The Verve’s Forth, review

How time flies…In late September 1997 I had just turned 18 and my best mate bought me The Verve’s Urban Hymns album on CD.
I had bought the hit Bitter Sweet Symphony single on cassette a few months earlier – perhaps the last ever cassette recording I ever purchased, and a few of the future singles on CD as well as the 2 previous albums and an EP – so it was visible to those close that I had finally found *my* favourite British band of the 90s. Which is a little bit strange because I didn’t like (and still don’t like) Britpop and was solely interested in a certain type of American hard rock (thrash metal), but The Verve seemed something different. They probably weren’t too different but the angle I saw them in wasn’t bone-headed or tabloid-y (read Oasis/Blur). And I also related more to Ashcroft than Yorke.

And then that bubble burst, and fast forward through Ashcroft’s unfinished solo career and The Verve are back from their split with a new album about a month before my 29th birthday. I know it’s cliche for folks to say ‘where has time gone?’ but this question wasn’t so glaring in my first 2 decades of life.

Enough about me.

Forth (which is an interesting title because it’s their ‘fourth’ album, and fellow 90’s band Portishead came back with ‘Third’ recently) has met mixed reviews, at least online. I personally like it, a lot. I never liked Urban Hymns apart from the singles and one or two album tracks; the single b-sides for that album were really engaging though, and perhaps familiarsation with early Verve made me want something more psychedlic like A Storm In Heaven (which to this day is my aural paracetamol).
Perhaps the problem with Forth is that it’s a mix between their psychedelic stuff and mainstream stuff. Was it conceieved to kind of sate both types of fans? I don’t know. But I was quite taken aback by The Thaw Session, as I love music of that kind (after The Verve went AWOL I bumped into Mogwai – who are even more great swirly guitar magicians, especially at that time.) and expected they’d either do more stuff like that, or more in the vein of Ashcroft’s solo career – which I didn’t follow, not out of dislike but Ashcroft’s voice seemed right with McCabe’s guitar and without that I wasn’t swung.

Those that don’t like Forth may need to listen to it a few times. I heard the album streamed online and then played it a few times on mp3 player (wow, I could only listen to songs on my Discman back the late 90’s!) and I think I get it. It’s not a boombastic or totally dreamy listen and there are parts that are dry and a bit meandering – and Salisbury could be more animated on drums, more toms maybe? – but as an album it does work and I value how the album seemingly isn’t mastered loud – at least I think so – as is the norm to kill the subtle dynamics. It’s a complete listen that is a relaxing, strange journey. And then Love Is Noise on it’s own is a strong single with the ‘a-ha a-ha’ treated loop of Ashcroft’s voice working very well as part of the riff. And best of all they don’t have to pay Jagger/Richards a dime.

Of course, people that don’t like it, well, I can see why you wouldn’t. And I can see why the press would be hard on it as it doesn’t have a king factor about the album, and well, over 10yrs ago these guys had their day. But The Verve realise it’s all about the music (and the words, which are pretty good) now, and that I’m grateful for. I like it.

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Metallica – The Day That Never Comes review

I thought I’d help out the web, because on brief searching I can’t find any informative reviews for ‘tallica’s first single in 5 years.

If you don’t know, thrash metal’s (or more hard rock these days) premier name is putting out new album Death Magnetic on Sep 12, and yesterday they revealed The Day That Never Comes as the single, which seemingly is download only.

After the Black album (or inc. it if you weren’t won over by it), Metallica trod the blues rock, novelty album and the nu-metal route which no one really liked the taste of, so in changing producer and using their new bass player’s writing skills they’ve tried to deliver something that really recalls their 80’s catalogue, with a hint of Black album and something contemporary.

First on the checklist is the song length at over 7mins. Metallica often write long songs so this tradition remains unchanged. But here we’re greated with ballady arpeggiating guitars and gentle lead lines that recall Fade To Black/Sanitarium/One/The Unforgiven that then burst into Black album, or perhaps Load-y choruses. The latter half of the song is a series of attempts to rock out and it seems like they’re going down memory lane with hints of the One solo, Am I Evil, Motorbreath, and Kill ‘Em All stye solo-ing.

