Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
G. Men (1974, 33.56) ***/TTT
La Mia Ragione
Cuore di Pietra
Storia di Uomini
G. Men's self-titled album is towards the softer end of the Italian progressive spectrum, although I wouldn't try to make comparisons with the incomparable PFM or Celeste; the Moody Blues might be a closer match. Until Ricordi Scoloriti and Preghiera, that is, which rock out in no uncertain style, leaving the rest of the album to its gentle psych roots.
There's a reasonable amount of Mellotron on G. Men, although it's more in a Moodies vein than that of PFM. Strings all round, basically, with a touch of cellos on Storia Di Uomini and the odd flute line. Maybe I'm being a little harsh here; it's not a bad album, just rather uninspired in places. When it sounds more like an album from 1974, not 1967, it perks up nicely, but it's more than a little inconsistent, although I've heard a great deal worse.
Up (2002, 66.48) ****/½
No Way Out
The Barry Williams Show
My Head Sounds Like That
More Than This
|Signal to Noise
Peter Gabriel's first song-based album in ten years, and only his third in twenty craps from a great height onto its two predecessors, the overtly-commercial So and Us. More than anything, there are elements here of his third album (titled, as were all of his first four, Peter Gabriel), although it's a long, long way from being a copy. Up manages to be both contemporary and traditional, commercial and underground, English and 'world', all at the same time, in a way few (none?) of his contemporaries can, if they ever could. Rumours of Gabriel's illness of a few years ago are upheld by the downbeat nature of the record, with titles such as Darkness and I Grieve telling their own story.
I'll leave it to the Gabriel experts to review this rather excellent album properly, as I'm sure they already have, and I'll concentrate on the fact that there are, bizarrely, three tracks of Mellotron and one of Chamberlin to be heard here. The Barry Williams Show, My Head Sounds Like That and Signal To Noise all have Pete on 'Tron, and More Than This has the inimitable Jon Brion on Chamberlin, although there's one slight problem. None of the 'Mellotron' sounds like it - they all sound like generic string samples, and the Chamberlin's basically inaudible. So, is it or isn't it? I'm hoping someone will ask him in an interview some time (people ask the strangest questions) so I can find out for sure. Very odd.
Anyway, a marvellous return to form from the exceptional Mr Gabriel; if I wasn't offended by its contemporary sensibilities, nor should you be. And I didn't even mention Genesis once.
Angel Dust (1975, 35.56) **½/½
First Stone in a Pyramid
You and the Wind
Take My Eyes
Ladies and Gentlemen
Sing Me a Song
Gabriel Bondage's first album was Angel Dust, a (mostly) laid-back, acoustic guitar-driven effort, operating in a sort of folk/prog area, although that doesn't really describe it properly. In all honesty, this isn't the most exciting album I'm come across lately, with far too much of the material sounding like CSN&Y wannabee stuff, but without their exquisite harmonies. About the only exception to the rule is the three-part Bondage, with a completely different feel to the rest of the album, adding electric guitars, raucous sax and other otherwise unheard elements to the mix, and is easily the best song here.
Keys man Conrad Green plays a soupçon of Mellotron strings on side one's Ladies And Gentlemen, but it has to be said it's not the heaviest use ever. Their second (and, I believe, last) album was Another Trip to Earth (***), and, while no classic, was a noticeable improvement on their debut, with a far more dynamic band sound. No Mellotron, though. So; you're rather unlikely to just stumble across a copy of Angel Dust, unless you live in the Chicago area (thanks, Unk), so don't go too far out of your way for a copy.
