Friday, January 28, 2011

The Smiths - Demos and Instrumentals Side Two

This is my review of the second side of the demos, instrumental and studio outtakes from The Smiths.

The link to the original blog post that alerted me to the existence of the Demo’s LP is here:

Ask (early demo take)

The song sounds almost complete even at this early stage in its development. There is noticeable less guitars on this version and the song kicks off with clever interplay between Andy Rouke’s bassline and Mike Joyce’s drums before the guitars chip in. Johnny Marr’s single guitar beautifully carves out the chord structure and the instrumental coda wonderfully played.

Is it Really So Strange (Studio recording)

Is it Really So Strange is another song that was only released in its Peel Session version. This time as the b-side of Sheila Take A Bow. The studio recording features some slightly different lyrics “I found a tiny tidy house..”, different phrasing from Morrissey and a less frantic pace. Part of Johnny Marr’s guitar work is close to the sound of the reverbed soaked effect of How Soon is Now. This phrasing is mixed fairly low in the mix but adds a touch of colour that is missing from the peel session version. I think I prefer this take.

Shoplifters of The World Unite (Instrumental)

This take of Shoplifters starts much darker and harder than the single version. The swampy guitars are given more room to breathe and the rhythm is much tighter. Mike Joyce’s drums have a great harsh kick that powers the song along. The guitar break is a little less focussed but still glorious. Lovely interplay between the guitars and bass in the coda as well. The only pity is that this lacks a guide vocal.

Shelia Take a Bow (John Porter Version)

A much more sparkling arrangement than the single. A electric sitar echo’s the bassline. This version is very T Rex with the slashing guitars and thumping glam beat. It stands out as a new sound for the band and I think it is a better version than the one released.

Girlfriend in a Coma (Early Take)

This is the track that seems to have been causing the biggest stir on the internet and blogs. The Smith’s playing reggae! I must admit my heart sunk as I thought of Ob La De Ob La Da. I should have had more faith! In truth to my ears the arrangement is much close to Ska than full on reggae. This makes sense when you think of Suedehead and the kind of music listened to by 1970’s skinheads. The guitar part is all chicken strach funk with a lilting beating and bouncing bassline. The song has always been my least favourite Smith’s single a trite throw away trifle. This version is miles better than the official version, its shows a band willing to attempt different sounds and it would have been great to see how the indie masses (myself included) would have greeted it release.

Death of Disco Dancer (1st Take)

This early version of one of the highlights of Strangeways Here We Come lacks the haunting production of the released version but for a first take its frankly amazing. It is the sound of a band at the height of their powers with a musical understanding that allows the song to ebb and flow naturally. Morrissey vocal is pitched slightly differently and the vocal phrasing varies from the later version. There is also a prolonged whisling part in the mix. Is it Morrissey? The version extends out musically showcasing just how tight the band were at this point. To think it all fell apart so soon afterwards.

Paint a Vulgar Picture (Early Take)

The intro on this version sound strangely flat compared to the Strangeways version. Andy Rouke’s bassline is much higher in the mix carrying the melody. The guitars lack the punch and sparkle of the fully studio release. Slightly different lyrics as Morrissey sings “It’s too late to tell him, how great he really was..” in the first first and then in a later verse “..and they paint a vulgar picture of they way they say that you were..” and at the very end its repeated with a twist “ and they paint a vulgar picture of the way you really were”. So we know were the title came from now! Morrissey seems to tripping over the words as the arrangement hasn’t yet been nailed down.

Heavy Track (instrumental 1987)

An instrumental outtake from the Strangeways sessions. As the title suggests this is the band in much heavier territory. A really thumping backing tracking close to the indie metal sound of London than anything else the band recorded. It does seem to be more about the groove than melody at this point in its construction and isn’t as interesting as I Misses You. I assume it was included to signpost the sound the band might have been developing if they had continued post Strangeways.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Smiths - Unreleased Demos and Studio outtakes

The Smiths - Instrumentals and Studio Outtakes
Part One

Slap me on the patio. What a great late Christmas present or early kick start to the New Year. Thanks to friend who pointed me towards the Power of Independent Trucking Blog I was able to download the stereo mix of Smith’s studio out-takes,demo's and instrumentals. The tracks first surfaced before Christmas on the Morrissey Solo Forum.

The link is here -

Used to spending warm summer days indoors it was great to have these tracks to shed light on the song writing process and undoubted genius of The Smiths. The unreleased songs are a collection of demos, finished mixes and instrumentals that appear to have once been part of a rarities disc prepared by Warners as part of their management of The Smiths back catalogue. The disc was never issued which is a real shame. For a band as big as The Smiths there has been precious little in terms of bootlegs outside the aborted debut LP by Troy Tate and live shows. This feels like it has been sent from heaven. Well I Wonder what else is tucked away in the vaults?

