3 Penny Needle
4 Non Blondes
4/3 de Trio
90 Day Men
10cc (1973, 34.35) ***/½
|Johnny, Don't Do it
Sand in My Face
The Dean and I
The Hospital Song
|Ships Don't Disappear (Do They?)
Fresh Air for My Mama
Sheet Music (1974) ***½/T½
|The Wall Street Shuffle
The Worst Band in the World
Old Wild Men
Somewhere in Hollywood
10cc appeared fully-formed in '73, rising from the ashes of Hotlegs, with the witty, intelligent Rubber Bullets, on Jonathan King's independent UK label. All four members had been around for a while, particularly bassist/whatever (all members were multi-instrumentalists) Graham Gouldman, who wrote For Your Love for the Yardbirds a good eight years earlier, not to mention being a member of Wayne Fontana's Mindbenders.
10cc rather proves the point that great singles bands frequently don't make good albums bands; there's nothing wrong with the material, but it tends to fail to excite in quite the same way as the singles (Donna and The Dean And I being the other two). The lyrics are, without exception, witty and urbane and the arrangements are exceptionally clever, but somehow, most of the tracks leave you (or me, anyway) slightly cold, although Headline Hustler's not at all bad, and the doo-wop pastiches of Donna and Johnny Don't Do It are exceptionally accurate, if a little soulless. Fresh Air For My Mama is the sole Mellotron track on offer (player unknown), with a distinct Beach Boys feel on the chorus, and a little bit of strings, but that's it for the 'Tron.
Sheet Music is a better album than its predecessor, although like all their LPs, it suffers from the same 'the singles are the best bits' syndrome, in this case, the superb Silly Love and The Wall Street Shuffle. Saying that, live fave The Worst Band In The World is excellent, and Clockwork Creep, while not the greatest song, is the direct precursor to their (much) later hit, I'm Mandy, Fly Me. The Mellotron on The Wall Street Shuffle, played by guitarist/chief singer Eric Stewart is superb, with some moody string chords under the middle eight, and a strings-switching-to-flute part to die for. Hotel's flutes (from Lol Creme) are OK but nothing special and Baron Samedi's strings are almost inaudible, leaving the best 'Tron track (not to mention one of the two best songs full stop) easily available on any 'best of' compilation.
So; two OK albums, one great 'Tron track. Buy their Greatest Hits instead. Oh, and just to clear up some long-running confusion, no, that ISN'T Mellotron (or Chamberlin) on their biggest UK hit, I'm Not In Love, from '75's The Original Soundtrack (***½). Apparently, they got the 'ghostly voices' effect by (get this) recording the massed vocal parts onto a looped strip of 24-track tape, then 'playing' the mixing desk to fade different parts in and out. The effect is truly magnificent, but (heresy time) that's why samplers were invented.
Official fan club site
See: Hotlegs | Graham Gouldman
Twice Told Tales (2015, 51.03) ***/T
|Lady Mary Ramsey I
The Song of Wandering Aengus
She Moved Through the Fair
Dark Eyed Sailor
Misty Moisty Morning
Do You Love an Apple?
Death of Queen Jane
Wild Mountain Thyme
Lady Mary Ramsey II
Reading up on 10,000 Maniacs for this review, I was amazed to find that they formed in 1981, not to mention that Natalie Merchant left as long ago as 1993. Not really a fan, as you can probably tell... Actually, their ninth (is that all?) studio album, 2015's Twice Told Tales, is actually pretty decent; inoffensive at worst. As you may be able to tell from its tracklisting, it consists of the American band's interpretations of traditional British Isles (as against specifically British) folk songs, although the band's veering-towards-the-middle-of-the-road sound rather neutralises much of the material, robbing it of the power with which, say, Steeleye Span might have invested it. Highlights include instrumental fiddle pieces Lady Mary Ramsey I & II, bookending the album, while the sparse Greenwood Sidey works rather nicely, but too many tracks sit in that 'mid-paced trad rock' groove to make any real impact outside the band's (admittedly sizeable) fanbase.
