Entry #34 – Magical Mystery Tour (a.k.a One Trip to Albert Dock Later…)

What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said about the Beatles? Sweet F.A. It’s been over 60 years since they evolved from the Quarrymen and they’re still hyped as heroes of music who shaped and reshaped the industry to their heart’s content in the 60s. We all know about them, it’s impossible not to be at the very least aware of their existence.

That last part became very clear to me when I paid a visit to Liverpool for the first time back in July, to spend the day with my good friend Rebecca. While I think Liverpudlians are missing a trick not erecting a statue of Lee Mavers it’s pretty clear that they know what they produced and that they’re set on commemorating it until the end of time. If you’re ever in the area, get yourself away from the city centre as soon as possible and head down to Albert Dock. There you’ll find statues of the Fab Four, a view of the Mersey, a shop selling merchandise including t-shirts, album reissues and replicas of John Lennon’s specs, and a busker doing some lovely renditions of songs like Blackbird and Come Together.

I’ve had a taste of the Beatles, I’ve let them in and I think it’s high time I talk about them on A-Side Glance. Like David Bowie it’s taken me a while to start appreciating them but I am slowly coming around to them, or at least their later and more experimental stuff which I enjoy a lot more compared to their early pop efforts.

There are three reasons why I’m looking at Magical Mystery Tour of all things: One, it tends to get swept under the carpet compared to other albums in the collection (not helped by being sandwiched between Sgt Pepper and the White Album). Two, I’ve always had a thing for psychedelia as seen with Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. And three, it’s Reb’s favourite. That’s good enough for me.

All aboard the bus for the Magical Mystery Tour.

Track #1 – Magical Mystery Tour

The fanfare sways away as the album rolls into life and we are beckoned aboard for the tour. Fittingly the sound of the song encapsulates the start of a big trip, and all the excitement you feel ahead of a grand adventure. I’m ready and raring to go.

Track #2 – The Fool On The Hill

I really, really like this one. It’s got the vibe of a musical and wonderfully uses flutes to evoke the overarching theme of the tour, helping paint images in your mind of the bus trundling down the roads and past the hill atop which the supposed fool sits. I also like how he’s depicted as a misunderstood outsider, making him more relatable and likeable in a way. Gentle, calming, inviting, and an early highlight of the album.

Track #3 – Flying

Onto an instrumental. I feel like it’s a bit early in the day for one and should have been saved for later but it’s still a neat little tune that really picks up when the choir sneaks in.

Track #4 – Blue Jay Way

However I can forgive having the instrumental as it allows for a neat transition into this song, which is George Harrison’s go with the writer’s pen. I think this is the first truly big psychedelic piece of Magical Mystery Tour, it’s very reminiscent of Tomorrow Never Knows but slower and more foreboding. Harrison himself performs the song really well, and I love how it sounds as if he is trapped in the Hammond organ, giving the vocals a layer of drowsiness which ties into the theme of battling fatigue and the urge to sleep. Same goes for the end of the song and the repetition of “Don’t be long”, a line that becomes a mantra as the narrator grasps onto consciousness with buttery fingers.

Track #5 – Your Mother Should Know

Here’s the first note I wrote when this song booted up:

‘This is a McCartney song all right’.

The thing I like most about this song is that it takes its title from the film A Taste of Honey, one of three films I wrote about for my dissertation. However the music hall style is not my cup of tea, although I can appreciate the content of the lyrics and trying to teach different generations about different music.

Track #6 – I Am the Walrus

Ah, this one. Its reputation precedes it. I’ve heard about it through several different mediums:

  • Oasis’ live rendition from The Masterplan.
  • Jo Grant referencing it when Patrick Troughton appears in The Three Doctors.
  • The go-to song when the cast of Whose Line Is It Anyway? are playing Song Titles.

But this was my first encounter with the original and I finally got to see what all the fuss is about. And it’s just delightful nonsense innit? It does take a certain kind of mind to come up with lyrics like “Sitting on a cornflake/Waiting for the van to come” and “Yellow matter custard/Dripping from a dead dog’s eye”. It then takes a certain kind of mind on a different plane of existence to then add BBC radio broadcasts of King Lear in for good measure. Not as punchy as I might have liked it to be but I still really enjoyed it as it shows how experimental the Beatles were at this point. I’ll also always give my respect to a song with a purpose of getting the analysts and the conspiracy theorists’ knickers in a twist.

Track #7 – Hello, Goodbye

This is an odd one. It sounds like a better song than it really is if that makes sense. It has all the bells and whistles of a decent-sounding Beatles song but it just ain’t doing it for me for some reason.

I want to get more out of it though so for the first time I’m turning to outside help. Here’s Reb with her thoughts and feelings on it:

“I’ve just put ‘Hello, Goodbye’ on, a song that is etched into the membrane of my brain for life, I think I can safely say. I loaded up the lyrics to look at while I listen and I think it’s hit me for the first time how batshit this song is. I say this affectionately, as I genuinely love this song, but it is like it is written by a toddler. The lyrics, anyway. I love the instrumental and Paul whispering in the background his ominous little “I say ‘Yes’, but I may mean ‘No’/I can stay still it’s time to go”. I think fittingly it feels like I’m having an acid trip. The end freaks me out though. It makes me feel severely uncomfortable, however I know this is just a Me Thing, not a General Population Thing. Overall a thoroughly fun and catchy song, though not fit to be studied in any literature class, that’s for sure”

Track #8 – Strawberry Fields Forever

Speaking of batshit and acid trips. If there is any song by the Beatles that benefitted from being made solely for an album rather than the live performances which they had sworn off a year prior, then it is Strawberry Fields Forever. This song sounds excellent today, and I’m willing to bet it sounded damn near revolutionary back in the 60s. It sounds like the result of a group of mad scientists who threw whatever they could into a test tube and made something absolutely mesmerising. Best song of the album.

