic legacy and tackle a cover version of Transmission? The answer is that Joy Division asked them to, as part of the 2009 compilation War Child Heroes

The concept behind this charity release was for music legends to pick one of their own songs and nominate a contemporary artist to cover it. Bob Dylan nominated Beck to do Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, Paul McCartney picked Duffy to play Live And Let Die and surviving members of Joy Division chose Transmission and Hot Chip.

Hot Chip had the good taste both to be reluctant to accept the invitation – “we didn’t want to piss off any die-hard fans” – and to make the cover their own. They took the eerie paranoia of the original and replaced it with a laid back, sleazy, ’80s cocktail lounge vibe.

The opening is reminiscent of Talk Talk’s It’s My Life the it fades out at the end rather than building to a climax like the original. In between it settles into a Kraftwerk-like rendition with scribbly guitar motifs, robotic voices and synthesized steel drum sounds. It’s definitely Transmission and it’s definitely Hot Chip too. Peter Hook felt able to endorse it, “They seem to be having fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously. I like that.”

Someone who does take himself too seriously is Billy Corgan. It would be interesting to hear Peter Hook’s opinion on Smashing Pumpkins’ overblown, 13 minute long 1998 cover of Transmission. I don’t know what Hooky’s opinion is but I can give you mine – it’s shit.

 

The Dead Kennedys covering ‘Viva Las Vegas’ by Elvis Presley – Magnificent Cover Version No.31

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ by The Beatles, covered by The Breeders – Magnificent Cover Version No. 2

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

Trashed! The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Velvet Underground & Nico is undoubtedly one of the most influential LPs of all time. Released in 1967 as the band’s debut album, it launched the long careers of Lou Reed, John Cale and Moe Tucker.

It has become an enduring icon and a phenomenon. It initially sold only 30,000 copies, but has been certified platinum in the UK since. Brian Eno famously said that “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”.

The Velvet Underground & Nico is the 13th best album of all time, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, behind only artists like The Beatles, Stones, The Beach Boys, Elvis, Miles Davis and Dylan. Pitchfork rates it as the best album of the 60s. NME puts it third. The Observer rated it at number one in a list of albums that changed music and everyone, EVERYONE since has cited it as an influence.

But of course, not everyone likes it. And some of those who don’t have kindly spent some time providing considered and informed counter-arguments to all the glowing reviews on Amazon.

In fact there are A LOT of negative reviews. They can be roughly divided into three categories:

  1. Reviews by The Velvet Underground/Lou Reed fans who don’t rate this album
  2. Reviews by people who dislike the Velvet Underground.
  3. Reviews by people who hate The Velvet Underground and refuse to believe that anyone else really likes them either

Velvet Underground.jpg

So, let’s have a quick scoot through categories 1 and 2 before we get to the one that’s the most fun – category 3.

1. Reviews by VU/Lou Reed fans who don’t rate this album

PP considers Lou Reed’s Transformer to be a “masterpiece” while The Velvet Underground & Nico is mainly dreadful”, virtually tuneless rubbish and, in a meaningless reference to the album’s sleeve art, “definitely a banana skin”.

BBB5 also reckons Reed is a brilliant solo artist”, but just can’t see many people, in the 21st century, listening to this album and finding it a pleasurable experience”, because it’s “a pile of junk” and “nothing more than Andy Warhol’s joke, and he’s laughing at us all from beyond the grave!”.

Another, Anonymous reviewer reaches a similar conclusion. He/she grudgingly concedes that Lou Reed’s “talent developed gradually and is only slightly in evidence here” and that TVU&N is influential, but suggests that that’s the only reason people own it.

He/she then ponders:

“How much owners of this formerly obscure artifact from an excessive era really do listen to it? I mean even those owners who profess to be passionately devoted to it. I doubt very often.”

Any idea? Don’t worry, Anonymous isn’t going to leave that question hanging:

“I doubt very often. I imagine very seldom.”

So now you know.

2. Reviews by people who dislike The Velvet Underground

Typical for this category is this Anonymous reviewer:

“A good example of an album which is overrated to a degree that is surreal. One suspects that this has little to do with the music, and more to do with the mind set of the overrater [sic] on first hearing it.”

He/she doesn’t bother to explain what he/she meant by that second sentence before going on to criticise the singing, musicianship and compositions. But then, judging by the fact that the review is nonsensically titled “overrated overhyped overhere [sic]”, this reviewer just likes putting words together without worrying too much about what they mean.

JF describes it as “Tedious and limited” and ponders, “How this ever achieved cult status is a miracle”. For B, it’s “more about the cover than the music”.

WW is also unimpressed:

“After reading reviews in Amazon and references in Rolling Stone, I was sure I was going to love this album. I didn’t. It was poorly engineered, consisted mostly of disorganized sounds and didn’t seem to have any redeeming features.”

