Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. All featured songs are on albums that came out yesterday (October 21). Let’s get to it!

Arctic Monkeys/Hello You

Kicking things off today are British rock band Arctic Monkeys who were founded in Sheffield, England in 2002 by three 16-year-old friends, Alex Turner (lead vocals, guitar), Andy Nicholson (bass) and Matt Helders (drums, backing vocals), together with Jamie Cook (guitar, keyboards). After starting out as an instrumental band, Turner became their lead singer and frontman. Arctic Monkeys are regarded as one of the first bands who effectively used social media to boost their popularity. They also hold the distinction to have released the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, released in January 2006. The band has since released six additional studio albums, including their latest The Car. Turner, Cook and Helders remain in the current line-up that also includes Nick O’Malley who replaced Nicholson on bass in 2006. Here’s Hello You, which like most tunes was solely written by Turner.

Frankie Cosmos/Abigail

Frankie Cosmos are an indie pop rock band around singer-songwriter Greta Kline. From their AllMusic bio: Guided by the succinct, sweet, and self-conscious tendencies of singer/songwriter Greta Kline, indie pop group Frankie Cosmos started as a prolific home-based solo project in the early 2010s. As a young teen in the late 2000s, she tapped into the quirky vibes of New York’s SideWalk Cafe anti-folk scene, which had given birth to the Moldy Peaches early in the decade, as well as the D.I.Y. ethos of K Records. Her songs appeared mostly online in various albums, sometimes on a monthly basis. Growing in popularity and influence, Frankie Cosmos made her studio and label debut with Zentropy in 2014. Two years later, Next Thing was her first Top 40 independent album. Though Kline had been recording with a backing band since Zentropy, the project’s first official outing as a quartet was 2018’s Vessel. This brings me to Inner World Peace, the third Frankie Cosmos release as a band. Here’s the lovely opener Abigail penned by Kline.

Archers of Loaf/Breaking Even

Archers of Loaf are an indie rock band formed in Chapel Hill, N.C. in 1991. According to their AppleMusic profile, they “were darlings of the indie world in the early to mid-’90s, thanks to an off-kilter sound that was edgy and challenging, yet melodically accessible at the same time.” During their initial seven-year run, Archers of Loaf released four albums. They broke up in late 1998 after drummer Mark Price had been diagnosed with and subsequently underwent surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. In 2011, the band reunited in its original formation, which in addition to Price also includes Eric Bachmann (vocals, guitar), Eric Johnson (guitar) and Matt Gentling (bass). After a summer tour that year, it doesn’t look like they were active thereafter until February 2020. That’s when the band released a single, Raleigh Days, their first new music since 1998. And now Archers of Loaf are back with Reason in Decline, their first new album in 24 years. Here’s Breaking Even. This nicely rocks!

Simple Minds/Who Killed Truth?

Until February 2018 when I came across their then-new album Walk Between Worlds, which I reviewed here, I essentially had forgotten about Scottish rock band Simple Minds. After a series of successful albums in the UK and other markets between the early ’80s and the mid-’90s, such as Sparkle in the Rain (1984), Once Upon a Time (1985) and Street Fighting Years (1989), the band’s popularity faded somewhat. Now they are out with their latest and 19th studio album Direction of the Heart. While the group has seen many line-up changes since they were founded in Glasgow in 1977, co-founders Jim Kerr (lead vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitar, keyboards) are still around. Other current members include Ged Grimes (bass), Cherisse Osei (drums) and Sarah Brown (backing vocals). Let’s check out Who Killed Truth, co-written by Kerr and Burchill. While it may not be exactly WaterfrontAlive And KickingBelfast Child or Stand By Love, it doesn’t sound bad.

Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist with the above and a few additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

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If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Supertramp

Welcome to another installment of If I Could Only Take One, where I pick one song I would take with me on a desert island. To make the selection process more interesting, it can’t just be any tune.

For first-time visitors, I have to pick one tune only, not an album. In addition, the song must be by an artist or band I’ve rarely or not covered at all yet. Last but not least, selections must be made in alphabetical order.

