Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

Neil Finn's keynote

05:00am 12 Sep 2014


Next week Neil Finn will start his New Zealand tour - his first set of shows around the country in quite some time, shows that are in support of his Dizzy Heights album, something of a return-to-form I reckon - those Crowded House "comeback" albums didn't really do it for me. It seemed like he was hiding. Dizzy Heights is the Neil Finn solo album I'd hoped would happen for quite some time now. So much so, and I cared so deeply about this sort of record happening that I got myself in trouble writing more than one blog post here about Neil needing to pull finger. So be it. The wait - and the hate - was worth it. 

Just earlier this week Neil spoke at a music conference in Australia - we're lucky to live in a world where these things are available, almost instantly, someone posts it online, someone has filmed it, it's all official - all part of the spread-the-word deal. You receive the link - if you want to see it.

If you're like me, and, well, wouldn't that be a curse, you probably find it hard to sit through an hour-long link, but ahead of Neil Finn's shows next week I wanted to share the clip of his chat because it's a great interview. Finn delves into the influences from the family home, the early work as the nervous younger brother joining Split Enz and his approach to music making.

He's humble and interesting and I will always think of him as one of our greatest songwriters when on form. Also as I've said recently he's an amazing live performer. So there's that to look forward to for those going to the shows next week and the week after.

His keynote at Australia's BIGSOUND 2014 is a nice way to warm up for the gigs if you're a fan.

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An Apple album a day...

10:03am 11 Sep 2014


While there's plenty of noise still being made around the ethics of the book Dirty Politics - and the hacked emails that are showing a corrupt set of politicians and political playmakers music fans and Apple users (nearly mutually exclusive groups I would have thought) had a cruel and unusual hack played on them yesterday - a brand new U2 album delivered straight to the music libraries of those with an iTunes account; the world's biggest spam-bomb.

The album - shrouded in secrecy, arriving without fanfare, deployed as filler-fodder, is called Songs of Innocence. It sees a tax-dodging mega-band all loved up with an environmentally uninterested, slave-labour endorsing, tax-dodging meta-brand. This is big business at its ugliness and the music - of course - has so little to do with it.

The album arrived just as Apple says goodbye to its click-wheel 160g iPod - the iPod "Classic". Now you can point out the obvious flaws of the iPod but the 160g model was a handy device for music-lovers. By discontinuing it Apple has shown they don't care about people who love music - they prefer the bot they've created that thinks it needs some music in its life - and to that bot they've now decided to become the tastemaker, choosing the music to hand to that willing drone, and delivering it under the ruse of gift-giving.

Yes, yes, free music is easy to ignore and you can navigate around an unwanted album but it's worrying that this is how a new U2 album comes to life - it's worrying, when you hear it, that this is (presumably) the best U2 now has to offer. But that's a separate discussion - for a review pending...

Goons on Facebook were all moisty-palmed and mouth-breathing and breathlessly dribbling out platitudes about this being "game-changing" and "history making".

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Lewis - L'Amour

12:23am 10 Sep 2014


I didn't know anything about Lewis - and his album L'Amour until I read a couple of reviews, and a couple of stories about the man. He is still alive; he goes by the name of Randy Wulff. He lives in Canada. WhatL'Amour makes all of that interesting is that the album he recorded under the name Lewis is available to listen to now - reissued by Light In The Attic (a label that manages to unearth forgotten/unknown gems and usually does a slap-up job of it). L'Amour was recorded over 30 years ago - a vanity project essentially. "Lewis" pulled up to a recording studio and self-financed this album of incredible love songs. One of the tunes is dedicated to swimsuit model Christie Brinkley. This must have been just prior to her becoming Billy Joel's Uptown Girl. There are rumours swirling now, of course, that Lewis was dating Brinkley.

The fascinating story of Lewis was concluded recently - Wulff was finally found. Light In The Attic had been searching for him, their reissued album has earned some money that the label wanted to pass on to the artist. Plus, you know, curiosity - they wanted to know what Lewis was doing - they wanted to find out who Lewis was.