…but philosophical:

“On the bright side, it wasn’t very inexpensive, so my experience didn’t cost much.”

For AFABR, writing in 2005, it’s just too damn old:

“This was a classic in its day. Listning [sic] to this album in 2005 is truly painfull [sic]..it’s almost 40 years old. You do the rest of the math…..”

Meanwhile, PP doesn’t care about its age, just that it’s “virtually tuneless rubbish”. DB calls it “dated”, another Anonymous reviewer says “musically it is not up to scratch” and PM confesses to finding it “interesting but not my cup of tea”, which is fair and reasonable, but not as much fun as those in the next category…

3. Reviews by people who hate The Velvet Underground and refuse to believe that anyone else really likes them either

In his review of TVU&N, titled “The most over rated band/album of all time”, JC explains:

“This is the most self-indulgent of all albums.”

Before taking a deep breath and blurting out:

“It just has enough pretentiousness about it to be one of those things that people who want to appear cool and ‘with it’ will band about in conversations like they have this hidden knowledge of music and that these awful bunch of albums in some way define them as being more music obsessed more music knowledgeable and more ‘cool’ than you.”

Picture poor JC, constantly put down by pretentious Velvet Underground fans. He can’t take it anymore! He snaps:

“The only reason any C thinks it is a classic is because when your [sic] stoned off your Ts it probably does sound profane and remarkable but otherwise in the real world with a cup of tea maybe it just doesn’t have the same impact.”

No doubt he means profound rather than profane, but you’ll have to guess what he means by ‘C’ and ‘Ts’. He concludes his ranted review by saying “I’ve got proper music to be listening to”. Let’s hope he had that cup of tea and calmed himself down after writing this.

But there’s certainly no shortage of reviewers who agree with him. Like BD, who wrote this one-star review in 2007:

“VU remain amongst the darlings of the average bo-bo pseudo-intellectual, an acquired taste handed down from generation to generation.”

Not sure what he means by “bo-bo”? But BD obviously believes he’s seen through the hype. As does this Anonymous reviewer in 2001:

“This album is one of those records that is bought by sophomores in college who want to look cool. It is soooo avant-garde and so hip to buy an album all the other cool people say that you should have.”

Along the same lines is EF, ranting in 2006:

“I don’t understand why this band is so revered, and why it’s almost a necessity in certain social circles to pretend you like this band if you really don’t. This is not for listening to, this is for displaying on your shelf so you can look cool in front of your hipster doofus friends.”

SW, writing in 2004 is similarly nonplussed:

“For all of the hushed, awed appraisals of the 1967 VU release “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” I really doubt that anyone truly enjoys this album–those who claim to are simply falling victim to “Well-I-guess-I’m-supposed-to-like-this” syndrome.”

Finally, there’s SMR’s review, and subsequent debacle, which might shed some light on this whole ‘pretentiousness’ issue. In 2014, SMR wrote:

“There’s nothing in the world worse than people striving to be “avant-garde” It invariably leads to suffocating pretentiousness (like this junk). I truly believe that deep-down many of those who praise this album to the high-heavens are doing so to be “fashionable” and “more sophisticated”—it makes them somehow “superior” to us average bourgeois slobs with no “taste”—-YUCK…BARF!!”

This prompted RH to step in and take issue. He replied to SMR’s comment to point out:

“The Velvets practically created so many genres that it’s unbelievable. The Doors wouldn’t exist without them, nor would a good majority of the bands that have come out since.”

Predictably, SMR doesn’t like The Doors either. He replied that “the ‘mythologizing’ of Jim Morrison and The Doors has gone beyond the absurd”, but concedes that “they had a unique dramatic quality”.

Then comes a twist, with a third participant, G, coming out of nowhere to stick his oar in. He takes issue with both SMR’s dislike for The Velvet Underground and any tolerance for The Doors, replying to these comments with this pompous and ridiculously optimistic plea:

“But you do understand that the Doors suck, right? By all means like their music but at the same time wrap your mind around the fact that they are a pretty terrible group. I hope you do the opposite of that with VU. While understanding the music is not to your taste realize that they made great music and were one of the few truly watershed artists of the 1960s.”

Got that? So G will condescendingly allow you to enjoy The Doors, but insists that you must acknowledge that they’re shit. You must also concede that The Velvet Underground’s music was objectively great, whether you like it or not. G, who let’s remember, no one was talking to in the first place, has come blundering on to the scene to declare himself the unarguable arbiter of good musical taste.

Maybe it’s people like G that are the problem? Maybe all these negative reviewers are lashing out at the Velvet Underground because they’re sick of being lectured on them by dicks like G. If so, I can’t say I blame them.

