Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

I had a day off from work and the house to myself, so that meant a huge music listening session in the front room. Playing it LOUD. Started quietly though with some more of Emmylou‘s Roses In the Snow and Bryan Ferry‘s Collection, especially listening to the songs I weren’t familiar with. I think I’ve finally ‘processed’ Bryan’s The Way You Look Tonight, and I like it a lot. He lets the musos loose in the first minute and a half of pure instrumental, all early jazz flourishes and virtuoso playing, before he comes in with his smooth vocal. Reminds me of the Brad Pitt film Babylon. Emmylou’s Root Like a Rose continues to impress, especially husband (at the time) Brian Ahern’s production and arrangement.

From there I went heavy with some Deep Purple‘s Machine Head, an old favourite. I really cranked it for this one, and shook the windows. Highway Star comes out the gate like a comet. Ian Gillan sings ‘Nobody gonna steal my head’ and I know what he means. Never Before starts off surprisingly funky before it boogies down. The middle eight in this one is superb (‘I was hurt when I was younger’). It seems to come out of nowhere but hangs together, and is amazingly melodic. Smoke On the Water is such a well-constructed song. Ritchie’s guitar solo continues to thrill, and THAT RIFF just drives the song along. Ian Gillan’s meta tale of the fire and the making of the album is pure cinema verite. Space Truckin’ just sends me off to the stars on that comet.

Next it was REM‘s Green in surround sound. I bought this recently when I went to see Dune 2 and hadn’t had an opportunity to listen to it till now. Like a lot of surround mixes, where you usually listen via a SACD player (which I have – a Pioneer) and five speaker set up (three in front, two behind), certain songs work better with it, and some don’t make much difference. In this case, World Leader Pretend, my favourite song on the album, works a treat. Nice separation with Peter Buck’s pedal steel guitar and Mike Mill’s piano. What a song! Stipe’s lyrics are great: ‘I proclaim the claims are left unstated/I demand a rematch/I decree a stalemate/I divine my deeper motives’. So good they were the only lyrics in the album artwork. Orange Crush‘s breakdown section has a helicopter whirring around my head while voices sing and shout at me from various corners. The Wrong Child is beautiful and heartbreaking. Listening to the album after all these years, it still stands up. Definitely one of their best.

I saw them on the Green tour they promoted this album with. It was at Festival Hall, Melbourne. A hot summer day in 1990. They started with Pop Song 89, naturally enough (‘Hi hi’). A lot of the album was showcased, including World Leader Pretend, where Stipe, as I recall, struck a drum (or was it a table?) with a stick. One of my favourite moments was when they did You Are Everything, the gentle acoustic recollection of late spring days in Athens and a woman, perhaps a Stipe grandmother. He sang the first half with his back to the audience, cradling the microphone in his arms, as if the song was too personal to share with us. Then, at the return of ‘sometimes I feel like I can hardly sing’, the opening lines, he slowly turned around, as if ready to share the song with us. It was a great moment. The other thing I remember about that concert was The Go Betweens played support in what turned out to be the original lineup’s last big tour. He seems to have trouble recalling the details in his books, but I can report with certainty that Robert Forster was definitely wearing his dress at this concert. Man, what a lineup: the Gobs and REM!

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