This is not the best thing Metallica have ever done, but this is the best thing they’ve done in a while and can do. And I like it because my expectation was met: Metallica will only play thrash metal live and that will be their back catalogue. Writing wise Black album as a spring board is acheievable, they know that and they’re mining it. Well done.

Some criticism now. Lars is not the same drummer he used to be. He may not be clanging a bin lid here like on ’03’s St. Anger album, but he’s still playing rather basic and tame. He was never the most gifted drummer in metal, but there was a time when he was very creative to make up for that (AJFA) and had the heavy drum sound to die for (Black). But at least he plays for the song and doesn’t contaminate it with over use of 2 kick drums like many young metal bands.

James also sounds more older and hippy-ish than ages ago. But hey, the guy’s 5 years away from 50. Give him a break. But he’s not goofy sounding like on St. Anger. Likewise Kirk is playing solos after having no real defining role on St. Anger.
As for Rob, he doesn’t stand out in this song – that would be Cyanide, at the moment – but his bass sounds good.

Also bare in mind the download version of the song will fortunately not be the same as the CD. An encoding error for the web resulted in some nasty clipping that a Mission Metallica personnel confirmed. I expect the quality on CD will be as easy on the ears as their Remember Tomorrow cover for a Kerrang Maiden tribute CD.

I’m not shelling out for the coffin box set, but I think within reason Death Magnetic will be the best album since Black album. Not better, not worse, but an antidote to St. Anger and the indulgent Load era. I think Metallica ‘get it’ again.

Take Some FLAC

I recently purchased an 8GB video Walkman to replace a 256mb player and it is wonderful that I don’t have to refresh songs so often (I used to fit an average 60 songs/about 5 albums). I’ve got 20 albums and a few vids on it and I think I haven’t even used 1 full GB yet. Marvellous.

MP3 bit rate is a contentious issue for some, but I’ll throw my hands up and say that I’m satisfied with 128k, which is often arguably touted as CD quality. I notice artifacts or at least differences at lower bit rates but at 128 or higher, my heavy metal worn ears don’t notice a difference, so to conserve space and power I choose not to use WMA and stick with that bit rate to conserve space.
I understand however that some, in fact many ears, can discern a difference so the bit rate you choose is just a personal thing. But on an mp3 player, or even a compact Hi Fi system, which are reduced experiences to a Hi Fi system, I don’t see the point in bothering with 256-320kps. I’m first and foremost a music fan and not an audiophile so I would rather hear a good song crackling through AM radio, than a turd in HD audio or whatever. Of course I prefer the best quality but I’m not so touchy.

The first time I heard an mp3 was in 1997. I remember it well. A well known band’s song had leaked and a person on the net. directed me to WinAmp and the mp3. I thought the quality of the file was astounding. Prior to this, grainy RealAudio was the only real way to hear music, and through dial-up. I can’t remember if the mp3 quality was perfect, or what bit rate it was but it was better than audio cassettes that were still available.

But now, the new we’re getting lossless formats. There are a number of them, so I’ll talk about FLAC which is the most talked about:
FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a lossless format, that means that average 40-60% compression does not remove any data at all unlike lossy formats like mp3. This is great because although we have broadband now, smaller lossless files help us save bandwidth and space and yet we can get true CD quality (or higher if 24 bit mastered) which is appropriate for backup and burning.
What makes FLAC stand out is that it’s free and has been used by a few major artists for a little while now. There is a lot of software support, but not much in terms of hardware yet.

However, broadband speeds are getting faster and hard disk space is getting bigger. This inevitably will mean the slow phase out mp3s as FLAC files get downloaded in minutes for CD burning or direct transfer to multi-terabyte drives. Lossless will kill lossy.

One final hurdle remains though, in that digital signals are still not as warm or round sounding (or so I’ve heard people say) as vinyls. I’ve grown up with tape, CD, MD and mp3, but I’ll take the vinyl lovers stance so the last thing we need is lossless compression with the full spectrum audio capturing of analogue and then we’ve pretty much satisfied everyone and set things in stone. After that, I don’t know where we’ll go. 5.1 is just not a concern with music as when you go to a concert it’s generally a doubled wall of sound coming at you, so stereo is acceptable.

For the time being though 128k music on my player suits me fine, but when downloading music I will choose FLAC first if I can to burn to CD and then create mp3s from that.