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The War Against Intelligence

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August 2004

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A quick review of The Hives at the Corn Exchange below.

The Hives
Corn Exchange, Edinburgh

If The Hives’ sense of humour and general joie de vivre barely translates on their largely unappealing records, then it is hard not to become absorbed in the sheer energy of their live show.

The trademark white suits sit well with a dynamic lighting arrangement and neon sign, and the brevity of the songs goes some way to making up for their formulaic tendencies. Indeed, ten songs have elapsed in little more than half an hour before they embark on their best-known song, “Hate To Say I Told You So.”

There are also some signs of musical progress in the four years since their last album of completely new material – “Veni, Vidi, Vicious.” Almost everything from “Tyrannosaurus Hives” sounds like a single – punchy and memorable.

“Walk Idiot Walk” and “Two Timing Touch and Broken Bones” have already been extracted, but the slower than usual, “Diabolic Scheme,” and anthemic “A Little More For Little You” are also worthy tunes.

Yet, and in spite of singer Pelle Alqvist’s, alluring performance and comic self-aggrandisement, The Hives’ musical vision is too limited and monochromatic to warrant much more than seventy-five minutes of your time. Fun while it lasts, but there is no need to go back looking for more.

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Massive Attack
The Corn Exchange, Edinburgh

In what is an increasingly rare instance of touring without new product to promote (it is well over a year since the release of their fourth album, “100th Window), it is tempting to speculate as to why, in fact, Massive Attack are in Edinburgh at all.

It is unlikely to be financial – theirs is a large touring party complete with elaborate and expensive light show – and more likely political. Even for a hardly prolific outfit (four albums in fifteen years) there must be some record company pressure to get on with some new recordings.

However, this is part of the reason Massive Attack remain as relevant now as when they released “Blue Lines” in 1990. That was also in a time of war, and although there is conspicuously little from “100th Window” in the set, their consistently dark music, with its pounding bass lines remains spookily apocalyptic.

Massive Attack members and collaborators have come and gone with some degree of regularity over the years, so some sense of stability is achieved with the appearance of both Daddy G and 3D, alongside veteran vocalist, Horace Andy.

That Andy is one of the all –time great singers makes fellow vocalist Dot Allison’s role even more challenging: her attempts to emulate Liz Fraser’s part on “Teardrop” are the evening’s only failure of note.

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Some current listening

The Delgados “Universal Audio” (Chemikal Underground) – their best since “Peloton.”
The Associates “Singles”(Warners) – awesome, if not exactly necessary, compilation.
Nouvelle Vague “Nouvelle Vague” (peacefrog) – the novelty has yet to wear off.
Laura Veirs “Troubled By The Fire” (bellaunion) – as good as the more lauded “carbon glacier”
Skinnyman “Council Estate of Mind” (Low Life) – fine British hip-hop album.
Estelle “1980” – pop single of the moment.
Sondre Lerche “Two Way Monologue” (Virgin) – soft rock from Norway.
Talking Heads “The Name of this Band Is” (EMI) – now available on CD, definitive live set.
Bark Psychosis “Codename: Dustsucker” (F**e) – follows on from “Hex” some fifteen years later.
Sons and Daughters “Love The Cup” (Domino) – still sounds as good as it did when it arrived on import.
The Fiery Furnaces “Blueberry Boat” (Rough Trade) – dense and difficult, but utterly worth persevering with. Great lyrics.
The Concretes “The Concretes” (EMI) – a great indie record, on EMI!
Teenage Fanclub / International Airport “Association” (Geographic) – shouldn’t work, but it does.

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below is review of gig at T on the Fringe, from the Herald.

Laura Veirs, Amy Allison
The Venue, Edinburgh

One of the greatest areas of over production in the recording industry is in the field of singer-songwriters. Finding the real talents amid the vast pits of mediocrity is something of a challenge, but, in this instance, they are handpicked.

It is a measure of Amy Allison’s unique voice (a cross between Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard) and fine line in powerpop songs that “No Frills Friend” and “Sad Girl” sound like long forgotten hits – albeit from another time and place.

If Allison fuses pop and country, then Veirs is an unlikely amalgam of American folk traditions and lo-fi, indie-rock. If few singer-songwriters namecheck Built to Spill as an inspiration, then she also makes more concessions to mainstream taste than Allison.

If the musical settings conjured up with her equally excellent collaborator, Karl Blau, are sometimes unusual, Veirs greatest strength is as an effective and descriptive lyricist. “Tiger Tattoos” and the anti-war song, “Cannon Fodder” are the best selections from her “Troubled By The Fire” album, but the real highlights all come from the most recent, “Carbon Glaciers.”

“Ether Sings,” “Lonely Angel Dust” and “The Cloud Room” are the type of songs many of her more lauded peers would kill for.

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review of Dido at T on the Fringe from The Herald.
Dido, The Usher Hall, Edinburgh

If Dido’s records have the air of the seriously comfortable, offering short fables for a predominantly young female audience, then the feeling is intensified in a concert setting. The songs are pretty in a mundane manner. The voice, suffering from a bit of a cold, is dependable rather than memorable and the musical context is one of unnecessary clutter.

