My favourite albums – 51–60

I’ve realised that time is of the essence here as my time with a reliable internet connection gradually peters out before our move, so here’s another 10 albums for your perusal…

#60 Hedningarna – Kaksi: The breakthrough album for this Swedish/Finnish folk band, ‘Kaksi’ combines electronics, ethnic instruments and strange high pitched female vocals in an extremely effective way. You wouldn’t think this combination could rock, but it does and ‘Ful Valsen’ has a pagan joy about it that doesn’t need electric guitars to make it ‘heavy’. It’s not just heavy, it’s super-massive.

#59 Robin Trower – Bridge of Sighs: Almost the perfect guitar album from the ex-Procol Harum player and only let down by a couple of weak tracks. The title track is long on ambience with some gorgeous Univibe guitar and ‘Day of the Eagle’ is a Hendrixy rocker. ‘Too Rolling Stoned’ and ‘Little Bit of Sympathy’ are great too. Sure, Trower wears his influences on his sleeve, but although Jimi’s spirit never seems far away, Trower has his own style and it cuts through on this breakthrough album.

#58 PIL – Compact Disc: John Lydon’s attempt at a more commercial sound, for which he gathered a strange group of people – Cream’s drummer Ginger Baker, shred guitarist Steve Vai and multi-talented Ryuichi Sakamoto amongst others – to produce quite a glossy album but still full of his trademark roughness. ‘Bags’ is my favourite track here with its techno groove and disturbing lyrics.

#57 Funkadelic – Maggotbrain: Phew…this was a hard one to choose. Funkadelic have made a fair few albums and all good in their own way. The title track is a long guitar instrumental by Eddie Hazel who was Jimi’s true heir. The rest of the album’s great, but you should hear it for ‘Maggotbrain’ alone. It’s possibly the most mournful guitar instrumental you’ll ever hear and if you’re a guitarist, this is as much soul as you’ll ever want from one player.

#56 Guns ‘n’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction: GnR were the curate’s egg of hard rock. Everyone in the band was OK at what they did but together on this album they sounded like rock gods. You can stick ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ where the sun don’t shine, but I’ll keep the rest, thanks. Not too sure which of the rest is my favourite track but ‘Rocket Queen’ will do for today…

#55 Free – Tons of Sobs: The first Free album and still their best. Everything that made this band great was already there. No-one in British rock before or since ‘loped’ the beat quite like Free did. Kossof’s guitar has sublime sparseness and idiosyncratic vibrato, Roger’s vocals are raw to say the least, Fraser’s bass is constantly inventive but rock solid and Kirke’s drumming is in the pocket all the time. Not a duff track!

#54 Green on Red – This Time Around: Tales from the Paisley Underground with an alt-country band that were alt-country before the term was invented. It’s depressing stuff in the main, with Dan Stuart’s stoned vocals over Chuck Prophet’s Keef’ish guitar in tracks that cover suicide, religion, paranoia and despair but somehow end up strangely invigorating. Not one bad track to be found in its knowing downer perfection. Highly recommended if you think the Eagles lost it after ‘Desperado’ and the Stones blanded out after ‘Exile on Main Street’.

#53 Iggy Pop – Lust for Life: Iggy and Bowie with a perfect album. Like all the best Iggy material, guitar-based but never gratuitously ‘rawk’. Everything comes together for this one – massive drum sound, wry lyrics, typical OTT iggy vocals, Carlos Alomar on guitar and Hunt and Tony Sales on drums and bass. Bowie never dominates – yes, you’ll hear him on backing vox and keyboards but this is very much Iggy’s album. I really can’t single out a track – it’s all very good shit indeed.

#52 Hoven Droven – Grov: Insane Swedish folkrock which sounds like Motorhead meeting a fiddler and a sax player who are equally as badly behaved. ‘Slentbjenn’ is an adrenalin-fuelled gallop showing the band at their rockingest with manic playing from the whole band. ‘Grovhalling’ is impressive too and leaves you wondering whether the bass player’s speakers actually survived the recording. Best heard live – ‘Jumping at the Cedar’ is the album to get really – Hoven Droven rock…that is all.

#51 Richard Thompson – Across a Crowded Room: Maybe not his best-known solo album but to me it’s very consistent and the songwriting, whilst still bitter, manages to show a little optimism. Yes, he’s a miserable curmudgeon, but he plays guitar like a god in a style that is uniquely his own and – believe me – very hard to copy. The opening track – ‘When the Spell is Broken’ – is a good taste of the overall sound – quite dense with layered guitars courtesy of Thompson and Simon Nicol on a Rick 12 and more care taken on the vocals than on his previous releases. Collister and Gregson on backing vox are a really good addition and sweeten the austere lyrics very nicely. I saw him tour with this band and they gelled really well – shame they aren’t still together.

One for the Count – Green on Red

This is for Count Druncula…

The Paisley Underground was pretty influential on what’s come to be known as alt-country and at the fringes of it was a band called Green on Red, who – like so many great US acts – were very successful here and in Europe but less so in Usania.

Green on Red weren’t quite as obviously country-influenced as their contemporaries like True West although they did get more country-inclined as their career drew to a close.

Anyway, for a while Green on Red – fronted by the slightly crazed Dan Stuart – made a few OKish albums, but then they got a new guitarist called Chuck Prophet who seemed to ignite something in the band that had been there for a while but not really come to the fore – a certain stoned and world-weary, almost suicidally dark, mood that was the perfect medium for Stuart’s vocals and Prophet’s guitar working together but in total contrast.

Stuart and Prophet made a few Green on Red albums, of which Here Come the Snakes, This Time Around and Scapegoats were the best and contain a mixture of sensitive but death-obsessed love songs and ballads and some really quite angry rockers which often sound ‘up’ but on closer examination appear to have been written after a handful of downers.

And bleak?

It’s three in the morning I can’t get to sleep
I know I’m in trouble, I’m in trouble deep oh no, oh no
The bankers have taken the Chevy away
It’s the only thing left around here anyway except you, except you
I can’t understand all of the things that I put you through

I hear a noise but it ain’t your car
You don’t complain ’bout the job at the bar anymore, anymore
You gave a vow to stay by my side
You were 14 when I made you my bride forever, amen
Don’t you know babe I would do it all over again

Good patient woman, you won’t have to wait for me anymore

Looking at pictures of you on the wall
Cutting the cake we were having a ball, that Sunday, way back when
We never had children as hard as we tried
Lately at night I hear you crying softly, alone in the dark
Dreaming of laughing and playing with kids in the park

Good patient woman, you won’t have to wait for me anymore

The sun is arisin’, I’m cleaning my gun,
This nightmare ain’t over I hope you had fun oh darling, my sweet little woman
Nothing’s forever but I got my doubts
I’m going upstairs, I’m gonna find out what’s waiting, for me now
Baby don’t miss me I was no good for you anyhow
Baby don’t miss me I was no good for you anyhow

Bleak doesn’t begin to describe some of their lyrics.

File under: Proto-Alt-Country.

Here’s a clip from the latter days of the band’s heyday.

London 1992, the Town & Country Club and Green on Red.