Track #9 – Penny Lane

Let it be known that if time travel is ever invented I am taking a trip to the 60s. This song makes me want to do that. It’s perfect for a jaunty walk down the street past the various sights you see every day. I love songs like that about the ordinary. Lovely undercurrent of nostalgia courtesy of Paul.

Track #10 and #11 – Baby, You’re a Rich Man and All You Need is Love

Bumping these two together as they are weaved from the same cloth. The album was for the most part made during the Summer of Love in 1967. These two songs serve to remind you of that fact. First, we start with a serviceable, more Indian-sounding song for the hippie. Then, the fanfare of the start of the album returns to cap things off. Being a bit of a cynic I do find the message of the latter a little-heavy handed, and ending with the repeated assertion that all you need is love does come across as a one-dimensional end to proceedings. I’m sure I’d love it more if I was more mellow but for now all I can do is appreciate the two songs for what they are worth; a sunny and cheery end to the Magical Mystery Tour.

Conclusion:

This is a sweet little album isn’t it? These days especially you have to be careful with positivity as too much can make you reject it outright, like drinking too much beer. But Magical Mystery Tour hits just the right notes and you can’t help but feel warm and smiley throughout. In keeping with the psychedelic feel, it’s one of those albums you can just kick back and relax to. Just enjoy the good times, forget the bollocks of the world around you and absorb the magic of the Mystery Tour.

Not a perfect album by any means but I must admit I’ve ended up holding it in higher regard than I thought I would. In fact I think I might end up coming back to this one before I next listen to Abbey Road. Although that could be because I don’t want to sit through Maxwell’s Silver Hammer again. No crashing and burning on the Magical Mystery Tour, just a lovely journey down the roads of music and acid for a relaxing time. I can definitely see why Reb loves this album.

And if you’re wondering, no I haven’t seen the film yet. Me and Reb have agreed to watch it at some point down the line, to experience and laugh at the insanity together. I’m bringing vodka.

Entry #33 – Heathen Chemistry (a.k.a Up Go the Shoulders of Giants)

I’ve defended Standing on the Shoulder of Giants on this blog and continue to do so to this day. I thought that in spite of including some subpar songs over underrated corkers, that album was still a good effort and an interesting change in direction for Oasis. Sadly though it didn’t stick, as in the face of indifference they ditched the drum loops and toned down the mellotron almost immediately for the next album, Heathen Chemistry.

This is the only album in the Oasis discography that I haven’t listened to, at least not in full; I’ve heard a couple of singles but that’s about it. I’m also aware of its position in Oasis’ history, as the second era of the band with Andy Bell and Gem Archer took to the studio for the first time, and Noel once again shared songwriter duties with his bandmates. The reason it has taken me this long to get to Heathen Chemistry is that this is cited by a good chunk of the fandom to be the worst album of the lot. The other chunk typically cite SOTSOG as the worst, so I’m more than likely to fall in the former camp. However, I believe that for some forms of media there is no such thing as a ‘worst’. Instead, a ‘least good’. For example, I believe that Peter Davison is the least good Doctor Who. Not the worst though, there is no such thing as a bad Doctor. I’m willing (Or rather, hoping) to bet that the same logic can apply here, that Heathen Chemistry may at worst be just the least good Oasis album. Or am I just being hopelessly optimistic? Only one way to find out.

Track #1 – The Hindu Times

I normally see strong praise for this one, with it being cited as one of the highpoints of 21st century Oasis. But I’m going to be controversial right off the bat and say I don’t see the hype. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, it just strikes me as a ‘greatest hits’ kind of Oasis song; the kind of single you’d find tacked onto a singles compilation. The lyrics are standard, Liam’s performance seems a little subdued for my tastes, the structure itself is almost note for note lifted from Be Here Now (the song), and while it has an excellent guitar riff it’s hard to give Noel credit for it seeing as it was borrowed from Stereophonics. It has grown on me over time but it’s not a world beater compared to Rock n Roll Star and Acquiesce.

Track #2 – Force of Nature

My first thought as we transitioned into Force of Nature was ‘Hang on a minute, isn’t this Nightclubbing by Iggy Pop?’. That opening is a dead ringer. Whatever the case, this song really does take its time to get going and sounds downright lethargic. The chorus is decent though, Noel is giving it a damn good go which I can commend. I’m not clicking with this one because of the tempo, this feels like it should be faster.

Track #3 – Hung In A Bad Place

Gem Archer’s first song for the band and it’s a no from me. Here’s some choice lyrics: “It’s hasta mañana/You’re on your own banana skin feet now” and “Tarzan on harmonies for free, yeah”.  Even Liam sounds unenthused. If he cant be bothered with it, why should I?

