The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'Stephen McNulty'

16

John Butler Trio 'Grand National'Australian roots activists return with their fourth long player.

The CLUAS Verdict? 5 out of 10

John Mayer, Roy Harper, Dave Matthews… how you react to that list pretty much determines whether the John Butler Trio are your bag or not.

The John Butler Trio are led by Mr Butler himself. Native of North America, he moved to Australia at age 10. Grand National is the band’s third album and he is credited almost single-handedly with making roots music fashionable down under - roots music being an umbrella term covering  a kind of looping, groovy brand of rock replete with wah-wah guitar solos, banjos, lap-steel and vaguely political lyrics. He preaches peace (man) and has the dreadlocks to show he takes it all very seriously. The opening track (and lead off single in Australia) is the highlight of the album. Better Than is funky, melodic and soars over the rest of the tunes on the album in that it does not sound forced. It is driven by an insistent banjo riff – if you’re going to download a track from the album, make it this one.

Daniella has a vaguely hip-hop feel to it. Butler syncopates his words in some embarrassing take on Dave Matthews. It’s awful. Funky Tonight does exactly what it says on the tin – throwing banjo, harmonica, congas and cowbells together in a messy squall. It works well enough but is followed by the execrable Caroline, a dreadful ballad about child abuse. The lyrics are trite, almost insulting. Poisonously syrupy. The musicianship is of a high standard, including a fabulously jazzy interlude on Gov Did Nothin’. The song is still let down by some entertainingly cack lyrics – “Now I don’t mean to offend / No I don’t wish to start a fight / But do you really think that the gov would do nothin’ / If all those people were white”. Sheesh…

Groovin’ Slowly is Bob Marley-lite. Devil Running up the ante with its opening backwards guitar solo over a droning didgeridoo before the ubiquitous groovy acoustic takes over. The chorus comes over all emo(!).The rest of the record floats by almost by accident.

Stephen McNulty


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04
As I've been in Australia for a while now, I've been assimilating the local Aussie music scene. One band has stood head and shoulders above the rest and I feel it's now the time to introduce Ireland (and the world) to the genius that is Augie March.

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16

Astral Weeks - cosmically over-rated?Earlier this week, the Guardian asked a number of credible musos du jour (Mark Ronson,  Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips et al) to talk about a "classic" album that failed to light their fire. The article here delivers a masterclass in Sacred Cow slaying. Everything from Nevermind to Pet Sounds to The Stone Roses gets it in the neck.

Whilst I disagree wholeheartedly with Alex Kapranos slagging off Marquee Moon (how could he?!), I must admit that I found myself nodding vigorously to myself with descriptions of the Arcade Fire's  Neon Bible ("..an agglomeration of mannerisms, cliches and devices...") and Is This It (..the Strokes are the new Duran Duran; the new decadence for the new millennium...).

Of course, it got my thinking. Time to invite my fellow CLUASers to slay some sacred cows of their own. To start with, I'd like to nominate the two albums that adorn the top of the CLUAS Best Irish albums - Van the Man's Astral Weeks, and Loveless by that famous "Irish" beat combo, My Bloody Valentine. The directionless dirge that is Astral Weeks is knocked into a tin hat by  the delightful Moondance, whilst Loveless sounds like some recorded a bad album for their iPOD underwater. Now I know that the guitar layers and swoony indecipherable vocals are supposed to transport me to a nether world.... but there ARE NO TUNES!

Patti Smith, Horses. Neigh I say. Poetry recited over a sloppy bar band?

There isn't a single Dylan album that I can listen to the whole way through. Now call me a philistine (and I know some of you already think I am) but there are just too many words. Blonde on Blonde? I find myself skipping tracks. Visions of Johanna's genius is drained by is length.

Why are the Clash worshipped?! So many of their songs sound under-rehearsed and rehashed. And, the worst crime of all, they inspired the truly awful Libertines. Surely the most over-rated band of recent times, Up The Bracket is off-key, gravelly and ridiculously derivative.

 And so, my friends, I ask you this. What is the most over-rated album of all time? Do you agree with my choices or would you prefer to add some new and familiar names to the list? OK Computer anyone?

