Florence and the Machine: ‚High as Hope‘ as good as new

I loved Florence and the Machine’s debut album. It was dramatic, grand and full of epos and theatrical songs, cheeky storytelling and some amazing cover versions of underrated songs. 

Since the album reached me during the last years of my life as a student, just getting out of a deep, close to depressive phase, the album also felt like one gigantic catharsis, because Florence Welch is so loud and that’s such an amazing thing to just stand there and shout every feeling from the rooftops. 

However, with her second album „Ceremonies“, I lost her a little. The high production values and the big dramatic arches verged on decadence. It felt like a menu that serves only the richest chocolate cake. It was too much and the accents of her first album got lost in the grandeur of it all. 

Now, with her fourth album „High as Hope“, I feel the joy, drama and big moods of Florence Welch are back in my life and what a rich life that is. 

I am not aware of most music videos because music television is basically dead and done but my gosh, that’s a fantastic music video. 

What I always loved about Florence is her punk infused balance of emotion over beauty. Sometimes, her voice breaks or she gets too loud to sound pretty but that’s just it: it’s not about perfection and smoothness, it’s about that slightly burned note of caramel, that bitter taste of coffee, that off-key note full of feelings.

I also feel like music like Florence’s is such a beautiful thing because she really never shies away from pathos. Loyal readers of my blog know that I – a gigantic fan of classic rock and pretty much all of the 80s pop catalog – have a soft, squishy spot for pathos. Freddy Mercury wasn’t the star he was because he was moderate and cool. He was a star because he gave it all, like a theater actor dressed up colorful enough and talking loud enough that even the last row could feel what he felt. Florence’s music is just like that. It’s such a strong, intense, emotional thing that it can really grip you, no matter where you are, no matter how far away. 

Personally, I love this side of her and I am very glad that Florence went back to less pizzazz in the production and more Feels in the whole album. It’s a beautiful album, an honest album, a great pick-me-up.

I love everyone who emulates Kate Bush during her “Babooshka”-era, so thank you very much, Florence. Also: that’s a banging choreography. It’s so unnerving, I love it!

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Coversongs: “I’ve got my mind set on you” James Ray vs. George Harrison

This song was such a gigantic part of my childhood because my parents loved everything involving ELO and especially in the 80s, Jeff Lynne was the Timbaland/Pharrell/Dr. Dre of pop music: he was EVERYWHERE and everything sounded like an ELO-song (which is fine with me). So, it’s no wonder that “Got my mind set on you”, performed by George Harrison sounds like a long lost ELO-song.

FYI: I did an entry on this song before, back in 2013! I am such an idiot that I didn’t check. However, I won’t delete either, let the archives know that I can’t even remember things from 5 years ago …

This video has it all: shoulder pads, a business-in-the-front-party-on-the-back haircut, Sherlock Holmes’ living room, a dog, dancing muppet furniture and George Harrison singing a love song but really not looking like he’s singing a love song but rather selling kitchen ware catalogs from door to door and of course an amazingballs dancing interlude that obviously isn’t done by Harrison but is all the more charming for it.

Honestly, I love this song and this version. The song lyrics are the kind that sound really cute and lovely if it’s the right person (I wager that Harrison is the right person) but could end up super creepy if a random dude decides to sing it to you after you met once at speed dating.

Ok, so the original song was written and composed by Rudy Clark, who also wrote a bunch of other amazing songs (mainly “It’s in his kiss” which is a big favorite of mine …

… and “Good Lovin'” which is an amazingly fun little bop).

“I’ve got my mind on you” was first performed by James Ray with a very lush orchestration and boy, it’s a completely different song. I gotta say, as much as I love Lynne and Harrison, I feel like Ray puts a little more feeling in it and there’s a twinkle in his voice that alludes to the song’s message of: Boy, I am willing to work hard to impress you.

Now, let’s acknowledge the fact that there are a lot songs out there that promote guys not giving up and not hearing a simple “no” and instead going along until their “lucky lady” has to go the route of restraining order. BUT because there’s this gigantic bit about the singer being down on his luck and seeing somewhat of a ray of sunshine in that significant other in this song, it feels a lot less stalkery and more like someone willing to put in the work for love. And yes, I will stick to that interpretation because I love both versions and don’t want to cancel either.