Track #4 – Stop Crying Your Heart Out

It’s one of the band’s most famous tracks, and probably their most famous 2000’s track, for a reason. Noel’s still playing it to this day, and he recently dedicated it to the England team in the event that they cock up royally in Qatar at the end of the year. From the stone-cold piano notes to Liam’s vocals that make you feel like you can cry on his shoulder, this is one of two definite highlights of Heathen Chemistry.

Track #5 – Songbird

And here’s the other highlight. While I feel like I don’t appreciate The Hindu Times as much as I should, I think I love this song far too much. Liam takes the writing pen once again and blows Little James out of the water to create this beautifully simple song that contrasts from any other Oasis single. Instead of layers and layers of guitars both electric and bass, we get something a lot more minimalist to suit Liam’s romantic proclamation that “She’s not anyone”. Acoustic guitar, harmonium and a bit of piano is all you need to create possibly the greatest hidden gem in Oasis’ list of songs that isn’t a b-side. In my SOTSOG review I graded Little James with a C. This time, Liam gets an A.

Track #6 – Little by Little

Moving right along now from Liam’s single to Noel’s. Again his performance is superb, he sounds much more confident than he has in the 90s, perhaps down to the fact that by this stage he is fully on the wagon and not the primary songwriter. This is also one of the better efforts in the lyrics department but I have to chuckle at the fact that Noel gives us one of his traditional lines of nonsense (“True perfection has to be imperfect”), only to follow it up with an acknowledgement that it makes no sense (“I know that sounds foolish but it’s true”). Decent but I am a bit concerned that we’ve now blown through practically all the singles. Considering the album-exclusive songs we’ve heard so far, that does not bode well.

Track #7 – A Quick Peep

An instrumental? Ok…Sounds like something suited for a scene in Auf Weidersehen, Pet. Not for this album though. Swamp Song got a pass from me on The Masterplan because it was loud, in your face and pure Oasis. This? This is just pish.

Track #8 – (Probably) All In My Mind

Actually a rather pleasant surprise. The very whimsical and mysterious start got my attention. What follows once the song gets going isn’t going to set the world on fire but I’d say it’s the best non-single on the album thus far. In fact it almost sounds like it was a leftover from SOTSOG; there’s an undercurrent of psychedelia in there.

Track #9 – She Is Love

Three guesses what this one’s about. I think this is essentially Noel’s answer to Songbird, just with a dash of electric guitar added into the mix. Unfortunately comparing it to Songbird just makes this song sound more shite than it really is. It just sounds dull and insipid and I guarantee it was penned by Noel as soon as he heard Songbird – Probably thought ‘I can do better than that, I can make a single just as good as that’. No, mate. Not this time.

Track #10 – Born On A Different Cloud

I know Oasis love their Beatles but Jesus H Christ, they may aswell have called this one John Lennon: The Song. I had to check this wasn’t a cover of a song from the White Album because it sure as hell sounds like it. Regardless, it’s an OK effort and Liam’s showing that Songbird wasn’t a fluke. He’s definitely a capable songwriter.

Track #11 – Better Man

Shallow. Would probably be an alright way to get the crowd pumped up during either the midpoint of a show or at the start of an encore. But for the album? Too little too late. I think it should have been in the place of A Quick Peep seeing as it’s primarily driven by the music rather than the singing.

Bonus Track – The Cage

What was the f*cking point of that?

Conclusion:

After SOTSOG and the negative reception it received I think Oasis got the hint that they had to go back to a familiar, purely rock driven sound filled with cheery optimism. However, they also had to avoid doing what they did in Be Here Now and go full force lest it sound overblown and up its own arse. As a result we have this album, which I think can best be described as diluted Oasis. I think that sums up the band from this point on, really. Taste’s the same but it is far weaker than before.

It’s the familiar sound but it lacks punch. It coasts along, makes you bob your head occasionally, but you don’t feel like you’re hearing classic after classic. It’s just song after song. Some are good. Some are shrugworthy. To its credit this album isn’t a slog, in fact it moves at a fairly brisk pace. It’s just that it never really gets going, it just seems to be dead set at coasting along steadily. It’s a ‘safe’ album, one that Oasis knew would get them back in the good graces of the casuals and would gently tease the hardcore fans for a while. The only positives I can give this album is that Liam hits his stride as a songwriter here, and even though I’ve always been fine with Noel’s early efforts it’s great to hear his singing has improved. But that’s all I’ve got I’m afraid.

Sorry to any fans but I think Heathen Chemistry does live up to its reputation as Oasis’ weakest album. It’s passable at best. I was tempted to argue that it was on about the same level as Dig Out Your Soul except the singles on that album are just as, if not more, exceptional, plus it has an excellent non-single track in the form of Bag It Up. Nothing on Heathen Chemistry compares to it. So yeah. Consider this the Peter Davison of the Oasis chronology.

Epilogue – The Hindu Times, demo version:

Hi, sorry, not quite done yet.

I’m writing this about a week after I finished this entry ready for publishing at some point in July, it’s a bright sunny Saturday and I’ve come across the demo version of Hindu Times. And it’s night and day compared to the official version.