Armand John Petri guests on Mellotron, with a flute part on Canadee-I-O that sounds like it might actually emanate from a real machine, key-click and all. Which is nice. So, decent enough, if entirely unstartling, slightly middle-aged US-pretending-to-be-UK folk rock. I've heard a lot worse.
See: Natalie Merchant
This Our Sacrifice of Praise (1974, 41.34) ***/T½
|The Earth is the Lord's
To Thy Holy Name
The Lord Has Done Great Things for Us
Let Us Thank the Lord
Praise the Lord
By the Waters of Babylon
The Musical Box Song
|Trust in the Lord
As you might have gathered from the song titles, 11.59 were a full-on Christian band, working at the folk/rock end of the spectrum. So; am I going to slate it? No. Because? a) My copy has been provided by their old keyboard player, Andy Kinch (Manasseh, Kracked Earth) and b) it's actually better than that, although calling it This Our Sacrifice of Praise bugs me slightly. Why sacrifice? Stop being so sacrificial and just get on with living. Er, sorry, Andy. Anyway, the record is a tad sweet in places, particularly on the female vocal front, while some of the lyrics will raise the hackles of non-believers, notably the jaunty Hallelujah Jesus!, which is, in all honesty, a bit hard to bear. If you concentrate on the music, though, what you get is a nice folk rock album with a bit of Mellotron, which is rare enough in itself to warrant attention. All but one of the songs is based on the psalms, the best-known in the secular world being No.23, The Lord is My Shepherd, tackled at the end of the album on one of Kinch's two compositions, although strangely, neither of his songs has any Mellotronic content.
Speaking of said Mellotron, there are flutes and strings on opener The Earth Is The Lord's, then nothing until By The Waters Of Babylon, which you may or may not be glad to hear has nothing to do with the later Boney M song, apart from the obvious lyrical content. Actually, it's one of the nicest pieces on the album, a melancholy, minor-key piece with Mellotron flutes, but sadly, that would appear to be it. Although this is now on CD, it's through the Korean M2U label, so is almost certainly a bootleg. Andy still owns his (fully working) M400, which means it must be about time he recorded with it again. Andy? [n.b. See: Kracked Earth].
Plume Delivery (2006, 23.50) **½/TTBring the Good Boys Home
A Coming Age
Flight of the Monowings
Whole of the Law
Patron Saint of the Mediocre
Chicagoans The 1900s (no extraneous apostrophe! Hurrah!) are an indie septet, whose debut release, 2006's Plume Delivery EP, is harmless enough as these things go, a just-pre-psych influence apparent on several tracks, while the dual female vocals are reminiscent of, say, Dusty Springfield duetting with herself (cue: deluge of Dusty fans berating me for my ignorance). Best track? Has to be short instrumental Flight Of The Monowings, although when Patron Saint Of The Mediocre shifts up a gear, it almost becomes something special.
Michael Jasinski plays Chamberlin, with a flute solo opening A Coming Age, a string part (under the real violin) on Flight Of The Monowings and something (clicky flutes?) on Patron Saint Of The Mediocre. Can I recommend this? Not especially, no, although some decent Chamby use helps to drag it up from the depths of indie tedium.
Brand New Worries (1996, 49.21) **/½
Brand New Worries
Crack A Smile
Down On Me
Does the phrase 'alternative pop/rock' send a shudder down your spine? And if not, why not? 3 Penny Needle's Brand New Worries (their sole release?) is a pretty turgid affair, frankly, although I'm sure (?) any track picked at random would sound at least vaguely acceptable; it's twelve on the trot that drives the discerning listener to despair, not to mention the disc's fifty-minute running time. Worst track? Possibly six-minute closer Stain, if only because it's longer than everything else.
Randy Cantor plays occasional, distant, yet real-sounding Mellotron strings on David Gunn, although I can't, in all honesty, claim that they really improve matters very much. If this is 3 Penny Needle's only album, we should probably count ourselves lucky.