Randy Wulff was polite, pleasant - a little baffled that there was any interest in his music from another lifetime, and under another name. And he certainly didn't want any money from the venture. He wished the label well, gave them his blessing - told them he had no issue with their reissue. But that he wasn't particularly interested in revisiting his music from 1983. And that he didn't need the money that was being offered. He wasn't interested in that music - but he is still making music, still writing songs, tinkering. That's the story at this point.Randall Wulff

It's hard for that to not matter when listening to L'Amour. It becomes part of the story of the album, knowing that backstory; knowing, too, the update. The intrigue was clearly part of the interest in reissuing the record.

L'Amour all but died a death - it faded away swiftly. A single copy, purchased for a dollar at a record fare in 2007, is what started the renewed interest - or, arguably, the initial interest. Since it sounds like no one was particularly fussed with this record at the time. But a few bootlegged copies appeared online, word started to spread.

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The Beat of Her Own Drum

06:00am 09 Sep 2014


I read a lot of music books - occupational hazard.  Purple prose and florid descriptions - hackneyed writing, lack of awareness, I'm not talking about this blog, I'm referring to the literary warzone that is the music memoir. And then, every now and then you find a book that really wows - I'm of the belief that, with both fiction and non-fiction, you're either a good writer, or you have a great story to tell. You can sometimes get away without having the best story if you're a great writer - and you can also (sometimes) get away with being a very ordinary writer if you have a fantastic story. The goal of course is to read a great story told well - to sit back and be entertained and informed by a great writer telling an amazing story.The Beat of My Own Drum

That's often wishful when it comes to the musician's memoir, the music-related autobiography.

You kiss a lot of frogs.

And then you read the memoir by one of the drummers who worked with Prince.

Of course Sheila E. is so much more than just one of Prince's drummers - and as a fan of Santana I knew all about the Escovedo family. But it was as a fan of Prince that I got to know, more fully, the story of Sheila E. I bought her first three solo albums - created when she was under the spell of Mr Prince Rogers Nelson - The Glamourous Life, Romance 1600 and Sheila E. I even used to have 1991's Sex Cymbal on tape.

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Percy's Progress

06:02am 08 Sep 2014


Last week I mentioned three older heads (still) at the top of their game - and I also included a brief mention of Robert Plant's new album (at the time it was just an album-stream). I don't usually sit tied to the computer listening to album streams - there's enough to get on with, and I like my music to be portable, it needs to be to suit my lifestyle. I need to take it with me in the car, or for a walk. I need to put it on the stereo away from the computer speakers. I need to live with it - have it swim around in the house, move from room to room. Hovering over a computer with music piping out from a stream - well that feels a bit too much like work - and though it's definitely a form of work for me, listening to music, commenting on it, you want to be able to live with it.Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar

But I'm enough of a fan of Robert Plant's music that I coped with the stream - spent more time with it than most. And then graduated onto the CD...

The build-up - the anticipation - for Plant's new album started with last year's concert. A fantastic live gig experience, one of the best shows from last year - one of the best shows ever.

Around the time I first got hooked on Led Zeppelin I also bought a Robert Plant solo album - it was Manic Nirvana, which might have been his most Zep-like solo album. I've gone back through Plant's solo albums from there - and over the last decade, actually since 2002's Dreamland (a mix of covers and originals) and the following year's career retrospective his output has been brilliant. Each new album furthering his cause, showing a new side, a development.

I remember reading in one of the music mags a few years back now that Plant found it slightly frustrating that he was always asked about Zeppelin. Sure, he understood that it was inarguably the peak of his fame - but it was still 12 years in a career of over 40, he'd been a singer before Led Zeppelin. He was a singer after. He had no shame around that Zeppelin era - he was in fact immensely proud of his time in one of the world's biggest bands. But he wasn't interested in just sitting around in a pair of dragon pants wrestling with remixes of remasters of bootlegs of old live shows. That was for the other guy. Not him.

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