Handbags at the Ready

Even if you have been stuck down a well for the last couple of months (congratulations on getting out by the way, maybe we can catch up sometime?), you would have probably heard some news about the progressive metal band Queensryche, who have been subject to one of most public and down right bizarre spitting ups ever.

The whole process started off with the band, without singer Geoff Tate, firing his stepdaughter (who run the fan club) and wife (who was the band’s manager). Meanwhile Tate had signed a deal for a film and computer game based on the story of the ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ albums, which would see Tate get a significant greater amount of royalties than the rest of members. After the two incidents came to light, it caused confrontation and dispute within the band, eventually leading Tate being fired from the band. However, Tate filed a lawsuit for being illegally fired from the band and the court have initially said both parties can continue to use the name Queensryche until the next court date in November.

This situation has lead to there currently being two different versions on Queensryche, Geoff Tate’s version and the rest of the band with a new singer Todd La Torre. Tate’s version released their first album ‘Frequency Unknown’ this week and the other Queensryche is set to release their eponymous album in June. This might seem vaguely reasonable, but even after the court’s decision, both sides have been, to put it nicely, ‘commenting’ on each other and trying to make each ‘side’ seem like the bad guys. One minute I’m convinced Tate will be granted the sole use of the name and the next it seems obvious La Torre’s version will get the rights.

‘Frequency Unknown’ was immediately criticised for it’s poor mixing, which can only be interpreted as Tate  immaturely rushing to release an album before the other Queensryche did. However in an attempt to save his fan base, he quickly released a re-mix for free (if you had proof of purchase of the original) and also set up a competition in which fans are being asked to make a video rant about poor the album mixing is. I can’t decide if this is genius marketing by promoting the album through the strength of people’s hate or sheer lunacy (this does come from the man who reportedly threw a drum kit when he heard his wife had been fired though, so perhaps this is normal to him). It’s a fine boundary. Whether intentionally or not, I deeply suspect intentionally, ‘Frequency Unknown’ is represented in initials on the front cover, sending a loud and clear message of F U (F*** You) towards the other band. Charming.

Personally, I’m not a massive fan of Queensryche, but if I was a fan, I’m not sure I would currently want to be associated with either band, after all, who wants to wear a t-shirt of a band who are acting like school children when they are not selected for the football team? It’s also note-worthy that both sides caused this feud by going behind each others backs in the first place, so neither side have the right to a ‘moral high ground’ and should both have remained quiet until the court case. The most sensible thing to do would for both sides to just rename themselves and allow themselves to be simply marketed as “Band X featuring members from Queensryche…”, but that would be too easy.

Think of how our iPod/CD collection might look if band splits were always like this:

  • Guns ‘n’ Roses with Scott Weiland
  • Dave Mustaine’s Metallica
  • Blink 182 without Tom Delonge
  • Queen + Paul Rodgers… oh, wait..

I hope this is sorted out once and for all in November, because at the moment they stand to alienate a large proportion of their fan base and the name Queensryche has become, quite frankly, a bit of a joke. If not, perhaps selling rights to create full on soap opera called Queensryche with its own strange orange-coloured villain who looks like he hangs out a gay bars (search Geoff Tate in images), could be a better enterprise.

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The Art of Storm Thorgerson Part 2 of 2

Last Friday I heard the unfortunate news that famous cover album artist Storm Thorgerson had passed away. In honour of his genius I began to write a two part article on his art and contribution to rock music. In part 1 of this blog (see below) I listed my five favourite pieces of Storm Thorgerson’s art that featured on an album. In this second part of the blog I will visiting my five favourite albums, musically wise, which use one of his pieces as the front cover.

Five: Muse – Absolution: Absolution is Muse’s third album and in my opinion their best; the album cut some of the fat from their previous two albums and didn’t try to be obviously different for the sake of just being different (which is what many songs off of The Resistance & The 2nd Law suffered from). Their next album Black Holes and revelations also featured Thorgerson art work and narrowly missed out to Absolution.

Four: Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon: The Dark Side of the Moon is a classic. Today that opinion is generally taken as fact, but last year, after watching a documentary on its creation, I realised that I hadn’t actually ever listened to it all the way through. Naturally, I then went and listened to it all (and I can confirm it IS worthy of it’s classic status). Instantly from the introductory instrumental ‘Speak to Me’, through ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ and until the dying moments of ‘Eclipse’ the album is exceptional and is boldy unique and intelligently crafted. My favourite parts of The Dark Side of the Moon are the clever segues which weave through the record, turning a collection of songs into a complete album and an aural journey. If you haven’t listened to it all the way through I strongly advise you to find the 43 minutes to do so –  you won’t regret it.