Below I have outlined my take on the songs. I am no musicologist and have listened to them with reference back to the official releases and let me memory guide me. If you haven’t read Simon Goddard's book Song's That Saved Your Life it is worth seeking out a copy and cross referencing but I lost my copy years ago.

Reel Around the Fountain (Troy Tate Final Version.)

Lovely spidery light fingered opening to the track that is missing from version released on the debut LP. The sound is much sharper, less muddy and brighter than on the versions of the Troy Tate sessions than I have heard before. Morrissey is in fine voice and the bands trademark shimmer is present in the blend of electric and acoustic guitars and tight high wire bass placing. I would love to hear a fully master official release of the whole of the Troy Tate sessions. Some added extra acoustic riffs towards the end also add some additional lightness to the song.

Hand the Rocks The Cradle (John Porter Monitor Mix)

This is a much rougher sounding take on the song. It is a basic mix for the band and producer to work from, a step between a demo and the finished product. The tempo is faster than the final version that surfaced on The Smiths and Morrissey’s vocal is not as focussed or sharp. Mike Joyce adds far too many hi hats to the backing track. The official version is a much better take.

This Night has Opened My Eyes (Studio Recording)

A version of the track that was recorded for the bands 2nd Peel Session in September 1983 and later appeared on Hatful of Hollow. The band had however recorded a full studio version that was never released. The studio version doesn’t differ greatly from the Peel session version. Some wordless vocalising from Morrissey in the mid-section of the song and a slightly different outro are the clear differences but there is nothing here of great interest.

Rusholme Ruffians (First Take – John Porter)

A much longer version than that released on Meat is Murder this first version of Rusholme Ruffians is dominated by Andy Joyce’s bassline that anchors the song as Johnny Marr riffs around the edges. Morrissey’s vocal is wonderfully ragged and aching. It shifts between his lower register and that keening falsetto that has sadly disappeared from his vocals now. The lyrics seem to be tumbling out of him and there are slight variations in his phrasing compared to the final released version. The phrasing around “parachutes” is completely different and rather lovely. The coda is completely different and this is well worth a listen.

I Misses You (Instrumental)

I Misses You is a completely unreleased instrumental from the Meat Is Murder sessions. A trademark set of mournful chords, sparkling guitars riffs and an impossibly tight rhythm section mark this out as another gem on this collection. It shows how sure the band was of their genius at the time that this could just disappear for years. It is the type backing that most mid 80’s indie bands would have killed to produce. Wonder if Morrissey ever penned lyrics for it?

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (Early Version)

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out is one of my favourite Smith’s tracks. This take is a very early version. Even at this point that trademark bass line was in place along with the vocal melody and lyric. The rhythm track lacks the urgency of the released version and Johnny Marr’s acoustic guitar seems to power the track compared to the one on The Queen is Dead. There is also the added lyric that gave the song its name but was omitted from the official release. Morrissey sings quite beautifully “There is a light in her eyes, and it never goes out..”

The Queen is Dead ( Full Version)

The legendary full length of the title track from The Queen is Dead. This is album version with added venom and more guitars! Clocking in at 7.30 it is over a minute longer than the official versions and the extended coda seems to contain most of the extra blast. Johnny Marr’s guitar gets more furious, dirtier and harder. The piano part is slightly more extended and the funk is located more clearly. I can’t see why this was the version released it is amazing.

Frankly, Mister Shankly (Trumpet Version)

Another completely finished version that was omitted from The Queen is Dead. This Steven Street mix is more of a curiosity than anything else. This version has a very odd trumpet line and lacks the bite and focus of the official release. I am not surprised at all that this was re-recorded and this version hidden away.

I will listen through to the remaining tracks and post my thoughts later this week.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stand of Oaks - Help Press Vinyl Copy

On the wonderful Swollen Fox there is a post about Timothy Showalter, a.k.a. Strand of Oaks looking to raise enough cash to press up some vinyl copies of Pope Killdragon. It’s a beautiful collection of songs and a vinyl copy would be heaven. Worth seeing if you can help out?

Lots of different packages for the funding including demo's, t-shirts, copies of the vinyl and even a show in your home for $500!

Looks like he has raised the cash which is great!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bjork - Live Will Tear Us Apart (Karaoke Version)

Have been missing my fix of Bjork and was pleased to be pointed towards this video of her doing a Karaoke version of Joy Division Love Will Tear As Apart for her three day karaoke marathon for Icelandic Nature.

Nice list of Joy Division Cover Versions on

Strand of Oak - Pope Killdragon - Number 1 2010

Pope Killdragon is a record that has wormed its way into my life. It has gotten under my skin and into my mind like no other release this year. Timothy Showalter has produced a collection that melds the loner folk of Bon Iver with some distinctly prog rock sounding keyboard fills. This odd mixture of sources and the stream of conscious lyrics are addictive.