 


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01

"My candidate for the worst movie-star director of all time has to be Clint Eastwood. Because he's still a big star and he stays on budget, Hollywood continues to indulge his directorial fantasies, yet in nearly 40 years of half-assed attempts at directing he has never developed a style of his own. Every directorial chop Eastwood displays was stolen from Don Siegel or Sergio Leone - real filmmakers who taught him what little he knows. Clint's only original theme, present from Play Misty for Me all the way to Million Dollar Baby, is that of a paternalistic white male who exercises the power of life or death over a woman: invariably, he chooses to kill her." Alex Cox, May 25th 2007

Isn't that one of the best Hollywood Sacred Cow assassinations of all time?

It's from a recent Alex Cox column in the Film and Music section of the Guardian newspaper. Alex Cox, for those of who may not be up to speed on your bitter independent film directors, is British and is best known for his 80s low budget output - Sid 'n' Nancy, Repo Man and, perhaps, Straight to Hell starring the late great Joe Strummer. I know him best for his simply brilliant  early 90s late night BBC2 slot, Moviedrome, where he introduced his favourite movies and seemed to have free reign. For young impressionable movie fans like yours truly, Moviedrome's diet of sexy, sometimes violent, but always intriguing cult films was manna from heaven. He's probably more responsible for this blog than anyone.

A list of the movies shown on Moviedrome with some of Cox's characteristically dry intros can be found here. What a list! Opening with The Wicker Man, through to Barbarella, Five Easy Pieces, Get Carter and Badlands, Moviedrome was a movie education. I note that in the 1992 season, Cox showcased a Play Misty for Me directed by Clint Eastwood... ahem...

Cox's assassination of Clint Eastwood may be tongue in cheek (maybe?). But there is definitely some truth in the observation that Eastwood is a director without a signature note. Unlike his contemporaries (Scorcese, De Palma etc) who's movies are identifiable almost from the opening reel, Eastwood's movies cannot be regarded as the work of an auteur. Eastwood's movies are watched almost out of duty (except for the truly wonderful Unforgiven).

Anyway, as Cox is an inspiration for this column, I thought it appropriate that I assassinate my own Sacred Cow. And I invite you all to do the same below.

Lars von Trier. Even saying his name makes me feel bilious. I've walked out of two movies in my life (I've also been marched out of a movie... but that's a subject for an entirely different blog) - one was Out of Africa (I was young and bored). The other was The Idiots, a movie about idiots, directed by an idiot, made for idiots. Von Trier's movies are pretentious, affected, disheartening, wilful, empty, intellectually bankrupt and just plain threatening. Letting his actors stay in character (i.e. actors pretend to be spastic for our entertainment) for hours on set, he even claimed this technique as his own even though the great Robert Altman, in honour of whom this blog is named, had been doing it for years. Yet this sadistic man has devotees all through the movie-loving world. He sagely agrees that he is difficult with his actresses as this extraordinary interview with Newsweek describes under the headline, Meet the Punisher.... Couldn't have put it better myself.


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24

Richard and his hairOnce in a while, stuck on the other side of the world, I envy the quality TV that you lot get in the Northern Hemisphere. One of the shows I miss most is Later with Jools Holland.

And tonight's show has a simply brilliant line-up. Bloc Party, LCD Soundsystem, Joan Armatrading, Wilco and my hope for breakthrough of the year, Richard Swft.

The last, and only, time I saw Richard Swift live was on a visit to see our esteemed editor in Brussels. As is his wont, Eoghan organised that we, with our better halves, would go see a gig that he had picked out. Swift made up one of two relativlely obscure singer-songwriters - the other being Baxter Dury, son of the late Ian Dury. Dury's rather predictable reggae-like urban dramas were completely obscured by Swift's dramatic, almost vaudevillian, chamber pop. Swift had a memorable head of hair (!) as well as a tight, funky band. His melodic delivery perfectly suited his songs. I bought a double CD that was available on the night - a compilation his previous two albums, the Novelist / Walking Without Effort.

 This year Swift returned to the fray with one of the albums of the year, Dressed Up for the Letdown. As the title suggests, it's a melancholy delight, full of pointed lyrics. Artist and Repertoire , typically, is a conversation between Swift and his A&R man - "Sorry Mr. Swift, but there's no radio that likes to play the songs of your lovers' sorrow". Many of the songs evoke Richard Hawley, Rufus Wainwright... And he deserves to be in this exalted company. his albums can be wallowed in.

So enjoy Richard Swift on Jools tonight. And then go buy his really rather wonderful records...  