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

Trashed! The Pixies

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

‘Like A Virgin’ by Madonna covered by Teenage Fanclub – Magnificent Cover Version No.34

Teenage Fanclub’s goofy cover of Like A Virgin is a joy. The sunny pop of this classic from Madonna’s early-period fits in perfectly with TFC’s own brand of uplifting love songs. Naturally, they play it with a fuzzed-up, shambolic, jangle but otherwise it’s pretty faithful. Weirdly, this quintessential Madonna track could be mistaken for a Teenage Fanclub composition, if only there was anyone on the planet who hadn’t heard the original.

Like A Virgin is the clear highlight on Teenage Fanclub’s understandably maligned 1991 album The King. There were rumours that The King was a quick way for the band to  fulfil a contract obligation with the label Matador, but the truth is it was a youthful joke that got out of hand. Norman Blake remembers the band saying, “Let’s make a LP overnight. We’ll just improvise some songs and do some covers and cobble it all together”. Creation boss Alan McGee liked the idea and his label pressed 20,000 copies of it before deleting it the same day. Truthfully, it’s one for big Fannies fans only.

Of course one of the main reasons there are plenty of big Fannies fans around is their next album, Bandwagonesque, released later the same year. It was a great record and a huge hit for the band. It became one of the essential albums of 1991, a year that saw more than its fair share of essential albums, with Nevermind, Loveless and Screamadelica among the other timeless classics to come out.

BandwagonesqueCoverArt

I have a confession. I didn’t buy Bandwagonesque until a few years after it came out. This is because I was still at school in 1991 and had a limited budget for record purchases. Consequently my record collection at that time was made up of a few, carefully selected full-price purchases, birthday/Christmas presents, occasional finds from second hand shops and stuff from out of sale bins in Woolworths, HMV and Our Price, supplemented with tapes recorded from friends. It was more a cobbled together mish-mash of gems and disappointments than a carefully curated expression of my musical self, but I loved it and cherished it. Much as I liked Teenage Fanclub, I had to wait to acquire their breakthrough album.

I waited a lot longer to acquire a Madonna album. I got The Immaculate Collection on CD around 2000 – looking over my shoulder furtively on the way to the checkout for fear of being spotted by anyone I knew. I bought it for reasons of nostalgia and also for having something I could stick on if my sister ever visited me. I quite like Into The Groove and Like A Prayer. Much prefer the Teenage Fanclub version of Like A Virgin though.


Teenage Fanclub have released quite a few other covers. These include versions of some of my favourite songs of all time; The Velvet Underground’s Who Loves The Sun, Pixies’ Here Comes Your Man, The Beatles’ The Ballad of John and Yoko and Nirvana’s About A Girl, which is particular excellent. The other cover on The King is Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive. It’s not great.

‘Love Buzz’ by Shocking Blue covered by Nirvana – Magnificent Cover Version No.11

‘Judgment Night’ Soundtrack – Rap Rock’s last stand

‘Different Drum’ by Linda Ronstadt, covered by The Lemonheads – Magnificent Cover Version No. 27

 

 

Trashed! ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure

Disintegration is The Cure’s highest-selling album and the one that saw them cement their place as an arena rock band, in the UK, Europe, America and Japan, at a time when that was still a huge achievement for an ‘alternative’ rock band. In terms of popularity, the album represents the peak of The Cure’s career, after more than a decade and seven previous albums of atmospheric, bittersweet, dark and joyous music.

In addition to its commercial success Disintegration was ecstatically received by critics. It was Melody Maker’s ‘Album of the Year’ in 1989, while Q listed it as the 17th best album of the ’80s. It made it on to both the US and German editions of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003. Pitchfork says that “Disintegration stands unquestionably as Robert Smith’s magnum opus”.

The 3 million+ copies of Disintegration sold worldwide mean that it’s certified ‘Gold’ across Europe and ‘Platinum’ in America. It also spawned four successful singles – Lullaby, Lovesong, Pictures of You and Fascination Street – which brought the band unprecedented levels of airplay and attention.

With Disintegration The Cure pulled off that rarest of tricks; producing an album that finds huge mainstream, commercial and critical success without alienating their original fans.

But of course, not everybody likes it. And some of those who don’t have been good enough to write Amazon reviews warning potential buyers to tread carefully before spending £5.32 on a CD.

There are not enough words to describe how awful the complete waste of time called “Disintegration” really is. Horrible, disgusting, nasty, wretched, and atrocious doesn’t even begin to describe the listening experience.”

That’s the considered opinion of JX, as expressed in a 2004 review titled “An Epic Pity Party”JX continues:

“Asking me to listen to the Cure or U2 is like asking me whether I would like to be shot in the gut or kneecaps.”

JX also reckons:

“They add complex melodies just to show how pretentious they are.”

Really? Is that why those melodies are there? To show how pretentious they are? I’d always thought they were part of the music in some way.

