Chicks With Disks

Music is the best.

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Sailors’ Tales

One autumn evening we were sitting on the roof of an old factory building, overlooking the river Spree while a thunderstorm was approaching in the distance. The girls from the motorbike repair were blasting music in the backyard below us, and coming up was a driving jazz beat with a mellotron melody and a crazy saxophone – what WAS this? Then the tempo slowed down and a crazy guitar solo took over which sounded like something from outer space, blistering, squeeling, but CONTROLLED. Amazing to hear where it was going… while distant lightning flashes illuminated our faces as if someone was taking mugshots for further investigation.

The thunderstorm never came, though, and months later I found out that the music was “Sailor’s Tale” by King Crimson.

Now we have “Sailors’ Tales”, a new box set in King Crimson’s ongoing series of their (more or less) collected works. This focuses on their transitional period from 1970-1971 and it includes the albums “In The Wake Of Poseidon”, “Lizard”, “Islands” and “Earthbound”. The first three – the studio albums – are presented in those fascinating 40th Anniversary Steven Wilson remixes, with lots of added outtakes, singles and instrumental mixes. The “bootleg” live album is expanded by a couple of additional tracks plus the complete, 90-minute Summit Studios performance which sounds magnificent. And then there are the live concerts, mostly from soundboard cassettes (the “Earthbound” album was compiled from some of these), and while they sometimes sound quite raw, they surely are very listenable and on further inspection provide fascinating insights. The early 1971 gigs show the band with a traditional approach: a rock band playing tracks from their albums. By late ’71 and in 1972 this begins to change: King Crimson has arrived in the present and presents the music like a jazz combo, with tracks from the current album(s) serving as starting points for exploration and improvisation. The Marquee gig is especially interesting as it features a mighty half-hour improv with some of the themes of forthcoming albums, and an early arrangement of “Formentera Lady” with sections that were discarded later for the studio recording.

This is all presented with the (by now) usual care and enthusiasm (and a keen eye for details): there’s a big book with liner notes by Sid Smith, anecdotes from people who attended the gigs, and lots of concert pictures. Also included are full size reproductions of the “Poseidon” and “Lizard” album covers, a poster, tour books, press materials and memorabilia. All very interesting and sure to keep one busy for a couple of weeks, but there’s something missing: no cover reproductions of “Island” and “Earthbound”, so the “Island” lyrics are nowhere to be found. And the players on these albums and the release dates are not listed anywhere in this big box (unless you find out by inspecting various mentions in the liner notes…). Still however, they found space for a whole page (!) dedicated to explaining how to operate a bluRay player. Nice. (And did the original cover of “Lizard” in 1970 really list an internet address for King Crimson…?)

These minor quibbles aside this is an impressive project and a perfectly-executed box, presenting the Crimso music of this era in a new light.

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Flowers In The Dirt

Paul McCartney: Flowers In The Dirt
The Paul McCartney Archive Collection

The album.

In 1989 Paul McCartney released »Flowers In The Dirt«, and he was finally able to step out of the »established superstar/middle of the road« trap that be created with all his George Martin/Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson/frog chorus collaborations. With a little help from Elvis Costello he nodded to his Beatle past, and at the same time tried to get to grips with new methods of production by teaming up with Trevor Horn – and suddenly he was accepted by the NME/Q editors and their readers. While the Costello/McCartney collaboration produced some georgeous songs, the real pearl on this album is »This One« – a wonderful love song with a nice message, some surreal twists and turns to keep it from resembling another silly love song, and arranged like a late outtake from »Magical Mystery Tour«. And, strange as it seems, the album and its various styles and producers are held together by a certain 80s gloss and a reliance on craftsman-like arrangements (Yes Paul, we know certainly well that you can tart up a nice riff like »Rough Ride« to become a four-minute hit single, thank you very much…).

The deluxe edition.

Like the previous nine entries in the series this comes with audio and visual additions: two sets of McCartney/Costello demos (acoustic and band rehearsals), the music videos from this album plus a couple of documentaries, a 112-page book with background and interviews, and three more scrapbooks with photos, handwritten lyrics and letters. There’s also a download section with 13 B-sides and remixes plus 4 additional demos. All this in a solid slipcase which (as expected) fits in nicely with the other Archive collections. The presentation, manufacturing and care for detail is really exceptional. There’s carefully selected paperstock, embossed covers, intelligent design choices (see the »Flowers« exhibition catalogue or the »This One« photobook) – and it all gives a real insight into the making of the album and its reception. And it will certainly keep you busy for a couple of days at least.

The complaints.

As soon as this release was announced there was a storm of complaints from fans. The decision to offer all the collectors rarities (the B-sides etc.) as »dowbload-only« is surely one of the all-time stupid record label mistakes – the SDE website pointed out why it was especially silly to produce a deluxe package, appealing to hardcore collectors and fans who want to have a physical product, and then failing to include a quarter of the content in the actual box. And with 60 minutes of demos spread over two CDs, why not include a couple of the non-Costello songs? (Three of those have been made available on McCartney’s website since.) But: this isn’t some record company repackaging gone wrong. Like the recent Bowie reissues, this was curated by The Artist himself, and it’s his vision that is presented here. If he wants to dedicate a whole book to his wife’s pictures, or doesn’t want certain songs or demos included – like it or not: he’s the one who’s doing the decisions.

The people complaining about the price, however, should look around a bit. If this set wasn’t released as a »record industry« item but instead as an art book, no-one would think twice about it – they would rather be pleased about the »bonus CDs and DVD« included! Considering the production quality of the whole set (not counting the two typos I spotted…) this really is a bargain. Let’s just hope that further installments will be released without interference from the marketing department – just keep ‘em coming and we’ll buy them all.

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Two Originals (The list)

Releases in the Two Originals series with gatefold paintings by Patrick von Spreckelsen:

The Allman Brothers Band
David Crosby & Graham Nash
The Doors
The Faces
Roberta Flack
Fleetwood Mac
Aretha Franklin
The Grateful Dead
Iron Butterfly
J. Geils Band
Led Zeppelin
Little Feat
Gordon Lightfoot
Herbie Mann
Curtis Mayfield
Van Morrison
The Mothers Of Invention
Ted Nugent
Carly Simon
Percy Sledge
Stephen Stills
James Taylor
Vanilla Fudge
Tony Joe White
Neil Young