This week, I’m up to “s.” There are plenty of artists (last names) and bands starting with that letter. Some examples include Sade, Sam & Dave, Santana, Simple Minds, Paul Simon, Small Faces, Southern Avenue, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, Steppenwolf and Sting. And there’s my pick, Supertramp and The Logical Song.

Written by Supertramp co-founder Roger Hodgson, The Logical Song was the lead single of the English band’s biggest-selling sixth studio album Breakfast in America. Both appeared in March 1979. The Logical Song, one of four singles released from that album, also became Supertramp’s most successful song. It topped the charts in Canada, surged to no. 2 in France, and reached no. 6 in each the U.S. and Ireland. In the UK, the tune peaked at no. 7.

Breakfast in America topped the album charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and various European countries, including France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. In the UK, it peaked at no. 3. The record reached platinum certification in the UK, France and The Netherlands, and 4x platinum status in the U.S.

At the Grammy Awards in 1980, Breakfast in America won in the Best Album Package and Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording categories. It had also been nominated for Album of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Formed in London in 1969 by Roger Hodgson (vocals, keyboards, guitars) and Rick Davies (vocals, keyboards), Supertramp started out as a progressive rock band. Beginning with their third and breakthrough album Crime of the Century (1974), they embraced a more pop-oriented sound.

Hodgson left Supertramp following the tour that supported the album …Famous Last Words… and launched a solo career in 1984. Subsequent line-ups of the group were led by Rick Davies. The band folded in 1988. After an unsuccessful attempt of Davies and Hodgson to reunite in 1993, Davies ended up reforming Supertramp in 1996.

In April 2002, Slow Motion appeared, the group’s final album to date. Since then, except for a tour in 2010, Supertramp have been on hiatus. In 2015, Davies was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and his treatment forced the cancellation of a tour that had been planned for November and December that year. During an August 2018 interview, Davies said he had largely overcome his health issues, but the band has stayed on hiatus.

Over the course of a 25-year period (excluding the 8-year hiatus between 1988 and 1996) Supertramp released eleven studio albums, as well as various live and compilation albums. As of 2007, album sales had exceeded more than 60 million.

Following are a few additional insights for The Logical Song from Songfacts:

The lyrics are about how the innocence and wonder of childhood can quickly give way to worry and cynicism as children are taught to be responsible adults. It makes the point that logic can restrict creativity and passion.

Like the Lennon/McCartney partnership, most of Supertramp’s songs are credited to their lead singers Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, although in many cases one writer was entirely responsible for the song. “The Logical Song” was written by Hodgson, but it shares some themes with a song Davies wrote on Supertramp’s 1974 album Crime of the Century called “School.”

Hodgson often writes songs by singing over his keyboard riffs. He’ll try different words and phrases to get ideas for his lyrics, which is how the title of this song came about. Said Hodgson: “From singing absolute nonsense, a line will pop up that suddenly makes sense, then another one, and so on. I was doing that when the word ‘logical’, came into my head and I thought, ‘That’s an interesting word’.”

…Like another famous song from 1979, “Another Brick In The Wall (part II),” this song rails against English schooling. “What’s missing at school is for me the loudest thing,” Hodgson said. “We are taught to function outwardly, but we are not taught who we are inwardly, and what really the true purpose of life is. The natural awe and wonder, the thirst and enthusiasm and joy of life that young children have, it gets lost. It gets beaten out of them in a way.”

…At a concert appearance, Roger Hodgson said of this song: “I was sent to boarding school for ten years and I definitely emerged from that experience with a lot of questions, like What the hell happened to me? What is life about? And why a lot of the things I had been told didn’t make any sense. ‘Logical Song’ was really a light hearted way of saying something pretty deep. Which is they told me how to conform, to be presentable, to be acceptable and everything but they didn’t tell me who I am or why I m here. So, it s a very profound message and I think it really resonated with a lot of people when it came out.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

By now it’s safe to assume more frequent visitors know what’s about to happen. To new readers, The Sunday Six is all about enjoying the diversity and beauty of music. I make a deliberate effort to feature different music genres including some I don’t listen to frequently. While the resulting picks, therefore, can appear to be random, these posts don’t capture the first six tunes that come to my mind. At the end of the day, anything goes as long as it speaks to me.