DPG is also unimpressed, heading his/her review “Garbage” before explaining:

“The Cure were best when they did fun pop songs, like in the 80s and early 90s!”

Fair enough…

“Pop songs are what gets played on radio, and the radio is the only sure sign of what’s good in music.”

Wait. What? “The only sure sign”? That doesn’t seem right. I heard Nickelback on the radio once…

“Obviously this album doesn’t get played on the radio.”

Ah, OK. DPG has subtly implied that Disintegration is no good because it doesn’t get played on the radio. This seems like a flawed argument, because a) “what’s good in music” is entirely subjective, b) it fails to take into account the commercial pressures on radio stations which restrict the variety of music that they are able to broadcast, and c) the singles from Disintegration got a shitload of airplay.

So DPG fluffed that argument. Maybe he/she will have more luck when discussing mental health issues:

“Smith’s mopey vocals sound so much better when he’s in a good mood. And why wouldn’t the guy be in a good mood? HE MAKES MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!!”

Nope, DPG fluffed that argument too.

Despite awarding Disintegration three stars, JM also finds the album a bit of a downer:

“so depressing it’s hard to take for more than 20 minutes.”

Conversely, MDG describes the album as “Carnival Music”, adding that in his opinion it “Sounds like a carousel; droning around and around”.

Meanwhile, BS calls the album “puzzlingly popular” and says that on it Robert Smith’s songwriting is “at an all-time low”. The review concludes with the statement, “Smith never had the juice for a long term career in my opinion”. Now, BS wrote this is May 2000, by which time Smith had released 11 studio albums with The Cure over the course of nearly a quarter of a century. Eighteen years later, The Cure are still going, and have slipped out another couple of well-received albums, so maybe Bob did have the “juice” after all.

BS gives his review the title “Overlong and dull”, and he’s not the only reviewer to criticise Disintegration for being too long. None is more vehement in this criticism than CS who, somewhat ironically, drones on for fully 400 words about how long it is. The review, titled “Slow, Boring And Long”, includes a description of each song – “Fascination Street: Not ‘fascinating’ at all!!”.

BS gives Pictures of You and Lullaby four stars and Love Song and Disintegration five stars, but the album itself receives a disappointing two stars overall. “Moodiness is not what I expected from The Cure!”, she says.

So to recap, contrary to popular opinion, the album described by Kyle Broflovski from South Park as ‘the best album ever’ is actually a “disgusting, nasty listening experience”, “pretentious”, unworthy of radio play (the only real mark of quality music), “depressing”, “carnival music” with “mopey vocals”, substandard songs and way too long. Probably not worth £5.32, in that case.

Interestingly, none of the negative reviewers I’ve found have picked up on my main criticism I have of Disintegration – that synthesizer sound always, always reminds me of the original theme music from Casualty.

 

 

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

‘Just Like Heaven’ by The Cure covered by Dinosaur Jr – Magnificent Cover Version No. 10

Trashed! The Pixies

‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel covered by Silverfish – Magnificent Cover Version No. 33

You can’t fault charismatic London indie punks the Silverfish for their ambition in covering White Lines (Don’t Do It). They take Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s early hip-hop classic and give it an unhinged, noise rock spin. Nobody would seriously claim it improves on the original, but it’s good, raucous fun; like something belted out at the end of a drunken rehearsal, just to amuse the band.

The distinctive bassline is thoroughly distorted but still recognisable somewhere beneath the wailing feedback, rumbling drums and Fuzz Duprey’s squally, phased guitar gibberish. Lesley Rankine delivers the rap in her gruffly aggressive way and most of the lyrics seem to be there. I haven’t checked that, to be honest. That’s not part of the service I’m providing here, which can be summarised as drawing your attention to/reminding you of/making sarcastic comments about this particular cover version. Feel free to compare the two versions for yourself. Here’s the Silverfish.

Silverfish were active between 1988 to 1993 during which time they made quite an impression on anyone who heard them at their thrillingly chaotic live shows or via their various Peel Sessions. Their uncompromising attitude and warped sense of humour secured them plenty of music press coverage too, despite the overriding popularity of baggy, indie-dance and shoegaze bands at the time.

White Lines was one of the highlights on the Silverfish’s first full-length album, Fat Axl, released in 1991, the follow-up to the previous year’s brilliant, 1990 mini-album Cockeye. Like most good things, it was produced by Steve Albini, under the pseudonym of Ding Rollski.

Silverfish Fat Axl

Fat Axl was well-received by critics and fans alike but was too raw, uncompromising and resolutely uncommercial to ride the US grunge wave that was just starting to gather pace –  though they did make a memorable appearance in the early afternoon at Reading 1991, sandwiched between Babes In Toyland and Nirvana.

