So Quintessentially Local? Fun idea when its someone else that’s writing it. You have more time to muse over which ones you would write about. Far more nerve-wracking when you have to do it and you become far more picky. Wanting to show off how obscure and clever you are, “No not that one, everyone knows that one”. I eventually gave in and asked around which led me out of my comfort zone musically and to my first of three albums…..
Vangelis – China (1978)
“China” was one of many albums that came out of Vangelis’s newly built London Studio (Nemo Studios) where he could be left alone to create his own music without being forced to compromise like in so many of his musical efforts beforehand. Vangelis, a Greek musician, had never ventured to China at this point and had only studied the beliefs and culture of it. The idea of this concept album was to evoke the myths and ideas of China using only its instruments and philosophies borrowed from its history. This is why I feel it’s worth a mention in the Local category as far as the idea of an album or piece of music transporting to you to a place and time and stimulating not just the physical but the psychological in a human being is an idea that is built into the foundations of this album.
The idea of a piece of music leaving a lasting impact of where it came from long after hearing it was Vangelis’s primary goal, and he nailed it. Instruments used on his part were his Synthesizers and Piano – everything else was from China, especially the percussion. Blending these together he helps to bridge the gap and create a piece of music that touches on all aspects of Eastern and Western culture. In this case using his Synthesizers to compliment the over arching theme of China and its culture rather than stunt it. Songs such as “Long March” captures China’s Military history with its Electric piano, and in “Plum Blossom”, you feel transported to some high mountain summit through the use of plucked strings and violins.
The entire album evokes the country’s poetry from songs like “Little Fete”, to their philosophy on duality in “Ying and Yang.” If you have never been to China it is even better as you and the composer are having a shared experience in music. So powerful was its impact on Ridley Scott that he used it in his 1979 commercial for Chanel No 5 “Share the Fantasy” which of course eventually led to their collaboration on Scott’s Sci-Fi classic “Blade Runner” in 1982.
Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material (1979)
While Vangelis was doing his piece on China the rest of the world was a bit obsessed with this thing called “Punk”. Bands such as “The Ramones”, “Iggy & The Stooges” and “The Damned” were causing a stir. In the U.K we developed our own Punk heroes such as “The Clash” and “The Sex Pistols”, singing songs about their own struggles and what was relevant to them.
In Northern Ireland a local pub band had had enough of being a cover band and went from being “Highway Star” to “Stiff Little Fingers” or when at a gig simply SLF. The name came from one of the songs on “The Vibrators” album “Pure Mania” and the band consisted 0f Jake Burns, Ali McMordie, Henry Cluney and Brian Faloon (later being replace by Jim Reilly). Their debut album, “Inflammable Material”, was filled with everything that was going on at the time from “the troubles” in Northern Ireland, to the problems of getting signed, and the occasional nod to other genres of music that were getting attention such as Ska and Reggae. Songs on the album such as “Wasted Life”, “Suspect Device” and “Alternative Ulster” all point the fingers and blame both sides for perpetuating the fighting and unnecessary bloodshed.
In “Suspect Device”, the opening line of the song and the album makes the subject matter very clear: “Inflammable material planted in my head/ It’s a suspect device that’s left 2000 dead”. That single was written before there was an album and was recorded at the local radio station and immediately picked up by John Peel where he played it nonstop for a week every night. As I said there were other nods to the band’s interests, such as “Rough Trade”, which was written about the band being teased out to London by Island records only to be told by Chris Blackwell to go home. “Johnny Was” is of course a reworking of a Bob Marley classic for a Northern Irish band and they completely make it their own. “Alternative Ulster” is their most well known single which went to the top of the Independent chart at the time – impressive again due to its lyrical content. The album was self financed by them, and recorded in the local radio station in a week. When it was finally released on 21st February 1979 it went straight to the UK top 20 which was the first time a wholly independent record had ever been there. The entire band, and album were a product of the time and place.
The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten (2012)
To bring things forward to the 21st century and leave Philosophy and Political upheaval aside. The Gaslight Anthem’s new offering and fourth studio album “Handwritten” evokes “old school” ideals and everyday passions with fresh vigour as if their brand of New Jersey rock hadn’t been done before.
Band members Alex Levine, Benny Hororwitz, Alex Rosamilia and Brian Fallon have taken their seemingly worn-thin and exhausted genre, and given it a new life. Songs like”45″ and “Handwritten” are brilliant openers dealing out straight punk riffs and drums, as he deals with heartache through music lines including “Have you seen my heart?/Have seen how it bleeds?”. Dealing in the same vein the band have written the flipside with “Mulholland Drive” showing their skills at making a song that opens with “Did you sleep last night and do you remember dreams?” sound as upbeat and optimistic as they do.
The album is definitely a more personal experience than their last effort “American Slang” which seemed more full on Springsteen than their usual. If it were a comparison then it is more attune to “The 59 Sound” dealing in both anthemic song writing and poignancy. This is their first album with “Mercury” records after leaving their label “SideOneDummy Records” and was produced by Brendan O’Brien who has worked with such artists as “Velvet Revolver”, “Pearl Jam” and “Stone Temple Pilots” to name a few. The album’s production is definitely helped by what has been learned by Rock history, but not hindered. As sometimes happens bands change their sound when they break through, be it to please a record company, or because they honestly believe that their fans want more of what made them popular. Gaslight Anthem have done the same thing since their early days in 2006. Keeping their New Jersey punk heritage alive by wearing the influences ranging from Bruce Springsteen to The Misfits on their sleeves. The song titles such as “Mulholland Drive”, “National Anthem” and “Biloxi Parish” only evokes the Americana feel of the band further. The fact that they never set out to sound the way they do shows how steeped they are in the music that has gone before, another example of a quintessentially local band that can appeal to the masses. A letter from New Jersey to you “from heart, to limb, to pen”.