George Benson/Breezin’

Kicking is off is some groovy guitar pop jazz by George Benson. Benson started to play the guitar as an eight-year-old, following the ukulele he had picked up a year earlier. Incredibly, he already recorded by the age of 9, which means his career now stands at a whooping 57 years and counting! He gained initial popularity in the 1960s, performing together with jazz organist Jack McDuff. Starting with the 1963 live album Brother Jack McDuff Live!, Benson appeared on various McDuff records. In 1964, he released his debut as a bandleader, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, which featured McDuff on piano and organ. In the ’70s, Benson started to venture beyond jazz into pop and R&B. Breezin’ from May 1976 is a good example. Not only did it top Billboard’s jazz chart, but it also climbed to no. 1 on the R&B and mainstream charts. Here’s the title track, written by Bobby Womack who also originally recorded it in December 1970, together with Hungarian jazz guitar great Gábor Szabó. It appeared on Szabó’s 1971 album High Contrast. Here’s Benson’s version. The smooth and happy sound are perfect for a Sunday morning!

Steely Dan/Home at Last

Let’s stay in pop jazzy lane for a bit longer with Steely Dan, one of my all-time favorite bands. I trust Messrs. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. and quickly bonded over their mutual admiration for jazz and other music, don’t need much of an introduction. By the time they met guitarist Denny Dias in the summer of 1970, they already had written a good amount of original music. Steely Dan’s  first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff songwriters. It was also Katz who signed the Dan to the label. By the time their sixth and, in my opinion, best album Aja appeared in September 1977, Steely Dan had become a studio project by Fagen and Becker who surrounded themselves with a changing cast of top-notch session musicians and other artists. In this case, the latter included Larry Carlton (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jim Keltner (drums) and Michael McDonald (backing vocals), among others. Here’s Home at Last, which like all other tracks on the album was co-written by Fagen and Becker. In addition to them, the track featured Carlton (though the solo was played by Becker who oftentimes left lead guitar responsibilities to a session guitarist like Carlton), Rainey (bass), Victor Feldman (vibraphone), Bernard Purdie (drums), Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals), and of course an amazing horn section, including Jim Horn (what an appropriate name!), Bill Perkins, Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso, Chuck Findley, Lou McCreary and Dick Hyde.

The Temptations/Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone

Time to start switching up things with a dose of ’70s funk and psychedelic soul, don’t you agree? Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone by The Temptations is one of the coolest tunes I can think of in this context. Co-written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the song was first released as a single in May 1972 by the label’s recording act The Undisputed Truth. While the original to which you can listen here is pretty good as well, it’s the great rendition by The Temptations I heard first and have come to love! They recorded an 11-minute-plus take for their studio album All Directions from July 1972. In September that year, The Temptations also released a 6:54-minute single version of the song. While it still was a pretty long edit for a single, it yielded the group their second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the ’70s. It would also be their last no. 1 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart. By the time Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone appeared, the group already had seen various changes and only featured two members of the classic line-up: Otis Williams (baritone) and Melvin Franklin (bass). The other members were Dennis Edwards (tenor), Damon Harris (tenor) and Richard Street (second tenor). Amazingly, The Temptations still exist after some 60 years (not counting the group’s predecessors), with 79-year-old Otis Williams remaining as the only original member. I have tickets to see them together with The Four Tops in early November – keeping fingers crossed! Meanwhile, here’s Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, of course, the mighty album version, coz I don’t do things half ass here! 🙂

Peter Gabriel/Don’t Give Up (feat. Kate Bush)