They’re barely the same song for a start. Sure the tune, structure and guitar riffs are the same but the lyrics are very, very different. Whilst we’re used to Liam boasting about getting so high he just can’t feel it and giving us standard Oasis swagger, instead we get Noel lamenting about his ‘babe’ (I’m willing to bet it’s Liam – “When you leave, yeah the world won’t care”) getting so high they just can’t feel it. The final line of the chorus is also changed to “You’ve got no sunshine, you’ve got rain”. Ouch.

The roughness of the demo and the slower tempo also works in the song’s favour and adds to the attitude Noel is displaying. Combined with the lyrics he sounds melancholic, depressed and pissed off, like it’s falling apart before his eyes. Almost acts as a sequel to The Girl in the Dirty Shirt, getting her second chance and pissing it away to get high, with Noel dragged into the doldrums with her. It’s bleak. And I guess that’s why it didn’t stay that way for long.

Noel most likely came to the conclusion that he was done being so bleak, so he re-wrote the song to try and capture the plastic optimism and bluster of the Morning Glory days. On the one hand that’s fair enough, keeping the generally downbeat nature of SOTSOG self-contained would have worked in that album’s favour and kept it the black sheep of the family. On the other hand, I’d say keep a few songs like this but mix and match with pick-me-up songs like Little By Little and Better Man, then culminate with Stop Crying Your Heart Out. Heathen Chemistry could have been a transitional album, melding the best of both worlds for Oasis with the crown jewel being Hindu Times with its signature psychedelic guitar riff.

Alas, a perfect world we do not live in, and Heathen Chemistry remains the low point for Oasis.

Entry #32 – The La’s (Mike Hedges Version) (a.k.a Same Proverbial, Different Day)

Hello again.

When I abruptly stopped writing posts on A-Side Glance, I had just given by thoughts on the one and only album from the La’s. I’ve gone on record as saying that that record is one of my absolute favourites and a must-listen for anyone and everyone.

And conversely the band themselves went on record to say that the record that we got, after several years of tumultuous sessions and making Go! Discs dig through their wallets, was crap. What we heard was not what they had in their heads, and they felt that eventual producer Steve Lillywhite had butchered their vision. Alas, it’s the only proper record of theirs that we have so it’s all we can hold up and consider a musical gold mine.

Or is it?

Turns out there is a deluxe version of the album available out there which contains the same songs but with a sound that apparently satisfied the band the most. Out of the rumoured twelve sessions the band undertook it was their time with Mike Hedges, eventual producer of the classic Manics album Everything Must Go, that they would go on to deem as their most successful. According to John Power in an interview for Q Magazine the band felt that this was it, that they had cracked it, helped by Hedges producing through “an old Abbey Road Studio 2 desk”. Hell, if Lee Mavers, always striving for 110% perfect, turns round and says it sounds good then surely that should be it, right?

Nope. Long story short, there were divisions in the band regarding a holiday, Lee threw a wobbler, drummer Chris Sharrock (who would later tour with Oasis and join Liam for Beady Eye) quit, and guitarist Barry Sutton followed suit. As a result the recordings never saw the light of day, until we got the deluxe album in 2008 once Hedges had done some remastering. Question of the hour is does it hold up compared to the final album we all know and love? Only one way to find out.

As a quick aside, I will putting a more competitive stance on proceedings this time around as I compare and contrast the established Lillywhite sound with the sound of Hedges. When I finish summing up my thoughts on each song that both men worked on, I’ll give my verdict on which producer did better with what they were given.

Track #1 – I.O.U

In my original review I stated that of all the songs presented on the album that I.O.U was my least favourite. I still stand by that, as I find the lyric “On the street of knowledge/you must eat your porridge” a bit daft and I hated the fact the song would fade in. Having this as the opening track for the Hedges version did make me worry that we were going to start on the wrong foot but then we get two thwacks of a drum and I’m saying ‘Thank Christ’ as the show gets underway. The singing is also a lot better here, Mavers sounds like he is having a blast and Power’s backing vocals compliment proceedings nicely. There’s little touches here and there like a little whistle and a brief change in key for the third verse that makes this stand head and shoulders above the main album’s version.

It’s an early lead for Mike.

Hedges: 1 / Lillywhite: 0

Track #2 – I Can’t Sleep

Forgive me if I’m committing sacrilege by saying this but as this song gets started I swear it sounds like something from Pablo Honey-era Radiohead – The dirty licks of the electric guitar and the twatting of the drums ensure this sounds a lot more hard hitting than we’re used to from the La’s. And indeed, I could genuinely picture Thom Yorke stretching out the final “tonight” from the second iteration of the chorus as Lee does here.

But I digress. It’s fast becoming apparent to me that there is a lot more passion in Lee’s voice here than in the final album. Whilst I’ve been doing teacher training I’ve had the mindset that if I am passionate about something then that passion will translate well to the kids. Here, Lee’s passion is well and truly rubbing off on me.

I’m trying not to give Mike points solely based on the novelty of hearing different versions of established songs, rather on the merit of how good the songs sound. But as long as he is bringing out the passion in the band and doing his job right, the more he gets my vote.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 0

Track #3 – Knock Me Down

This was originally a non-album track so we’ll put the competitive angle to one side for now and appreciate we’re hearing one of the rarer songs from the La’s.