The show is at its best when stripped back to guitar, piano and voice as on Mary’s in India, and Do You Have a Little Time, and at its least appealing when overloaded with percussion and trying to rock out (See You When You Are Forty). The singles – despite their ubiquity – also stand out, and Thank You and White Flag would be acclaimed more if from the pen of a less commercially successful writer.

However, the bulk of the show involves the relaying of unconvincing experiences (homelessness, addiction and holiday sex) with a forgettable backdrop. The problem is in Dido’s conscious attempts not to offend. The outcome is a performance which is likeable in an uncomfortable-with-fame sort of way, which is neither engaging nor befitting an artist with such huge sales. The cause of her success remains unclear.

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Music Week are first to report new ABC figures:

Uncut increases circulation in slow market
12 August 2004 – 13:23:35

IPC’s Uncut is continuing to defy the shrinking music magazine market by posting a 6.7% year-on-year increase in newly-announced circulation figures.

The monthly title increased its average sales to 112,816 during the first half of 2004, making it the sector’s only leading title to register an improved ABC figure on the same time last year.

The biggest casualties were in the pop arena with TV Hits falling 30.2% on the year to 100,377, It’s Hot down 20.6% to 91,495, Smash Hits dropping 19.6% to 120,701 and Top Of The Pops down 14.0% to 216,954.

The heavy rock titles are also struggling to match their strong sales performances of a couple of years ago with Kerrang! dropping 11.0% to 62,591 and Metal Hammer down 7.3% to 33,269. Classic Rock drops 11.6% to 38,485.

Q magazine saw its circulation fall by 12.6% to 150,801, while both Mojo and NME suffer minimal slides with Mojo falling 3.2% to 100,347 and NME declining by 3.4% to 70,014. In the dance sector Mixmag’s decline is slowing with its circulation falling 5.2% on the year to 50,457.

The newly-announced figures also mark the first ABC outing for Development Hell’s monthly music and entertainment magazine Word. Its opening figure is 30,051.

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Typically engaging, if self-referential feature on Tony Wilson from the Poptones website here:
Poptones

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review of Half Man Half Biscuit – from Tigerfest in Edinburgh. There are some good shows remaining at Tigerfest – none of which come with the corporate branding that seems de rigeur in Edinburgh these days. And as an afterthought – well done to the Liquid Rooms for what may well be the first £2 bottle of water at a Scottish gig. (beer is a relative bargain at £3 a pint – 30p more than at T in the Park). These cost 25p from the cash and carry. Either or is near essential in a packed, air conditioning free venue. Nice one.

Half Man Half Biscuit
The Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh

Nigel Blackwell – the comic genius behind Half Man Half Biscuit – is the kind of product of Thatcher’s Britain that warrants far more than the cult adulation evident on this rare Scottish outing, itself a real coup for the nascent Tigerfest.

With lyrics that draw equally on dole (“24 Hour Garage People”), indie-rock (“Running Order Squabblefest”) and football (“Paintball’s Coming Home”) culture, Blackwell pre-empted Heat magazine’s obsession with minor league celebrities by at least fifteen years, referencing the likes of Fred Titmuss and Nerys Hughes on their 1986 breakthrough to obscurity album, “Back In The D.H.S.S.”

Through the nineties, there is evidence that he has become a more reflective, observational writer: consider “Four Skinny Indie Kids” and “24 Hour Garage People” and “Gubba Lookalikes.” The laughs are now in the detail rather than idea, as is the case with the likes of “Trumpton Riots” and “(All I Want For Christmas Is A) Dukla Prague Away Kit.”

If the lyrics excel, then the music is the sticking point: rattling through twenty six songs in a little under two hours, it is solid and ever so slightly stodgy: the real skill of Half Man Half Biscuit is that they parody what they preach and those who worship it.

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Some New Albums

It is that time of the year when decent touring acts are few and far between – Edinburgh gets a batch of Reading/ Leeds warm ups marketed as T on the Fringe, so here are the first of some random thoughts on a batch of current listening.

The Blue Nile “High” (Sanctuary): Eight years in the making, album number 4 from Buchanan, Moore and Bell will no doubt produce the usual raft of “return to form” cliches – but it is an inconsistent attempt to reproduce former glories. It is, of course, a much stronger proposition that 1996’s disappointing “Peace At Last,” but the Blue Nile’s stock of small town alienation and faltering love affairs has become stylised, processed and almost unthinkably, slightly dull.

I would like to think that there is a vast array of genius like Blue Nile outtakes from the periods between albums that could one day be assembled on a compilation (the “Walk Across The Rooftops” era b-side, “Regret” is still the definitive Blue Nile song), but were this the case, why would something as directionless as “Soul Boy” make it on to this nine song collection?

There are great moments – “Because of Toledo,” “Days of Our Lives” and “She Saw The World” in particular, where Paul Buchanan’s voice remains the master of its surroundings – but “High’s” main problem is similar to that of Prince’s “Musicology”: it is a decent record by anyone’s standards except their own, and so rooted in a different era (the eighties) that it sounds slightly tired.

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