Of course these days the phrase Fat Axl is more closely associated with a series of memes taking the piss out of Axl Rose for being overweight. They’re not that funny – generally featuring painful puns that crowbar junk food items into Guns ‘n’ Roses lyrics – but Axl himself has stepped in to give the situation some humour by demanding that Google removes them from the internet, and seemingly expecting that to happen.

The Silverfish’s next, and last, album Organ Fan (1992) did slightly better commercially than its predecessors, despite a sludgy mix that diluted the band’s attack. It also spawned what may have proved to be their most lasting legacy; the feminist t-shirt slogan ‘Hips, Tits, Lips, Power’ – taken from the chorus of single Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal. This garment quickly became extraordinarily popular with badass indie girls.

That t-shirt and that slogan may have lived long in the mind, but the Silverfish deserve to also be remembered for the brash, witty, aggressive and downright life-affirming majesty of their music.


Whilst ‘researching’ this post I discovered that Duran Duran took a lead from Lesley, Fuzz and the boys and released their own cover version of White Lines in 1995. If you click this link you’ll be taken to the official video for the single. It features Simon Le Bon and whatever the rest of them were called, leaping around, like they’re McBusted or something, despite being immensely old by this time. Probably best if you don’t click the link.

Silverfish

‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk covered by Big Black – Magnificent Cover Version No.17

Shellac – Live @ The Asylum, Birmingham

1000 Homo DJs covering ‘Supernaut’ by Black Sabbath – Magnificent Cover Version No.32

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

Never Mind The Bollocks is everything a ‘seminal’ album should be – powerful, influential, controversial, timeless. It’s an iconic, genre-defining masterpiece held up as an inspiration for most of the great bands that have followed in the decades since, as well as several of the shit ones.

Forty years on from its release, it’s always included in greatest albums lists for its cultural significance, its furious power and its fearlessly abrasive attitude. It’s also stacked with genuinely great songs. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, you can’t listen to it again without being affected by it one more time.

It goes without saying that Never Mind The Bollocks isn’t meant for everyone. The whole point of the Sex Pistols was to upset and antagonise and their only proper album encapsulates this. It polarised opinion in 1977 and it’s doing the same thing now.

Nowadays those who feel confused or offended by the Sex Pistols have the opportunity to get their opinions out via online reviews. And boy do they take that opportunity!

“TOTAL PISS…..god save my ears”

That’s the title of a review from one anonymous Amazon UK commenter. The review, that’s heavy on anger, but light on punctuation, gives Never Mind The Bollocks the minimum one star, stating:

“the sex pistols the worst band in the world a bunch of spotty bums “playing” instruments they haven’t got a clue how to play and just winging [sic] and making a dreadful sound.”

The review continues (unedited):

“the sex pistols surely did pull the wool over peoples eyes in the late 70’s when real music was happening i bet they thought lets make an album of bollocks say a swear word on television and then we will have huge success… and one other thing jonny rotten can’t sing”

Predictably, the ‘they couldn’t sing or play their instruments’ cliche is a recurring theme from the negative reviewers. JJW is among the most vehement in taking this line:

“I have never accepted “punk” as a form of music because it takes NO TALENT WHATSOEVER to play a generic pair/trio of chords. Just learn to play guitar for a few months and you’ll be able to “play” this garbage effortlessly.”

JJW may not be sure how many chords you’d need to master to play the Sex Pistols’ music, ‘effortlessly’, but he’s absolutely certain that it would take “NO TALENT WHATSOEVER”. Some people call that the democratising power of punk, obviously not JJW.

Over in America, HC isn’t a fan either:

“I hate the Sex Pistols. I bought the album and then sold it the next day.”

This might seem like HC hasn’t given Never Mind the Bollocks the chance to grow on him, but it’s understandable when he explains the peculiar effects it has on him:

“I can’t listen to that annoying whine without gritting my teeth and stabbing my ears.”

Nasty! Considering that, it sounds like getting rid of the album was the only sane course of action for HC. But not only is he unable to appreciate it, he’s unable to appreciate why anyone else would appreciate it:

“You Pistols fans think you’re any better than the 12 year old girl next door with the Sum 41 shirt? They’re a joke and so are you.”

Wait a minute – so is it the Sex Pistols, Sum 41 or the 12 year old girls next door with Sum 41 shirts who are a joke as well as us? And who dragged Sum 41 into this anway? We may never know.

There’s another confusing one-star review from Anonymous in the USA:

“Basically if you think you’re punk cuz you listen to this, well you’re nothing but a stupid trendy poseur who says all the punk things, listen to all the punk things, and conforms to all the punk things.”

Right, so if you listen to punk, speak like a punk and act like a punk, you’re not a punk, you’re a “stupid trendy poseur”. Got it, thanks.

NU is aggrieved that the Pistols released an album at all:

“This band never intended to release an album but sold out and the result is that loads of people were conned into buying an L.P. that had a load of dross plus the singles that they had already bought.”