Here we have a jaunty tune that sounds like something you would hear from a busker. Apt as it appears to be about someone being evicted from their home and back onto the streets, where all that awaits them is drugs, pain, repeat the process, earning the name Jack-in-the-Box. Bit depressing considering how lively the song is. Then again maybe this is a deliberate case of juxtaposition, hinting that despite how much of a pithy existence this is, it’s one that ol’ Jack-in-the-Box is content with. To be knocked down is par for the course.

Track #4 – Way Out

This is where it first becomes clear that at point across the Hedges album that Mavers’ vocals tend to have a warbly reverb to them, sounding as if he is singing underwater. I don’t know if this was a favoured effect for him and Power, who I noticed had something similar peppered throughout his own band’s album Mother Nature Calls, or if this was a side-effect of the remastering of the sessions from the cassette that Hedges found. Either way I find it kind of distracting and detrimental to the raw sound of the La’s. Or then again, if they want to capture the sound and atmosphere of a stageshow on record then maybe it’s the right way to go. Regardless, not a fan of the technique. Oh you want to hear about the song itself? It’s fine, same feelings as I had on the Lillywhite version, just the sound of the vocals aren’t my cup of tea. Flip side of the coin after I Can’t Sleep.

Lillywhite is on the scoreboard.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 1

Track #5 – Doledrum

Not a lot of difference between this version and the final version. I’ve always been a little bit indifferent towards Doledrum honestly so there’s not much I can say here. We’ll call it a tie between the two producers.

The score remains the same.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 1

Track #6 – There She Goes

Right. Going into There She Goes, I knew it was going to be difficult to judge it on merit seeing as it is the one engrained into public consciousness and the sound of which is frankly irreplaceable. In fact, it would maybe feel wrong to hear a different version of such a legendary track. And alas, that is how I feel listening to it. The introduction here is quite flat, it doesn’t feel like there’s that spark which gets you hyped up, and the tempo is a bit slower which doesn’t work for me. I guess it can be argued that this is a side-effect of the band taking their time as opposed to rushing things as they did in the final album but it doesn’t do them any favours here. Unfortunately, it’s not a false start as when we get into the song proper the vocals once again sound like they are being sung underwater and hinder Lee’s wonderful falsetto.

Still a good song to be sure and John’s basswork is top notch, but Mike did not do it justice. Easy victory for Lillywhite.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 2

Track #7 – Feelin’

Third time I’ve talked about Feelin’ on the blog! It’s more akin to the Leckie version than the Lillywhite version, with Lee’s vocals sounding more focused and melancholic and having time to breathe thanks to the slightly slower tempo. Sharrock’s drumming is much more pronounced too, and I love how it signals the next verse after the signature guitar riff as if to say ‘Ok let’s go!’. However, the opening bluesy riff is a little lacking and I’m mixed on the prominence of the acoustic guitar during the riffs that set up the verses. It’s interesting the way they tried to fuse both acoustic and electric by having the latter in your right ear and the former in your left, but I think it is a little overambitious. I think it’s better when it’s the electric on its own.

It’s a tricky one this one, I really want to like this more than I do and I respect the use of stereo sound by fusing the guitars. It’s just not quite punchy enough.

Lillywhite takes the lead.

Hedges: 2 / Lillywhite: 3

Track #8 – Timeless Melody

Bloody hell. After the last few songs I was not optimistic but then Mike had to take my favourite La’s song and blow it out of the water. This song is firing on all cylinders; bassline, drums, vocals, the whole nine yards sound excellent, and the middle eight is beautiful. Pretty sure if the Hedges album was the real thing then this would have been the perfect choice for lead single. I love it.

Tied up again as we enter the final third.

Hedges: 3 / Lillywhite: 3

Track #9 – Son of a Gun

As opposed to Feelin’, the intro here is a lot more compelling with the gritter guitar chords. Once again though there’s not a lot to add from last time, Son of a Gun is a fine song that sounds a wee bit livelier here but at this point you can say that for the entire album.

Nothing new to add, nothing to put on the scoresheet.

Hedges: 3 / Lillywhite: 3

Track #10 – Clean Prophet

Time for some more dropped songs, starting with one that lived its days as the b-side to Timeless Melody. The guitar chords are once again nice and scratchy and have a ‘Get ready for this’ feel to them aided by Sharrock’s marching drumbeat. I do wonder if this song really meets the requirements of the La’s as they chased raw sound because this does sound a bit overproduced. Despite that it is still a cracker of a song and makes good use of stereo sound. Ideal for headphone users like myself as both ears hear different pieces of the puzzle neatly slotting together. My only real complaint though, if I have to pick a very tiny nit? Chris Sharrock really didn’t have to hit the cymbal at the end, it would have been better if the song just stopped when the guitars did.

Track #11 – Come In Come Out

Sorry, just had to. Song’s good.

Track #12 – Failure

BEFORE LISTENING:

Ok this is by far and away the most rockin’ track from the band, it’s 100 miles an hour and in your face, I got it before, I want it again, let’s have it!

AFTER LISTENING:

It was only 80 miles an hour, but that meant the lyrics had room to breathe and sound a lot more guttural, and the drumming was brilliant as it evoked an accelerated heartbeat from the fear and panic of the consequences of failure.

