Posts Tagged ‘McCartney’

The first time I saw David Low’s Through a Glass Darkly was at a local open-mic nite at an inner west pub. The other acts ranged, as they are wont to do on a rough night, from passionate tunelessness through two-schooner-Bowies to bedroom romantics and beyond. Needless to say, Through a Glass Darkly shone, and I made a mental note to keep up with what the band were doing in the future.

What largely grabbed me that night were the songs written by guitarist and vocalist David Low. These were songs that came from an original place – songs that were informed by the past. Not the Stooges or Ramones past, but the artfully sophisticated songwriters of the past: McCartney, Elton John, David Bowie. Although delivered with a rock trio crunch, these songs had pop smarts and went somewhere. Low had done his homework and his grades were looking good.

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The danger of ambition in songwriting is that an alive mind can over-egg the mix and try to cram too many thoughts and ideas into three minutes (hence the success of Lennon-McCartney, Jagger-Richards etc where the frisson of clashing personalities does all the editing). The same goes for lyrics – what looks smart or poetic on paper can sound twee or clever-clever against three or four chords.

Low’s songs for Through a Glass Darkly on that open-mic nite had some moments of too-clever or too many ideas, but the promise was overwhelming. Recently grabbing a review copy of their debut – Double Standard –  I was glad to see these elements have been reined in to sharp effect.

What we have is a punchy, sleek modern rock album that occasionally blurs its edge into dark alt.country but has a shiny chrome-tattoo rock and roll heart. The beautiful design and packaging of my 12” vinyl LP copy (go on, spend the extra $$$, it’s worth it) shows the commitment Low and the band have to all aspects of the music.Through a glass darkly small

Opener ‘End of the Line’ immediately struck me as unique in that mixer Luis Rojas has sat the vocal just below the churning guitars. This references much classic rock of the 70s – think Bowie’s ‘Watch That Man’ or anything from Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Animal, the effect being of the voice fighting to stay atop the guitars – a highly dramatic and effective mix.

The classic rock atmosphere wraps around many of the songs here – ‘Double Standard’ and ‘Antisocialism’ bring the tough but creamy USA crunch of the Foo Fighters (a sound which in turn references everyone from Boston to Judas Priest). Low’s production and bassist/keys man Lachy Street’s recording keeps analog grit and heart to the forefront. The bass is mighty, Amelia Sim’s drums are fat as phat and the guitars are literally drooling mid-tones (a big gold star from me, Mr Low). TAGD’s take on the legend of ‘Stagger Lee’ could just be the best ZZ Top song they never recorded.

‘Dark Country’ at first seems a cry-in-your tequila pastiche – a minor key country tune of heartbreak – and would be if the lyric was ironic in any way. But it is not, and the song has heart. Lyrically, the whole album, while having some clever fun with pop-culture and words themselves, has enough heart to remain very human.

Many of Low’s song-characters are complex, doubling back on their feelings – while the music struts with confidence, the lyrics mottle the songs with enough doubt and human imperfection to keep it interesting.

Double Standard lives up to the promise of the band I saw many months ago on that small stage in Newtown. I am confident that it will take Through a Glass Darkly to larger and larger stages in the near future – this music is built for stadiums and nothing less.

Through a Glass Darkly launch Double Standard at The Town Hall Hotel, Newtown on Saturday August 3 with special guests Scarlet’s Revenge and Upside Down Miss Jane.

Their website is throughaglassdarklymusic.com/

Published July 2013 on theorangepress.net

The marketing for this World Tour by UK art-rock legends 10CC placed them as “the link between The Beatles and Gorillaz”. I am not so sure about Gorillaz but 10CC definitely opened the ears (and heads) of every art-pop band that followed, from XTC to the Arcade Fire.

In many ways a product of the early 1970s when commerciality and epic experimentation in many genres – jazz, pop, rock, even country – seemed to co-exist in a far happier state than at any time before or since, 10CC continued to stretch that which constituted “pop” music into increasingly unfamiliar shapes – an experiment begun by The Beatles in the equally heady mid-1960s. And just as The Beatles made great things from the frisson between bitter Lennon and sweet McCartney, 10CC had similar sparks flying off their four songwriters: the artistically restless Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, and the pop-worshipping Eric Stewart (Stewart had been in the UK hit group, The Mindbenders) and Graham Gouldman (who had written hits such as the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul” and The Hollies’ “Bus Stop”). Add in enormous (and sardonic) wit, instrumental smarts, fearless genre-hopping and a public (like The Beatles’ fans) who lapped up anything the band gave them, and you are left with a body of work that is one of the treasures of post-war music. 

I was at a loss as to why 10CC had chosen a string of smaller venues for the Sydney leg of this tour rather than one of the stadium/rock-barns, but as I settled back into my seat at Marrickville’s Factory Theatre, I was blessing the fact. The production and sound at the Factory has always been excellent and tonight was no different.

Beginning with the timely spit-in-the-eye rock and roll piece “The Wall Street Shuffle”, the 5-piece band was right on the money (no pun intended) from note one. Through the intensely complex “I’m Mandy (Fly Me)” and the McCartneyesque “The Things We Do For Love” to the richly sardonic rocker “Art For Art’s Sake” they handled the acrobatics of each song with ease – negotiating the tempo-changes, tricky vocal harmonies and micro-dynamics so perfectly and transparently that no-one (apart from the jaw-dropped musos in the audience) noticed (as it should be in pop).

A mini-symphony such as “Feel The Benefit” from their hit 1977 album Deceptive Bends actually has so many sections and recapitulations that at one point half the band was fading out one section at one tempo in one key, while the other half was fading in another section of an entirely different flavour (don’t try this at home kids). Not that any of this virtuoso crap made a jot of difference to most of the audience – which, as a capital-P ‘Pop’ group, 10CC never intended. Leave all that widdly-worship to the jazz cats and the prog rockers – this pop was about hooks, luscious Beatles’-style harmonies and music built to thrill and uplift.

The only original member of the original fantastic four left – Godley and Creme left in 1976 and Eric Stewart in 1995 – Graham Gouldman was joined by guitarist Rick Fenn and Paul Burgess who have been members of 10CC’s touring band since the mid 70’s (almost all studio work was done by the original four) and keys player Mike Stevens. On vocal is the remarkable Mick Wilson, who handled all the Eric Stewart song vocals and well as the higher falsetto parts – his lead vocal on the Zappa-ish doo-wop pastiche “Donna” (10CC’s first hit in 1972) was something to behold. To cover all the musical parts of their mosaic-like arrangements there was a lot of instrument-swapping and to-ing and fro-ing.

Much much more than a nostalgia act, 10CC (who’s last album was 1995’s almost ignored  Mirror Mirror) have had a lasting effect on pop music of all stripes, and – judging by the Factory’s mix-and-match crowd – still command a huge respect and love for their work. There were mums and dads here for the hits, intense muso-types here for the musical gymnastics, bespectacled art-pop nuts here for the wit and wisdom of Gouldman and co.

Like The Beatles – in fact like any enduring art-oriented act – 10CC are simultaneously both inclusive and exclusive, sweet-and-easy and clever-clever all at once. Their popularity hinges on that balance and, ironically, it is a commercial balance that only a true artist can hold.

Photos by Katja Liebing – see her site here

Published March 2012 on liveguide.com.au