James Ray, by the way, did unfortunately never hear Harrison’s version. Shortly after his chart success with a few singles (many written by Clark), he died from a drug overdose. But Clark got to cash in on the success of Harrison’s version, at least, as far as I know, he is still alive (according to Wikipedia).

James Ray has a lot of that swagger and ease in his voice and it reminds me of Amy Winehouse who also sounded so effortlessly and glided through her songs in this elegant, smooth way that is just such a joy to listen to.

ILMPITM turns 10: Happy Anniversary, whatever this is!

I started this blog exactly 10 years ago with a very short, weird note and the music video by David Shrigley for Blur’s “Good Song” from the vastly underrated “Think Tank”.

Since then, I wrote a gazillion times about The Maccabees and the Decemberists, compared a thousand artists to Kate Bush and/or Peter Gabriel, switched languages once too often for good SEO, had to disable a horrible Google “feature” that drained clicks and also let a leaching site copy my articles for far too long because I didn’t know any better.

But this was then and this is now. I was 24 years old and knew absolutely nothing (Jon Snow). This blog was a first step out of a rather depressive phase and I guess it worked. I even got over my Mumford and Sons obsession and started to appreciate, nay, love Laura Marling, so all is well with me.

I lost a lot of things in the last 10 years: quite a few blogs, the dream of becoming a journalist, the claim of never being one part of a horrible office affair, two jobs, at least two banking cards, too many passwords, a lot of pounds (food allergies: lose weight until it gets creepy and let people speculate whether you have an eating disorder!), a lot of stuff during two moves and my heart to the best person in the world.

All in all, the last ten years were mostly an uphill battle to becoming someone I don’t hate half as much as I hated myself back then. That’s growth, baby. And I guess that’s also the reason why I still have this blog because it’s a beautiful constant and I could always do and write whatever I wanted and still have (laughably few) people reading it and liking it. But those few people were and are great people and in a way, that’s fantastic. To have people like your (niche) stuff who are awesome instead of many horrible people misunderstanding what you do (or maybe not which means that you’re horrible as well!). So, thanks for all old and new readers for sticking with me for so long or for stepping into this blog that never exactly knows what it wants to be about and has large gigantic phases of absence.

Thank you.

And thank me! 10 years in blogging is amazing. I’ve seen so many 404-sites and abandoned blogs in the last 5-10 years (some of them even belong to me!), so I know how dedicated you have to be to keep it going without the blog being a success, you getting any money for it or getting a book published through it or whatever. The fact that this blog still exists even though it never showed any promise in rising readership or big popularity (except that one boob-songs-article that still draws clicks), is a clear sign that I have neither the drive nor the social networking skills to make it big in the world. But it also shows that I can do something just for myself and not give up just because hardly anyone else gets it. Since all kid’s movies, aspirational feel-good comedies and TED talks tell you otherwise, I am quite proud of that achievement.

So, here’s the song that started it all (it’s still one of my favorite music videos, after all these years. Only, I’ve since seen Shrigley’s work in a museum in London which was a hoot.

Favorite Song: Marika Hackman ‚Time’s been reckless‘

Marika Hackman’s album „I’m not your man“ is a brilliant, amazing and exciting singer/songwriter adventure that – if it were by a man – would have been celebrated across all platforms. There are folk elements, there’s garage sound, there’s a little pop, a little punk, a little indie and absolutely beautiful guitar play, which brings me to my favorite song.

„Time’s been reckless“ is about aging and what age does to our bodies (and our minds). How you see in people around you (and in people you love) how cruel time can be and how our bodies will eventually fail us.

It’s lyrically a very dark and sad song but musically, it’s full of pep and sounds like a song you would listen to in your first semesters at University, to get ready for the day.

In the middle of the song, there is a gorgeous valley of calm and a sweet, short guitar solo before Marika continues whispering, accompanied with echoes in the background and then everything reverts back to the party anthem. It’s a beautiful moment, especially given the lyrics as it shows that even within the thralls of life we can’t really escape those sad moments when we are reminded how fleeting everything is. It’s a great song. And it’s one of many great songs on the album (which I really very much highly recommend).