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08

True living legend Prince has announced a 21 date residency in London later this year. The details known to date can be found here. 21 shows!!

What's interesting about Prince's escapade is that he has fixed ticket prices at £31.21 in tribute to his latest (and really rather fine) album 3121 - ticket buyers will also get a copy of the album (I'm assuming a digital download). The price means many of his fans can now afford to see the man credited with some of the most spectacular stage shows of the 20th century. Prince claims to have prepared over 150 songs for the shows and that he will play a different set list each night. He's bringing the symbol shaped stage that was showcased during the Superbowl half-time show. Seeing such a spectacle for that price must count as one of the bargains of the year (though cynics might snort that this ploy is designed to guarantee a full house for a fading musical force).

In any case, I applaud the idea and I think other, more close to home, moneymaking franchises could take note.

The PrinceFest will also present music lovers with an opportunity to appraise Prince's work. A friend of mine directed me to this interview with Alan Leeds. It is genuinely awe-inspiring. I challenge you to read it and resist putting on Sign of the TImes or Purple Rain or Around the World in a Day. In an era of mind-numbing hyperbole, this guy genuinely is a musical genius.

Definition of frustration? I'm visiting London for two weeks this summer, leaving for Sydney on July 28th. Rumoured date of Prince's first show? July 29th.


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01

Rosario Dawson - sawn off at the thigh...During the utlimately rather forgettable 300, I found myself thinking about the trailer I'd just seen for Grindhouse, a double bill directed by Robert Rodriguez (who made the heroic Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (do we need to list his triumphs?). The gorgeous Rosario Dawson as a stripper with a machine gun for a leg. A grizzly looking Kirk Douglas wearing an iconic eye patch. Again. The trailer was so gloriously over the top - a quick scan round the audience revealed many a popcorn muncher elbowing his partner or mate, mouthing "what the f*** is this?!".

I've been annoying my partner about this film for months.

And, now, the release in Australia (and Ireland) has been postponed. Indefinitely. The box office takings of the movie in the US have been disastrous - a measly $12 million in its opening weekend (over Easter - traditionally a strong movie-going period). Considering the movie had a reputed budget of $100 milliion, this represents a flop of titanic proportions.

A double bill of Rodriguez' Planet Terror (a zombie horror flick) and Tarantino's Death Proof (a car chase cum serial killer cum god knows what else) complete with spoof trailers, Grindhouse was shot as a homage to the cheap 'n' nasty, violent, pornographic low budget movies of the 60s and 70s. It sounds a winner, doesn't it? Both directors, now firm friends, have made careers of taking scenes and dialogue from movies and directors they love, and putting a new milennium spin on them. Reservoir Dogs owed much to Ringo Lam's 1987 Hong Kong thriller, City of Fire. Rodriguez's El Mariachi was a Western that was indebted to John Woo who, in turn, was a disciple of Sam Peckinpah. Tarantino took pop culture to new heights in Pulp Fiction especially and even if you didn't get all the film or genre references, the movie was so much fun that you could not help being swept along. So what's gone wrong? It seems to me that the problem with Grindhouse is that the whole movie is a reference to a genre that is not held in such high esteem. And didn't Tarantino and Rodriguez already make a grindhouse movie with From Dusk To Dawn with it's vampires and violence and a vamping Salma Hayek. Reports of American cinema goers leaving halfway through as they did not know it was a double bill are probably exaggerated, but are symptomatic of the movie's many problems.

Rumour has it that Grindhouse will, ironically, now be split into its constituent parts and released as two separate movies. Tarantino's effort, Death Proof, will apparently be showcased in Cannes (where he controversially won the Palm D'Or for Pulp Fiction) while Rodriguez's effort is in limbo. 

All I am is massively disappointed. There have been few cinema events this past year and now Harvey Weinstein, in his wisdom, has decided that America's indifference to this challenging movie will be reflected worldwide. Has Tarantino really lost the plot? Or does he deserves studio support since Weinstein's powerful position in Hollywood owes much to Reservoir Dogs. Maybe Grindhouse is too much of an in-joke for a mainstream audience ($100 million for such a movie does seem ridiculous) but godammit, it needs to be seen!

 


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30

... can be heard here. The Stripes are even more Led Zep than ever. Magnificent!

 


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30

One of the more interesting of the music prizes on offer is the ShortList.