Mephistopheles (1974, 34.33) **½/T½Mephistopheles
Dreamer of Dreams
While on my second Aussie trip over the 2005/6 Christmas/new year period, I met up with friends in Sydney (hi, Shane), including a guy who tried to sell me a copy of Mephistopheles. I declined, not only because I couldn't afford it, but because it isn't actually that good. It's something of a moot point as to whether this should be filed under 'Gaffey', 'Mephistopheles' or even 'Various Artists'; Gaffey is credited on the sleeve as 'vocalist', but does that make it his album? In actuality, there isn't an artist credited at all, so Gaffey will do given no sensible alternative. The title track opens with a (real) string part, and isn't too bad until the vocals start. Oh dear... This is a seriously overblown concept effort in the grand (?) tradition, that may have a pseudo-religious agenda (hard to tell without the lyric sheet), but is pretty duff even if it doesn't; not exactly a classic of Aussie prog, then.
Although most of the album's string and choir work is real, for some odd reason, Peter Harris (of Madden & Harris) provides the same sounds from a Mellotron here and there. So Sad has both real and 'Tron strings and choir, with more of the same at the Paradise/Dear People crossover point, though we're really not talking classic stuff here. You're not going to find this cheap (note: now out on CD), so I suggest you don't bother finding it at all; dull, pompous music with little discernable melody and not even much 'Tron to liven things up. Avoid.
See: Madden & Harris
Galore (1998, 57.52) ***/½
|First Chapter's Last Page
Right My Wrongs
A Simple Prayer
Step By Step
Belle de Jour
Praise or Blame
Toast and Tea
To Love Her Inside
Leave Her to Me
Jeffrey Gaines is one of those artists who seems to have bucketloads of talent, but hasn't yet found a really suitable vehicle for it. His third album, Galore, has plenty of Sidemen To The Stars on it, including Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie) and the excellent David Sancious, but ends up having a rather bland, generic 'adult pop' sound to it, despite Gaines' wonderful voice. Relentlessly mid-paced, this is radical easy-listening for couples no longer young, yet not quite ready to wholly disengage with their past, although Gaines' songwriting isn't really up there with others of that ilk (Elvis Costello et al.).
Gaines plays 'Melotron' himself on album closer Leave Her To Me, though I'll be buggered if I can hear it over the string quartet, although it may be providing the string chords. Gaines has definitely used a Mellotron on at least two other albums, 1994's Somewhat Slightly Dazed and 2001's Always Be, though if it's no more overt than here, I doubt if they're worth the effort. Galore is a perfectly good album within its genre, but if you're looking for excitement (or Mellotron), you'd be advised to go elsewhere.
|7" ( 1987) ***/TT
Dreaming From the Inside
Nothing is Written (1991, 61.49) ***/½
|Face to the Sun
Another Misguided Soul
Chamber of Horrors
Aqaba (a Matter of Going!)
|Bark in D Minor
Don't Lose Control
Other Crimes & Misdemeanours II (1995, recorded 1986-91, 50.18/79.49) ***/T
|Dreaming From the Inside
Reach in to the Flames
Dreams of Tomorrow
Truth of You
|Pretty in the Sun
There Must Be a Way
Suffering in Silence
Year Zero (2002, 56.05) ****/TTT
Ever the Optimist
The Charlotte Suite
Baroque and Roll Dementia
A Deeper Understanding?
|The Jazz Suite
Take a Deep Breath and Hold on Tight
Hindsight 1 - Piano and Clarinet
Hindsight 2 - A Very Clever Guy Indeed
The September Suite
Deceptive Vistas/Postscript - Perspective
Empires Never Last (2007, 61.45) ****½/TDe-fi-ance
I Could Be God
Memories From an Africa Twin
Empires Never Last
This Life Could Be My Last...
Galahad formed in the mid-'80s on the south coast of Britain, in direct response to the brief upsurge in popularity of prog of a few years earlier. Their first keyboard player, Nick Hodgson, owned a Mellotron, along with several other killer pieces of gear, but he left after one single, anthologised onto 1995's Other Crimes & Misdemeanours II. Said 1987 single, Dreaming From The Inside b/w The Opiate, is typical of the era, the A-side having a strong Marillion feel about it, although the flip's slightly more imaginative. On the Mellotron front, Dreaming features an ascending choir part, shifting into Forgotten Sons-style chords, with more choirs on the other side, but I wouldn't exactly call it essential Mellotronic listening. The rest of Other Crimes... consists of tracks from 1990-91, mostly in a rather more commercial vein than the material on '91's Nothing is Written (see below), with a couple of live tracks added to the recent reissue.
