Thursday, July 31, 2014

Zee "Identity" (1984) w/Richard Wright

Following up on my recent post about the two solo albums by Richard Wright, the late keyboardist of Pink Floyd, I also wanted to point out an obscure side project which Wright recorded while he was temporarily ousted from Pink Floyd. Zee was a duo consisting of Wright and Dave (De) Harris, the singer/guitarist who had fronted the new wave band Fashion on their 1982 album Fabrique (aka Height Of Fashion). Zee's only album was Identity, released in Europe in 1984.

On Identity, Wright and Harris co-produced (with Tim Palmer) and co-wrote all of the songs; both of them are credited with keyboards, percussion, and Fairlight synthesizer (which is used quite prominently). But Identity comes across as being mainly the project of Dave Harris, who wrote the lyrics, sang the lead vocals, and played guitar. Still, the music tends to have a bit more in common with Floyd’s art-rock than with the intense dance-pop of Fashion. Despite the mostly electronic instrumentation, most of the songs have an unexpected dryness, as Harris sings about the emotional barriers between lovers. One gets the impression that Zee may have been born out of a desire by Harris to leave the New Romanticism scene behind and enter the world of art-rock, but it was not an ideal musical direction for him, even with one of the genre’s luminaries as a collaborator. Harris does at least have a fairly distinctive voice, with a more masculine timbre than many of that era’s other new wave frontmen, and Wright’s presence gives Zee some credible sophistication.

For fans of Pink Floyd, “Voices” and “Seems We Were Dreaming” would hold the most interest, since those are the tracks where Wright seemed to have the most influence. Fans of Harris’ work with Fashion would be most interested in “By Touching” and “How Do You Do It”, since they come the closest to resembling that band’s edgy type of dance pop. Another noteworthy track is “Strange Rhythm”, whose rhythm is built on tribal beats. And the cassette version of the album contains a bonus track called “Eyes Of A Gypsy”, placed at the end of Side A after “Strange Rhythm”; it’s a dub reggae song that is more striking than most of the proper album tracks. (“Eyes Of A Gypsy” was also the B-side of “Confusion”, the album’s only single).

Although it wouldn’t be fair to say that Zee did not have their own identity, Identity ultimately fails to distinguish itself as anything more than a dated Floyd-related footnote.

Zee - Identity

Zee "Identity" (Harvest SHSP 2401011) 1984

Track Listing:

1. Confusion
2. Voices
3. Private Person
4. Strange Rhythm
5. Cuts Like A Diamond
6. By Touching
7. How Do You Do It
8. Seems We Were Dreaming
* Eyes Of A Gypsy – (cassette-only bonus track placed after “Strange Rhythm”; also the B-side of the “Confusion” single)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Richard Wright solo albums

By now, you've probably heard the news that a new Pink Floyd album, titled The Endless River, is set for release this fall. The official press release describes the album, which will be the Floyd's first in 20 years, as "an album of mainly ambient and instrumental music based on the 1993/4 Division Bell sessions which feature David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright". The way that the news originally was leaked was by a way that could not have been used the last time the Floyd released an album: via Twitter. On July 5th, Gilmour's wife Polly Samson casually tweeted: "Btw Pink Floyd album out in October is called "The Endless River". Based on 1994 sessions is Rick Wright's swansong and very beautiful." (Update: the album is now scheduled to be released on November 10th).

There is at least one word of Samson's tweet that would not quite fit its proper definition. A "swan song" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the last performance or piece of work by an actor, athlete, writer, etc." Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright died from cancer in 2008, but recordings from 1994 would not constitute the final studio work of his life. Wright released a solo album titled Broken China in 1996, which he had in fact worked on after The Division Bell.

Before we get to that, I also want to mention Wright's only other solo album, released two decades earlier.