Lillywhite’s best hope now is a draw.

Hedges: 4 / Lillywhite: 3

Track #13 – Looking Glass

Positives first. The acoustic on its own is a very intimate start that gets your curiosity going, and Lee displays some good vocal range as he goes from low to high and back. The instrumental breaks after the verses (around two minutes and four minutes in, respectively) are very space rock, on the way to being reminiscent of something from Pink Floyd. It’s almost spine-tingling.

Unfortunately, this lacks that grand finale feeling that we have on the final album. While ending with elements of previous songs floating in the background was probably an element that Mavers and co. disagreed with Lillywhite on, it was nevertheless instrumental in closing the album in style. We know Looking Glass for building and building on itself and making you grin from ear to ear as you realise just what a fantastic album you’ve listened to. This version would not have provoked the same reaction; it doesn’t build on itself, it peters out and it lacks the finishing touch of Mavers repeating the lyric “The change is cast”. It sounds unfinished and for that reason I cannot let Hedges run away with this.

It’s a draw. Stand down.

Hedges: 4 / Lillywhite: 4

Conclusion:

Bit irritated by that final score honestly, I was hoping to make a point by saying “So clearly Hedges is the better producer and the La’s were wrong to ditch him” or “Guess Lillywhite knew what he was doing when he helped bring the La’s into the public eye”. The Hedges album is a mixed bag to say the least.

On the one hand, it’s a real eye-opener as it shows what the band could produce when they were playing at their best and, crucially, they believed it. This shows them taking their time, putting the effort in, and not racing to the end because they have been told that it’s now or never. Hedges has certainly done justice to some of the songs from the La’s and it has been very intriguing and refreshing to hear what he had for the band.

On the other hand, it’s not perfect as the scoreline reflects. While he may have done a cracking job with songs such as I.O.U, it would be safe to say that some of the band’s most famous efforts like There She Goes and Looking Glass wouldn’t be half as famous if they had been released as they were here.

I’ll conclude by saying that at least with the ability to pick and choose our playlists, we can mix and match songs from both producers and hear the La’s how we want to hear the La’s; at their very best, as one of the most underappreciated bands of all. No matter who was producing for them, no matter how much of a shit they gave, they were fantastic.

Entry #31 – The La’s (a.k.a The Forgotten Four)

The La's | Spotify

History has unfortunately dictated the La’s as one trick ponies, as the only song of theirs that you still hear these days is the bittersweetly romantic There She Goes. And, of course, they only have that one self-titled album to their name. Which is a crying shame because the La’s were a band with so much potential, and indeed had they stuck around for the Britpop era they could have easily been the kings of the jungle.

However, as I have talked about before on A-Side Glance, they were undone by the perfectionist attitude of frontman Lee Mavers. The band had been trying for years to get their debut recorded, went through several producers trying to capture that perfect sound and no matter what they tried they just weren’t satisfied. Eventually, their label Go! threw their hands up, said ‘stuff it’ and had one of those producers, Steve Lillywhite, mix it all together into a fully fledged LP. Put it this way: If the album that was eventually released at the tail end of 1990 was, as the band claimed, nowhere near as good as it could have been, and was only a fraction of the sound in Mavers’ head translated to tape, then a good chunk of artists’ a-games pale in comparison to the b-game of the La’s. This album is one of my most frequently played in my collection. It’s an album that you can hear again and again and never be bored by.

But is it all it’s hyped up to be? Most things cut short way before their time like Firefly or Fawlty Towers leave you wanting more, wondering what could have been and treating what we did get as gold. Thus we get a trope known as the ‘sacred cow’; something untouchable from criticism lest you bear the brunt of a rabid fanbase. I have never really seen any criticism for the La’s, and I don’t plan on starting today, but I wonder what it is that makes this album so very special. Let’s have a look.

Track #1 – Son of a Gun

And we open with a psuedo-character piece about a man who seemed destined to live a busy life but now doesn’t, having been ‘burned by the 20th century’. Considering the band’s, and more specifically Lee’s, immediate future, that sounds like foreshadowing. But anyway, this is a decent opener, and sums up the album ahead; short, sweet, jangly. Plus, we don’t get the full package just yet as it’s a straightforward acoustic with minimal drumwork.

Track #2 – I Can’t Sleep

The electric guitar rears its head to create a slightly gritter second song, one that suitably seems to be about a drugtrip. The journey is made clear with Lee Mavers’ songwriting and his vocal chops, with his little yell at the end of the fourth verse indicating the narrator may have just peaked.

Track #3 – Timeless Melody

Gorgeous song, this. Quite possibly my favourite overall from the La’s. You can tell this one came from the heart as Mavers goes romantically meta on us by writing a song about struggling to write a song. And who says perfectionism can be a mental brick wall? Instrumentally, this is also a corker, love the guitar riffs and John Power’s bassline, and the urgent tempo is the icing on the cake. Bonus points aswell for being one of the longer tracks at three minutes, which allows Timeless Melody to truly sink in.

