Thursday, November 21, 2019


Well this was a stroke of luck, the two colours I haven't already covered, along with a cheeky pink for future reference, together giving an opportunity to offer a SMM debut to this much admired scottish group, active between 1979 and 1997. Never hugely successful in their lifetime, it is the accolades offered afterwards, by their peers and adherents, that have ramped up their reputation, even if their best known song, was not, strictly speaking, by them at all.

Confused? Song to the Siren, a song originally by Tim Buckley, appeared on a record by This Mortal Coil, more collective than band, the collection being, largely, of acts on nominal bandleader Ivo Watts-Russell's record label, 4AD. And within that was included Cocteau Twins, the performers on the track, and who subsequently included it within their CT repertoire. This Mortal Coil existed over three albums, 1984 - 91, the Cocteaus, as a unit, appearing only on the first, although with later member Simon Raymonde heavily involved with the second, leaving briefly the band he had decided to join, at the first sessions.

So, let's revisit this. Elisabeth Fraser, vocals, and Robin Guthrie, guitars and programming, had, along with John Heggie, on bass, formed in the scottish industrial port of Grangemouth, a dreamy mix of Fraser's ethereal vocal, lyrics largely indiscernible within a hazy swirl of effects pedals, anchored some propulsive baselines. When intelligible, the vocals remained, largely, still unintelligible, often being streams of sound rather than identifiable english. (The featured song here has words based around the latin names of various butterflies, but I guess you had worked that out......) After a trio of well-received records, Heggie left, leaving a gap they chose not to fill for the next record. Simon Raymonde, a multi-instrumentalist, then joined, left and joined again, apropos his This Mortal Coil responsibilities. Pink Orange Red comes from this time. Their closest taste of mainstream success arrived in the 90s, with Heaven or Las Vegas even denting the US chart.

Success is always a wily mistress though, with Guthrie retreating into dependency, casting friction on the band, not least with Fraser, by now his partner and mother of their daughter. With this limiting any build forward from that point, together with the time taken for rehab (his) and therapy (hers), the sound, having clarified and become possibly more commercial, retreated back into distort and shimmer. A further few releases and they were done, both as a band and a couple.

Raymonde and Guthrie have continued to work together, setting up the Bella Union record label, both individually and together, often in production and management of bands signed to the label. Fraser has led a quieter life, but has still cropped up in the occasional high profile collaboration, the best known being with Massive Attack, writing and singing the song below. Having had one abortive attempt at reunion, it seems unlikely the three will perform together again.

Here, below, is the acoustic version of Pink Orange Red. It can be found on their 1985 release, the EP Tiny Dynamine. The richer and more highly produced version at the top of the piece comes from Lullabies to Violaine, a 2005 4CD retrospective.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Red, Yellow or Orange: Red

King Crimson: Red

Trying not to overthink this, so I went with the first thing that came into my head when I heard what the new theme was. Red, the album, released in 1974, was King Crimson’s seventh studio album, and was supposed to be the last, until it wasn’t. It is probably the King Crimson album that I listen to the most, and I still think that it is great. For starters, at that point, the “official” band was a trio, all of whom were among the best in the business—Robert Fripp on guitar and mellotron, John Wetton on bass and vocals, and Bill Bruford on drums and percussion. They were augmented for certain songs by, among others, David Cross on violin (who had recently been kicked out as a "full" member), and Mel Collins and Ian McDonald (both of whom had been in prior versions of the band) on saxophones. Also, there’s a cellist, who is uncredited, and apparently is unknown to this day.

The song “Red” and the album are considered to be influential in progressive rock, but interestingly, they are different from what other prog bands were doing at the time—Yes, ELP and Genesis, for example, were more keyboard driven, with music that was filled with classical influences, while King Crimson’s sound on Red is harder, more metal even, although there are two more “ballady” songs on the record, including the stately “Starless,” which features atmospheric mellotron washes, and numerous jazzy passages. That’s why Red is cited as an influence by artists such as Tool, Primus, Kurt Cobain, Henry Rollins and Dream Theater.

The title track is an instrumental, in the vein of the earlier “Larks Tongues In Aspic, Part Two,” and it is “one of the more muscular pieces of Robert Fripp's, in particular the deployment of open strings and heavily attacked and syncopated bass and drums underlines this aspect.” That quote is from this post, which analyzes that song in truly granular detail.