Before making this shocking admission:

“In the iPod era this album would have died a speedy death as people would only want the three songs and if they flet [sic] the need to have the album for completeness they would just download it for free.”

Now what sort of a comment is this? NU seems to be advocating a sort of Darwinian attitude to musicians and their output, where only those who can muster more than three great singles per album should be allowed to survive. Harsh! And NU gives Never Mind the Bollocks the minimum one star rating as a result.

Other one star reviews come from AML, who adds, oxymoronically that he/she would rather have given it:

“at least minus 10 stars”

…from PV, who inexplicably felt that this insight was worth sharing:

“Deffo not a SP fan,was asked by a bride if I could play SPs at her wedding found this collection all the known numbers are on it.”

…and from TWG, who refuses to let his loose knowledge of the facts stop him from sharing his opinion on the band:

“Johnny Rotton [sic] is a fool of the highest order. He murdered his girlfriend and was always a pathetic washed up junkie.”

As well as getting this completely wrong, TWG also insists on making this dubious claim:

“try playing this in a crowd and everyone will go silent, in an embarressed [sic], awkward way (I have actually seen this happen, even when half of the crowd had an affiliation with punk music).

Really, TWG? Did that happen? Or did you just make it up?

Finally, we come to AKRAKR seems to be slightly obsessed with the Sex Pistols, having posted at least half-a-dozen reviews of them on the US Amazon. In one of his/her first reviews AKR acknowledges the band’s historical importance:

“Cheers to the band for pretty much starting the punk rock genre…”

But there’s a ‘but’ coming:

“but really at this early stage punk rock is really awful. The Sex Pistols have a really annoying singer, unmemorable songs, and a pretty stupid name too.”

In various later reviews AKR refers to them as “the $hit Pistols”, “the Linkin Park of the 70s”, “manufactured corporate trash”, a “cr@ppy piece of $hit band”, and “a blatent [sic] marketing scam dreamed up by a bunch of fat, balding, cigar smoking record company executives in suits and ties”.

AKR‘s exhaustively explains his/her objections to the band over several reviews. These include “a horribly irritating singer” with a voice that’s “literally painful to listen to”, “absolutely boring and rhthymically corrupt songs”, that they were “utterly hypocritical” and, just to hammer the point home, “IT’S NOT EVEN GOOD MUSIC, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!” With one exception:

“Don’t get the CD, but if possible get their decent hit “Anarchy in the U.K.” I do like that one.” 

And if you think that’s giving mixed messages, the last review I can find from AKR finishes with this advice:

“DON’T BUY THIS! If you really must buy it, destroy the CD right afterwards.”

Yeah, good idea AKR, that’ll show those cigar chomping record company execs!

 

The Sex Pistols covering ‘Substitute’ by The Who – Magnificent Cover Version No.29

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

Trashed! The Pixies

1000 Homo DJs covering ‘Supernaut’ by Black Sabbath – Magnificent Cover Version No.32

1000 Homo DJs was one of Al Jourgensen’s many short-lived side projects, which amounted to two 12″ releases in total – Apathy in 1988 and Supernaut in 1990. The latter saw Jourgensen and other members of Ministry collaborating with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to cover the 1972 Black Sabbath delight Supernaut.

Al Jourgensen has been synonymous with industrial metal for so long now that it’s hard to believe Ministry started off doing a kind of OMD-style synth-pop in early-’80s Chicago. Steve Albini – who was developing both Big Black and his witty sourpuss persona in Chicago at that time – was so outraged at the suggestion that Ministry might produce a band he did appreciate that he came out with this famous barb:

“If you do, and you make them one-tenth as wimpy as Ministry, I’ll cut your balls off and sew them shut in your mouth.”

Nice!

By 1990 Ministry were fully converted to high-tempo, drum machine-driven, sample-heavy, thrashy metal and Jourgensen was collaborating with Jello Biafra (in Lard), Ian MacKaye (in Pailhead) and Richard 23 (in Revolting Cocks). The most lucrative link-up would come in 1991 when Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes provided gibberish guest vocals on Jesus Built My Hotrod, leading to heavy airplay on MTV and platinum sales figures. But Supernaut is pretty great too. Of course it is – it’s by Black Sabbath.

Black_Sabbath_Vol._4

Not just Black Sabbath, but early, original line-up Black Sabbath – Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill. Peak Sabbath.

Name a four-album run better than Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Masters of Reality and Volume 4 – you can’t, can you?

It was Millhouse who introduced me to Sabbath. Growing up in the Midlands in the ’80s I would see loads of old rockers with long, stringy hair, in Black Sabbath leather jackets, stinking of patchouli oil and I wasn’t impressed with them or their metal aesthetic. Plus, metal at that time, to me meant hair metal – Poison, Motely Crue and the like – and that repelled me even more.