Let’s go to a different decade with another artist I’ve come to dig, which in no small part was due to this album: Peter Gabriel and So, his fifth studio release from May 1986. It’s probably Gabriel’s most mainstream-oriented album. Much of the former Genesis lead vocalist’s other solo work has been more of an acquired taste. I also didn’t pay much attention after his follow-on Us that appeared in September 1992. Fueled by the hit single Sledgehammer, which topped the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, peaked at no. 3 in Australia and New Zealand, and reached the top 10 in Germany and various other European countries, So became Gabriel’s best-selling solo album. I did catch him during the supporting tour in Cologne, Germany, and still have fond memories of that gig. Here’s Don’t Give Up, a haunting duet with Kate Bush. Inspired by U.S. Depression era photos from the 1930s Gabriel had seen, he applied the theme to the difficult economic conditions in Margaret Thatcher’s mid-1980s England. While the tune is a bit of a Debbie Downer, I find it extremely powerful. You can literally picture the lyrics as a movie. I also think the vocals alternating between Gabriel and Bush work perfectly.

The Turtles/Happy Together

I suppose after the previous tune, we all could need some cheering up. A song that always puts me in a good mood is Happy Together by The Turtles. Plus, it broadens our little musical journey to include the ’60s, one of my favorite decades in music. The Turtles started performing under that name in 1965. Their original members, Howard Kaylan (lead vocals, keyboards), Mark Volman (backing vocals, guitar, percussion), Al Nichol (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Jim Tucker (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Chuck Portz (bass) and Don Murray (drums), had all played together in a surf rock-oriented band called The Crossfires. That group turned into The Tyrtles, a folk rock outfit, before becoming The Turtles and adopting more of a sunshine pop style. The band’s initial run lasted until 1970. Vollman and Kaylan subsequently launched pop duo Flo & Eddie and released a series of records between 1972 and 2009. In 1983, Vollman and Kaylan legally regained the use of the name The Turtles and started touring as The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie. Instead of seeking to reunite with their former bandmates, Vollman and Kaylan relied on other musicians. The group remains active in this fashion to this day. Their website lists a poster for a Happy Together Tour 2021 “this summer,” though currently, no gigs are posted. Happy Together was the title track of the band’s third studio album from April 1967. Co-written by Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner, the infectious tune became The Turtles’ biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 2 in Canada, and reaching no. 12 in the UK, marking their first charting single there.

Simple Minds/Stand by Love

I can’t believe it’s already time to wrap up this latest installment of The Sunday Six. For this last tune, I decided to pick a song from the early ’90s: Stand by Love by Simple Minds. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Scottish new wave and pop rock band and don’t follow them closely, I generally enjoy their music. I also got to see them live once in Stuttgart, Germany in the early ’90s and remember it as a good show. Simple Minds emerged in late 1977 from the remains of short-lived punk band Johnny & The Self-Abusers. By late 1978, the band’s first stable line-up was in place, featuring Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar), Mick MacNeil (keyboards), Derek Forbes (bass) and Brian McGee (drums). That formation recorded Simple Minds’ debut album Life in a Day released in April 1979. Their fifth studio album New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84) was the first to bring more significant commercial success in the UK and Europe. This was followed by a series of additional successful albums that appeared between 1984 and 1995, which included the band’s biggest hits, such as Don’t You (Forget About Me), Alive and Kicking, Belfast Child and Let There Be Love. Today, more than 40 years after their formation, Simple Minds are still around, with Kerr and Burchill remaining part of the current line-up. Here’s Stand by Love, co-written by Burchill and Kerr, from the band’s ninth studio album Real Life that came out in April 1991. This is quite a catchy tune. I also dig the backing vocals by what sounds like gospel choir, which become more prominent as the song progresses.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie website; YouTube

Simple Minds Release New Studio Album

Scottish band still alive and kicking after 40 years

While I never was a huge fan of Simple Minds, I listened to them in my late teens and early 20s. Waterfront, Alive And Kicking, Belfast Child and Stand By Love are some of the tunes I liked at the time – and do to this day, though it’s fair to say my taste has evolved since then. Still, when saw in Apple Music the Scottish band just released a new studio album, I was intrigued – frankly, I didn’t even know they were still around!

In various ways, Simple Minds have always reminded me a bit of U2. Both bands started out around the same time, i.e., the second half of the ’70s. Both are led by charismatic vocalists. I saw them once in Stuttgart, Germany in the early ’90s; similar to Bono, Jim Kerr was a pretty strong front man. And guitarist Charlie Burchill’s work at times is a bit reminiscent of The Edge. Kerr and Burchill are the only remaining original members of Simple Minds, which were formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1977.