Track #4 – Liberty Ship

I’ve said in the past that a lot of albums seem to have that one song that could have and maybe should have been a single. Liberty Ship is one of two from The La’s that I feel would have made a good single. It’s a nice jaunty number, and I must confess that as I type this I have this mental image where the La’s, not taking themselves too seriously, sing the song atop the deck of a ship in sailors outfits. Regardless of that, I’d argue that of the many ear worms to be found on the album, the line ‘Sail away on the ocean wave’ and the accompanying simple acoustic guitar chords will be stuck in your head for a good while.

Track #5 – There She Goes

This song is over 30 years old now and is still ingrained into the brains of a lot of people, regardless if they’ve heard of the La’s or not. Play any bit of it, whether it be the opening or Mavers tugging at the heart strings as he laments ‘There she goes…’, and chances are a person will immediately recognise it. There She Goes is iconic. What else is there to say?

Track #6 – Doledrum

I think this is the first song on the album that doesn’t quite work for me as well as the others. Not sure why, maybe it’s because it has the unenviable task of coming after There She Goes. But then again to me it is just a song that amounts to ‘don’t be sad’. Or ‘don’t be on the dole’, which ever you think it is. One thing I can say for Doledrum is that certainly resonated with Noel Gallagher, who would later namedrop it in the pushed-under-the-carpet Oasis song Who Put the Weight of the World on My Shoulders?

Track #7 – Feelin’

On the flip side of the coin, I really really like Feelin’ and again I’m not entirely sure why. Because it’s the shortest song on the album? The bluesy guitar riff? John’s bassline? Neil’s drumwork? Lee’s vocals? It’s all there, and I love it all. In fact, as I’ve mentioned that this is the shortest song on the album, I’ll say right now that the playlist is paced to perfection. Nothing outstays its welcome, and they all feel like they have gone for a lot longer. The song comes, the band say what they need to say, then stop. No pissing about, just a bit of music. It’s also worth noting this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about Feelin’ on the blog, I did an entry on it last October:

Track #8 – Way Out

A song that started life as the La’s first single, years before the release of the album. It’s fine, again not as good as most of the first half but still a decent effort.

Track #9 – I.O.U

Regardless of the overall quality of an album, you have to choose a song that’s your least favourite and for me that is I.O.U. And unlike with Doledrum, I do know why I’m not that fond of this. The fade in opening is a bit jarring and then once we get into the thick of it, it just sounds like an amalgamation of earlier songs – a similar guitar riff to Feelin’, the single strums which halt the melody at the end of a verse like in Doledrum and I Can’t Sleep. Sorry if you like this song but it ain’t doing it for me.

Track #10 – Freedom Song

This is though. It’s refreshing to get a slower song to contrast with the urgency of the rest of the album. There’s some fascinating lyrics to be found in Freedom Song such as ‘fate is sealed inside a bomb’ and ‘until the web is spun/people must have some fun’. I highly doubt a band so focused on the bueaty of music like the La’s would be topical and write about the outside world, but that is the impression I get. Feels like it may have been inspired by events of the time such as the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. It’s a bit of change in direction compared to what we’ve had so far, but it’s a welcome one in my book.

Track #11 – Failure

Here’s that second song that I believe could have and should have been a single along with Liberty Ship. At the risk of sounding cliched, this rocks and having it come after the morose Freedom Song is the perfect choice. The music screams anger and panic in the face of failure, and helps add to the relatability of this song. Makes me think back to those times when I had cocked up royally at school and had to face the music in front of my parents. The times where I thought I could luck my way out and throw the failure over my shoulder but no. That English mock exam still haunts me…

Track #12 – Looking Glass

After short and sweet songs across the board, we’re confronted with a near 8 minute epic that seems destined to be the magnum opus of The La’s. I wrote down in my notes that the band are on top form here but let’s be honest that has been the case for the entire album. This feels like a song which if performed by any other band would have the kitchen sink thrown at it with layers of sound or some mellotron if they were more modern. But no, this is the La’s and they would be damned if they abandoned their quest for the raw sound which they seek. Also, can I just take a moment to gush over that final minute? As the tempo goes from slow to Sonic the Hedgehog levels of fast, and we hear previous songs in the background, cementing this as the gold-encrusted full stop to the album…c’est magnifique. It’s a close second for my favourite song overall, and part of that is once again down to relatability. Right now more than ever wouldn’t we want to turn the last page and look through the looking glass? We do not know where we’re going next. Did the La’s? Who knows?

Conclusion:

So I asked the question, is The La’s all it is hyped up to be? Yes. Yes it is. No question about it. It’s a quintessential listen, an album which everyone should hear at least once. If anything else, regardless of your tastes, it is one of the most easy listens you will ever have. Every song has passion and drive behind it, none outstay their welcome and all leave you wanting more.

But as I said at the beginning, we never got more. We should be grateful for we got, yes, but we all know that the La’s had a lot more in the tank. They would have happily given us more if they had just nailed that right sound, and done so sooner before John Power got sick of playing the same stuff over and over again. However, let’s not forget, we live in 2021. It’s the age of the internet. And if you take a few seconds you can find songs that never made it onto the album. Songs that could have been the basis of that mythical second album.

Entry #30 – More of What I’ve Been Listening to Lately (a.k.a At least one entry per month, dammit!)