So when my music taste was developing as a ’90s teenager, I took some persuading that that wasn’t what Sabbath were about. It helped when Melody Maker referred to them as part of the unholy trinity of punk touchstones – Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Big Black.

So, starting with Masters of Reality, I got my Sabbath on and never looked back. Genius songs, an incomparable rhythm section and the insane charisma of Ozzy are all big factors in their enduring appeal. But it’s Tony Iommi’s riffs that define them isn’t it? On Sweet Leaf, War Pigs, Paranoid, Children of the Grave and Sabbra Caddabra; lip-curling, head-banging, ear-thumping riffs. Supernaut is one of their best. Apparently it’s also a favourite of Beck’s and John Bonham and Frank Zappa were fans too.

So for their cover, Al Jourgensen and Trent Reznor wisely decided not to change much when playing Supernaut as 1000 Homo DJs. Because this was the ’90s, there’s a fun, paranoid sample before it starts:

Practically every one of the top 40 records being played on every radio station in the United States is a communication to the children to take a trip, to cop out, to groove. The psychedelic jackets on the record albums have their own hidden symbols and messages as well as all the lyrics of all the top rock songs, and they all sing the same refrain, ‘it’s fun to take a trip, put acid in your veins’.

But from then on it’s a straight ahead, appropriately respectful cover. The only real differences are the driving, industrial drum beat and the distortion on Reznor’s voice, apparently added to disguise the fact that he’d done them at all, since his record label had denied permission for him to appear.

So Jourgensen and Reznor’s Supernaut is highly enjoyable without adding anything much to the original. Maybe it did help introduce a new generation to the mighty Black Sabbath and to the brilliance of Tony Iommi’s riffery and it was guaranteed to fill the dance floor at indie clubs for a time. Plus, it got me writing this; which isn’t saying much in itself but has led directly to me learning that Ozzy’s first name is actually John and Geezer’s is Terrence, which is, y’know, vaguely interesting.

1000 Homo DJs

‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath, covered by Alice Donut – Magnificent Cover Version No.13

‘Kick Out The Jams’ by MC5 covered by Rage Against The Machine – Magnificent Cover Version No.25

 

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine are widely regarded as one of the most original and ground-breaking bands of all time. They inspire rare levels of devotion in their fans and are cited as an influence by thousands of subsequent artists in various genres. Pitchfork names Loveless as the best album of the nineties, Rolling Stone had it at number 219 in its “500 Greatest Albums of all Time” and The Irish Times puts it as number 1 in the “Top 40 Irish Albums of all Time”.

MBV are critically acclaimed and loved intensely for their melodies, musicianship, beauty and phenomenal power and Loveless is viewed by many as their timeless masterpiece.

But of course, not everybody likes it. Some people just don’t see the appeal. And some of those that have remained unimpressed have been good enough to share the benefit of their experience in online reviews over the years.

LE heads his/her one-star review of Loveless “A new definition for ‘terrible'” and speculates that This has to be one of the worst albums ever recorded in the history of time”.

Anon, is of a similar opinion, also giving Loveless the minimum one star and a review entitled “A very bad album”, which concludes by comparing it to “a load of poop on a chair”. LB’s 2009 review states that the album is “The worst crap ever”.

HHB, continues the ‘crap’ theme with this considered, if grammatically suspect, advice:

“really really crappy don’t do this to yourself forget this crap and this stupid type of music”

Fair enough, HHB, doesn’t like it. This was flagged up in the title of the review (HHB‘s capitals) – “STUPID CRAP FROM THE DUMB BORING EARLY 90S” – but of more interest than that is this fascinating simile from the beginning of the review:

“This music is so stupid and weird not in a good unique way but just an uncomfortable way like when you are at someone’s house and you don’t like them and want to go home but you can’t and you probably have to spend the night in their living room…”

Huh? Does this happen to anyone else? HHB uses this as an example of something that’s “stupid”, “weird” and not “unique”, so it seems to be a regular occurrence for him/her. HHB doesn’t expand on this in the course of the review, which is a shame because it seems like he/she has a story to tell.

NS also has a story to tell and isn’t as shy as HHB. His/her review takes in Mozart, acid house and the Berlin Wall. Here’s a (small) excerpt:

“All notion of talent is historical, but some people certainly rely much more on contextual receptivity than voluntaristic [sic] genius. MBV are the former. Just like Mozart’s 2nd rate elevator work hypnotized his contemporaries who basically wanted music to sound pretty and dainty while they ate bonbons and powdered their wigs, MBV released a record during an age where, mindbogglingly people were willing to hear anything that sounded like apathy, but loud.”

Phew! NS is quite the iconoclast. Not content with having a pop at My Bloody Valentine and the early-nineties (again!), he/she has dragged Mozart into it as well. The review continues at length in the same vain – including the descriptions “passive-aggressive neuroticism” and “formally formless” – before concluding:

“Some people think this is the apex of music: music as music, pure music, a religious experience, the sublime that blows you away. Others like me simply keep powdering their wigs and eating bonbons.”