On his first solo recording, 1978’s Wet Dream, six of the ten tracks were instrumentals. Wright wrote and produced the album, which was recorded with the help of session saxophonist/flutist Mel Collins, touring Floyd guitarist Snowy White, drummer Reg Isidore (who had previously played with Robin Trower), and bassist Larry Steele (who had played with Cat Stevens and Peter Green). The type of “wet dream” that Wright apparently had in mind was a summer vacation at sea. The three instrumentals on Side One (“Mediterranean C”, “Cat Cruise”, and “Waves”) all sound like part of a soundtrack for a seasonal cruise. The lyrics to “Holiday” spell it right out: “Sail on, across the sea / Ride the waves, feel the breeze / Sail on, there's no other way I'd rather be”. The other three songs with lyrics sound more somber. “Against The Odds” (whose lyrics were written by Wright’s first wife Juliette) and “Summer Elegy” are about troubled relationships. “Pink’s Song” presumably refers to Syd Barrett (“Caught between the tangled web, you helped set us free / Sadly then you lost yourself, so you had to leave”). The instrumentals on Side Two (“Mad Yannis Dance”, “Drop In From The Top”, and “Funky Deax”) have a quirkier prog nature, but they don’t quite sound Floydian, despite Snowy’s occasionally Gilmour-like leads. Wet Dream is a half-interesting glimpse at what the “Great Gig In The Sky” guy liked to do in his spare time.

By contrast, Broken China (released in 1996) was a very Floyd-like concept album, a four-part opus about the depression suffered by Wright’s third wife, Millie. The album includes many neo-classical instrumentals, occasional sound effects reminiscent of The Wall, and lyrics by Anthony Moore (who had previously contributed lyrics to the post-Waters Floyd albums). Wright sings six of the songs, which tend to resemble the Floyd at their most somber and understated. Two other tracks, “Reaching For The Rail” and “Breakthrough”, are sung by a mature-sounding Sinéad O'Connor, whose low-key delivery convincingly illustrates the feelings of the condition. Those two tracks easily stand out. Like too many prog-rock albums, Broken China doesn’t begin to catch its stride until the second half, and even at that point it is not as compelling as it wants to be. Still, it does reveal much about the ingredients Wright contributed to Pink Floyd’s famous recordings.

In conjunction with the release of Broken China, EMI issued a three-song promotional CD single containing two seven-minute remixes of “Runaway” by ambient duo The Orb. “Runaway” was a rather nondescript ambient instrumental in its original four-minute album version. The Orb's “Lemonade Mix” adds plenty of pulsating electronic flatulence, while their “Leggit Dub” mix adds a more complex sound collage. Both versions easily have more substance than the original, but both wear out their welcome before the ends of their seven-minute lengths. The third track on the single is an instrumental remix of “Night of a Thousand Furry Toys” by William Orbit with Matt Ducasse. It’s basically an eight-minute trip-hop indulgence, but it doesn’t bore.

Richard Wright - Wet Dream

Richard Wright "Wet Dream" (Columbia JC 35559) 1978

Track Listing:

1. Mediterranean C
2. Against the Odds
3. Cat Cruise
4. Summer Elegy
5. Waves
6. Holiday
7. Mad Yannis Dance
8. Drop In from the Top
9. Pink's Song
10. Funky Deux

Rick Wright - Broken China

Rick Wright "Broken China" (EMI 7243 8 53645 2 5) 1996

Track Listing:

1. Breaking Water
2. Night of a Thousand Furry Toys
3. Hidden Fear
4. Runaway
5. Unfair Ground
6. Satellite
7. Woman of Custom
8. Interlude
9. Black Cloud
10. Far from the Harbour Wall
11. Drowning
12. Reaching for the Rail
13. Blue Room in Venice
14. Sweet July
15. Along the Shoreline
16. Breakthrough

Richard Wright - Runaway

Rick Wright “Runaway” (promo CD single) (EMI CDRW 101) 1996

Track Listing:

1. Runaway (R. Wright’s Lemonade Mix) - (7:05)
2. Runaway (Leggit Dub) - (7:02)
3. Night of a Thousand Furry Toys (Inverted Gravy Mix) - (8:33)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Secret Seven “Hold On To Love” (1983)

After the unfortunate 1981 demise of the sadly unnoticed Distractions, lead singer Mike Finney worked with a short-lived band called the Secret Seven, who released only one single in the U.K. in 1983. Finney shared vocal duties with Julie Middles, the ex-wife of Manchester music journalist Mick Middles; the Seven also included producer/guitarist Martin Hayles, sometime Distractions drummer Bernard Van Den Berg, a bass player named A.J., percussionist Danny Cummings, and keyboardist Don Garbutt. Their sound bore no resemblance to that of Finney’s former band. Where the Distractions’ educated new wave approach made their 1980 album timeless, the Secret Seven’s 1983 single was clearly a product of its exact time period.

Based on the single’s two tracks, The Secret Seven (or Secret 7, as it was spelled on the disc’s center label) played new-wave-era dance pop, certainly slicker and less wistful than the music of the Distractions. At its core, the A-side “Hold On To Love” was born from the same school of New Romanticism that brought us Duran Duran and the Human League. It’s not very far removed from ‘70’s disco, but it’s somewhat distinguished by Finney’s soulful vocals (showing a more upbeat side of him than the Distractions did) and catchy keyboard sounds from Garbutt. The B-side, “Up In Smoke”, follows an even more repetitive r&b groove, with Middles coming across as little more than a prominent backup singer. Again, Finney’s vocals and Garbutt’s keyboards are the only distinguishing factors.

Secret Seven “Hold On To Love” b/w “Up In Smoke” (Bronze BRO 164) 1983

Track Listing:

1. Hold On To Love
2. Up In Smoke

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Tame Impala: "Live Versions" differences

Tame Impala, the neo-psychedelic Australian band led by Kevin Parker, released a full-length live LP titled Live Versions on Record Store Day in 2014. The LP was limited to 5,000 copies, 500 of which were pressed in translucent green vinyl. Its nine tracks were selected from a 2013 Chicago concert. Most of the songs are drawn from the band's first two full-length studio albums Innerspeaker (2010) and Lonerism (2012). The music of Tame Impala loses none of its dreaminess in the live setting. Listening to Live Versions gives one a feeling of floating in outer space.

Tame Impala's sound is at once cosmic and melodic, almost hiding a melancholy pop sense behind an otherworldly wall of psychedelic sound. Tame Impala's studio recordings are usually made by Kevin Parker alone; when the full band plays live, they often add new dimensions to the original songs, augmenting them with extended jams and other effects. The tracks on Live Versions were selected because they feature noticeable differences from their studio originals. For each of the album’s tracks listed below, I've attempted to point out these differences.

Tame Impala - Live Versions

Tame Impala “Live Versions” (Modular MODVL184) 2014

Track Listing:

1. Endors Toi (4:36) – The band plays around more with effects here than on the studio version.

2. Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind? (4:10) – This version uses repetitive effects that you might expect to hear on a dance remix.

3. Sestri Levante (1:42) – A short but satisfying instrumental not found on either studio album

4. Mind Mischief (3:51) – A largely instrumental version with different synth passages

5. Desire Be, Desire Go (5:17) – The added passage at the two-thirds mark sounds like part of an entirely different song.

6. Half Full Glass Of Wine (7:36) – This song resembles a modern mutation of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love”, even more so in this setting than on the studio version (which appeared on the self-titled 2008 debut EP). This live version adds a long instrumental midsection.

7. Be Above It (7:15) – Features an extended instrumental portion which adds layers of ambient sounds over the hypnotic drumming pattern

8. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards (2:41) – A creamy, melodic delight. This song has an even more spacey atmosphere in this setting, with a fuller keyboard sound.

9. Apocalypse Dreams (7:11) – A one-minute instrumental coda is appended to the end of the song -- and, in turn, the end of the album.