Neko Case ‘Hell-On’: thank the heavens, it’s a gorgeous album

Look, if you take a solo-album break for 5 years, people expect a lot! Sure, that Poweralbum with K.D. Lang and Laura Veirs was great but it wasn’t enough for all of our cravings. So, when the first songs of “Hell-On” were released and were great, I was so excited but also scared that it was one of those ‘oh, the first singles are great but the rest is not’. Oh, but it is and I can hear that sigh (and jubilee) of relief all over the world.

“Hell-On” is absolutely gorgeous, it’s riveting, it’s exciting, it’s full of cool guest stars which show again that if you want to do a duet, do it with Neko Case because her voice fits everyone’s voice and adds so many layers. Even more so, “Hell-On” is a typical Neko Case album in that it has a lot to say in beautiful images and such a beautiful way with words.

And me, I am not a mess

I am a wilderness, yes

The album is an ode to the things that get lost on our way forward, for better or worse. Quite often, there is a sadness to the wastelands we leave in wake of our own evolution. In “The I5 Corridor” there are hints of an old romance that still could feel fresh but doesn’t and it’s such a great country song (also thanks to Mark Lanegan, who is such a graceful duet partner). It has the cigarettes and the booze and something sexy and something sad.

You were a good man before you knew it

And I’m not vain enough to think that

I’d have been good for you if I’d stayed

In the current of your life

I was an eyelash in the shipping lanes

In “Bad Luck”, Case shows her grim humour. It’s like 2018’s “Ironic” but without sad dudes explaining us for decades how it’s not ironic because Case simply invents new ways of bringing old rituals and superstitions to life.
The cover symbolized (in Neko Case’s words in this Stereogum-Interview) the force of nature and Case herself is shown with a halo of burning  (fake movie) cigarettes on her album cover because she fell in love with them.

One of the greatest talents of Neko Case is her sense for change: when does a song need this one backup vocal that pierces your heart, or that one radio-voice that will break up a solemn song like “Gumball Blue” and remind you of your teenage years in the 90s? That she also defines relationships outside of the romantic realm – something that still gets not enough space in modern songwriting – is another beauty. “Gumball Blue” was co-written by A.C. Newman, by the way, Case brought him into the songwriting because the song is essentially about him and she wanted him to be part of it.

Another thing and story that might have framed the album is the history of the abuse of women. Neko Case dealt with a stalker and had to go through all the tedious and stressful procedures women have to endure before someone takes them seriously and she wondered when this started. “My Uncle’s Navy” is one of these songs and reminds a little of “Deep Red Bells” given that it deals with horrible men and how they affect not only women but society as a whole with their abuse.

“And if you’re tenderhearted you should stop the tape, snap the tape”, Case sings before she tells what he did (now, whether it’s autobiographical or not doesn’t really matter, as probably most listeners know people like this, sadly).

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Case says that Adrienne Mayor’s book “Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World” helped her a lot to understand how women’s history is buried but it can be found and it is being found by younger generations. And right in there fits “Winnie” (with additional vocals by Beth Ditto) because it reminds me of the great girl groups of the 60s. The song itself is a story about female empowerment through female friendship which can be overwhelmingly beautiful.

The last track on the album, “Pitch or Honey” is a grand last song because it’s like Case’s journey towards this album as it’s pretty meta lyrically, announcing “I use major chords to make this a sadder song”. And finishes with “I love you better when you’re wild” and I guess that’s why Neko Case is such a force in songwriting: she’s not afraid to get dark and aggressive and sinister and sarcastic but she always adds her humanity into it.

Mystery Art Orchestra ‘Prismatic Dream’ – dark and moody from Brandenburg/Berlin

On May 25th, the Berlin/Brandenburg outfit Mystery Art Orchestra released their album “Prismatic Dream” and asked me ages ago to do a review. Originally, I was a little on the fence because I always expect the worst but this band is quite the surprise.

By the way, this is a very atmospheric moody video with good story telling. I like the “Twilight”-shots of the forests in Brandenburg (don’t be smug, the camera work in the first “Twilight”-movie was pitch-perfect melancholia).