Timothy Showalter for he is Stand of Oaks spent time before the records release living rough after his home had burnt down. However this isn’t a selection of songs full of misery and self-pity. The songs are crammed full of odd images, being Jesus’s Dad, drinking whiskey with JKF, children’s books about celibacy, 12 foot giants and resting actors murdering New York drug dealers. Not your standard singer songwriter fair then!

Bonfire sounds like a beautiful gentle reflective post apcoysle love ballad, Giants Despair is a blast of angry noise., the title track……

A record to get lost in side for weeks.

Stand of Oaks - Myspace Page

Pitchfork Review of Pope Killdragon

Strands of Oak - Sterling Video

Strand Of Oaks - Sterling - House Show from Erik Ljung on Vimeo.


The National - High Violet Number 2 2010

The increasing momentum The National have been building since the release of Alligator and that further climbed with Boxer reached a tipping point with High Violet. They have perfected their strain of melancholy literate alt rock into something beautiful, blistering and full of ache. They appear to be one hit single away from leaping from a cult band into the league of Arcade Fire stadium fillers. That they have achieved this without compromising their wine soaked lonely outlook is testament to the high quality of the material and the soul they invest in each release. I think they are far too honest and unblinking to ever cross over. They offer no easy escape routes from the darkness, questions and doubt that informs their muse. Long may they keep on keeping on.

The National Home Page -

The National - Anyone's Ghost (Live Uncut)


Monday, January 10, 2011

PJ Harvey - Written on the Forehead

Another track from the LP. Not sure of the history of the video looks more like a fan video but the song is beautiful. A haunting mix of the Blood and Fire sample and Polly's soft vocal tones and those synth string washes. I really can't wait for the LP! Roll on February.

Audio File from Soundclound

PJ Harvey Let England Shake Andrew Marr Show

This is PJ Harvey performing Let England Shake live on the Andrew Marr show in the UK back in April 2010. The show is a politics round up on a Sunday morning and I am sure it must have come as a shock to the shows standard middle aged, middle class watches!

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Wonderful news PJ Harvey is back! Polly is releasing a new LP in 2011 titled Let England Shake and the reviews I have seen so far make me keen to hear it.

This is lifted from the Polly's website:

We are very pleased to confirm that PJ Harvey’s eighth studio album Let England Shake is set to be released on the 14.02.2011 through Island Records.

Recorded in a 19th Century church in Dorset with long time collaborator Flood who co-produced the album with PJ Harvey, John Parish and Mick Harvey. Let England Shake was also mixed by Flood.

The album will be supported by a run of sold out live shows early next year, with dates in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, and Londons Troxy on February 27th and 28th. 2011 will also see Harvey return to the festival-stage, with more details to be announced.

PJ Harvey will perform with a live band which includes Mick Harvey, John Parish and Jean-Marc Butty.

The LP is released on 14th February. Looks like it will be a very bloody Valentine!

The track listing is as follows:

1. Let England Shake

2. The Last Living Rose

3. The Glorious Land

4. The Words That Maketh Murder

5. All & Everyone

6. On Battleship Hill

7. England

8. In The Dark Places

9. Bitter Branches

10. Hanging On The Wire

11. Written On The Forehead

12. The Colour Of The Earth

There is a great interview her with her on The Quietus

PJ Harvey - The Quietus Interview

You can listen to Written on The Forehead via The Guardian Website.

PJ Harvey – Written on the Forehead Stream

Monday, January 03, 2011

Ikonika - Contact Love Want Have – Number 3 2010

Sara Abdel-Hamid debut as Ikonika is a real beauty of a release. Fully of tight dubstep snap, soring synth lines and killer of kilter riffs. It is rhythmic, focussed, melodic, melancholy, elegiac, euphoric and alive. It is post garage come down mixed with funky beats and a graceful grasp of dynamics that elevates into a different place. The odd twist and turns in the productions make it a disconcerting but beautiful listen.

Twin Shadow - Forget Number 4 2010

Twin Shadow is the alias of George Lewis Jr and his debut LP as Twin Shadow is a joy. A lo-fi mix of 80’s indie and synth pop filtered through the psyche of a lonely New Yorker. Imagine Prince if he had issues getting laid and listened to The Smiths, A Certain Ratio and Echo and The Bunnymen rather than 70’s funk and soul. The strength of the song writing results in an LP which rewards repeated listens. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs Number 5 2010

I seemed to be the only Arcade Fire fan that preferred the Neon Bible to Funeral. I was never that enthralled by the Canadians debut but loved the wide screen pulse of its follow up. The Suburbs sets somewhere between those two records. It is a beautiful blend of the home grown and the epic. The personal is crossed with a historical narrative that digs down into the mythology of 1970’s suburban angst.

That they might be about to become the biggest band in the world is testament to the strength of the song writing and their weave of weaving melodic gold from disparate strains. The bold and the beautiful.