Stop (2002, 51.41) **½/T
Get Out Alive
You're Coming in Clearer
There is Gonna Be a Problem
|Smoke From a Funeral
Rock Stars Plastic Cars
Getting High With a Stranger
34 Satellite play a rather generic type of US indie, far too similar to a load of other bands I've heard recently and no more interesting. Admittedly, there's far worse than Stop around, but it doesn't exactly grab you by the short'n'curlies, screaming "Listen to me!" Highlights? Didn't hear any.
Joe McGinty arranges the string section on Longest Day, also playing Mellotron strings on Smoke From A Funeral, with a decent enough part. You know the score... One passable 'Tron track, dull album, don't bother. Is this my shortest ever review?
Bigger, Better, Faster, More! (1992, 41.08) **½/½
Morphine & Chocolate
Old Mr. Heffer
Calling All the People
|Dear Mr. President
No Place Like Home
The three-quarters female 4 Non Blondes had one of the odder career paths detailed on this site: their debut single, What's Up, crossed over from 'alternative' to mainstram radio, they sold a monstrous six million copies of their sole album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More! then fell apart in disarray. Let's hope a) they actually made any money from it and b) they managed to keep it. It's an entirely predictable album of safe alt.rock, to be honest, with Linda Perry's rather irritating vocals and clichéd lyrics splattered all over it like a second-rate Jackson Pollock painting; 'highlights' just ain't gonna happen, baby.
Rory Kaplan is credited with Mellotron on one of the album's massively successful singles, Spaceman, but if you can hear the background strings and/or cello I think are there with any clarity, you're doing better than me. So; don't buy this album, unless blandola college rock's your thang. Rubbish Mellotron, too.
Official Linda Perry site
See: Christina Aguilera | Celine Dion | Goapele | Pink | Daniel Powter | Skin | Sierra Swan
Faiblesse (1999, 68.28) ****/T½
Spare Yourself the Pain
The Taste of You
Dying for Religion
Ersatz (2004, 69.49) ****½/T½Solmhinärm
French quartet 4/3 de Trio presumably started life as a three-piece before expanding. They play a sort-of RIO-influenced progressive style with twin guitars, heavy on instrumental interplay, with one of the guitarists, Sébastien Grammond, doubling on various interesting keyboards. They actually remind me (ever so slightly) of mid-'70s Charisma outfit AFT (Automatic Fine Tuning) with their keyboardless sound; now there's a band long overdue for CD reissue...
Like AFT, the vocal numbers on their debut, 1999's Faiblesse, should maybe have been quietly excised, particularly the lyrics on The Taste Of You, but this is only a minor criticism. For a band who own some fine old gear, they seem to use it surprisingly little, although the two tracks featuring the studio Mellotron don't mess around too much with subtlety. The strings on Queen Wilson and choir on Ma Devise are quite overt, with both songs building to a Mellotronic crescendo, making you wonder why they didn't use it slightly more. 4/3 de Trio sometimes slip over into complex hard rock territory, especially on the keyboard-free numbers, but I think they're closer to 'prog' than anything else, although they're unlikely to appeal to your symph die-hard.
Apparently, the band split in 2002, despite having partially recorded a second album. After their drummer was subsequently killed in a car crash, they decided to finish the album in his memory. Of course, it would be vastly preferable had he survived and they'd decided to regroup anyway, but as a memorial, 2004's Ersatz beat your average marble slab hands down. A more 'typical' prog album than its predecessor, with a heavier keyboard presence, it's probably a more satisfying listen overall, while retaining the eclecticism of their debut. Grammond gets a little Mellotron in again, with choir and cellos on Solmhinärm, although the strings are real, with some 'stabbed' choir chords at the end of the 16-minute Kossmokardak, leaving La Blonde as the nearest the album gets to a Mellotron track, with major string and choir parts throughout. Incidentally, the two parts of DDar that close the album are listed as 'bonus tracks', although without a 'non-bonus' version, I think we have to assume that the band never intended them to be part of the album per se, but wanted them heard.
Anyway, not really Mellotron albums per se, but for complex, guitar-based prog, look no further. Sadly, more releases seem unlikely, but I suppose the band may reform at some time.