Nothing is Written was their first album 'proper' (there were earlier cassette releases), which is solidly in the neo-progressive vein of Marillion et al. Keyboardist of the day Mark Andrews obviously favoured the digital end of the spectrum, but was persuaded to play a few older bits of equipment, including IQ's Martin Orford's M400. As a result, it's almost inaudible on the finished product, although I've had it confirmed that there is a bit of choir on album closer Richelieu's Prayer.
I was contacted back in (I believe) 2000 by Galahad's mainman Stuart, with a view to using my M400 on their next album. As is the way of such things, it took until Christmas 2001 for us to coincide sufficiently to be in the same studio at the same time, and my MiniMoog and Taurus pedals came along for the ride, although they only crop up occasionally on the finished product. The band have progressed (ho ho) by leaps and bounds in the decade since Nothing is Written (just look at the difference in the cover art), with each album quite distinctly progressing from its predecessor (remember progression?). Year Zero has a pleasingly organic sound, with long-time guitarist Roy Keyworth cranking it up a good bit more than in days gone by, and current keys man Dean Baker using both real and fake analogue gear. In Year Zeroverture, he uses one of the newer crop of analogue-soundalikes to produce an almost-techno heavily-filtered sequencer part, with Mellotron choir chords breaking through the mix.
The material itself still has some of that 'love it or hate it' neo-progness about it, particularly in the vocal melody department, but the bulk of the album avoids that trap, giving the impression that Galahad have been listening as much to Korn or Rammstein as Genesis or Marillion. The album should really be viewed as one hour-long track in fifteen parts, although I've listed the tracks separately, as on the CD sleeve. I'm not entirely sure what the album's concept is actually getting at, but it seems to be relevant and contemporary, without going all Misplaced Childhood on us. Above all else, Year Zero rocks, which it's been difficult to say of previous Galahad releases, although they're (thankfully) not about to enter Dream Theater territory.
Anyway, Mellotron use: Dean used the choirs more than anything; in fact, they're to be heard floating away ethereally within the first few seconds of Year Zeroverture, with some more serious use later on in the piece, carrying on into Belt Up, where they alternate with some nice strings work, while Ever The Optimist opens with some great, filter-rich MiniMoog, with the choirs lurching back in later on. Democracy, despite its near-ten minute length, only features the 'Tron in the last minute of the song, with a piercing discordant string line dissolving into chords before it slides into the short Baroque And Roll Dementia and more choir. Take A Deep Breath And Hold On Tight returns to the alternating strings and choir of Belt Up, while Deceptive Vistas/Postscript - Perspective features a classic 'prog ending riff' repeated ad infinitum, complete with choirs. Now, I'm pretty sure Dean played both the flutes and cellos, but I can't hear either of them anywhere, so either my ears are defective (fairly likely), or they're lost somewhere in the mix.
Five years on (take their time, these boys), and Empires Never Last hoves into view. Recorded at Pendragon/Arena man Clive Nolan's studio, his 'Tron gets a look-in on a couple of tracks, though nowhere near as much use as on Year Zero. The album itself is even better, with Galahad (now woefully mis-named, though far too late to change) really finding their feet after a twenty year career. I saw the material previewed 18 months earlier, and wasn't the only punter blown away by what I heard; modern, hard-edged metal-tinged prog, managing to sound like absolutely no-one else, and of how many other current bands can you say that? De-Fi-Ance opens with angelic female choristers, before lurching into a 'beat you to death' riff, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Best track? Possibly I Could Be God, featuring a section of Martin Luther King's infamous 'I have a dream' speech, but it's difficult to pick one out from the pack, to be honest. On the Mellotron front, both Dean and guitarist Roy get some in, though barely enough to make a difference, really. The choirs on Termination could almost be from any generic synth you care to name, while This Life Could Be My Last... has some 'stabbed' flute chords, which at least sound like a Mellotron.
