Clips & Pix: The Cranberries/Zombie

This is kind of crazy. Yesterday, I listened to Zombie by The Cranberries and thought I should take a closer look at this Irish alternative rock band for a post. Today, I’m finding myself writing this piece after the incredible news that lead vocalist Dolores O’Riordan suddenly passed away at age 46. I think her distinct way of singing and intense delivery make this song one of the most memorable tunes of the ’90s.

According to Rolling Stone, O’Riordan had been in London for a short recording session. The cause of her death hasn’t been revealed. Apparently, she struggled with some health issues that forced the band to cancel shows last year. The Rolling Stone story also noted a diagnosis with bipolar disease in 2014.

Zombie was the lead single to The Cranberries’ second studio album No Need To Argue, which appeared in October 1994. Written by O’Riordan in 1993 to commemorate two children who were killed during an IRA bombing in England earlier that year, Zombie was the band’s biggest hit. It reached no. 1 in Australia, France, Germany and various other countries. In their native Ireland, it peaked at no. 3, while in the UK, it climbed to no. 14. In the U.S., the tune didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, though it entered various other Billboard charts, most notably Alternative Songs, which it topped.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

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Doctors Who Rock, Literally!

Using the power of music to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and bring hope to patients

Have you ever walked into a doctor’s office and see a fully set up drum kit? I had not until earlier today when accompanying my wife to an appointment. As a former bassist, I couldn’t contain my curiosity, so I asked Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth about the drums. He confirmed he is a drummer, casually mentioning recorded music and that “we are on iTunes.” Before I knew it, he handed me two CDs. It turned out I just had met a doctor who rocks, literally.

After I had returned to the waiting room, I took a closer look at the CDs and noticed they said N.E.D. – cool name, I thought, which somewhat reminded me of R.E.M. Then I saw N.E.D. stands for “no evidence of disease.” Now I was really intrigued and started googling the name and looking for N.E.D. in Apple Music. What I found truly impressed me.

According to Wikipedia and their website, N.E.D. is a six-piece rock band of American gynecologic cancer surgeons from different parts of the country. They got together in 2008 at the annual meeting of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, a U.S. patient advocacy organization, to entertain the conference’s attendees as a cover band. After an enthusiastic reception from the audience, the doctors decided to continue playing together. Eventually, they started writing their own songs and released their eponymous debut album in September 2009.

N.E.D. In Concert

But to me the most remarkable thing about N.E.D. is that they are using their music to raise awareness of gynecological cancers, which include cervical, ovarian, uterine and other reproductive cancers. “GYN cancers are not things people talk about in our culture, and they’re woefully underfunded and misunderstood,” N.E.D. singer, guitarist and keyboarder Dr. John Boggess told the The Washington Post in 2011. “We really believe that we’re starting a conversation. Because there are worse things than getting cancer, and that’s feeling isolated and without help and understanding.” Dr. Boggess’s day job? Medical Director at UNC Gynecologic Oncology at REX Hospital in Raleigh, N.C.

In addition to Dr. Boggess and Dr. Nagarsheth, who practices at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J., the members of N.E.D. include Dr. Joanie Hope (vocals, guitar), Alaska Women’s Cancer Care, Anchorage; Dr. Robert Burger (bass, harmonica, vocals), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Dr. John Soper (guitar, mandolin), UNC School of Medicine, Chapel Hill; and Dr. William Winter (lead guitar), Compass Oncology, Vancouver, Wash. and Portland, Ore.

So how do these doctors who are all in different locations handle rehearsals? According to the above Washington Post story, much of it relies on emailing and using audio tracks. “As surgeons, we’re just really used to doing what it takes to get things accomplished, and we have high expectations for ourselves,” Dr. Boggess explained. “We don’t walk into things thinking we can’t do it.”

Let’s take a look at some of N.E.D.’s music, which sounds really professional. If you didn’t know, you’d never guess that recording music isn’t their main job. Following are two clips from the band’s debut album. First up: False Pretenses.

Here is Rhythm Heals.

In June 2011, N.E.D. released their sophomore album, Six Degrees. Here is a track called Nevermind.

From this album I also like to highlight We Never Mattered – I wish they also would have used that wah wah guitar in the intro in other parts of the tune.

As N.E.D. continued to perform concerts to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and bring together cancer survivors, they came to the attention of socially conscious documentary production company Spark Media and producer Andrea Kalin. Kalin and her crew ended up following the band and their patients over a three-year period and put together an 84-minute feature film called No Evidence of Disease. Tagline: Six GYN Cancer Surgeons On A Rock & Roll Mission To Save Women’s Lives.

“They boiled all of that [film footage] down into a story that is really human and really breaks down the wall between physicians and patients and really talks about an experience but about a topic that’s not typically talked about, which is cancer of a woman’s reproductive organs,” said Dr. Boggess during an interview with North Carolina public television network UNC-TV in March 2015. Here is the official trailer of the documentary, which was shown at 44 U.S. movie theaters on February 4, 2015 for World Cancer Day and has aired on PBS.

Last September, N.E.D. released their third album Love & Pain, an EP. Here is the opener Bring You Back.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the record’s title track.

