6 Album Sunday
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6 Album Sunday

Log #173 — Fireflies By Night — Rush With Nick Cave

It’s not hard to remember why Rush were so exciting to a teenage boy — the music is so fast and tight, it’s heavy yet progressive, with grand concepts, titles like By-Tor And The Snow Dog *, fabulous album covers, and a lead singer with the ultimate scream of the day. It was the thinking man’s (or boy’s) heavy metal.

Fly By Night was the band’s second album, and the first with the late Neil Peart on drums.

*This track, although a modest 8 minutes in prog terms, had the following parts to give it its full title!:

By-Tor & the Snow Dog
I. “At the Tobes of Hades”
II. “Across the Styx”
III. “Of the Battle”
i. “Challenge and Defiance”
ii. “7/4 War Furor”
iii. “Aftermath”
iv. “Hymn of Triumph”
IV. “Epilogue”

Note part III (roman numerals of course) was sub divided into a further 4 parts. Such prog ostentations would only gather pace with Rush on subsequent albums throughout the 70s until, like a lot of rock and prog bands, they scaled down their sound and scope in the 80s with albums like Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures which have generally stood the test of time relatively better.

So what does one think 40 years later? Well, the musicianship is astounding, still. The pace is frenetic, not only on the rock numbers as you’d expect, which take up the whole of the first side, apart from a brief gentle passage around the “Aftermath” (I’m guessing) section of said By-Tor… but also on the acoustic based numbers that start Side Two.

But then there is something very different — penultimate track Rivendell is a lovely unexpected piece (save for the Lord Of The Rings lyrics that is, which was of course all the rage at the time). Backed by classical guitar and flute/recorder good old screamer Geddy even sings in a normal register and sounds lovely:

You feel there’s something calling you
You’re wanting to return
To where the misty mountains rise
And friendly fires burn
A place you can escape the world
Where the dark lord cannot go
Peace of mind and sanctuary
By loudwater’s flow

Rivendell then segues into the monster In The End guitar riff, one of Rush’s greatest rock masterpieces (this one for me echoed the brilliant Working Man from their debut album — all the best rock albums from the 70s had to end with a monumental extended rifftastic rocker didn’t they?). And that’s it. 8 tracks, barely 35 minutes and it’s all done and dusted, in the can. Who needs these hour plus albums of 15 tracks these days?

Johnny Flynn A Larum
Van Morrison Hard Nose The Highway
Pink Floyd Meddle
Rush Fly By Night
Nick Cave Skeleton Tree
Nick Cave Ghosteen

And now Nick Cave. The tragic circumstances surrounding his last two records are well documented. But apparently the majority of the first of these, Skeleton Tree (2016), was actually written before the death of his son in 2015, and the trajectory of the music through this album, to the new one Ghosteen, does seem to follow a logical path which began on the preceding Push The Sky Away.

It was on that 2013 album Nick Cave (and Warren Ellis) started experimenting with unusual song forms and new instrumentation. Skeleton Tree continues this drift towards electronics, ambience, spoken word and choirs. Ghosteen takes it further: the tracks are even less song based, characterised more by sounds, space, stillness and poetry.

And everything is distant as the stars, and I am here and you are where you are.

Fireflies

I heard Ghosteen first and it was pretty much what I expected. It’s relentlessly down and a hard listen. It’s an atmosphere piece — one that may begin to make sense after half a dozen plays, preferably at 3am with wine. There are long chords and drones, distorted synthesizers, single line piano lines, and wailing backing vocals. It feels a bit like David Bowie’s Black Star, but slowed down, like a 33 1/3 rpm played at 16.

The album comes on two CDs, the second containing a couple of tracks over 12 minutes long. Having said that some tracks seem to have unexpectedly early fade outs. I’ve played it three or four times and must say it does improve with familiarity (there’s a lot more here than first meets the ear but I couldn’t help thinking I’d stick to Gas or Eno if I wanted to hear this sort of music).

With trepidation I moved to Skeleton Tree which I imagined might be even rawer, but actually was pleasantly surprised. It is more song based and I think I like it better than Ghosteen, and certainly better than I was expecting. It is easier to get into on the first few listens.

Neither are as good as Push The Sky Away in my opinion, but in the circumstances, and in the face of the universal acclaim bestowed upon both Ghosteen and Skeleton Tree it is difficult to be objective and just assess the albums on their musical merits. I have no idea whether I will reassess these albums as masterpieces in the years to come or they will just burn bright for the briefest of moments… like fireflies. I’m actually looking forward to finding out.

At the opposite end of the depression scale comes the brilliant Johnny Flynn. Like many fans (and I’m certain he’s sick of hearing this) I came to him through the brilliant theme tune to the brilliant Detectorists TV series. I wanted to find him at his most raw and solo, and haven’t quite achieved this aim just yet with A Larum but nevertheless it’s a brilliant rootsy folk record. Flynn has an amazingly strong and authentic voice for one so young. He reminds me a bit of Dave Swarbrick era Fairport Convention or even Jethro Tull. A brilliant new find to start 2020. That’s a lot of brilliance.

Originally published at http://6albumsunday.blogspot.com.

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