If you like your prog neo, you'll like Nothing is Written, but it's not exactly a 'Tron classic. Year Zero, however, is a good album with some great instrumental passages, and Empires Never Last takes their sound a stage further, making Galahad one of the UK's best prog exports in the early 21st century. They seem to have developed their own brand of modern progressive, bringing in influences that most prog outfits would shun, but still sounding like themselves. Recommended.
Nature's Clear Well (1978, recorded 1975, 37.50) ***/TNature's Clear Well
I've Come From a World
You've Really Got it Fixed
Dreams Out in the Rain
Wish I Were Happy
There seems to be some confusion surrounding Galaxy, not least in relation to their home country, oddly. The truth appears to be that they were actually called Waniyetula, a multinational band based in Frankfurt, although they (under both names) are frequently quoted as being Swiss. So where does Galaxy come in? Their US label decided to rename the band, without their permission, for their 1975 recording, released three years later as Nature's Clear Well, although they also managed a German release, A Dream Within a Dream, in '83, in a Saga vein.
To be honest, Galaxy/Waniyetula were one of those European progressive bands of variable quality, making it unusual that they had an American release at all. Nature's Clear Well is rather ordinary, if truth be told, with a good dollop of that 'German sound' that was so ubiquitous at the time; not that much variation in key/tempo, lots of string synth, you know the score. Saying that, the album does have its moments; You've Really Got It Fixed has some fairly frenzied instrumental parts, and Nature's Clear Well itself isn't bad, but it's all a little unadventurous, and I keep finding myself wishing they'd push the boat out a little more.
Norbert Abels only plays Mellotron on two tracks; choirs on the lengthy title track and flutes on Dreams Out In The Rain, but it's hardly over-used, to say the least. I believe the CD has a couple of bonus tracks, though I've no idea whether or not they have any Mellotronic input. So; an OK album, nothing too exciting, but not that bad, either. Damned with faint praise?
Transmissions (1999, recorded 1984, 71.54) ***½/TTTT
Waiting at the Speed of Light
I Can't Wait
Song of the Siren
|To the Stars
Man of the Hour
Circle of Fire
Don't Look Back
Don't Take the Number
Galileo II were an American hard rock/prog crossover outfit operating in the early '80s, with the inimitable Charles Thaxton on keys (see my Char-El reviews for coverage of Charles' recent work). Although the odd track features an unfortunate commercial influence (either AOR or, oddly, Cars-ish 'new wave'), most of them fall somewhere between a sort-of late-'70s science fiction-influenced US sound (think Rush) and, oddly, contemporaneous British prog. The sound quality on this disc isn't of the highest, but the tracks seem to have mainly been recorded live in the studio, I'd guess straight to a stereo master, and their resurrection fifteen years later unfortunately highlights sonic deficiencies that may not have been apparent at the time. Transmissions obviously isn't actually an 'album' per se, more an archive collection of all the tracks recorded by the band. It's a shame more lesser-known bands don't do this; I'm sure there's a wealth of decent material out there that could all too easily be lost forever.
Charles layers Mellotron all over the disc, with most tracks featuring at least a little, all strings and choir by the sound of it. Highlights include the excellent string chords on Future Roads and the powerful string part on Event Horizon, but it's all pretty good on the 'Tron front, unusually for any band of that era. Transmissions isn't commercially available as such, but you can mail Charles here to enquire about getting hold of a copy; also available on the same ad hoc basis is the similar archive CD-R of Magik Dayze material.
See: Char-El | Magik Dayze
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (2011, 45.20) **/T½
|Everybody's on the Run
If I Had a Gun...
The Death of You and Me
(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine
AKA... What a Life!
Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks
AKA... Broken Arrow
|(Stranded on) the Wrong Beach
Stop the Clocks
What does Noel Gallagher do after Oasis? Solo career, of course, although he's actually named his band Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, apparently in tribute to Jefferson Airplane. To absolutely no-one's surprise, his/their eponymous 2011 debut sounds an awful lot like his old band, minus their charismatic, if awful vocalist. You know 'that' Noel melody line? He uses it everywhere; please can you write something different, sir? Frankly, this is an overproduced mess; I mean what's with the choir (actually London's Crouch End Festival Chorus, one member of whom I know slightly) on several tracks? Completely overblown. Or the misplaced brass on Dream On? I also feel I have to take issue with the cover pic: it's apparently a petrol station somewhere in Beverly Hills, that should make a great picture. Unfortunately, this isn't it.
Mike(y) Rowe and Gallagher play one or more of Noel's growing Mellotron collection, although it's far from easy to tell where, with so many elements thrown into the mix. Flutes on Everybody's On The Run? Can't tell. Definite strings on AKA... What A Life!, heard on their own at the song's conclusion and on AKA... Broken Arrow and choirs on Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks, but there could easily be more hidden away. I'm sure you already know whether or not you're going to bother with Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds; in fact, if you're going to buy it, chances are you already have. If this album has an overriding fault (and believe me, it does), it's that it's boring. Dull, dull dadrock for people who ask for nothing more from their music than something that's easy to sing along with and vaguely memorable. Welcome to Oasisland.
See: Oasis | Beady Eye
Heritage & Visions (1994, 67.43) **½/TLullaby
Beat of a Different Tree
Bobo the Gardener
I was surprised to find that Heritage & Visions was only Galleon's second album, after '93's Saga-influenced Lynx (***). Sadly, Saga seem to've been dropped in the interim, to be replaced by generic neo-prog as the band's overriding musical mentor, their sound having slipped into 'bastard offspring of Marillion with bits of Rush' territory, like so many other bands around the same time (Short Story's intro is effectively Rush's Subdivisions, only less punchy and with no atmosphere). Suffice to say, despite a reasonable analogue keys input (actually, so what?), this is tedious run-of-the-mill stuff, pretty much indistinguishable from dozens of other Euro-progsters of the time, only with impeccable English pronunciation.
Both Ulf Pettersson and bassist/vocalist Göran Fors (whom I once met - a lovely guy, despite his music) plays keys on the album, both playing analogue Oberheim polys, with Pettersson also using (his own) MiniMoog and Korg MS20, and a borrowed Mellotron (from where, I have no idea). Unsurprisingly, we're not exactly talking the heaviest use ever, with flutes in the quiet section of opener Lullaby, a little burst of strings in the lengthy Permanent Vacation (haven't we heard that title somewhere before?) and what I think are background strings and choir in Short Story, along with various digital recreations.
So; save your money, buy something else. Sorry, 'cos I know Galleon work hard, and now have a considerable back catalogue, but this is utterly derivative, and not even of anything good. The bulk of the keyboard work is tediously digital, and the band take no risks anywhere. Rubbish 'Tron, too.
When (2001, 42.59) ***½/TT½
|I Wrote This Song for the Girl
My Beautiful White Dog
Yes I'm Lonely
A Picture of Her
Recordings of Music for Film (2002, recorded 1979-98, 59.21) ***½/½
|Her Smell Theme
The Girl of Her Dreams
A Brown Lung Hollering
The Way it is Waltz
Glad to Be Unhappy
Brown Storm Poem
Good Bye Sadness, Hello Death
And a Colored Sky Colored Grey
Fishing for Some Friends
|Six Laughs Once Happy
Sunny and Cloudy
No More Papa Mama
Fatty and Skinny
Her Smell Theme (Reprise)
A Falling Down Billy Brown
Drowning in Brown
A Somewhere Place
A Wet Cleaner
|Sixteen Seconds Happy
With Smiles & Smiles & Smiles
A Cold and Grey Summer Day
Me and Her
Ass Fucker (Reprise)
I Think the Sun is Coming Out Now
Noted independent director/producer/screenwriter/artist/model/actor/musician Vincent Gallo seems to irritate and delight people in approximately equal numbers; notorious for his arrogant and vindictive pronouncements, he's nothing if not a 'character', and maintains several different careers simultaneously. What we're interested in here, of course, are his musical endeavours; he's played in bands since his teens in the '70s, including a stint with the not-yet-famous New York artist Jean Michel Basquiat, and while he's actually appeared on very few recordings, he's notorious 'round these parts for including material by both Yes and King Crimson on the soundtrack to his best-known production, Buffalo 66.