Three: The Mars Volta – Frances the Mute: Like The Dark Side of the Moon, The Mars Volta’s second album is a concept album which has to be listened to all the way through. Oddly this album has a track listing which people still argue about. Essentially there are five songs, but the record label (those pesky little things) wouldn’t accept it as an LP unless it had twelve songs. The solution was to split up the epic half-an-hour finale ‘Cassandra Gemini’ into eight parts. The confusion comes from the fact the song is already split up into five ‘acts’, one of which is shared with the first song on the album and the fourth track also has four ‘acts’. So when the album is listed as the first three tracks plus all of the scenes of the fourth and fifth track it also equals twelve tracks in total. Confusing? Naturally media like iTunes mix things up by just getting the album listing horrendously wrong. It’s probably just as well you are meant to listen to the album as one whole piece.

The songwriting and the pure imagination to create this vast universe of music is incredible and again you should definitely listen to this progressive classic. This album does have one drawback however, which is there are some very odd song transitions which last for minutes and do get boring, but with 80 minutes of music, there is bound to be something you like. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the title track ‘Frances the Mute’ didn’t even make it onto the record because they couldn’t fit it on… But you guessed that already, right?

Two: Biffy Clyro – Puzzle: If I’m honest I think all three Biffy Clyro albums that featured art work by Storm Thorgerson (Puzzle, Only Revolutions, Opposites) deserve to be on this list. However, I made myself chose just one and the result was their fourth album Puzzle. Released in 2007, Puzzle marked the point when they broke into the ‘mainstream’, with tighter and more focused writing, whilst still maintaining their characteristic experimental nature. As well as being focused the songs sound more honest and personal, especially on the songs which were catalysed by the loss of Simon Neil’s (vocals and guitar) mother.

One: The Pineapple Thief – Someone Here is Missing: “The Pineapple Thief? Who?” I hear you cry. The Pineapple Thief are a progressive (I use this term loosely) rock band from Somerset, led by multy-instrumentalist Bruce Soord. The Pineapple Thief are most similar to Radiohead or perhaps a Steven Wilson side project and with this, their eighth album, they finally got the attention they deserved. Someone Here is Missing makes ‘progressive’ rock accessible, with layers of keyboards, effect-laden guitar riffs and Bruce’s ‘Thom Yorke’ inspired soaring choruses. This album does depart a bit from their previous more sombre and relaxed output, but don’t let that stop you from delving into their already lengthy discography.

R.I.P Storm Thorgerson.

The Art of Storm Thorgerson Part 1 of 2

Although I hadn’t planned on writing a blog post today, when I saw the terrible news that Storm Thorgerson had died, I just had to make time. However, I fear RockAtlantic could start to look like an obituary if I’m not careful, so I shall make this post a bit different compared to Monday’s ‘Remembering Chi Cheng’.

Storm Thorgerson was arguably the greatest album cover artist ever and whilst he isn’t a household name like Picasso or Van Gogh, one of his works most definitely is. He designed the iconic ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ album cover which is the Mona Lisa/Campbell’s Soup Can of rock and because of its brilliant simplicity and impact, it is probably the most recognisable album art ever made.

However, instead of mourning his death, I plan to use this post to celebrate his impact on the world of music and popular culture. In this first part I shall be listing my five favourite album covers by him and in my second article I shall be listing my five favourite albums for which he did the artwork.

So here are my five favourite Storm Thorgerson album covers:

Five: Audioslave – Audioslave – Audioslave is the result of Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) joining the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine after vocalist Zach de la Rocha left in 2000 following a dispute involving the bands decision making processes. Although Audioslave’s first eponymous album was received to very mixed reviews, which ranged from “gibberish” to worthy of Led Zeppelin, Thorgerson’s art really is cleverly crafted.

Four: Pendulum – Immersion – Pendulum are an Australian electronic rock group who were propelled by the success of the single ‘Propane Nightmares’ in 2008. Their third and potentially last (for they are currently on an indefinite hiatus) record features a beautiful under water scene by Thorgerson and also collaborations with Steven Wilson, Liam Howlett (The Prodigy) and In Flames.

Three: The Cranberries – Bury The Hatchet – This is the fourth studio album from The Cranberries, who are an Irish alternative rock band. Although I can’t say I particularly like the album itself, I do love the album artwork which portrays a giant eye hovering above a naked person. The design is so simple, yet strangely intriguing.