So there’s been another lengthy gap between now and my last entry. Unfortunately, I’ve ended up having one of those months. Nothing depressing or anything like that, but quite hectic; it all started off with a nice holiday in Sussex seeing family for the first time in nearly a year, then I returned home and had to slog through some admin and technical issues trying to sort out a course I’m starting in September. I’ve also had to say bye for now to my best mate as he has moved to Sheffield, and my Dad had an operation to remove a cancerous mole on his leg (He’s doing a lot better now). As well as that, I’ve been stuck in that everlong battle between me and procrastination. Oh, and I went to Leeds for a day out with someone I met online.

You know, the usual kind of June.

So yeah, that’s kind of why we have suffered a bit of a schedule slip on A-Side Glance. However, in order to make sure that I get at least one entry done this month, allow me to bring you another round of music that I have been listening to as of late.

Paul Weller – Heavy Soul

A weekend or two ago I went to work with the intention of stopping at a nearby Asda to get some stuff for dinner. Then plans changed and I ended up spending half an hour in the staff room waiting to start my shift. To pass the time I booted up my Spotify and went to choose an album to listen to, settling on Paul Weller’s fourth solo effort, Heavy Soul.

Definitely a more hard hitting sequel to the comparatively relaxing soft rock of Stanley Road, Heavy Soul is more primarily focused on guitar work with dabblings of blues here and there. Peacock Suit, the lead single, is a particular highlight as we hear Weller turning back to his time in The Jam, not just with the subject matter stemming from his Mod roots, but with the guitars that give the sense of being a wee bit pissed off. More traditional bluesy tunes like Up in Suzes’ Room are very welcome aswell.

However, being so heavily focused on guitars causes Heavy Soul to run the risk of sounding samey and one-dimensional, not helped by the fact that Paul seems a little less inspired at this point as his songs aren’t really up to much. While the aforementioned Peacock Suit and Driving Nowhere were both welcome additions to the playlist, there wasn’t really much in the way of standout Paul Weller classics. I feel like Heavy Soul would probably be better appreciated when translated to the stage; I can imagine songs like Brushed sounding fab live.

Not the greatest entry in the Modfather’s catalogue, but good for what I wanted it to be at that particular point in time as I waited to start work – Something to pass the time.

Jamiroquai – Virtual Insanity

During my holiday in Sussex, I was going through one particular warm and stuffy evening when I decided to give some acid jazz a go. I’d been interested in this genre since revisiting the soundtrack to Ridge Racer Type 4, in particular the wonderfully serene track Pearl Blue Soul. When I hopped on Google to see where would be a good place to start, I ended up being recommended Jamiroquai (Whom I later discovered was a favourite of my uncle’s back in the day. We have good taste in the family).

And Virtual Insanity is a very groovy track, innit? Wonderfully catchy and good for a dicky-dance in the living room or a headbop in the car. But if you take the time to look closer you hear a song that ages like a fine wine. As the title may indicate, Virtual Insanity talks about the growing dissociation between humans and the Earth. While the tune and Jay Kay’s style of singing may indicate otherwise, it’s very much a dour and cynical song as the narrator laments in the chorus that the “Future’s made of virtual insanity now/Always seem to be governed by this love we have/For useless, twisting, our new technology”.

And he’s right. This song was made in 1996. How deeply integrated into the virtual world are we now in 2021, with smartphones and computers, algorithms trying to dictate what we read on the Internet, on the eve of cars that can drive themselves for crying out loud? So far ahead of its time, but trapped in a more niche genre, Virtual Insanity is a song that very much can and very much should be listened to more often.

Muse – Supermassive Black Hole

Whilst Euro 2020 has been happening I have been running a feature on my radio show on Spark Sunderland, where I play songs from old FIFA soundtracks to get listeners into the footballing mood. Doing so has allowed me to play tracks from bands such as Blur, Oasis, Gorillaz, The Jam, Apollo 440, New Order, the Vaccines (Because God knows you need to hear from them during the pandemic), the Enemy, Foals, and most recently Muse.

Muse is a band that I have had on my ‘need-to-hear’ list for quite a while now but haven’t gotten round to yet. Doing the FIFA theme helped me finally give them a shot as what appears to be their signature song was used as part of the soundtrack to FIFA 06.

And I have to say, it’s not half bad. Upon hearing the opening gritty guitar line you know you’re in for a good few minutes of music. The lyrics are not entirely my cup of tea though; very poppy as Matt Bellamy muses (Sorry, couldn’t resist) about a lady in his life, and harping on constantly about melting glaciers does start to grate on me towards the end. It takes me back to listening to Head Music honestly; if you told me that this was originally a song Suede made in the late 90s then I would easily have believed you. As I say, there’s the filthy guitar line, as well as the ear worm of a dance-electronica beat, and the two match to create a tune that will stick in your head for a good few hours at least. It’s very reminiscent of songs like Electricity and Can’t Get Enough.

As a guy who is incredibly cynical to the modern-day popscene and its overabundance of love songs, I can appreciate it when pop is done differently, and getting an alt-rock spin on things here is a nice change of pace. It doesn’t make me want to immediately listen to more Muse but it is enough to retain my curiosity for now.

Ok there you go, that’s a bit of what I’ve been listening to lately. Going to get back into the swing of things in July starting with a double bill from The La’s. A band who only released the one album. Stick around, you’ll find out what I mean soon enough.