Opening with tittering violins and then delving into deep drums and electric guitars like a late 80s metal band (looking at you, Danzig!), one could think that this is going to be a blast from the past. And it is. Although more new wave/post-punk than metal, Mystery Art Orchestra indeed reference the darker, more sinister side of the 80s. But they also lead their songs into mesmerizing instrumental parts that are verging on psychedelia. That in itself is a lovely combination. Add to that a charming lo-fi production and vocals from the other room (love that garage sound) and you have a beautiful journey through time and space and warbling guitars.

I am not too sure about the vocal decisions on some of the songs (there’s some grunge-Cobain flair on “Dead Faint” that can also be heard on “Immaculate Youth” that bothers me on these songs more than on others) but as with most post-punk outfits, the vocals are not  front and center and therefore merely raise an eyebrow.

One of the greatest things is the guitar work on the album. “Dead Faint”, for example, has a beautiful Smith’s guitar with a little Beach Boys-tinge that sounds outright sinister with all the bass b(l)ooming from the sidelines. Don’t forget, this genre lives and dies by the guitar and this one does amazing, sweetie.

Songs like “Camouflage” remind me of the big, gigantic 80s flashback of the early 2000s (Editors, Interpol, The Departure) as well as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club but with synths (!).
You can clearly hear that the band still is trying out a little which direction they want to take (they started out as a psychedelic band and moved more towards post-punk in recent years) but everything sounds cohesive enough for the experiments to be entertaining and part of the overall feel of the album. There’s a few songs I could take or leave (“Immaculate Youth” is a little bit too clichè which is not helped by the much stronger “Awake” preceding it).

This is some “A place to bury strangers“-video right here.

I also feel as if “Dreams” tries something that Echo & The Bunnymen perfected, which is the dreamy, slowed-down wave ballad. As it is, it also leans more towards the slightly unfinished cruise ship lounge-variety hour than “Ocean Rain” (but then again, Ian McCulloch is a singing power house).

But enough criticism, I am generally very fond of this album and will absolutely dig it up once Autumn hits Berlin, because 80s post-punk is the best for gloomy and rainy evenings. I especially applaud the track list because they throw the heavy songs right into your face at the beginning and only later show that they can also be a little more radio-friendly. In my case, those heavy songs were so interesting that I immediately wanted to write about the album, so kudos for that.

All in all: if you like blurry guitar sounds, melancholic vocals and long stretches of instrumentals lining your car rides, lonely walks or meaningful stares out of the windows, you’ve reached the right address with Mystery Art Orchestra.

Cover song history: Robert Hazard ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ owned by Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper is not just a musical icon because she broke all our hearts with her beautiful song “Time after time”, no, she’s also one of THE best cover artists I’ve ever seen, heard and build a shrine made out of petticoats for.

Case in point: I still find out that certain songs she made her own actually were originally by another artist. Her cover of “When you were mine” is iconic because Cyndi did not change the gender of the Prince-song and therefore made it a favourite among the LGBTQ-community. Then she picked up “I drove all night” and turned this Roy Orbison classic into a cool and a lot sexier 80s hymn. And then she miraculously turned the somewhat offbeat “All through the night” by Jules Shear into a longing ballad that has to be heard through a car radio. Her touch is truly magical.

And still, I did not know that one of her biggest hits was a cover song. True Color me surprised!

Robert Hazard (born as the less dangerous Robert Rimato) was a musician who mainly played and wrote country songs but also tried out electro-pop, folk and for whatever reason (it was the 80s!) reggae.

His original song has a great sound but his intentions were a little – well – sleazy. The song originally was about the kind of fun men imagine “girls” are having in the bedroom (men included) and looking back at it now with Cyndi’s all-encompassing version stuck in my head, it’s nearly impossible to imagine this song as a weird pulpy dream by a dude.

(also, the first comment on this YouTube video is by Clive Preston who – apparently – played the guitar on this song. For all the horror that lurks in YouTube comments, there are very rare gems hidden)

So, what did Cyndi do? Initially, she wanted to skip the song. Having experiences with awful men herself, she shuddered at the thought of singing something like that but her manager believed that she could turn the meaning around and make the song her own. And so she did with the help of some much needed changes of the lyrics (in this case, the changing of the gender DID improve the song mightily).

That’s how effing great Cyndi is, who else can basically midas-touch a creepy sex-song into a feminist anthem? She also doubled down with the video which is all petticoats, wild hair and introducing “not giving a shit”-dancing to the world.