Livin' in a Bitch of a World (2016, 38.37) ***½/T
|Livin' in a Bitch of a World
400 Miles From Flagstaff
Answer the Bell
Stick to the Myth
She's So Rock and Roll
7Horse are the like-the-White-Stripes-but-better duo of guitarist Joie Calio and drummer Phil Leavitt (both sing); Calio released a supposedly-Mellotron-containing album, Complications of Glitter, as far back as 2004. 2016's Livin' in a Bitch of a World is the pair's third album, more authentic than the White Stripes and less R&B than The Black Keys, with impeccable rock'n'roll credentials. Top tracks? The stall-setting opening title track, their killer hard rock take on The Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive and the ripping slide work on Answer The Bell, while Drift shows that they can do 'quiet', too.
Someone calling themselves Captain Hook plays clearly real Mellotron flutes on Drift, on a machine that sounds like it could do with a good service. Somehow I suspect that they preferred it this way. So, all rather good, actually. What a nice change.
Nighty Night (2011, 18.51) ***/TNikola Tesla
Because the Origami
One Tiny Thing
Twelve Line Song
I'll Be My Mirror
The Problem With Saints
In some respects, 8in8 could be seen as a vanity project for all concerned, given that they consist of Ben Folds, author Neil Gaiman (is Neverwhere his best work? Discuss), Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls (and Gaiman's wife) and Damian Kulash of OK Go. As you might expect, given the band's membership, 2011's Nighty Night is a fairly quirky proposition, particularly Folds' and Palmer's contributions. Unfortunately, the EP struggles to hold my attention, although it's rescued by its two final tracks, I'll Be My Mirror and the bizarre The Problem With Saints (clearly vocalised by Gaiman), possibly the first song in which the word 'bifurcate' is used not just once, but several times. That's what happens when you include a respected author in your ranks.
Folds plays Mellotron strings on One Tiny Thing, sounding more authentic than on his own releases. I'm still not entirely sure whether or not this has been released in anything other than the 'digital' (i.e. download) format, but Folds fans, at least, should make the effort to hear this.
See: Ben Folds
9.30 Fly (1972, 40.02) ***/TLife and Times
Time of War
Difficult to know how to describe 9.30 Fly; sort-of folky, sort-of proto-prog, sort-of quite a few things, without ever really being any of them. To be quite honest, 9.30 Fly isn't the most exciting album ever, although it's perfectly pleasant as background music, with male and female vocals from husband-and-wife team (?) Barbara and Michael Wainwright at different points, and a relaxed feel that has nothing in common with, say, Van der Graaf Generator. It isn't helped in the slightest by Michael's consistently flat voice, though, especially when he's attempting to harmonise with Barbara, as on Time Of War.
Just one 'Tron track, presumably from Barbara Wainwright, with some full-on strings (MkII?) on Brooklyn Thoughts, but far from enough to make it worth buying for that alone. Sorry, but this album really didn't grab me at all, despite there being nothing actually 'wrong' with it, so I can only say: buy at your discretion.
Panda Park (2004, 34.34) ***½/TTTEven Time Ghost Can't Stop Wagner
When Your Luck Runs Out
Too Late or Too Dead
Silver and Snow
90 Day Men apparently started out as some kind of post-punk thing, but by what appears to be their final album, 2004's Panda Park, they sat more in the prog/psych area, in a post-rock kind of way. The material here's actually pretty impressive, with some interesting harmonic twists here and there; one that will most likely be played again, I think. Best tracks? Probably opener Even Time Ghost Can't Stop Wagner and Chronological Disorder, but there's nothing here that offends.
Keys man Andy Lansangan plays Mellotron (sounding very real, I have to say), with a lengthy flute accompaniment on Even Time Ghost Can't Stop Wagner, background strings and flutes on Chronological Disorder, beautifully clunky flutes on Sequel and cellos all over Too Late Or Too Dead, making for an unexpectedly 'Tron-heavy record. It all sounds wavery enough to be real, though who knows? Let's hope. Anyway, a surprisingly good album on both musical and Mellotronic fronts. Worth the effort.