Two: Pink Floyd – The Division Bell – Storm Thorgerson was a long time contributor to Pink Floyd, starting with ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ in 1968 and finishing with the compilation box set ‘Oh, by the Way’ in 2007. Again, like Audioslave’s debut album, this album wasn’t well received, but the art work is supreme like on all Floyd works and is my personal favourite. ‘Animals’ is a close second.

One: Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door – This album cover could perhaps be one of the most creative of all times, yet from a quick glance looks like the most boring, especially compared to the other covers in this list. The outer sleeve looked like brown paper, but when it was removed it showed one of six possible covers. All of the images showed a picture of the same man sitting at a bar, but they were all from different people’s perspectives. The magic part of the cover occurred when you put water on the images, which would turn them from the sepia shade to pastel-coloured images and Led Zeppelin didn’t even tell the fans about it. Genius!

R.I.P Storm Thorgerson. You will be remembered and dearly missed.

Remembering Chi Cheng

Deftones began in 1988 in Sacramento and were soon signed by Maverick Records, where they released three platinum albums (Adrenaline in 1994, Around the Fur in 1997 and White Pony in 2000) and one gold album (Deftones in 2003). They also went on to release Saturday Night Wrist in 2006, which was the last album to feature bassist and founding member Chi Cheng, before a serious car accident in 2008 left him in a coma.

Since then many fundraising efforts were initiated to help pay for Chi’s medical treatment, including the website oneloveforchi, sales of the specially written song “A Song For Chi” and the compilation album “From Eastern Europe With love”. In February 2012 it appeared that Chi’s state was improving and he was eventually released from hospital after he was able to move his limbs on command, however he was quickly readmitted after he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Deftones carried on performing and recording in honour of Chi and released two well-received albums (Diamond Eyes in 2010 and Koi No Yokan in 2012) with bassist Sergio Vega. Meanwhile the support for Chi was constant and his condition began to show signs of improvement again.

Sadly Chi Cheng passed away on Saturday 13th April at the age of 42.

“Our dearest Family, this is the hardest thing to write to you. Your love and heart and devotion to Chi was unconditional and amazing. I know that you will always remember him as a giant of a man on stage with a heart for every one of you. He was taken to the emergency room and at 3 am today his heart just suddenly stopped. He left this world with me singing songs he liked in his ear. He fought the good fight. You stood by him sending love daily. He knew that he was very loved and never alone.” -Chi Cheng’s mother “Mom J”.

It is said that in times of need people’s true qualities come out. Throughout the last four and a half years no-one forgot about Chi and everyday people donated towards Chi’s recovery, helping raise over $18,000. This is an incredible achievement and a true testament to the good nature of people.

R.I.P Chi Cheng

You will be missed.

http://www.oneloveforchi.com

 

Musical Tapas

The weekend may be over, but there’s still a reason to smile; with Monday comes a fresh supply of new music (and a new blog from me). Among the more prominent releases this week are Stonesour’s ‘House of Gold And Bones pt. 2’, Device’s [The new band from Disturbed’s front man David Draiman] debut album and Fall Out Boy’s comeback record.

Who else am I forgetting? Oh yes, a brand-spanking-new album from Paramore.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Paramore is the Hayley Williams fronted pop-punk/rock band who create songs so catchy, they’re infectious. After releasing ‘Brand New Eyes’ in 2009 to critical acclaim, they were firmly nestled amongst pop and rock fans favourite bands. In late 2010 Paramore were subject to a dramatic, and very public, turn of events, resulting in brothers Josh and Zac Farro (guitar and drums respectively) quitting the band.  They claimed that Atlantic Records had their hands wrapped round Williams and that she treated the band like it was her own solo project.

Although Williams admitted that she was the only member signed to Atlantic records, the statement released on their website announced the brothers were simply not interested in the band any more and had been for some time. No matter whose opinion you believed, the fact remained that two of the founding members had left a giant hole in the bands dynamic and fans were worried about how the changes would  unravel themselves across the new album.

Fortunately the new self-titled album has many golden moments, especially the epic lead single ‘Now’ and the three unique interludes, which consist of just Hayley and a ukulele. However the quality control department fell asleep during the final play, allowing four very generic, uninspired songs (namely ‘Be Alone’, ‘Future’, ‘Anklebiters’ and ‘Daydreaming’) onto the final product. Despite the sprinkling of filler, there are still quality songs hidden away such as ‘Ain’t It Fun’ and ‘Part II’ and I wish Paramore had chosen quality over quantity and decided to trim the fat. Sadly this is not the first time this mantra has gone unnoticed by Paramore. I would still highly recommend listening to it though because parts of it are pure genius, but treat it like tapas and not a 3 hour banquet, as you will be left feeling hungry afterwards.