I’d like to finish this post with quotes from each members of N.E.D, which are published on the band’s website. I think they nicely illustrate where these remarkable doctors are coming from.

“It’s not so much that we’re trying to cure cancer with this effort… I think even if you can’t cure the problem, if people feel connected and understood they sure feel a lot stronger and a lot better supported.” (Dr. Boggess)

“I’m hoping it makes them feel good and relaxed and hopeful and brings a smile to their face and makes them feel like there’s something bigger going on here.” (Dr. Hope)

“You can learn a lot from patients with cancer. And they see the world in a way that’s much different from the way that someone else sees the world.” (Dr. Nagarsheth)

“Music, laughter and compassion go hand in hand with medicine and surgery in the care of our patients.” (Dr. Burger)

“We want to make a noise. There’s been a wall of silence around it and hopefully we can, we can bring some noise to that so that we’re heard and so that our patients are heard.” (Dr. Soper)

“Medicine is not all science. Medicine is an art, surgery is an art. Taking care of a cancer patient is an art. There is a lot of art in medicine, as well as music, so I think it really parallels in terms of what I do in the operating room.” (Dr. Winter)

Sources: Wikipedia, N.E.D. website, The Washington Post, UNC-TV, YouTube

 

R.E.M. Releases 25th Anniversary Edition Of “Automatic For The People”

Reissue of 1992 landmark album includes 4-Disc Deluxe Edition and other formats

On October 5, 1992, R.E.M. released Automatic For The People, which is widely considered a highlight in the band’s catalog. Yesterday, a special 25th anniversary reissue appeared on Craft Recordings, a good reason to write about one of my favorite alternative rock bands.

Automatic For The People was R.E.M.’s 8th studio album. It came on the heels of Out Of Time, a Grammy-winning record that had brought R.E.M. broad international success. The song Losing My Religion became their highest-charting single in the U.S., peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

R.E.M

The original intent for Automatic was to make an album that was more rock-oriented than its predecessor. Instead it turned out to be more subdued, focusing on the themes of mortality and dying. This was a big contrast to Shiny Happy People, which lead singer Michael Stipe during a recent NPR interview called a “great bubble gum pop song” and a tune he is not particularly proud of.

Reflecting on Automatic, Stipe noted in a press release announcing the anniversary edition, “Mortality is a theme that writers have chosen to work with throughout time. It speaks of the fragility and beauty of life and living life to the fullest in the present moment. It happens all too quickly and we all know that.” Added R.E.M. co-founding member and bassist Mike Mills, “I think it’s our most cohesive record…It’s the strongest from first to last.”

The album opens with Drive, which also was the lead single released a few days prior to the record. Like all tracks on the album, Drive is credited to all four members of R.E.M., who in addition to Stipes and Mills included Peter Buck (lead guitar) and Bill Berry (drums). According to Songfacts, Stipe commented on the tune in the November 12, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone: “There were, before Punk, a few songs that resonated with me. One was David Essex’s “Rock On”. “Drive” is an homage to that.” The line, “Hey kids, rock n’ roll” was taken from that song.

The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite with an upbeat melody is a deliberate contrast to the rest of the album. The beginning sounds very similar to the Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens. In fact, R.E.M. decided to pay for the rights to use it. Stipe told NPR he wouldn’t have put the track on the record, had the band not insisted, though he admitted it is catchy. One of the tune’s characteristics is Stipe’s laughter following his inability to properly pronounce the name Dr. Seuss. The band felt it reflected the song’s joy and decided to keep it.

Everybody Hurts is the standout on the album. According to Songfacts, the anti-suicide song was mostly written by Berry who in particular wanted to address young people. Apparently, it had a strong reaction among fans. “The number of times people have said, ‘you’ve saved my life or ‘the song was there at a time when I really needed it, thank you’… that’s my academy award,” said Stipe during the NPR interview. “That’s bigger and better than anything anyone could say to me. Something we did had a positive impact on their life in a moment of great need and a moment when they needed something like that it was there. So that makes me really happy.”

Another tune I’d like to highlight from the original record is Man On The Moon, a tribute to American comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufman, and one of R.E.M.’s best known songs. During the above NPR interview, Stipe said he initially felt the tune didn’t need a voice but the band insisted. Watching a VHS tape of Kaufman finally inspired the lyrics. “Somehow he became my hero with the 1,000 faces and these kinds of larger than life questions,” Stipe reflected,  “literally larger than life questions about existence and what happens after we’re gone, or did the man really walk on the moon.”

The 25th anniversary issue is available in various formats: a vinyl LP, a 2-CD edition and a 3-CD + Blu-Ray Deluxe Edition. The latter comes in a lift-top box, together with a 60-page booklet. In addition to the original record, the box includes a CD with 20 demos from the album’s recording sessions, a live recording from November 1992, and a remix of the album in Dolby Atmos on Blu-Ray. According to the above press release, it “delivers a leap forward from surround sound with expansive, flowing audio that immerses the listener far beyond what stereo can offer.” Automatic For The People is the first commercial release using this new technology.