The list this year is remarkable in that it's virtually a distillation of the past 12 months of our CLUAS discussion board faves!... Band of Horses, Beirut, Joanna Newsom, Cat Power. All CLUAS discussion topics over the past months and all very much in with a shout of winning.

For those of you unfamiliar with the "rules" of Shortlist, any album released in the U.S. in 2006 is eligible for nomination as long as it had not been certified gold for domestic US sales of 500,000 or more. The list is chosen by a random selection of musicians - this year that selection really is a fascinating combo. We will have a winning album chosen by Franz Ferdinand, KT Tunstall, Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol), last year's winner Sufjan Steven and Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips front man) amongst other luminaries. A long list of 61 has been whittled down to the following:-

1.     Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
2.     Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
3.     Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Letting Go
6.     Hot Chip - The Warning
9.     Spank Rock – YoYoYoYoYo
10.   Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

For me, the standout is the Tom Waits magnum opus which is rewarding me every time I play it. But if we assume that a living legend really doesn't need another award, then it becomes a quite tricky decision. I'm disappointed that Midlake and Beck didn't make it from the long list as they made, in my opinion, the best albums of their careers. I love the Bonnie Prince record, but it's not the best he's made (you need to go back to 2002's I See A Darkness for that). Cat Power is a little one-paced... Band of Horses have a long way to go. Regina Spektor's Begin To Hope is wildly uneven as the CLUAS review pointed out.

I reckon it will boil down to a straight choice between Hot Chip and (the wildly over-rated?) Joanna Newsom. And Newsom will win. 


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21

the current Wilco lineupIt happened halfway through last Wilco's first ever headlining gig in Sydney last night . The band were ripping through Walken from their imminent release, Sky Blue Sky.  I was sat by the sound desk, in a leg brace - long story. My good friend Fergal, enjoying his virgin Wilco experience, turned to me and took a Robbie-Robertson-a-la-Last-Waltz stance, wide-legged, jerking back and forth, guitar swinging from side to side. I looked back to the stage and realised just how much Jeff Tweedy resembled the former Band front man. Right down to the ear to ear grin. Yep, this was not the grumpy Jeff I'd experienced in the past - this was a happy Jeff. Jeff, the raconteur, taking the piss out of Steak 'n' Kidney (Sydney) and describing Tasmania as "the two-headed state".

The music was just as joyous. Encompassing songs from all of their albums, the gig hit Wilco Setlist Enmore Sydney 21/04/07some extraordinary heights. Misunderstood was HUGE, the audience yelling "Nothing!" with the band over and over and over again. Set closer, the ever avant-garde Spiders, showcased the dualling guitars of Tweedy and lead guitarist, Nels Cline. This was a continuing motif of the night - Tweedy's guitar was dirty, messy, strangled and Cline's was bright, exact, soaring. Together they made a truly compelling sound - the three minute guitar salvo at the end of At Least That's What You Said was a hair-raising highlight. California Stars from their still wonderful Billy Bragg collaboration Mermaid Avenue was as littingly lovely as ever. Theologians, Jesus etc and Hummingbird were expertly despatched. Drums, guitar, piano, perfect vocal harmonies. Wilco could really be the Band of our time. There were glimpses of Dylan, Bowie, the Stones and the Band, of course, but Tweedy has morphed this alt-country collective into something that is so much more.

Such a celebratory concert doesn't quite dispel all my doubts about the new album though. The set featured five songs from Sky Blue Sky, due out at the end of May, and I'm not sure I could argue that lack of familiarity is the reason none stood out as highlights. Hate It Here, introduced by Tweedy as the "Domestic Song", talks of domestic bliss, of missing a loved one when he or she is not home. It's soulful, beautifully sung by Tweedy, but it lacks the bite and challenge of previous Wilco classics. Sky Blue Sky sounds settled, comfortable. Whilst I suspect this respresents where Tweedy is with his life right now, it means the record is all too easy to absorb.

The band tour Europe in May (though I notice that Dublin doesn't seem to be on the current itinerary). They play two shows in the Shepherd's Bush Empire (the best music venue in the world, in my humble opinion) - an exhilarating night is guaranteed.

 A webcast of the gig is here.


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Nuggets from our archive

1999 - 'The eMusic Market', written by Gordon McConnell it focuses on how the internet could change the music industry. Boy was he on the money, years before any of us had heard of an iPod or of Napster.