I have noticed that many female-fronted bands seem to suffer from this ‘single-syndrome’ where half the album is brilliant, but the rest feels rushed and there only to make up the minutes. Halestorm’s debut album from last year was an exact template of this and could have learnt from the motto ‘no filler, only killer’, which Skindred’s ‘Shark Bites and Dog Fights’ is the perfect example of.

Pure Reason Revolution

The collision between two different genres requires a masterful touch. Mixing the staple ‘electronics’ from the pop world with the guitars from the rock world is perhaps one of the hardest to achieve. However, when it is done correctly the result is very satisfying.

I recently stumbled across a band called Pure Reason Revolution, who not only combine the two, but manage to fuse them together seamlessly. Unfortunately they have now separated, but their last record ‘Hammer and Anvil’ stands as a true benchmark of the electronic-rock hybrid genre. With such a diverse music style, the foundations to be creative and different are well built. Pure Reason Revolution definitely manage this; from the rave-worthy ‘Fight Fire’ to the prog-rock epic ‘Armistice’, the whole album seeps originality.

Nine Inch Nails were always on the metal side of this genre and bands like Pendulum and The Prodigy hugged too tightly onto the electronic scene, but rarely has a band ever stood firmly in the middle. Korn’s latest album ‘The Path of Totality’ tried its best by combining dubstep and metal fairly cohesively, although many of the final cuts get tiresome quickly and reuse past ideas too much. Another example of such a band, is a small, near unheard of, London-based group called Subsource, who hit somewhere between rap, punk and crunching guitars (listen to songs such as ‘Tales from the Doombox’ and ‘The Ides’). In short there are many artists who experiment with electronic aspects of music, but the perfect balance is a hard one to obtain.

There is a fine line between rock and pop (just ask Nickelback), but some of the greatest moments come from when they stop fighting each other for supremacy and fuse together, retaining the best aspects of both. Although these bands are often accused of selling out, it would be interesting to see a group loved equally by both sets of fans. It would have been interesting to see just how big Pure Reason Revolution could have got…

Are You Experienced?

You could be excused for thinking that Jimi Hendrix is still alive.

There he was in the pages of all the music magazines promoting his ‘new’ album ‘People, Hell & Angels”. This is the tenth posthumous studio album to be released under his name, which is especially staggering since he only released three studio albums (as The Jimi Hendrix Experience) when he was alive.

Should a dead musician still be releasing music?

It’s an interesting question. There are many examples of posthumous albums and many arguments for and against them. Freddie Mercury went into the studio most days before his death to record anything he could so that Queen could put out another album. The band Ministry recently suffered the death of their guitarist Mike Scaccia and announced that the album they were currently working on would be their last, with lead singer Al Jourgensen saying  “I can’t do it without Mikey and I don’t want to.”

Personally I feel any posthumous album should have already been completed (minus the mixing and final production) and needs to be released as the artist intended it to be (I shall save the ‘iPod destroying albums’ debate to another time). The fourth album to be released after his death is called ‘Loose Ends’ and is a collection of jams and other material (except for one actual song) that wasn’t ever considered to be a complete work. Reprise Records noted this and refused to release it in the US and Canada and I can understand why.

To artists, their own music is a very personal thing. As a child you wouldn’t show anyone your drawing until you were perfectly happy with it and you thought it was the very best it could be. A rough, unfinished jam would very rarely be released for that exact reason. Jamming is one of the main creative processes that goes into making a song and is used as a foundation to build upon. From this recording you pick and choose different parts and amalgamate and edit them into a workable idea, or just completely scrap the lot. I certainly wouldn’t want any of my rough ideas released (especially considering that they’re nowhere near the genius of Hendrix).

It’s not hard to see why ten albums have been released after his death though. Hendrix fans are adoring and devoted, and there are big profits to be made by the music industry from classic artists. He also has an extensive collection of unreleased material that for any artist would be a very successful body of work. He is an icon and there is still a giant Jimi-sized hole left in the music scene.

However, I also think that there comes a point when you have to say “enough is enough”.  Let Hendrix’s legacy live on through Woodstock, Monterey International Pop Festival (where he famously burnt his guitar) and Voodoo Chile, to name a few. If his posthumous collection continues to grow and dwarf his output whilst alive, I fear that people will forget who the real Jimi is.