His first non soundtrack-related solo album, 2001's When, released on small-but-trendy UK label Warp, is a vinyl-length CD of windswept, haunted songs and instrumental pieces, ideally suited for films, strangely enough. He maintains the album's vibe pretty well for most of its length, but it does all get a bit wearing towards the end of the disc, to be honest; the last track, A Picture Of Her, with its out-of-tune-and-time guitar, is really quite unnecessary, though I'm sure Mr. Gallo would disagree. Gallo plays and sings everything on the album, proving himself reasonably competent at most of them, though his drumming leaves something to be desired, and although his tremulous voice may not be to everyone's taste, it actually suits this material perfectly.
Gallo is known as a Mellotron/Chamberlin owner, once boasting of having given a stupidly rare Chamby M4 to his friend Sean Lennon. It seems likely that he's using an M300 on this album; every sound used falls within the M300A tape set (there were two slightly different sets, A and B). A fractured flute melody opens the ridiculously-titled I Wrote This Song For The Girl Paris Hilton, with low strings (the M300's two violins) on My Beautiful White Dog and clunky vibes on Was. I'm assuming (maybe wrongly) it's M300 organ on Honey Bunny, which may or may not be inspired by either his band with Lukas Haas, Bunny, or his other well-known celluloid production, the infamous The Brown Bunny, which apparently caused some consternation at Cannes that year.
A year later, Gallo released another album on Warp, Recordings of Music for Film. Exactly what it says on the tin, this is his original soundtrack work to not only Buffalo 66, but also three early works, If You Feel Froggy, Jump ('79), Downtown '81 (er, '81) and 83's The Way It Is. All of them, even the late-'90s work, were recorded on low-tech gear; two-track reel-to-reels, various acoustic instruments and analogue keyboards. It seems Gallo has owned at least one Mellotron since the late '70s, although, unlike on When, he hasn't used it/them overmuch on his soundtrack work, to the point where I think that's M300 cellos, possibly treated, on The Way It Is Waltz, but I wouldn't actually swear to it.
One amusing/disturbing facet of this album is Gallo's sleevenotes. Six closely-typed pages of invective, where he manages to say nice things about precisely two people, while dismissing practically the entire female gender at a stroke, not to mention specific unpleasantnesses. Vincent Gallo makes interesting films and fascinating soundtracks, but you get the feeling you probably wouldn't want to spend an evening with him in the pub. Especially if you're a woman. Especially if you don't possess a B cup, as "I like B's", apparently, and he ain't talking Hammond organs. If Gallo isn't a total misanthropist, he's doing a good impression of one, but it has made for some interesting work. Hey, since when did 'normal' people make great art?
Anyway, these albums are very similar, proving that Gallo invented post-rock about 15 years early, and if you like low-fi, blasted weirdness, you'll probably love these. I quite like them myself, as you can see from my ratings above, but I doubt if I'll play them too often. They make me want to see his films, though, so they've achieved something. When is borderline 'worth it for the 'Tron', but Recordings, unless I'm missing a whole load of odd Mellotron work, is practically devoid of the instrument, despite Gallo's claims that it was used on all of the soundtracks contained within.
Gallo live in Japan, 2003.
Unofficial site concentrating on Gallo's music