By the time I’d read the whole review I felt like I’d been forced to spend the night in the living room of someone I don’t like.

Predictably, NS’s gibberish provoked some reactions.

MF wrote, “I thought Pitchfork wrote impenetrable, dull reviews that manage to say little to nothing about the music. But this review…Jesus Christ.”

Whilehit back with, “The powdered wig may be interfering with your hearing”.  AM replied simply, “Are they particularly sour bonbons?”

NS may be wordy, but he/she has nothing on an anonymous review of Loveless from 2004 entitled “Quite possibly the worst album I’ve ever heard”. It goes on for more than 700 words. What’s wrong with succinctly comparing it to “poop on a chair” if that’s how you feel? Some of the highlights of the review include:

“just because something is unique doesn’t make that thing good”

“the most gut-wrenching horrific unattractive pile of terrible sounds that I have ever experienced”

and

“I cannot physically stand to listen to this album.”

Finally, if you feel like that last reviewer made a misstep in purchasing Loveless, wait until you hear from TM.

TM‘s 2010 review includes this line:

“I thought from the band name that they’d sound like My Chemical Romance, how wrong I was!”

A good thing, surely? But no! On closer inspection TM is disappointed by this, and has given Loveless two stars.

C responds to TM, asking:

“What on Earth possessed you to think it might sound like My Chemical Romance? Just because both bands have names that start with ‘My’?”

It’s a fair question and nicely put. But sadly it’s now seven years since C asked it and TM is yet to reply. Fortunately, My Bloody Valentine fans are a patient bunch.

The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr & Blur – ‘Rollercoaster’ 1992

Trashed! The Pixies

Trashed! ‘Odelay’ by Beck

 

 

The Dead Kennedys covering ‘Viva Las Vegas’ by Elvis Presley – Magnificent Cover Version No.31

Viva Las Vegas is one of the standout tracks from The Dead Kennedys’ 1980 debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

Given that the other standouts on this political, hardcore punk classic include Kill the Poor, California Uber Alles and Holiday in Cambodia, it’s slightly surprising to find an Elvis cover in there too. But they up the tempo – and the sarcasm – and deliver one of the great punk cover versions.

Elvis’s original, and the film of the same name, present a sanitised vision of Vegas, in which any chancer can rock up and roll their way to a life-changing fortune. In the film Elvis plays Lucky Jackson, a penniless racing driver who wins a fortune, loses it and pesters Ann-Margret for the unlikeliest date ever – featuring helicoptering, water-skiing, motorcycling and wild west gun slinging. He then – undeservedly – beats her in a talent contest to restore his fortune, wins the Grand Prix against his rival in racing and love, who is nearly killed in the process, then marries Ann-Margret, while staying on friendly terms with everyone and maintaining an extraordinary hairstyle. It’s the American Dream in movie form.

The Dead Kennedys were never big believers in the American Dream. According to Jello Biafra their infamous name was supposed to draw attention to its end. So their satirical cover of Viva Las Vegas could’ve been really scathing.

DK live

In reality it’s pretty faithful, with Biafra’s campy vocals even taking on a slight Presley twang. The biggest difference is the subtle amendments to some of the lyrics so:

How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
’cause even if there were forty more
I wouldn’t sleep a minute away

becomes:

How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
Even if I ran out of speed
Boy, I wouldn’t sleep a minute away

and:

I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got
Lady luck please let the dice stay hot
Let me shout a seven with every shot

becomes:

Ooh, I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got
Lady Luck’s with me, the dice stay hot
Got coke up my nose to dry away the snot

Of course, messing with Elvis’s legacy is bound to attract criticism, no matter how subtle the barbs are. And in 1980, when this was released, just three years after the death of The King, it was even more provocative. But then, you don’t name a band The Dead Kennedys if you’re worried about a bit of anger from conservative commentators.

 

Jello Biafra is still active today, pointing out hypocrisy and injustice and rubbing people up the wrong way. Of course hypocrisy and injustice are really easy to find these days and a lot of people are pointing them out, but Jello does is really well. His anti-Trump rants on YouTube are awesomely entertaining. The best of these is the surreal one in which he shows off the pro-Trump colouring book he picked up from San Francisco airport, with each page depicting Donald in a different heroic scenario for your children to crayon – Superman Trump, Mount Rushmore Trump, Enola Gay Trump, etc.

Who said the America Dream was dead?

 

dk-logo

Magnificent Cover Version No.6 – (I’m Not Your) ‘Steppin’ Stone’ by The Monkees, covered by Minor Threat

Butthole Surfers covering ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan – Magnificent Cover Version No. 8