Clearly, King Crimson’s complex and challenging music has been analyzed by music obsessives, including the band members (and management). So, you can read Fripp’s diary about how the song “Red” was pieced together. Here’s a typically dense Pitchfork analysis of the album. And here’s a piece by David Singleton, Fripp’s business and production partner, about the making of Red. Or, you can buy a 21-CD/1-DVD/2-Blu-Ray box set, The Road to Red, which features recordings of many of the concerts from the tour that preceded the recording of Red, so you can, if you are inclined, listen for improvisational sections that turned into parts of Red songs. I’m not that obsessive.

I’ve learned writing these posts is that sometimes you find something that says what you want better than you can, and when you do, just copy it. This is from a review of The Road to Red:

Red managed to encapsulate all the things that defined mid-'70s Crimson: ear-crunching instrumentals like the title track; improvisation-heavy excursions into the outer reaches of rock, jazz and beyond on "Providence" (recorded live on the penultimate night of Crimson's final North American tour, included in the current box); dynamic, mellotron-driven ballads that morphed into thundering solo opportunities for members past and present via a lengthy middle section that milked the hell out of just a few choice notes ("Starless"); and two songs ("Fallen Angel," "One More Red Nightmare") that suggested a shifting direction for Crimson, with even stronger song form than on [Starless and Bible Black] but delivered with the same—or, even, more—massive weight-bearing load of what was one of the loudest, most mind-blowingly powerful power trios in the history of rock music. 

Just to vary things up, though, the version of “Red” that I’ve embedded above is a live version recorded in Mexico in August of this year by the seven-piece version of King Crimson that features three drummers (!), Pat Mastellotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacy (who also adds keyboards), along with Fripp on guitar, Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, Mel Collins on flute and sax, and Jakko Jaksyzk on guitar and vocals (although not on this song).  You can download it here, for free!

Compare that to the original:

As I noted above, Red was supposed to be the last King Crimson album—and it is amazing that a band that was falling apart could create such a masterpiece--but a few years later, Fripp put together a band with Bruford, Levin and guitarist/singer Adrian Belew that eventually became a new version of King Crimson. The cover of their first album, Discipline, is red.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Red, Orange AND Yellow: Axis Bold As Love

purchase the whole Axis album. It's a classic that's worth every penny you spend.
[ Axis Bold As Love ]

Aaah... a confluence of luck and a subliminal message from beyond the grave bring this one to the page.

You see, as an amateur guitar player who hopes that some day he's going to have the time to devote to improving his technique by tracking other folks' methods, I periodically check out various "tutorial/ How to .." for songs I wish I could. More than once I have looked at versions of this one, perhaps filed them away for that future day when I do have the time, or simply enjoyed them for what they are: great examples of covers of the masters.

Some time within the past 10 days, I picked up the above version of Hendrix's Axis Bold As Love. There are a number such tutorials you can find @ YouTube, but this one I played again and again: smooth style, accurate representation of the original - and besides, it's a great song.

So great, IMHO, that I was surprised that I couldn't find any other dedications to it here at SMM (although I seem to have circled the song more than once). Further, it's not just Red, Yellow or Orange. It's all 3 at once.

I revere Hendrix as both a master of the guitar, but also as a lyricist. I percieve a depth in his word choices when, for example, he sings about

Crosstown traffic, so hard to get through to you
and figure he intends not just the modern=day difficulty of navigating city roads to get to his girl-friend, but also the underlying mental issues of dealing with allegorical additional garbage on the road there.

In terms of the lyrics of Axis, it is particularly colorful. And accurate. The psychological influences that colors have on the human psyche are in full play here:

My red is so confident that he flashes
Trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria
Orange is young, full of daring
But very unsteady for the first go around
My yellow in this case is not so mellow
In fact I'm trying to say it's frightened like me
And all these emotions of mine keep holding me from
Giving my life to a rainbow like you

The words, the story ... it is able to take me all over the place: visions of the "life-giving waters" and the "happy turquoise armies lay[ing] opposite" come easily as I listen. And I believe it is a combination of the lyric choices and the melody that supports it. Masterful indeed.