Simple Minds
Current line-up of Simple Minds (from left to right): Sarah Brown (backing vocals), Cherisse Osei (drums, percussion), Ged Grimes (bass), Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar), Gordy Goudie (multi-instrumentalist) and Catherine AD (backing vocals), 

So how about the new album? Titled Walk Between Worlds, it’s the band’s 17th studio record, which was released yesterday (Feb 2). I’ve now listened to it a few times. Not to overdo the comparisons with U2, but there is indeed another similarity I find between this album and the Irish band’s last studio release Songs Of Experience. In an apparent attempt to stay contemporary, both bands combined old and new elements.

While part of me sometimes wishes bands wouldn’t chase the latest trends and stick to their old sound, I respect artists who don’t just want to keep repeating what they’ve done before. After all, had The Beatles used that approach and stuck to their early sound, there never would have been gems like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.

Commenting on the band’s new (younger) members and change more broadly, Kerr said this to Billboard: “It’s been a bit controversial with some of the social network sites, because people, fans — and where would we be without them — they don’t like it when you change around things too much. But we do change things around and we feel that it’s good to open the door. It’s great to say ’40 years!’ and all that; There’s a lot of strength in that. But there’s a lot of dangers as well — autopilot being one of them, doing the same old same old. You’ve got to open the door and let new opportunities walk in.”

Alright, time to get to some music. First up: Magic, the album’s opener and lead single first released online on January 4, 2018. Co-written by Kerr and Burchill like the majority of songs, the tune is an example of Burchill’s Edge-esque guitar work. It kind of got a catchy chorus. Here’s the tune’s official video clip:

In The Signal And The Noise, another Kerr/Burchill co-write, I can clearly hear some vintage Simple Minds. The sound reminds me of the band’s synthesizer and guitar-driven power pop from the early ’80s. The groove isn’t much different from Don’t You (Forget About Me), though the latter song has a more catchy melody. Like the opener, the track also appeared ahead of the album as its second single.

A sonic standout is Barrowland Star, another Kerr/Burchill co-write. I love Burchill’s fairly aggressive guitar work in a song that is otherwise synth-driven with strings layered on top. Simple Minds’ website calls it “one of the album’s key tracks.” It further points out that the song’s title refers to a popular ballroom in Glasgow, where the band has performed many times. This tune has something!

The last track I’d like to highlight is Sense Of Discovery. The track is credited to Kerr, Burchill and Owen Parker, a London-based composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. At around 2:40 minutes into the song comes the ultimate throwback to Simple Minds’ ’80s heydays: a melodic fraction borrowed from Alive And Kicking from 1985’s Once Upon A Time, the band’s most successful album. Sense Of Discovery is also the album’s third single, released January 25.

Walk Between Worlds was co-produced by Simple Minds and two experienced producers: Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg. In addition to working together with Goldberg on Simple Minds’ two previous albums Acoustic (2016) and Big Music (2014), Wright’s previous credits include Simply Red, Jeff Beck and Eurythmics, among others. Goldberg has worked with artists, such as Chrissie Hynde, Neil Young and The Faces (2010 reunion and live album) – cool stuff!

“Records take their own direction and possibilities, and that’s what this was,” Kerr also told Billboard. “We were on such a high after the last one (2014’s Big Music) that we almost went straight into this as soon as the tour ended. With the idea the band was now officially 40 years old, we were praying and hoping that whatever we came out with would sound like it had vitality and energy, a commitment that perhaps belies the 40 years. Really, that’s what it was about, a continuation of the story of music and who we are.”

Simple Minds will go on the road later this month to promote the new album, playing it in its entirety, together with their old hits. The seven-date European tour gets underway on February 13, appropriately at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, and concludes in Copenhagen, Denmark on February 20. Their website lists plenty of other gigs throughout the UK and many other European countries, starting in May through the first half of September.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Simple Minds website, Andy Wright website, Gavin Goldberg website, YouTube