The original album was produced by Scott Litt, who together with recording engineer Cliff Norell also created the Dolby Atmos remix. Litt also produced four additional R.E.M. albums (Green, 1988; Out Of Time, 1991; Monster, 1994; and New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996) and has worked with many other artists, such as Nirvana, Incubus and Counting CrowsLed Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones contributed string arrangements for the original recording.

Automatic For The People earned R.E.M. significant commercial success and was generally well received by music critics. The album peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts and topped the U.K. albums chart four times. The record has sold more than 3.5 million copies in the U.S. as of 2017. It was ranked no. 249 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Records of All Time in 2012. In 2006, it also placed no. 37 on the list of 100 best albums ever, as voted by 40,000 people who participated in a worldwide survey conducted by British Hit Singles & Albums and NME.

I’d like to close this post with one of the demos on the anniversary issue. Mike’s Pop Song, one of two previously unreleased songs, has a nice 60s vibe that is a bit reminiscent of The Byrds.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR “All Songs Considered”, R.E.M. press release, Songfacts, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips And Pix: The Church/Under The Milky Way Tonight

After raving about Under The Milky Way Tonight in my previous post, I thought I might as well put up a clip of the tune. Apparently, this live performance was captured during the induction of The Church into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2010.

Steve Kilbey, the band’s songwriter and bassist co-wrote the tune with his then domestic partner Karin Jansson, guitarist of the Swedish punk band Champagne. It was included on The Church’s fifth studio album Starfish, released in February 1988. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single.

Under The Milky Way Tonight brought The Church significant mainstream success in Australia and beyond. In the U.S., the track peaked at no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed all the way up to no. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. It also charted in New Zealand, Canada, the U.K. and The Netherlands. While I don’t know about the German charts, I definitely recall the song got significant radio play at the time. That’s where I first heard it.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Church Sticks To Its Religion On New Album

Aussie band continues signature sound that cemented its ’80s cult status

Readers of the blog may be surprised that I’m posting about The Church, which clearly falls outside the type of music I typically cover. While Classic Rock, Blues and British Invasion represent my main wheel house, I actually have a fairly eclectic taste. This Australian band is one example.

The Church first entered my radar screen in 1988 when they released a seductive song called Under The Milky Way Tonight, the lead single for their fifth studio album Starfish. The tune combines spacey sound and psychedelic lyrics with a catchy melody. It also features a cool bagpipes-resembling solo. I ended up buying the album at the time, which I still dig to this day.

The Church

Fast-forward almost 30 years to October 6, 2017, when The Church released their 26th studio album Man Woman Life Death Infinity – quite a heavy title! I only came across it coincidentally when browsing Apple Music earlier today. Admittedly, I never explored the band’s catalog beyond Starfish and had completely lost track of them.

The Church’s long history goes far beyond the scope of this post. In a nutshell, the band was formed in Sydney in 1980. Two of the founding members, Steve Kilbey (lead vocals, bass) and Peter Koppes (guitar) are still around, though Koppes left the band in 1992 and returned in 1997. The current line-up also includes Tim Powles (drums, percussion, vocals, guitar), who has been with the band since 1994, and guitarist Ian Haug, who joined in 2013. While The Church didn’t have mainstream success beyond Starfish, the band retains a large international cult following, according to Wikipedia.

After listening to Man Woman Life Death Infinity a few times, the music clearly reminds me of Starfish, except I haven’t discovered any tune yet that stands out to me like Under The Milky Way Tonight or Reptile do on the 1988 album. The record’s opener Another Century pretty much sets the stage for the album’s sound. AllMusic describes it as “atmospheric space rock with a hooky pop sensibility.” I think that’s not a bad characterization of what essentially is the band’s signature sound. Here is the official video of the track.

A recurring topical theme on the record is water. Australian music site Music Feeds quotes Kilbey, who typically writes the lyrics to the band’s songs: “I guess water is my element. I’ve always marvelled at the sea and rivers and rain. It wasn’t conscious at all but on reflection, it definitely is a preoccupation on this record. What that means, I don’t know.” Well, if Kilbey doesn’t know, how would anyone else? Here’s a clip of Undersea.

I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know is another tune I like, which AllMusic describes as “moody Byrdsian.” I suppose the guitar is a bit reminiscent of The Byrds, though the track’s sound is much more layered, but let’s not over-analyze it. The song also appears to establish a pattern where Kilbey doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – on a more serious note, here is a clip of the tune.

The last song I’d like to highlight is Something Out There Is Wrong – that may well be the case, though not with this tune! Here’s a clip.

Man Woman Life Death Infinity was produced by Ted Howard, who has frequently worked with the band since the early 2000s. While the music becomes a bit repetitive after a while, there is just something about it. I’ve always been drawn to spacey music. I suppose that’s why I’m such a huge fan of Pink Floyd, especially their ’70s albums up to Wish You Were Here. I also know no other band that sounds quite like The Church. At some point, I may start to further explore their catolog. If anyone reading this is familiar with the band, please feel free to send any recommendations you may have.

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, Music Feeds, YouTube